Monday, 1 March 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I note that all the other Members present are female. I welcome everyone. Chestit praznikmeans "happy holidays" in Bulgarian and 3 March marks the international date for the re-establishment of Bulgarian statehood from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Bulgaria. Last year also marked the 100th anniversary of the death of the most famous Irishman in Bulgaria, Mr. James Bourchier from Bruff in County Limerick, who was a champion of Bulgarian national interests. He led its delegation to the negotiations on the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Along with his Irish counterpart, Mr. Seán T. O'Kelly, he was unsuccessful in his endeavours. In honour of his efforts, the country named a boulevard and metro station after him.It even issued a series of stamps in honour of this Irishman. On behalf of the Seanad, I wish a happy liberation day to the people of Bulgaria, their ambassador, H.E. Mrs. Gergana Karadjova, and all the Bulgarians living in Ireland. We wish them a happy liberation day. Chestit praznik. I call the Leader, in her best Bulgarian please.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 - all Stages, with Second Stage to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and brought to a conclusion after one hour and 15 minutes, the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, contributions of Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter and brought to a conclusion after one hour by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 2, statements on the detention of Mr. Richard O’Halloran in China, to be taken at 4 p.m., or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 1, and to conclude after 45 minutes, with the Minister's opening statement not to exceed five minutes, the contributions of Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, the Children (Amendment) Bill 2020 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2, and to adjourn at 6.45 p.m, if not previously concluded.
Today marks the beginning of endometriosis awareness month. This is a month-long campaign in which we highlight and draw attention to the challenges faced by one in ten Irish women and one in ten women globally who experience this chronic disease. Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows around the womb and the vital organs in that area, causing many difficulties for women. As I said, it affects one in ten women and there is no cure. The symptoms include chronic pain, chronic fatigue, pain during sex, fertility issues, heavy bleeding, irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, severe impact on quality of life and impacts on mental health, with many women reporting suicidal tendencies. It is a severely debilitating disease and I reiterate that one in ten Irish women have it.
The problem is that it takes, on average, between seven and 12 years to get a diagnosis in this country. Diagnosis takes so long because the condition is often misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed, with many women reporting that they have been told repeatedly that the problem is all in their head, is a normal part of menstruation or related to anxiety, stress or mental health. Many of these women have been prescribed mental health medication rather than being properly tested.
The only way to diagnose endometriosis properly is through a laparoscopy procedure. Women must often push and fight to get this very simple and basic diagnostic treatment. Ultrasound will not detect endometriosis. There are no clinical guidelines for GPs on this. Many GPs do not know or recognise the symptoms and signs of endometriosis in women, which leads to it taking many years to making a diagnosis. The longer the disease is left unchecked and unmonitored, the more damage it does internally.
We also need education for young girls in this country. Women should know, from a young age, what is a normal period and which pain is normal and which is not normal. They should not have to miss days from school or be bedridden every month because of this condition but that is what happens to many women here.
Endometriosis has varying degrees of severity, ranging from stage 1, the mildest level, to stage 4, the most severe level. The symptoms I outlined are among the main symptoms but every woman is different and has a different experience.
What action is needed now? We need to reduce the diagnosis time to a maximum of one or two years. We need to have a clear clinical pathway for treatment. When they finally get their much-needed diagnosis, many women are simply left to their own devices with no access to proper consultative care or after-care. We need clinical guidelines for GPs in order that they can detect and diagnose the disease early on. We need proper menstrual education for young women in schools. We need wraparound services in pain management and mental health services. We also need training and increased specialisation to provide the proper, gold-plated standard of excision surgery as opposed to ablation.I commend the hard work of the Endometriosis Association of Ireland, which is a voluntary association working with little resources and funding to highlight this. I ask that colleagues would share on their social media that it is the beginning of endometriosis awareness month and that we must take action to address the clear deficit in women's healthcare for this disease.
This week is also local enterprise week. On the local level, I know the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is undertaking a number of online engagements with the local enterprise offices, LEOs. Excuse the play on the term but I am talking about the LEOs as opposed to Leo. I welcome that engagement. I had a Commencement matter on this issue this morning, specifically on the green for micro scheme. On behalf of the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, confirmed that as of today there is to be an announcement that this pilot scheme will be extended throughout the country. That is good and timely news for the 31 local authorities and it is timely that it should come at the beginning of local enterprise week.
I acknowledge the work of the LEOs. They do an amazing job in encouraging enterprise and supporting start-ups, but more importantly, they support people who have had a fall, who get up again and who try again. That is a great entrepreneurial skill for people who fail in business, through no fault of their own in many cases. I acknowledge it is local enterprise week. I thank the workers on the ground in the LEOs across the 31 councils because it is important. The old proverb about great oaks from little acorns is very true and is applicable to enterprise. Also, great enterprise happens when people have small thoughts and little ideas and they are courageous, ambitious and determined to get them over the line. We need to support those people.
I had the opportunity to look at the Tánaiste's Twitter account the other day, something I do not do often because I do not really engage much in social media. I was struck by an apt entry which said:
Today's jobs numbers lay bare the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the economy & employment. Over 400k jobs have been lost & a quarter of our labour force is now unemployed.
In the next entry on his Twitter account he says, "A new National Economic Plan will be put in place to ensure we return to full employment no later than 2023." It is important that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment acknowledges all of those issues and it is great that he does so. He has a great way of being concise in his messaging and he has hit the button with those tweets. I would ask if we could have the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come into the House at some stage to address those challenges because they are enormous, particularly in light of Covid.
I take this opportunity, which many politicians do not do but which I want to, of acknowledging the untimely death and sad passing of Fr. Enda McDonagh, a theologian and a remarkable man. He was the private chaplain to former President Mary Robinson, which many people would not know. He had no conflict between that work and his other work. His work on ecumenism and peace was amazing. He was an outstanding man who managed to stay in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth for many years. He turned down preferment and promotion. It is a measure of the man that he was made an honorary canon of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland, based in Dublin. That is important. I suggest that anyone who is interested in knowing more about this man would have a read of the obituaries column in Saturday's edition of The Irish Times. It was a moving and extensive piece about his work for Ireland.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 6 be taken and put on the Order Paper. This is a Labour Party Bill, the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2021, which bans the conversion of purpose-built student accommodation into tourist or short-term visitor lets.
I want to raise my concerns about the news that came out this morning of the students who did not get vaccinated at the Coombe hospital. Thirty-nine students were on standby to get vaccines but instead, vaccines were given to 16 relatives of staff. That means that medical students, who are working with women, people who are pregnant, maternity services and vulnerable people, were passed over for a Covid-19 vaccine on the night those vaccines were given to 16 family members of staff.Two days after his own children were vaccinated, the master of the Coombe told senior colleagues that the hospital was not in a position to vaccinate the students. I am sure everyone here was appalled to hear it. We do not want to keep digging over past things, but it was incredible that it was allowed to happen and that we had medical students who were passed over for getting a vaccine in favour of family members. I particularly commend the staff member who came out and told this story, but I am sure everyone will agree that this is appalling.
I also want to briefly reflect on the violence in Dublin over the weekend and the horrifying scenes on Grafton Street, which I am sure all Members saw online. It is important that we make no bones about it. The far right is mobilising in Ireland. The far right has been mobilising for quite some time in Ireland and it is easy to look the other way. They are certainly taking advantage of the disquiet and the unhappiness of people. There is a right breeding ground at present and that should be of great concern to anyone in this room. I am not willing to proffer too many excuses for how and why people become radicalised. We know all the reasons behind it. It happens and the question is, what are we going to do about it?
I suppose we need to look as well to our European counterparts. We need to look at who some of our European parties are sharing groupings with in Europe and what is happening in their own countries. We need to examine some of the far-right extremism that is happening across Europe and how we engage with those groups in Europe. I ask for that reflection again. It has come into this House previously around some of the European parties and who the groupings are shared with.
We need to get serious about this in Ireland. It will not go away. People are very angry and people are very upset. When people are very angry and upset, it is easy for people to pray on those vulnerable feelings. I put it to the Leader of the House that maybe we need to have - a debate is not the right word because it is not a debate - clear actions about what we are going to do and clear plans for deradicalisation programmes because that is where we are going now in Ireland.
Seo tús Seachtain na Gaeilge agus má tá aon deis ag Seanadóirí ar chor ar bith, ba chóir dóibh an Ghaeilge a úsáid. Is teanga iontach í. Tá sí i bhfad níos deise ná aon teanga a d'fhoghlaim mise riamh agus tá go leor teangacha agam. Ba chóir dóibh a ndícheall a dhéanamh agus dul ar shuíomh idirlín Seachtain na Gaeilge, nó ar Duolingo muna bhfuil sé acu, agus a bheith ag foghlaim an Ghaeilge álainn. It is the first day of Seachtain na Gaeilge. We actually have two weeks of it - coicís. I would encourage all Senators to use their cúpla focal. If a Senator does not have a cúpla focal, he or she should go onto Seachtain na Gaeilge - the website - and learn a few phrases, or perhaps go onto Duolingo. I have several friends who, even though they learned Irish in school, forgot it all but they have gone onto Duolingo and have turned themselves into Irish speakers again. Let us embrace our beautiful language. It is stunning. There are so many things we can say in Irish that I cannot even tell you how to say in English they are so amazing. We have 50 ways to say, "love". We have 32 ways to say, "field". Let us fall back in love with our Irish language this week.
It is local enterprise week. The local enterprise offices, LEOs, have been working ridiculously hard since the beginning of Covid and they have given such great funding. I am a big advocate of small businesses. What I have seen is that the local enterprise offices have really helped small businesses get online. I often see that small businesses have great ideas but their public relations, PR, might not be the best. They might have a great product or a great idea, but their PR is lacking. I would encourage such businesses to go to the LEOs and get help with that because currently business is happening online more than anywhere else. The LEOs gave considerable grants and nearly everybody I know with a small business got online. To that end, I would remind people it is local enterprise week. If one is to support enterprises, go online and support one's local enterprises this week. I commend the LEOs for all the work they have been doing.
I want to acknowledge that it is the anniversary of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity. It was today two years ago that we recognised Travellers as an ethnic minority. That is really important. I worked in a Traveller training centre 21 years ago and I was constantly in rooms full of white settled people discussing how we were going to solve all the Traveller problems. I was at a meeting two weeks ago with several white settled people in a room discussing how we were going to sort out the Traveller accommodation problem.Perhaps it is time that we stop talking about these groups and instead ensure when we are trying to solve problems that we have representatives of them in the rooms for such talks. It is high time for us to move past thinking that we can solve problems for other groups and people without actually listening to them and hearing what they have to say. We have not progressed in any way in the last 20 years in how we deal with Travellers and their demands and needs, except that we are probably recognising their culture somewhat more. I see some movement now in recognising amazing craftwork, coppersmithing and things like that. We need to recognise them and progress beyond talking about them.
We are fortunate to have a representative of that community in this House. On Senator Garvey’s comments on the Irish language, I will be circulating ten phrases that could be used in the Chamber during Seachtain na Gaeilge. They will not be too taxing or very technical. As this is Seachtain na Gaeilge and we are approaching St. Patrick’s Day, it would be appropriate if they could be used. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Garvey agus glaoim ar an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile.
We will not be too taxing on the Cathaoirleach this year but, if God spares us, next year we will be putting him to the test.
Mar atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Garvey cheana féin, is cúis cheiliúrtha go bhfuil tús curtha cheana féin le Seachtain na Gaeilge. Mar atá an cás le roinnt imeachtaí eile, is mór an trua go bhfuil na srianta i bhfeidhm agus nach féidir linn í a cheiliúradh ar an dóigh thraidisiúnta agus a dhéanaimid é den chuid is mó den am. Mar atá ráite ag comhghleacaithe cheana féin, má tá Gaeilge nó má ta píosa beag Gaeilge ag duine, ba cheart dó nó di úsáid a bhaint aisti. Má tá duine ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim, níl le déanamh ach ceist a chur ar na Seanadóirí Garvey nó Clifford Lee, nó orm féin, agus déanfaimid ár ndícheall cuidiú leis an duine sin.
Like Senator Hoey, I extend my solidarity to the members of An Garda who were injured on the streets of Dublin at the weekend and indeed to all front-line workers who face intimidation and bullying tactics by those who have appeared on the streets under the guise of being anti-science, anti-vaccination and anti-mask. Given the limited time afforded to me this morning, I do not want to get into all of the detail of the weekend and indeed into some of the worrying and troubling public remarks that were made about the events on Saturday and who was responsible and behind them. I agree with Senator Hoey that this is a reminder that we all have a responsibility and a role, not least as political leaders. No matter where we are or where we reside in society, we must face down the hard right when it presents itself on the streets, in the European Parliament or elsewhere. This is an important point to remember. I hope it is one that we can collectively agree to return to and, more importantly, to address going forward.
I also want to touch on the poll and the research released by votingrights.ie, indicating that 56% of respondents are in favour of extending voting rights in presidential elections to citizens in the North. There is also a majority in favour of extending such rights to our diaspora. It would be timely, as we approach St. Patrick’s Day when we traditionally engage with our global diaspora, that we would have an opportunity to hear from our diaspora about the Government's plans as we come out of this pandemic and about how we should engage with the diaspora in the changed reality that we face as a result of the pandemic.
To conclude, I am disappointed with the time allocated to the Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 in today’s Order of Business. I have raised these concerns before and I appreciate that the Leader has done her best in trying to allocate and set aside appropriate time. Given the circumstances and nature of this Bill, just two hours and 15 minutes for all Stages does a disservice to this House and to our work as legislators and parliamentarians. Legislation of such importance should not be rushed through in such a tight window.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and wish also to thank my colleague, Senator Ruane, for giving me her time slot today. Today marks the fourth anniversary of the recognition of Travellers in Ireland as an ethnic minority group, after decades of being denied our Traveller ethnicity. The then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, stood up in this very Chamber on 1 March 2017.He made a lovely statement which went down in history and went on the on record. However, we are not legally recognised as an ethnic minority group in Ireland. The fact that we are an ethic minority group is not on a single legal paper. There is a lot of legislation and policy that needs to be changed for the Traveller community to be valued in Ireland as an indigenous ethnic minority group of people. The first step forward was taken in March 2017 but we have not taken the next step. We have not taken the second, third or fourth steps. Four years on, we need to change policy and the legislation and to look at the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill. We need hate crime legislation, we need to develop and implement a national Traveller mental health strategy, which was included in the programme for Government last June, and we need to make sure the Traveller language is supported and celebrated as well as our musical traditions. People in my community are very musical and this needs to be shared. Our arts and our language need to be shared. Our community is part of this nation's identity because we are an indigenous group of people within it.
I could stand here and say we have come a long way with policies and NGOs. The likes of the Irish Traveller Movement and Pavee Point have been working for many years to get Travellers recognised as an ethnic minority group in Ireland. If I were to speak to Travellers in Ireland and ask them how they feel since receiving recognition they would say, and I know this from my own experience, that it was just a token recognition for the sake of being recognised. I call on Members of both Houses to support the Traveller community, NGOs and me, as a professional in this House, to bring that recognition to light. Let us all take the next steps together to celebrate and value the Traveller community. We are a different ethnic minority group but we need to celebrate each other's differences. While we may be different, we should be treated as having equal value and equal worth in Ireland. I wanted to note that today.
I had the pleasure of tuning in to Katie Hannon's programme on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday afternoon in which she had Professor Brian MacCraith, chair of the high level task force on Covid vaccinations, as a guest. He is a highly intelligent and unassuming individual. He has a gift that when he talks one tends to listen to what he has to say. He outlined the timetable for the vaccination roll-out in the country. I found it to be a very positive listening experience. He outlined how the HSE built the infrastructure to deliver the vaccine once it get the supply. The prediction that 82% of the population will be vaccinated by the end of June is very encouraging. We need only see the images on our television screens and listen to testimonies on our local radio stations to be aware of the positivity of those who have been fortunate enough to get the vaccine, particularly the over 85s group. The smiles and hope that have been put back on their faces is very uplifting.
The EU has a number of questions to answer. The first one is in regard to the slow roll-out of the vaccine. I listened with interest to developments. In Europe we have the European Medicines Agency, EMA, and in the US, there is an equivalent body, the Food and Drug Administration, FDA, which looks at all the data and clinical trials and assesses vaccines so that they can be rolled out to the broader community.I was disappointed to learn that the European Medicines Agency, EMA, will only consider the data for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the middle of March and we will not have it until the middle or end of April. It is a one shot vaccine which is a game changer. The Food and Drug Administration, FDA, in America signed off on it last weekend. We have been looking in envy at the UK's vaccination programme. It had a head start because the authorities there signed off on the vaccines, for example, the Oxford vaccine, much more quickly. I would like us to use the World Health Organization, WHO, as a body that would act on behalf of all the world's citizens, so we could have one group sign off on these vaccines rather than have everyone doing their own thing.
Bhí mé ag éisteacht ar maidin le Príomhfheidhmeannach Bhanc na hÉireann faoin gcinneadh atá déanta acu craobhacha bainc a dhúnadh trasna na tíre agus i nGaillimh ina measc - in Uachtar Ard, i mBaile Átha Ghártha agus i nDún Mór. This morning I listened to the CEO of Bank of Ireland, Francesca McDonagh, talking about bank closures and the decision by Bank of Ireland to close a number of branches across the country, including in Oughterard, Ballygar and Dunmore in Galway. I regret that this is happening but welcome there will be no compulsory redundancies as part of the rationalisation. I also welcome the commitment to enhance services or provide additional services through An Post.
This follows the recent decision by Ulster Bank to exit the Irish market. We need to equip, encourage and enable An Post and credit unions to enhance their financial services. Both An Post and credit unions should be going beyond basic financial services. The retreat of traditional banks is an opportunity for trusted organisations like An Post and credit unions to provide day-to-day financial products and services. They are in so many of our communities and they have been reaching out and helping households that banks have not. I refer, for example, to the micro loan scheme which is why, thankfully, we do not see a massive growth in pay day lenders.
An Post is already showing innovation and flexibility via its green hub initiative. It is not only helping people access finance for home retrofit and energy upgrades but supporting householders with various grant schemes. This morning there was a queue outside the door of a credit union branch in Galway, with four cashiers working in it. People like credit unions. They support local groups and charities and any profits are shared with the community. A major rationalisation in credit unions has led to stronger institutions now providing mortgages and credit cards.
Unlike bank branches, the need for financial services will not disappear. Credit unions and An Post can fill the gap banks are creating using their local network and knowledge of communities. I am aware that a debate with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has been requested. Perhaps we could include the issue of An Post and credit unions and what they can do for our local regions in the absence of bank branches.
Ba mhaith liom, ar dtús, aontú go hiomlán leis an méid a bhí á rá ag an Seanadóir Boyhan i dtaobh an tUrramach Enda McDonagh. Maidir le Riar na hOibre, go ginearálta, táimse i gcoinne aon rún chun Bille ar bith a phlé agus gach Céim le chéile ar ócáid shingil ach ba mhaith a admháil go bhfuil staid éigeandála againn i dtaobh víreas Covid-19. Chuala mé ar an raidió ar maidin go bhfuil saghas nua den víreas tar éis teacht isteach sa Bhreatain ó Mhanaus sa Bhrasaíl. Sílim mar sin gur cheart an dlí nua a chur i bhfeidhm chomh tapa agus is féidir. Mar sin, níl sé ar intinn agam vótáil i dtaobh Riar na hOibre inniu.
I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Norma Foley, the boards of management, principals, teachers and all the parents who successfully returned the first cohort of children to school this morning. There was a very happy little girl in our house today who literally skipped in the door to school. I appeal to everybody to be mindful of what we have achieved in getting our children back to school and to make sure we all adhere to the rules, so those children who have returned today can stay in school and children who have yet to return can do so, and that we have no play dates or gatherings of people outside of what is permitted.
I raise an issue already raised by the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, namely, endometriosis awareness month in March. Senator Chambers very eloquently outlined the situation in this country and worldwide with endometriosis. It affects one in ten women which is a phenomenal figure. If we had any other condition affecting one in ten men or women, we would deal with it a lot better. Many women suffer in silence for years and their pain is fobbed off by medical professionals, and that is even when they go to seek help. Due to the stigma and silence around female reproductive health many women wait for years before they get any medical attention. We need to have awareness around what a normal period is. I raised this during the Second Stage debate on my free period products Bill a number of weeks ago. Menstrual education is of paramount importance in this country. We also have to invest in female reproductive health medicine which has been sorely lacking over a number of years.
I will touch on Seachtain na Gaeilge as raised my friends and colleagues, Senators Ó Donnghaile and Garvey. I commend Conradh na Gaeilge on its fantastic ard-fheis at the weekend. I also commend the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Jack Chambers, on moving so quickly on the Irish language Bill when he assumed office. It had been sitting there for a number of years and now we have significant progress on it. There is a serious issue in relation to the provision of second level Irish-medium education in this country. Only 6.7% of schools are Irish-medium secondary schools. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate in the Chamber on Irish-medium second level education at some stage.
I condemn the protests and attacks on gardaí in the city centre at the weekend. As my colleagues said, it is devastating for front-line workers everywhere. I understand debate around approaches to Covid-19, which we have in this House. However, I do not understand how anyone can justify an erosion of trust in democracy or attack the media and gardaí as part of that. We need to call out this behaviour when we see it, including those who engage in double speak on it or are gaining from it.
I very much look forward to getting back to canvassing. I miss that one-to-one, door-to-door engagement with people. When we are not as visible in our communities and when people are so withdrawn, things fester. That one-on-one connection with people will help allay their fears.
As Senator Clifford-Lee mentioned, it is a happy day in that children are getting back to school. I dropped my two little ones off to school this morning and the special schools are 100% open. I know people will do their best to follow the guidelines. It will be tricky for the first few days, especially since first class finishes an hour later than junior and senior infants which means one is hanging around with children. People will have to get used to that but it will be tricky.
People will watch the positivity rates very closely but a cross-party message needs to go out that special schools and special classes will not close again. We have to find a way to work with special schools and special classes.
The Bank of Ireland closures are very upsetting for rural areas.If any of those 103 branches are in areas marked for growth within Project Ireland 2040, we should consider them for use as buildings for co-working hubs.
I second the amendment to our business proposed by my colleague, Senator Hoey. I wish to raise the recent RTÉ "Prime Time" programme, which aired last week and featured three men who were part of the so-called State boarding-out system. While the programme acknowledged that many of the children placed with foster families through the system had positive experiences, others were grossly exploited, badly fed and basically used as slave labour. My colleague and cathaoirleach of Athy Town Council at the time, municipal district councillor Aoife Breslin, has called for an inquiry into this questionable practice.
Over recent years, I have dealt with many of those who were forced through a system that left many of them traumatised and deeply scarred for life. Unfortunately, some of them have passed away. In conversations with them over the years, however, I was always struck by the photos they showed me of the places where they suffered, as if those photos were an eternal reminder to them of what this State had put them through and where they had suffered.
I have written to the Minister with responsibility for children seeking answers for those who were put through this system, many of whom came through the 27 county homes in the State, some of which still operated into the 1990s. Like my colleague, I believe the Minister needs to urgently address another unforgivable episode in how we treated children in 20th century Ireland. I note the Minister said that these cases were considered by an interdepartmental group and he hopes a report will be published by April. However, many other questions are emerging about the county home system and I believe these will multiply in the coming weeks.
I also wish to raise the closures of 88 Bank of Ireland branches in the State. I listened to much commentary this morning about the reduction in customer numbers going through the branches. If a bank ever wanted to reduce customer contact then directing those loyal customers to use machines in a faceless branch was always going to reduce its customer interaction. That was the experience of many people over the last number of years. The loss of bank branches in Monasterevin, Kilcullen and Celbridge will hit those towns hard. Those branches have remained a focal point in those towns and were used by locals in pointing out that the towns had a future and could attract investment and opportunities. I ask that the Leader contact Bank of Ireland to pause these particular closures.
Like my fellow Senators, I want to raise the issue of endometriosis awareness month. I have made no secret in this House that I suffer terribly with endometriosis. It is absolutely infuriating to be ignored for so long by the medical profession and be told it is in one's head. When I got a diagnosis after an operation, I was asked on the operating table if I was sure I wanted to do this and was told they thought I was grand. It then came out that I had a stage 4 diagnosis after all the doubts and questions about whether it was in my head and if I was sure.
I am one of the lucky ones now. I have a diagnosis and know what is wrong with me. There is very little treatment one can get. I have an option of feeling pain and being in agony or to feel nothing at all. It seems like one can be completely put out of it so one does not feel anything, and one's mind is not one's own, or one can try to tolerate the pain. Therefore, every month, one has a different pain or niggle every single week of one's cycle. There should be more awareness of menstrual health to understand one's body. Not enough is spoken about how women's bodies should work and what is and is not normal. So much needs to be done on the lack of care for women who have endometriosis. Much has been done but a lot more is needed.
I also want to thank the teachers, parents and all the school community for getting back to school today. I had four very happy but nervous boys going out to school this morning. I want to make a special note, however, of those children with additional needs who are not back to school and need extra help and who need to be taken into consideration.
I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on the hospitality sector.This sector is a major employer and it is on its knees. It is big employer of students and part-time workers, a group of people who will not get or who do not want to work on a full-time basis. It is a great source of income for those people and for students going back to college year after year. The reason we need a debate is because some businesses will be reopening and others will not. They will not all open together because I presume the criteria that will be put in place will not allow small businesses, for instance, to open, which will be a huge disadvantage to them. We must ensure that people who will not be allowed to open their businesses and who have gone through trauma and hard times in the past 12 months will continue to get the pandemic unemployment payment and the other payments that are in place. It is very important that we have a debate on that matter at the earliest opportunity. We hope that some businesses will be reopening after Easter but I presume not all businesses will be doing so. We have to make sure that the payments for the ones that will not be reopening will continue into the future. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter
The Leader will know that some months ago I spoke about the far right when the fascists were outside the gates of Leinster House. I feel the need to raise the issue again this morning in the wake of what happened on Saturday. This is personal to me because when I grew up in London in the 1970s and was part of an Irish community, whenever we came out to march for the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four, we had to face down those the far right and then there they were on Grafton Street last Saturday. I want to send out the clear message that we need to take this threat seriously because those on the far right are a growing threat to our democracy. I want to be very clear that the narrative relating to talking to technology companies to fix this issue is nonsense. That is a middle-class narrative and it does not address the issue at all. We need to have real conversations in our communities and challenge this false narrative that the far right is spreading. In that respect, I commend the work of my union, SIPTU, and the trade union Unite, which have been engaging with communities against racism, particularly in north London, along with representatives in my party, to challenge this ideology of hatred, prejudice and poison that is attempting to raise itself within our communities.
As someone who speaks at the Council of Europe and who had the privilege of working there, when one sees what happens in Europe and when one hears these voices objecting to human rights for migrants, one sees the very real dangers. I am asking for consistency in that respect, not just regarding the Fidesz party and Fine Gael's relationship with it but also in the context of the People's Party in Spain, which is in active coalitions with the Vox party, also in Spain. Those in Fine Gael cannot live with that. They cannot say that they are against fascism at home but that it is okay if they have parliamentary colleagues abroad who are involved in it. We need to be 100% clear that it is absolutely wrong for any politician to ever stand on the same side as fascism. It is incumbent on all of us to unite to defeat this threat and to stand for progressive politics and against prejudice and hate.
I refer to the issue raised by a couple of speakers earlier, namely, the closure of 103 branches by Bank of Ireland. Regrettably, there are three branches in my county in Rathdrum, Tinahely and Carnew. My first thoughts go the employees and their families. It does not matter how much one knows of what is coming down the road, it is still a shock when it is announced. In looking at this as an attack on rural Ireland and the impact of that, we must look at the consistent erosion of services in rural Ireland. Today, it is the closure of branches by Bank of Ireland. In the past 18 months there have been 159 post office closures. We have seen the withdrawal of Ulster Bank from rural Ireland. That is a complete erosion of the sustainable life within rural Ireland.
The nail in the coffin of rural Ireland is the national planning framework document. We are talking about financial services here today but under the latter, 38 small and large villages in Wicklow can only grow by 0.5 of a house every year.Our rural towns can only grow by 3.3 houses a year. How are we even going to sustain our schools, football clubs and communities? While, today, the focus is on financial institutions and the role they play in rural Ireland, the bigger debate that needs to happen is on the role of the national planning framework. What this House needs with the three relevant Ministers - the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, in regard to financial services to rural Ireland, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien - is an open and frank debate on how we are going to sustain rural Ireland into the future. If that is the only level of population growth we can have in our rural towns and villages, it will not even sustain our schools, never mind any other activities. It needs to be looked at and it needs to be reversed.
Aontaím go láidir gur chóir Seachtain na Gaeilge a cheiliúradh. Is é an tslí is fearr leis sin a dhéanamh ná iarracht a dhéanamh ár dteanga shaibhir dhúchais a úsáid eadrainn féin agus go poiblí. Chun tús a chur leis sin, ba mhaith liomsa na hionsaithe ar an nGarda a cháineadh go láidir.
I have been raising this issue and I assure the Leader I will keep raising it, and I know she has empathy on it too. There is mounting evidence that addiction to gambling is increasing through the lockdown. It is destroying lives, as I have gone through before. When will we have a gambling regulator? When will the gambling control Bill be before the House? When will we have preliminary statements in the House to set the scene for those developments and inform them?
I turn next to a question raised by an engineer in Monaghan, Enda O’Kane, on behalf of the diaspora in London. RTÉ LW 252 signal strength is not strong enough to service the Irish diaspora in London. A number of years ago, a campaign to retain the RTÉ LW 252 service was established and was successful. Older people do not cope with online services. In 2019, the service was disrupted for a short period to allow improvement works on the mast transmitting on the long-wave frequency. It has now been discovered that interference from Radio Algiers is stopping the Irish community in London and south-east England, where there is a big preponderance of our people, from getting the signal. This could be rectified by the British regulator and authorities in conjunction with RTÉ and our authorities. I know this was raised in the House previously but the technical reason was not raised, as I have been informed by Mr. O'Kane. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the British ambassador, the Government and RTÉ as a real issue for our people who had to leave us.
Today is the start of local enterprise week. I pay tribute to Jacqui McNabb and her team in Kildare, who have been doing amazing work, pre-Covid and during Covid, in supporting our local businesses and helping them through this difficult time. Not so Bank of Ireland. We had the devastating news this morning that branches in Kilcullen and Monasterevin are to close in these two vibrant small rural towns, which are on the cusp of really good things. That really goes against what we were speaking about over the last few weeks in regard to reimagining life after Covid, where we will have people at home and not having to travel out of their towns to work. It is a retrograde step. I ask the Leader to ask the Government to step in and try to reverse this decision.
Over the last few weeks, KFM, our local radio station, has been doing an absolutely wonderful job in unearthing the dark stories around the Kildare county home based in Athy. While Kildare did not have a mother and baby home, we now know that 7.5% of those in the Sean Ross mother and baby home came from Kildare. Personally, I know many who were born in Pollardstown.We know many of our "unfortunate mothers", if I can use that term, were sent to the Athy county home. Local historians Frank Taaffe and Mario Corrigan have done excellent work on those who gave birth and were born there.
This morning as I was coming to Leinster House I listened on the radio to a gripping story from Eddie McEntee, an 80-year-old gentleman who was in the Athy county home and was boarded out, as my colleague said, at the age of six. Listening to what he underwent, man's inhumanity to man and child comes to mind. We need to have an investigation into the other places where children were born and into those forgotten children, as he termed it, not covered by the mother and baby homes commission.
It being local enterprise week, I pay tribute to the Clare local enterprise office, LEO, under the leadership of Mr. Padraic McElwee. It has done great work, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, in supporting businesses who found they needed to change the way they did business. I encourage anybody in County Clare with a good idea to make contact with the LEO because it gives great assistance to people.
Like others, I am disgusted with the Bank of Ireland announcement this morning. Three branches in County Clare will be closed: Miltown Malbay, Kilkee and Tulla. These are busy areas that require banking services. This is on top of Ulster Bank announcing it was closing its branch network and pulling out of Ireland. The mobile Ulster Bank van, which has given great support to people who live in or come on their holidays to rural County Clare, is also gone. We have a situation where three branches of Bank of Ireland, a branch of Ulster Bank in Ennis and the mobile Ulster Bank are gone.
Like everybody else, I appreciate that technology has moved on and many people are banking online. However, there are a significant number of people in County Clare who are not banking online. There are also people who come to visit County Clare. We are promoting tourism and it is identified as a vehicle that will get us out of recession. However, we cannot provide banking services to people visiting Miltown Malbay, Kilkee and Tulla or give them an infrastructure to come in and change their currencies and do other banking essentials, including witnessing signatures, certifying accounts and opening accounts, which need a physical bank to be available for people to walk into. It is a blow to west Clare, east Clare and rural Ireland. We need the Minister to come to the House and give us his thoughts on what can be done to reverse this appalling situation.
I thank the number of colleagues who raised the disappointing announcement this morning regarding Bank of Ireland closures, which is on top of the announcement that nearly every colleague raised last week with regard to Ulster Bank. I acknowledge the concerns raised and that the bank has announced that 88 branches in its network will be closed.
There were two bits of solace I took from the announcement this morning. Most of the branches being closed are already self-service locations so I hope that will minimise any job losses because our thoughts need to be with the people who work there and who have earned their living from Bank of Ireland for many years. That is notwithstanding the customers.
We have to acknowledge our change in behaviour. A number of colleagues today have brought up and commended the LEOs, of which we all have one in our home counties, for helping people and businesses adapt over the last year to conducting their businesses online. In effect, that is what has happened with all of our banking practices as well.I had to think this morning to remember the last time when I was in my local branch of Bank of Ireland. I have been there only once in the past year but that is notwithstanding the fact that there are those who do rely on the support and services of the counter staff. It is welcome, therefore, that no branch is going to close for at least six months and that there are contingency arrangements. Perhaps an investment in An Post's rural and urban networks is something we should all be actively working towards so some of the customers who still need the support of humans, and who do not just use their phones or computers, will be able to access local services in the towns and villages where the 88 branches are to be closed. Notwithstanding that, Members will be aware that arising from the Ulster Bank announcements last week, I asked the Minister for Finance to come to the House to have a debate on the future of banking. It is now more relevant than it was a couple of weeks ago. The date has still not been secured but I will follow up on it again today.
Maidir le seachtain na Gaeilge, beidh ráiteas ann ag ceiliúradh na Gaeilge Dé hAoine seo chugainn. I will do my best to try to brush up on my skills in the next couple of weeks.
Many colleagues have mentioned local enterprises around the country. This is local enterprise week. In line with everything else, all the services, seminars and celebrations of businesses will be online this week, for what it is worth. We have all praised our local enterprise offices, and rightly so, so I ask all Members to use their social media channels to give them the advertising space they need for all the seminars they are going to run this week. It certainly is a bit of a parallel universe in which we are all operating.
Both Senators O'Loughlin and Wall brought up the incredibly difficult-to-watch and moving programme that "Prime Time" aired on Monday. Before I speak about it, I commend RTÉ because it has done some sterling work over the past year highlighting some of the most cruel and difficult periods in Irish history, in addition to some of the most horrendous practices that could be inflicted on children. It is incredibly hard to fathom. I do not know whether colleagues agree but I believe it was incredibly difficult to watch grown men and women in such serious pain many years after the events they were describing. It absolutely warranted the announcement made by the Minister the following day that he would be willing to meet survivors and victims in the group in question. One has to wonder when we will be able to look back on Irish society with some solace and joy, and not have to be concerned about the harrowing intergenerational events and the impacts of some of the behaviour of Irish people on the people who are now older and more mature in society. I will follow up with the Minister to find out when the meetings are going to go ahead and ask what plans are afoot to look after the people who are still very seriously suffering.
It is a credit to Senator O'Reilly that he is so tenacious about the issue he raised. It is a scourge for many people. I do not have a date for the gambling regulator appointment. I do not have a date yet for the publication of the Bill. The relevant Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, has been invited to come to the House beforehand. We do not want to wait until the publication of the Bill. The Minister of State has accepted an invitation to come to the House for statements on gambling and its impact. I am just waiting for him to give me a date but, as soon as we have one, the debate will be put on the schedule.
Senator Casey talked about one of the issues affecting rural Ireland. I very much hope that the advent of our having closure and people working from home in their tens of thousands in the past year will give solace but also lead to recognition of the need for a change in the national planning framework with regard to the contingencies and restrictions associated with the development of rural areas. We cannot encourage people to work remotely, including from home, if it is not possible for them to live at home and to populate our schools and clubs, and all communities. I very much welcome the fact that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, is coming to the House on 22 March to talk about the national planning framework and the development plan but I recognise that there are other Ministers who should also hear our views. I will arrange a date for the Minister for Housing, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, to come to the House also.
Senators Gavan and Ó Domhnaill, along with others, raised the disgraceful scenes we saw on Saturday.At the mildest level, up to 2,000 people congregated in a manner that was more dangerous to themselves than anybody else but they then returned to their villages and towns. On the other end of the spectrum, we had thugs and gurriers who saw fit to cause mayhem. None of us has any doubt that the only reason they arrived on Saturday was to cause mayhem.
I agree with Senator Gavan on asking Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to close down the advancement of information through all of our communities because we all know how fast a lie travels. It travels a hell of a lot quicker than anything we might say or any truths we might tell people. It is our responsibility to make sure we have these conversations in our towns and villages. The Senator is right that there are a number of worthwhile organisations that probably need support to spread to every county to make sure we have a conversation about the rise of racism and hate. Disinformation is something we have always had but we now have mediums that make it far easier for it to travel. We need to take responsibility for ensuring that information that is truthful, honest and based on facts and science travels as far as and is as loud as the disinformation. I commend Senator Gavan on bringing up this matter.
I will accept the amendment proposed by the Labour Party on announcing its Bill. I am conscious that a number of colleagues noted that today marks the start of endometriosis awareness month. Far too often, women in this country go undiagnosed. The recommendations outlined by my female colleagues would be very worthwhile if they could be followed up by the Department of Health.
A number of mammies raised the glee and delight of their children going back to school this morning. I am sure that is echoed in tens of thousands of houses across the country.
Senator Annie Hoey has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 6 be taken before No. 1". The amendment was seconded by Senator Mark Wall and the Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept it. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed. Is the Order of Business, as amended, agreed to? Agreed.