Friday, 18 December 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Appropriation Bill 2020 - all Stages, to be taken at 11.30 a.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of the Order of Business, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 60 minutes by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, contributions by Senators to the debate on Second Stage shall not exceed five minutes and the Minister shall be given no less than four minutes to reply, Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately afterwards; No. 2, motion for the earlier signature of the Appropriation Bill 2020, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, also known as Coco's Law - all Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, contributions by group spokespersons to the debate on Second Stage shall not exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators shall not exceed five minutes and the Minister shall be given no less than six minutes to reply, Committee and Remaining Stages are to be taken immediately thereafter.
My comments will be confined to discussing the end of the year. This time last year, little did those of us who were in the Chamber think we would have the year that has just gone by. It has been a strange and tough year for many families, especially those who have lost loved ones along the way in difficult and strenuous circumstances. It has also been a very tough year for many in the business community, who struggle each day and will continue to do so for some time to come. Nevertheless, it is a time of year for families. I extend a happy Christmas to the Cathaoirleach and commend him on the job he has done since he took the Chair. He has been fair and impartial and I thank him and congratulate him for that. To the Leader and the rest of my colleagues in the Chamber, I wish for them a happy and healthy Christmas and, hopefully, a brighter new year. I cannot speak highly enough of Martin, Brigid and all the staff in the various sections of the Houses in the context of the courtesy they extend to us and for how helpful they are to us. I extend a happy and healthy Christmas to them and, hopefully, a brighter 2021.
I take this opportunity to say a few thanks. What a year it has been. Little did we think this time last year that we would be facing into a 2020 general election and Seanad election and a huge intake of new Senators - what an honour and achievement for them, personally. I remember the people who contested an election but did not succeed on that occasion. I hope we will see many of them here in future. It is important that we acknowledge the difficulties and challenges of contesting any election but that is the great thing about parliamentary democracy.
I thank Martin, the Clerk of the Seanad, Brigid and all the people in the background in the Seanad Office, and in the Leader's office, Orla Murray and how she co-ordinates the work behind the scenes among Departments, Ministers, speakers and the schedules every week. I thank the Cathaoirleach, Grace Coyle and all the others who work behind the scenes. This has been a difficult year for all of us. It has been a challenging year for business, as has been noted. I acknowledge the people involved in the Community Call. Local government shone brightest when people stood up and responded to the Community Call and I acknowledge the councils and local government throughout the country.
Finally, I pay special thanks to Senator Flynn. Anyone who saw her last night could not but be moved by this most wonderful Senator and by the journey she has taken through her life and personal experiences to be rightfully here, sitting in Seanad Éireann.Anyone who watched it could not but be moved by the extraordinary journey that Senator Flynn took. It shows that anybody can do anything they want if they set their mind to it and they are determined. I acknowledge her work. I also acknowledge the Members in this House and the great diversity of our membership.
I will leave the Leader with one ask. I hope that early next year we will have the two by-elections for Seanad Éireann. It is too important and it should not become a political issue or be divisive. There are vacancies for two seats in this House. I ask the Leader to engage with the Government to see if the early writ could be moved for both of those vacancies to have the election and to have, rightfully, two more new Senators in place in Seanad Éireann. I thank the Leader personally and wish her well for Christmas, as I do with all the Members in this House.
I join others on behalf of the Labour Party group in wishing all colleagues across the House well for the Christmas break and the new year. In particular, I wish you well, a Chathaoirligh, and Martin, Bridget, Grace and all in the Cathaoirleach’s office, the Leader and all in her office, Orla Murray and others, who make the Seanad run so smoothly. I thank them all for their hard work this year. Undoubtedly, it has been a very tough year. At this time, we also remember the many who have been bereaved or whose health and livelihoods have been so badly affected by the Covid pandemic. We look forward to a better year for us all in 2021.
Today is International Migrants Day. I look forward in the new year to making rapid progress on our citizenship law, being brought forward by the Labour Party group in memory of our dear colleague, Cormac Ó Braonáin. In keeping with our Born Here, Belong Here campaign, I met this week with the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. I thank her and her officials for their engagement with me and I look forward to further engagement in the new year and to making progress on that issue.
I also thank colleagues for their support for the other Labour Party Private Members' Bill on which we have seen great progress on Coco's Law. We will be dealing with all Stages of the harassment Bill today. I know some colleagues have tabled a number of amendments. This Bill is being brought forward more swiftly than Bills are normally brought forward, with the agreement of all of us, in particular those of us in the Labour Party group and of my colleague, Deputy Howlin. We ask colleagues to bear with that and to engage constructively with us to ensure that it is passed before Christmas. There is clearly an urgency to this Bill, as we have seen in dreadful reports of breaches of privacy for people, and with their images being disclosed online. We heard that from Jackie Fox herself, whose daughter committed suicide after a campaign of online bullying. That is why we call this Bill Coco's Law. I look forward to the debate this afternoon. I thank the Leader for accommodating it on the last day of the term. It will be a positive note to be legislating on this important new law before we break for Christmas.
I thank Chloe Manahan in my office, who has done sterling work with me over the past year. I again wish everyone a happy Christmas. Nollaig shona dóibh go léir.
I echo the words of well wishes for Christmas and the new year. I did not wish to bring in a sombre tone but while we reflect upon what a year it has been, unfortunately, we are still in this year and it remains a very worrying and unsure period for people, not least heading into the Christmas break. I wish to use the platform afforded to me here this morning to encourage people to remain steadfast in adhering to the consistent and long-standing public health advice on the Covid-19 pandemic that is familiar to us all. I am sure the Leader saw in the North last night the introduction of comprehensive new restrictions, which I believe are necessary. I commend my party vice president and joint First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, for her clear communication of those new restrictions and her public engagement both last night and this morning. I understand there will be North-South engagement later this afternoon. I have said consistently that we need to see that clear, comprehensive all-Ireland strategy, planning, engagement and community, which will be key over the Christmas period.
That said, people in this State also need clarity. We are heading into a wind-down for the Christmas break. Businesses, business leaders, community leaders, healthcare workers, carers, families and private citizens all need to hear what, if any, new restrictions will be put in place. The Cabinet should meet as a matter of urgency over the weekend to ensure that the message is communicated, updated and co-ordinated in a way that meets the needs of people in the context of the ever-changing and ever-evolving situation.
We are just hours away from the Brexit deadline. It is something that we have worked on comprehensively as a Seanad in this term and in the previous term, not least through the work of the Seanad select committee on Brexit. I wish continued success and best wishes to the Government in its efforts on this, but in particular to the EU team. There is no good that can come from Brexit. There are only varying degrees of harm that will be caused to this island. At least we have a glimmer of hope with the adherence to the withdrawal agreement and the Irish protocol, but it is an unsure and uncertain time for people right across the island in the context of Brexit.
In closing, I wish everyone a Nollaig shona agus athbhliain faoi mhaise and wish everyone well. I look forward to seeing everyone in the new term, suitably refreshed and ready to go. It is a very busy time for us. It will be laden with expectation given what we are coming through at the moment. I look forward to working with all colleagues across the House and wish them all every success.
I wish a Nollaig shona agus athbhliain faoi mhaise to everybody in this House and to the staff. Since I have come in here, many people have surprised me with how much they are committed to public service, but one thing I have been amazed by is the people who transcribe the words of our debates, and do it so quickly. They often make us sound a lot better than we are. Their work should also be acknowledged.
Often in this House we complain and give out about certain things in society but sometimes we need to reflect on how much we have achieved. I welcome the publication this week of the United Nations Human Development Index, which placed Ireland second only to Norway. I accept that there is much about this Republic that needs improving and there are a lot of changes that we collectively in these Houses need to ensure happen, but let us look at what we have achieved. We have achieved much greater levels of participation in education and training and longer life expectancy. It is a safe country in comparison with many other parts of the world. It is important, in particular at this time, that we reflect on those other parts of the world and those who are not as lucky to live in as a safe democracy as this one.
What struck me about the UN Human Development Index and the report itself is that a lot of our success is being attributed to our investment in education. Over many years, successive governments have taken the decision to invest in education and it is what has led us to where we are today. Education does not necessarily mean that we get to see the results overnight. It is a long-term investment. I hope we learn from that and we appreciate what we have and that we continue to make that long-term investment in education, not just for young people but in lifelong learning.
I offer my congratulations to Senator Bacik and her new husband, Alan, on their marriage. It took her long enough. It took Miriam Lord to tell us. I genuinely wish her, Alan and their daughters every happiness and congratulate them. I apologise for springing that on her.
I am not going to rain on the good mood this morning in the House but Senator Ó Donnghaile is correct. The nation holds its breath in the context of Brexit and the relationship between us as a people and Covid-19.There is a need for the Government to bring clarity and certainty, and not to allow fear and wonder to continue over the Christmas period. Shops, pubs and gastropubs have reopened and there is an air of worry again this morning around when they will close.
I wish the Cathaoirleach and all his family a very happy Christmas. I thank all Members of the House for their courtesy and good humour during what has been a difficult year. I appreciate and thank the staff of the Seanad Office, every one of them, and all the men and women who work in Leinster House. Like Senator Byrne, I would particularly like to thank the unseen heroes of Leinster House: the people who transcribe, the people in the Bills Office, the people who put this place together, our cleaners, the porters and the ushers. I thank everybody. May they all have a peaceful Christmas.
I want to acknowledge that it has been six months since I became a Senator here. Reflecting back, I am proud of working with all my colleagues here to pass legislation that has had such an impact, particularly this year when dealing with Covid-19.
I will mention a few other things around Christmas. Again, I encourage people who are going home for Christmas and will be meeting their parents and grandparents to think about getting the children's nasal spray. We have one week. It will make a big impact and keep people out of hospital so it is a great thing.
Today is a chance to wear something sparkly. I wore my sparkly earrings as part of the Irish Cancer Society's #WearToCare initiative. We can encourage people and all our colleagues. Today is the day. I am sure there are many sparkly things we can wear to promote something today to raise funds. It has been a hard year for many charities to be raising funds.
Lastly, we are opening up counties now and many people will be going home. We can go back home to the west. Traffic is heavy, so be safe. I encourage people to think about shopping local when they get back to the town or village they left many years ago. Perhaps we can all think about buying and supporting something local. We should shop and look for local products because all of these things are important.
I am biased because Ballinasloe looks absolutely beautiful with its brand-new lights. I encourage anyone who is going back west to pop into Ballinasloe off the motorway and check out our lovely Christmas tree and reindeer. It looks absolutely stunning. People should bring the big and little kids and have a look. If we can do that, we are really going to have a great Christmas. I ask everyone to be happy and safe. There are a few more hard months to go but we have light at the end of the tunnel.
I join all my colleagues in particularly thanking those who work in the background in Leinster House and make this House work like a well-oiled machine. I wish the Cathaoirleach and the Leader a very happy Christmas. Senator Bacik has blown me away today. I congratulate her on her marriage.
This year will stand out in my mind for the coronavirus and everything that goes with it. What really stands out in my mind is the impact it has had on children. It is no secret I was locked down for a fortnight because my three-year-old granddaughter tested positive. I recall visiting the house after we were all locked down and going up to visit the grandchildren. The five-year-old, Ellie, stood in front of Isabel and shouted across the corridor to me to stand back as there is a virus here. That is what 2020 means to five-year-old kids. When she is with me going into a shop, she will frequently pull me back to say there is no social distancing and we should not go in there. I do not mean to put a downer on Christmas but if five-year-old children can see that, I must ask why adults cannot see the same. Last night, I walked into a gastropub not too far from here and it was thronged. I turned on my heel and walked out the door. It is not an awful lot to ask.
My colleague, Senator Dolan, spoke about people travelling west. Many people travelling west, south or north - it really does not matter - will be coming home to vulnerable grandparents or parents. I believe the HSE message going out today is the right one. Before people walk through the door, they should consider whether it is worth putting their lives at risk. It really is a serious time.
I thank everyone in this country who made it continue to work during a most horrendous year. I am talking about the truck drivers, the packers of shelves in supermarkets, the nurses, doctors, gardaí, and particularly, the love of my life, the Defence Forces, the guys who went out and set up tents and made this country work. I hope we look after them better in 2021 than we have in 2020. The Cathaoirleach is generous on the clock today.
I will go through two serious issues before we get to the niceties. It came up in my memory that this day two years ago, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 passed through the Seanad. It has been two years since that legislation went through, which means it is up for review in the next 12 months. I know we have had a pandemic and things have been knocked off keel a little bit in terms of scheduling but I ask the Leader to make sure it is on the agenda for next year. It is an important matter. As we know, people are still travelling and still affected so we need to make sure we get the legislation right.
I also want to talk quickly about Transgender Equality Network Ireland, which is doing a talking census and information evening for journalists and people who will be talking about transgender issues and rights to show them how to do so in a way that is respectful of their lives and their truth. As we have seen, the discourse online over the last couple of months in Ireland has gotten unpleasant and cruel. I certainly encourage any journalist, or anyone who is interested, to take the time to engage with that evening session on how to talk about people, if we must talk about them. I do not know that we necessarily need to talk about transgender people the way we do. If we must, then we should talk in a way that is respectful for people who are simply trying to live their truth.
I join others in thanking, particularly, the Clerk, Mr. Martin Groves, and the Clerk Assistant, Ms Brigid Doody, who were patient with me when I was learning. I am still learning. The Cathaoirleach has been very kind. When I go blitzing through the place like a bit of a lunatic, the ushers and staff here are very patient with me. When I do not know where I am going, they walk me to rooms and tell me what is happening. Of course, I thank my Labour Party colleagues who have made me feel welcome.
As Senator Dolan said, we have only been in here for six months. I did not realise it was possible to ask so many questions and be so befuddled by things. It is great to be in a parliamentary grouping with people who are kind and generous with their time. Of course, I thank Ellen in my office, who is an eternal beacon of patience and kindness, and Ursula, who was working with me at the beginning. I wish all Members a very happy Christmas and thank everyone here who has been kind and made me feel welcome.
I will start with the Christmas message. It might calm me down a bit before I get into the substance of what I want to say today. It has been a difficult year for everybody. With regard to the House, I take this opportunity to wish a happy Christmas to the cleaning staff who knock quietly on our doors and clean the handles and all the surfaces we use, the catering staff, the ushers, the administration and, indeed, the Cathaoirleach.
This is not a happy Christmas for the hospitality sector. The news emanating since last night has been annoying, to say the least. Today, we are opening our doors to residents from outside the county for the first time in months. We were told last night that, possibly, people will not even get to New Year's Eve before they are locked down again. I cannot express the words at the moment about the way the hospitality sector has been treated. These are people's livelihoods and families are being affected. This yo-yo effect is driving us insane and crazy. It is all about personal responsibility. Senator Craughwell might have been in a packed gastropub but he did the right thing; he walked out.That is taking personal responsibility. I was in a shopping centre the other day and while the shop staff were behaving correctly, the open space in that centre was packed with people so I left. It is about taking personal responsibility but my frustration is that we, as a sector, have not been given that opportunity. The hospitality sector, whether it is a wet pub, a dry pub or a hotel, cannot be blamed for this pandemic or the exponential factor that has caused the increase in the number of cases but our businesses are going down the Swanee every additional day this action is being taken. Our survival is in question.
Last night's news was the last straw for me as a person in the hospitality sector. Even before we opened up to allow travel outside one's county we were told we will have to close and we might not even get New Year's Eve out of it. What are we at? Proof has not been given by the leader of my party, the Taoiseach. I have asked him for proof. I have also asked the Minister for Health. Where is the evidence that shows the hospitality sector is the cause of this pandemic? It does not exist. We are not any different from any other sector but we are being victimised. We are now going into recess, which means that Ministers will not be answerable to anybody here, and our own elected organisation will be leading the charge.
With all due respect to the Leader, I am totally frustrated and annoyed. My family business is being jeopardised again, not because of what we have done. We did everything we were asked to do. The sector has done everything it was asked to do yet information was put out last night that we will not even get to New Year's Eve before we are shut down. As I said, we are only opening today to visitors from outside the county. I wish everyone a happy Christmas.
I wish everybody a happy Christmas. I want to come back to the public health situation in the North, which I raised on Wednesday. I want to express my gratitude to the national ambulance service crews who will travel to Lurgan, Belfast and Craigavon hospitals this weekend to support the front line. I repeat that whatever help is needed we should give it.
The Executive yesterday took on the advice of the public health officials, which was the right and only thing to do given the potentially catastrophic circumstances. I am glad all the political parties recognised that but to be clear, there is a great deal of disparity North and South when it comes to compliance and following public health guidance, the lack of which is driving up the numbers. People need to ask themselves the reason for that. A fully integrated all-Ireland approach would undoubtedly have been the best approach. It puts the logical in epidemiological but, unfortunately, given where relationships are in the North, that was, and is, unlikely.
How can we expect others to behave differently if we are not willing to behave differently ourselves? When we face differences and disagreements in the North, the answer always lies in the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. The essence of the agreement is power-sharing. Power-sharing has always been about problem-sharing - the idea that communities would come together in partnership as equals and with respect to solve problems that unite them instead of focusing on what divides them. Covid-19 could have strengthened relationships in the North, and North and South, but that has not been the case and it is an awful pity.
The ambulances going North this weekend is uncommon but it is not unheard of because a memorandum of understanding exists through the North-South Ministerial Council on cross-Border co-operation on ambulance services. That is thanks to the framework of the Good Friday Agreement and the health sectoral work. Where would we be now in responding to a public health crisis together, with three more years under our belt, if the Executive and the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement had not have lied idle for three years?
We have a serious situation now that affects everyone on the island and we have a window of opportunity to react for the benefit of the whole island. If we are bringing in restrictions in the South, we should align with the North as much as necessary to avoid see-saw, out-of-kilter guidelines around the Border area and address case numbers in places such as Donegal and Louth. We may not get the official integrated North-South plan we want but we can create the alignment that we need. I again wish everybody a happy Christmas.
Along with my colleagues I want to thank the staff of the House, Martin, Bridget and the team, who have been very welcoming since the first day I arrived here last April. I wish all my colleagues a safe, peaceful and happy Christmas.
Senator Casey alluded to the hospitality sector. Generations of my family have been in the hospitality sector in Galway. What is happening at the moment is frightening. Major issues are arising with regard to mental health and the well-being and livelihoods of families. I want to raise two issues with the Leader. First, all of this needs to be looked at in a more regional format. Thankfully, the figures in Galway are very low as they are in other counties. As alluded to by Senator Currie, there are major challenges in other counties on the Border but a more regional format needs to be considered.
Second, next week is Christmas week. In terms of the way the hospitality sector works, having respect for staff and families, there would be closure on Christmas Eve and possibly part of St. Stephen's Day. We need to send a clear message to the hospitality sector by Tuesday at the very latest. I was talking to a man this morning who employs more than 300 people in the sector in Galway. In terms of his four or five outlets he would have stock the value of which would be in the region of a six-figure sum. We have to be clear on the issue of orders. In respect of all orders that would have had to go in yesterday for supply in ten days' time across the food sector, I would ask for notice and certainty to be given. Every Member is correct that personal responsibility is important. It is also the responsibility of licence holders and hoteliers. I believe they are doing all they can do but it is crucial that we get notice and certainty at the earliest opportunity, possibly by Monday of next week or, at the very latest, on Tuesday because this is doing untold damage.
I thank the Cathaoirleach also and wish each and every Member a happy and safe Christmas.
I, too, wish everybody in the House a happy Christmas. I thank Martin, Bridget and all the staff here for making me feel so welcome over the past six months. I say to all my colleagues in the Seanad that I have enjoyed my time here over the past six months. The work is certainly challenging. These have been the most challenging of times for us all. One can hear the pain felt this morning by Senators Casey and Crowe and all those in business at this time. We have to be a little kinder in how we deal with people in business. We are talking about businesses but also livelihoods and families.
I pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers we have in the country. They are the unsung heroes who volunteer week in, week out, whether it be Meals on Wheels, Tidy Towns associations or whatever they are doing to make life better in their own communities. I want to take the time to acknowledge them this morning and wish each and every one of them, and each and every Member, a happy Christmas.
I will begin by saying a huge "thank you" to everybody who has eased my passage into this House in the past six months. It is an incredible privilege to walk through the doors, if not overwhelming and daunting at times. I pay a special tribute to my party colleagues whose forbearance has been extraordinary at times when I have gone in to their offices, and particularly that of the Leader, and asked, "How do I do this?". I have had great guidance from them for which I thank them. I thank all of the staff, Martin and Bridget, and the Cathaoirleach.I have good news that I want to share but I cannot do so without acknowledging the existential crisis facing the hospitality industry. I am familiar with the hospitality industry and know the terrible hardship experienced by those working in and supplying it at the moment. It seems trivial to go on with lighter happy things, but there are very serious challenges that we need to embrace and figure a way through in this most horrible of years. I will end my contribution on a series of good news items.
I thank my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, for her announcement yesterday of the opening of Scoil Colm in Crumlin, Dublin 12, as a special needs school. It has been fantastic to work with her. She has only been in her role for six months and already major strides forward have been made. I am very grateful for that. It is a great relief to the Dublin 12 campaign for an autism-specific school. We still have work to do with the Involve Autism group and we will move ahead on that in the new year.
A few weeks ago, I stood here and got very emotional about the need of Chernobyl Children International. I am glad to announce that at least one of the containers has already been financed. I thank my party colleagues who went out of the way and have asked not to be named but did special work on my behalf. I am very grateful to them for that. I am very grateful to Adi Roche and her team for their work.
Yesterday, a blue plaque was unveiled on the house in Leighlin Road in Crumlin where Phil Lynott grew up. At this time of year, I always remember his mother, Philomena, and the legacy she ensured for her son. I pay tribute to her as a great mother and a great role model. I also pay tribute to Phil, by saying, "I sure miss you, honey, now you're not around".
I am delighted to be standing here just before Christmas. It is a real honour and a privilege for all of us to be in this House. I am conscious of what a difficult year it has been for everyone, with most of us facing into a difficult Christmas. I and all of us in this House are very privileged to be here and I am grateful for that. I thank all my colleagues in the Seanad. I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and Grace Coyle in your office. I thank Martin Groves and Bridget Doody. I thank the Captain of the Guard and the ushers. I thank the catering staff and everybody who works in Leinster House. I thank the gardaí who work outside and the postmen who come in. They all help us to serve the people. We have a great privilege. I thank all of those who help us and enable us to do that.
I am my party's spokesperson on housing. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has made a great start. The budget has made an unprecedented investment in housing of €3.3 billion. Significant sums have been allocated to homelessness prevention. There have been announcements of investment in affordable and public housing. We will have significant work to do when we come back in the new year. I look forward to working with everybody on all sides of the House to deliver on that.
I have listened to my colleagues, Senators Casey and Crowe, and others who work in hospitality, including suppliers to the industry. While we might feel we will not have the full Christmas we would have had in previous years, many people are risking their lives and their livelihoods to try to provide others with a Christmas. The Government has a very difficult task and has done very well. We have all done very well by keeping our distance, washing our hands and reducing our contacts to suppress the virus. I believe everybody will try to do that.
I urge the Leader to ask the Government to give certainty to the hospitality sector so that for the next two weeks at least, it can manage or attempt to manage the situation. Those in the sector have had difficult choices to make on whether to open. Many of them have, but uncertainty has been created in the last 48 hours. NPHET has a job to do and I thank all those on NPHET for doing their job. However, the hospitality sector needs some certainty over the next two weeks. I urge the Leader to address that with the Government. Nollaig shona do gach duine.
I also wish everybody a happy Christmas. I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, the ushers, Martin Groves, Bridget Doody and everyone else in Leinster House. I try not to name them because I am afraid I will leave somebody out. I am sure everybody in the House will agree that the perfect Christmas present would be Sam staying in Dublin this weekend-----
I know you do not mean that, a Chathaoirligh.
On a positive note, Senator Currie spoke about the importance of the parties in the North working together. Last night, proof of that co-operation was evident in the announcement that in the North, schools will be supplied with period products free of charge from next year. I again call on the programme for Government commitment to provide free period products to women and girls to be implemented as soon as possible.
I wish to raise a very sad and annoying issue. Despite the assurances the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, gave the House and despite assurances by the Taoiseach on 9 December that deportations would not happen during the pandemic, the evidence shows that deportations are being sped up this week and a number of people have been deported. In the week leading up to Christmas, they will not have access to the courts and, worse, from 30 December those being deported to Britain will lose access to their EU rights. They will lose their rights under the Common European Asylum System, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. Everybody would agree that deporting people during a pandemic is particularly cold and callous, but especially in the week leading up to Christmas when we had been given assurances that it would not happen. I ask the Leader to take that message back and to reiterate what this House endorsed, which was that deportations would not happen.
Last night's news that the hospitality industry might need to close early again is devastating for many businesses around the country which have put in considerable effort to reopen and provide a service for their community, town or city during the Christmas period. These businesses have bought stock on the assumption they would be open until early in the new year. Even though people tried not to talk about it, there was always a feeling that they might need to close in January, but no one foresaw that it could happen between Christmas and the new year.
In different areas of the country the hospitality industry has faced this situation of having to close down and reopen three, four or five times. Every time it has asked for clarity as quickly as possible, which I know is a challenge. Almost every time the decisions made for the hospitality industry in particular have been in line with the NPHET recommendations. If we go with the recommendations NPHET gave last night, I urge especially at this time of year that we give those guidelines to the hospitality industry as quickly as possible. As others have said, those in the sector have done a considerable amount in recent weeks to reopen their premises, taking the risk of them and their employees contracting the virus. I ask that they be given as much clarity as possible. It is an extremely difficult time for them. Obviously, we worry about the people who want to go out and socialise during Christmas, but the most important thing is to give clarity to the people working there.
I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, Martin Groves, Bridget Doody and everyone in Leinster House for the phenomenal work they have done in the past six or nine months that I have had the privilege to be a Senator.I am very new and I want to wish all of my colleagues well over the Christmas period. It has been a pleasure working with everyone and learning from seasoned as well as new politicians. Everyone has performed extremely well and it has been a pleasure to be here.
I echo the comments of Senator Ahearn and wish everyone a very healthy and happy Christmas. I thank everyone for their work. Staff from across the House have been good to me and to all elected representatives and I thank them for the courtesy they have shown to us since we were elected. I wish them well and hope they have a happy Christmas.
I wish to raise a number of issues this morning, the first of which is the upcoming announcement relating to the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, which is expected early in the new year. One of the towns in my constituency, Athlone, has submitted an application and I ask that it be given favourable consideration. The application is for funding to redevelop a strategic but derelict site beside the shopping centre in the town to improve facilities as well as to augment the successful shop front enhancement scheme. That scheme was introduced by Westmeath County Council a number of years ago and has been fantastic for every single town in that county. It has been introduced in Longford too and has been very successful. It enables businesses to upgrade the front of their premises.
On sport, I was speaking to representatives of my local Longford Rugby Club recently who are seeking clarification from the Minister regarding the guidelines on what sports can be played. Many local schools and the vast majority of club players have not played a game of rugby since 19 March. This is an extremely important issue. Participation in sport is difficult in these times but Longford Rugby Club has asked that school-age teams and clubs be allowed to play matches while adhering to all Covid-19 safety guidelines in level 3. That is a key request and it is only fair when both soccer and Gaelic games teams have been allowed to play at that level. I ask the Minister to consider this matter.
I wish everyone a happy Christmas. It is great that we have reached this stage of what has been an amazing year. Some of us have fought a general election and a Seanad election, we have endured a pandemic and have been locked up at home for long periods. It has been a year that none of us will ever forget. I wish to acknowledge the courtesy of the Cathaoirleach and thank the staff of Seanad Éireann for their kindness over the past six to eight unusual months. I also thank the Leader of the House and the Members who have helped me over the past few months.
The news that emerged last night in terms of the uncertainty regarding the catering trade is worrying. I realise that we are very close to Christmas but, as many speakers have said, clarity vis-à-vissupply chains and so on is very important for traders and society at large. I hope the Cabinet will convene sooner rather than later and make a decision on this because the longer the uncertainty persists, the more difficult the situation becomes. Clarity is needed.
I compliment the Leader on her statement earlier this week on the anti-vaccination campaign. Public representatives should not proffer medical advice on who should or should not be vaccinated. Some public representatives are using their platform to speak on behalf of the anti-vaccination campaign, which is not appropriate. We have medical experts in this country who have the ability to dispense medical advice. They should lead the vaccination campaign and public representatives should not comment on matters as if they are experts. It is unfortunate that some are doing this for nothing other than political gain. People's lives will be lost because of the anti-vaccination campaign being conducted by certain public representatives. They are just doing it for their own benefit and it sickens me. We need to stand strong, particularly given the good news around the roll-out of the vaccine. Hopefully by the time this House sits again, the vaccination programme will be up and running and people will be getting the vaccine. That is really positive news and something that we must continue to talk about. I am no medical expert but I listen to the medical advice on the ground. Every single expert I have spoken to has said that we should back the vaccination programme. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on this matter after Christmas. We need to call out the people who are saying that they will not get vaccinated because that cannot continue. If it does continue, lives will be lost and that is something that nobody in this House can stand over.
It is funny that we are talking about reflections and so forth. This day last year was my last day in Leinster House as a member of staff, after seven years. I finished to focus on the general election that I hoped would be called in the summer but it was called about two weeks later. If it had not been called, we would have gone straight into Covid-19 and many of us would not be sitting here. None of the new Senators would be here because the previous Government would still be in place. It is funny how things work out.
I wish to compliment my colleagues on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action and the chairperson, Deputy Brian Leddin. This morning, the committee published its pre-legislative scrutiny report on the Climate Action Bill, which is landmark legislation. It is so important that we are putting it through in the first 100 days of this Government. We have started that process strongly and I hope that this report will inform all Oireachtas Members about the legislation. It sets ambitious targets in terms of carbon budgets and strengthens oversight of climate policy by the Oireachtas. The Bill seeks to change the role and composition of the climate strategy advisory committee and sets out strong national objectives up to 2050. It is landmark legislation and I compliment all my colleagues on the committee and particularly my Seanad colleagues who have worked incredibly hard over the past ten weeks to get this report through. We have been meeting every day and have heard really important expert witness testimony which fed into report. This will undoubtedly benefit the legislation. The vast majority of the report was put together without votes. We only voted yesterday morning on certain issues where we could not reach agreement but the vast majority of it was put together through cross-party co-operation, give and take and trying to understand the needs of both Opposition and Government. That type of collegial politics is lacking in these Houses sometimes. We could do with a lot more of it but it was certainly evident in how the committee worked over the past ten weeks.
I was listening in my office when Senators Crowe and Casey spoke. My heart sank when I heard what they had to say about the hospitality industry and what it has suffered because they are so right. The news last night was yet another blow to the sector and I agree with what others have said on the need for clarity. Clarity is important and I hope it will come in the next day or two.
Senator Lombard spoke about the Covid-19 vaccine and those who are anti-vaccination. This is so serious. It is such a critical issue and, as public representatives, we must show leadership when it comes to articulating the benefits of the vaccine. It will not be compulsory but I hope that more than 90% of those who are able to take the vaccine will do so. Yesterday I wished everyone a happy Christmas and I reiterate that today. I also want to wish a lady who works on the fourth floor well. Lydia is finishing up today and is moving on to bigger and brighter things. I wish her the very best. I hope everybody has a safe and enjoyable Christmas.
I will begin by wishing the Cathaoirleach a happy Christmas. I thank him for his guidance during the year. I also extend Christmas wishes and thanks to Mr. Martin Groves, Ms Brigid Doody and all the Seanad staff as well as to the Leader, whose constructive approach thus far must be acknowledged.
I was struck by the comments of Senators Casey and Crowe and my heart genuinely goes out to them. I cannot imagine how hard it is for the hospitality sector at the moment.I appeal to the Government to review this constantly and determine what more it can do for the hospitality sector at present. That said, I believe there is probably no alternative but to go back into some kind of lockdown. Considering the figures and what is happening across Europe, health has to come first. That, however, does not make anything any easier for all the businesspeople who have struggled throughout this period so far.
I was really pleased that Senator Casey mentioned the staff in the Oireachtas, particularly the cleaning staff and other contractors. I feel passionate about the idea that this Oireachtas should be a living-wage site. It can be done. My union, SIPTU, has pioneered the concept. It means that every worker, regardless of whether they are employed directly by the Houses of the Oireachtas or here as contractors, gets a living wage. There are a number of sites in Ireland that have already established this practice. It would make a substantial difference to the people who do an amazing job in these buildings and who are paid very low sums of money. It would make a substantial difference to them. It would not be a huge drain on the Exchequer. It would be very small. When we come to work next year, would it not be wonderful if we knew the workers were getting at least a living wage and could earn a living? I appeal to Members on a cross-party basis in this regard. I have written to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and asked the Chair to consider my proposal actively so we can make a real difference for people. It is not enough just to give applause to the essential front-line workers. Maybe we could consider my proposal for next year. I wish everyone well and a happy Christmas.
I have two points, one being on the matter of the new Standing Order, which I acknowledge is included on the Order Paper today. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the initiative on bringing in outside constituencies in this way. It concerns sexual harassment and bullying within the university sector but, most important, the use of non-disclosure agreements, NDAs, not only to move people around a university but also as tools to silence victims of abuse or bullying. Over the past few years, many people from various universities have contacted me in this regard. I will not elaborate on the issues raised now as we can tease them out in the new year. Reference was made to certain staff members having several NDAs within one university, which just perpetuates a culture of silence and abuse. I look forward to being able to debate this in the new year. My office has legislation ready to go on the use of NDAs but I regard this as the very first port of call in being able to understand the severity of the culture of using NDAs in the university sector.
In the debate on deportations and the deportation moratorium a few weeks ago, we were assured there would be no more deportations during the pandemic. This has not been the case. Two days ago, a young many was brought to the airport and put on an plane to England, from where he was to continue to Sudan. Another young man was taken from his accommodation last week and put in Cloverhill Prison until deportation. I hope the Leader will speak to the Department of Justice and ascertain whether the message on deportations has been clear. The Taoiseach and Minister for Justice have referred to the moratorium but maybe there is a lack of communication with the authorities who deport people. If we are to say something in the House on deportations, we need to be really clear and strong in our stance, and we need to reassert the position that nobody will be deported during the global pandemic.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for affording me the privilege of saying the last word. I wish him a very happy Christmas and a good 2021. It is a pleasure to work with him in my role as Leas-Chathaoirleach. I wish our Leader and all my colleagues across the House a good Christmas. There is tremendous commitment in this Seanad. There is also great dedication and genuine ambition to do the right thing, be responsible and make a difference for people. This is very palpable. Maybe the privilege that the Cathaoirleach and I have is that we get to listen to debates in a way that allows us to absorb what is going on around the Chamber. The more I am present for debates here, the more I am impressed by the commitment of Members, the way they go about their business, and the sincerity, depth and thoughtfulness of contributions from all sides of the Chamber.
I also wish a happy Christmas and a good 2021 to our administrative staff in the Seanad Office, led by Martin and Bridget, and all the other staff there. We have an excellent administration. Without that, we would not have the kind of House we have.
I have a general remark on what I believe is a theme of the morning. I did not hear the contributions of Senators Casey and Crowe and can only imagine what they were saying. I have an arm's-length connection with a small part of the hospitality business — a very small retail outlet. Thank God, it is an arm's-length association because I know how bad circumstances are in the sector. I empathise with those affected.
Given our privileged position as leaders in the community, we should use this Chamber at every opportunity to exhort people to be sensible over the Christmas and observe the rules on social distancing and the other rules on Covid. It is very difficult. It is a terrible strain. I find I have to go back to the car for the mask, as we must all do at times. What we must do is shocking and onerous but it should and must be done. I exhort people to do it.
There is a bit of bad news coming and, as a Senator said, we need clarity on it. The big news, however, is the vaccine. The Leader, who is a former Minister, has considerable influence so she should ensure, when reporting from this House, that she conveys in any way she can our great desire to have a very efficient and quick roll-out of the vaccine to the front-line workers and elderly and then to those with special medical needs. Those are the main points. In the meantime, people should hold their discipline.
I feel privileged and honoured to have an office in this Chamber and to work with the Cathaoirleach in my role. I do not take this lightly. I genuinely admire and am occasionally in awe of the quality of personnel here and their input. I am very sincere about this. It is very clear. The Cathaoirleach would echo these comments because he hears about the quality of the personnel also.
Críochnóidh mé le cúpla focal as Gaeilge. Guím Beannachtaí na Féile ar Sheanadóirí. Guím Nollaig faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise do na Seanadóirí go léir. Le cúnamh Dé, beimid slán agus ar ais le chéile sa bhliain nua ag obair go díograiseach ar son an phobail. Sin an dualgas atá orainn agus níl aon amhras orm ach go mbeimid ar ais ag déanamh sin má táimid ábalta ar chor ar bith. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chathaoirleach agus guím Nollaig iontach do na Seanadóirí go léir.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach agus guím Nollaig Shona dó freisin. It is pleasure working with him. I thank him for his kind words.
It has been an extraordinary year for the Leader, who, like all Senators, has done an extraordinary job under really difficult circumstances. I congratulate Senator Bacik on her good news.If times were different, we would organise a little reception to celebrate the good news. Please God, we will be able to do so in the new year. Other Senators, including Senator Boyhan, referred to Senator Flynn. I do not know if they saw the extraordinary interview she did last night but we are truly privileged to have her in the House. Her achievement would have been unimaginable a number of years ago but she has brought new ideas and new achievements to this Chamber.
The UN human development index measures health, education and income. In a world where there is very little good news, we have seen that Ireland is ranked joint second with Switzerland on that index, one place behind Norway and ahead of the likes of France and Germany, which is an extraordinary achievement. When we joined the index more than 30 years ago, the average life expectancy was 74. It is now 82. The average number of years our people spent in education was then nine and is now 12. That kind of achievement is only possible through the work of extraordinary people in this Chamber down through the years since Independence. We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants in that regard.
Many have raised the issue of the front-line workers, whose service and sacrifices have meant that, while the pandemic has affected many, it has not been the disaster it has been in many other jurisdictions. We acknowledge them for the service they have given so far. When we are at Christmas dinner, they will be out working. We also think of those who will have empty chairs this Christmas. They are in our thoughts and prayers as well.
I thank all the ushers, the cleaners, the catering staff and everybody else who works in Leinster House. I also thank Mr. Martin Groves and Ms Bridget Doody, who do extraordinary work late into the night to get all the amendments organised and issues resolved to ensure the Seanad works as smoothly as possible. I thank Ms Carol Judge, Ms Carmel Considine, Ms Ilinca Popa, Mr Eden McLaughlin, Ms Aisling Hart and, of course, Ms Grace Coyle in my own office for their extraordinary work throughout the year. It is quite extraordinary that such a small team runs such an important part of our legislative process. I also thank Ms Orla Murray in the Leader's office, who also does extraordinary work. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the use of the Chamber. Nothing says more about how historic this year has been than the Seanad sitting in the Dáil Chamber. We thank the Ceann Comhairle for his generosity in that regard.
Finally, I wish all Members a safe Christmas. I hope they get time to spend with their families and friends. Please God, we will see them all in the new year.
I will speak on the few specific issues which were raised. In response to Senator Ruane, Senator Higgins contacted me over the weekend with regard to the gentleman about whom Senator Ruane spoke. I did not contact the Minister for Justice, but the Taoiseach. They are well aware of the circumstances. We are all well aware of the commitments made by the Minister of Justice in this House and by the Taoiseach last week. I will send that message again today.
Senator Boylan mentioned the commitment we made earlier this year in passing a motion in this House. It is momentous. It probably does not affect everybody, but the fact that schools in Northern Ireland yesterday received supplies of period products is a real step forward and a real sign of leadership. I am aware that there is legislation in preparation. Senator Seery Kearney is drafting legislation at the moment to ensure this matter is put on a legislative footing this year.
Would it not be wonderful if this House could show leadership in that regard? This brings me to the point Senator Gavan made. We are the Houses of the Oireachtas and we have control over the leadership we give not only through legislation, but through our actions. Would it not be wonderful if this House could provide period products as a sign of leadership which might instruct all of our Departments to do the same thing for all of their staff? I was going to say my next point was more important but perhaps it is just on a different level. It would be an absolutely wonderful sign of leadership to be able to declare this site a living-wage site. This is something the Senator should definitely pursue. I will support him in the new year in that regard.
This has been a hell of a year. Life is not meant to be easy; it is meant to be lived. There are happy times and rough times. We all know them. With every up and down, we learn something. We learn lessons which, I hope, make us stronger. We have certainly learned an awful lot this year, if not about ourselves, certainly about one another and about all that is good in this country. That stems from our people. This year, leadership has been shown from the ground up by our volunteers, organisations such as sporting groups, industry and every other section of society. Indeed, all of our politicians have shown leadership this year. It was certainly a time for Government to be generous and to support people through an unprecedented time. I know we use the word "unprecedented" too often but I certainly hope it is a word we will have to use less when we see the light at the end of the tunnel next year.
I did not see the programme the Cathaoirleach mentioned last night but Senator Boylan brought it to my attention. I have, however, witnessed over recent months some of the most thoughtful contributions ever made here being made by our new Senator, Eileen Flynn. She is a wonderful example of the ordinary people in this country who can do extraordinary things. I wish her every success in the future. She perfectly proves the point that one cannot be what one cannot see. This can only happen with our co-operation because she comes from a minority section of our society that does not have the votes on the panels that would allow her, and others like her, to be successfully elected. We all need to be aware that sections of our society do not have the same voice as some other sections. She is a wonderful advocate for that community. One can be sure that, having seen her, people will want to be like her in the future.
She is not unique. We have a lady mayor from a minority community and the President of the European Commission is a lady. Very shortly, we will have the first lady Vice President of the US. The gentlemen present are on notice; we are here and we are here to stay. I only hope we can continue to receive their support to ensure equality of opportunity for every woman, regardless of her background, ethnicity or love life. It does not matter; we just want equality of opportunity. I know that they will know, because we know, that society will be better and that decisions will be better made if we have that equality of opportunity.
Politics is always about the personal and there was nothing more personal than the contributions made by Senators Casey and Crowe and others in support of the hospitality industry. It has gone through the absolute mire. I know everybody else has as well and that we can all advocate for particular industries, for sport or for dancing. We do that. That is our job and we do it with passion. The passion Senator Casey has shown not only this morning, but over recent weeks, in speaking on the impact and effects of the decisions being made - although they are being made for the right reasons - are having on his family and countless other families in the hospitality industry cannot be understated. I will absolutely will send the clear message back today that hanging around and waiting until next week is not acceptable. This delay might be to allow more informed decisions to be made but there was a gentleman on the radio this morning who said that he had a six-figure sum worth of stock coming in. Another gentleman said he had €30,000 worth of food coming in this weekend. The absolute least that can be done is to give certainty as to what is going to happen for the next week or two. I assure the Senator that I will send that message to the Taoiseach's office as soon as I am finished here today.
By the same token, we have all worked incredibly hard this year. The Cathaoirleach himself has touched on the more than 3,000 families that will have somebody missing from their lives and from their Christmas tables. We will be able to sit around our Christmas tables with our families and, it is to be hoped, enjoy ourselves, although it will be in different circumstances. Every decision being made, however, is being made in the best interests of our people. These decisions are not perfect because we are not perfect. They are being made by human beings and we hope they will give us a better chance at a good outcome. We can sometimes be a little bit severe in our criticisms of the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, so I would like to thank its members sincerely, I hope on behalf of us all, for the endless hours of work they have put in since the beginning of this year.That is well deserved. Dr. Holohan was announced as man of the year yesterday. He has certainly given far more than is expected of a public servant. Many of our other public servants have done the same behind the scenes. I will write to NPHET today on all of our behalf to thank its members for their public service over the last ten or 12 months. They really have been exemplary. That brings me to the public servants in this House - Martin, Bridget, their staff and all our staff, including Orla and Grace, and all the staff in the wider House. I have had the privilege of working in Leinster House for a number of years. I used to think when I was first elected to the Oireachtas that our ushers were hand picked because they were so special, kind, caring and generous. It was not just one or two of them but all of them, which is why I used to think there must be a special recruitment process for ushers in the Houses because they do an incredible job with such good spirit and such warmth towards us. I can attest to that. I thank them so much for everything they do and for all the care they give us.
Equally, I thank all the catering staff. I think we probably know more about the lives of the people who work in the bars, canteens and the coffee dock, and they about ours, than we do of those of our friends. They are wonderful people. The high spirits they have been during an incredibly difficult year have put a smile on my face on many a day, so I thank them and wish them well. Our cleaners, too, are some of the happiest people. As was noted, in most cases they are probably members of our new Irish community. They come to the House and they are quiet and unassuming. Sometimes when I say hello to them, I almost think they are surprised that someone is talking to them. Every one of us should talk to them, know their names and make a point of thanking them for what they do, which is keep us safe in an unassuming and understated way. All the officials and public servants in the House do an incredible job of making us look good when we are doing our jobs and I pay tribute to them all.
I started this year in one role and am so privileged, lucky and blessed to be in the role I am in today. This House is full of thoughtful, co-operative and collegiate people. Unfortunately, that probably could not be said about the other House, which is far much more adversarial. We have an opportunity, because of a regard for one another and mostly because of the issues we bring to the House, to make a real and substantial difference. I thank Senators for giving me the honour of being in this role and for the co-operation and good wishes I have received over recent months. We had a few niggles at the beginning of my tenure because I did not really know what I was doing, so I apologise for that, but I thank them for their co-operation. It is the honour of my political career to date to be here and I will continue to serve the House next year, please God.
I wish all Senators a happy and safe Christmas. As Senator Hoey noted yesterday, and I could not have put it better myself, we need to keep Christmas small and safe because we need to get through this. We need to ensure that there are as few possible fatalities between now and that wonderful light at the end of the tunnel that will, hopefully, come on 27 December. With that light, however, comes the responsibility of our actions, which lies on all our shoulders.
I issued a press release at the beginning of the week because I was astounded at the level of ignorance of some public representatives in refusing to take the vaccine and at their explanations and reasons for that stance. I fully understand fear, and many people in Ireland will be nervous and anxious, but it is our job to ensure we allay those fears, not feed into them or into the propaganda that has resulted in measles being a problem in this country again when we had all but eradicated it because we gave our children measles vaccines over the years.
It is outrageous that leaders in this country would feed into conspiracy theorists and give rise to allowing those people to have those fears and concerns and to think their fears and concerns are warranted. They are not warranted and every one of us has a job and responsibility to ensure that we act responsibly. I fully commit to getting the vaccine whenever I am in the queue. It is important that each of us says that to our constituents, voters, friends, neighbours and anybody who will listen. It is probably the most important message we can put across in the coming months.
There will be hiccups and arguments that the conspiracy theorists will be able to hang their hat on. We need to stand steadfast, however, and ensure that we are strong and that we know what we want, which is to get through this pandemic and to get people vaccinated in order that we can get back to talking about health, housing, the living wage, unemployment and all the matters we so passionately care about fixing in this country.
I cannot speak Irish. It is one of my major failings, although perhaps I will get around to it when I retire, when it will be too late. Nevertheless, I wish Senators and their families and friends a safe and very happy Christmas.