Friday, 5 March 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Mar is eol do na Seanadóirí go léir, seo Seachtain na Gaeilge. Like many people, níl mórán Gaeilge agam. However, táim ag freastal ar ranganna Gaeilge faoi láthair to improve mo chuid Gaeilge. I encourage Senators who are not confident in their standard of Irish, like me, to use Seachtain na Gaeilge as an opportunity and a first step or chéad chéim back to the language. Mar a dúirt an tUachtarán Micheál D. Ó hUigínn when he launched Seachtain na Gaeilge, bain triail as agus bain sult as - try it and enjoy it. Of course, it was Micheál D. Ó hUigínn, an tUachtarán, who started TG4. Tá TG4 go hiontach and anyone who has not followed its Twitter account should do so because tá sé go hiontach freisin. It is very entertaining and tá ceist agam agus ag gach duine who follows that Twitter account, "cad é ainm intern TG4?". That person certainly brings a smile to people's faces. Ainm an intern í an cheist atá ag gach duine. I have circulated liosta beag of words and phrases go dtí na Seanadóirí that they could use i rith na díospóireachta sa Seanad. I hope they find them useful as a way of reconnecting with an teanga náisiúnta. Anois glaoim ar Threoraí an Tí, an Seanadóir Regina Doherty.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. The Order of Business is No.1, motion regarding arrangements for the sitting of the House on Monday, 8 March 2021, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the restoration of the Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017 to the Order Paper, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion regarding the restoration of the Seanad Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015 to the Order Paper, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, motion regarding the restoration of the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017 to the Order Paper, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate; No. 5, Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021 – Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 6, Children (Amendment) Bill 2020 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3.45 p.m.
For more than 15 years, I have worked with the people in the north inner city and Dublin City Council to try to address dereliction in the core of our capital city. I would like to share some fantastic news with the House today. After years of all our efforts and struggle, this Government has recognised the enormous potential for the regeneration of the north inner city. This morning, it announced an historic commitment and investment of €120 million in the regeneration of our capital's north inner city. These funds will be used to regenerate the birthplace of our Republic, the national monument site on Moore Street, and create a national museum there. Not only that, it will also regenerate the street market, invest in it and bring life back onto the street. It will also invest in the creation of a city library on Parnell Square and create a real cultural quarter there. It will restore Mountjoy Square, which is one of the first intact Georgian squares in the city. It will also invest in the public realm around the Five Lamps, which is the gateway to the city for so many people coming in by Amiens Street. It will reopen and re-energise our fruit and vegetable market, which is a beautiful structure down in the oldest part of our city. I wanted to share that good news with the House. I thank Dublin City Council and all the officials who put the application together and who will work on delivering this for our capital city. I congratulate all the local people and communities in the north inner city, who have remained loyal to the area and kept it alive. They will now be rewarded with State investment in sustainable regeneration, which will add not just to our local area but to our entire country because this is at the heart of our capital city.This tarnished gem will be repolished and will shine bright and welcome visitors from throughout the country and throughout the world. I would like the House to acknowledge the success of the application and wish everybody well with undertaking the works.
Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh, agus ba mhaith liom freisin a bheith in ann níos mó Gaeilge a labhairt sa díospóireacht le linn na seachtaine atá ann, Seachtain na Gaeilge, ach I will try to improve, which is the mantra for today. Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh, for reminding us that it is Seachtain na Gaeilge.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 13, which is Labour's Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2021, before No. 1. We published this Bill in January in light of the report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation and to put into effect the expressed wishes of survivors and of adoptive persons more generally to have access to their original birth certificates.
The introduction of the Bill on today's Order Paper is particularly timely as it comes in the wake of the compelling and extraordinary programme broadcast on Wednesday night which I know many colleagues will have seen, which was the RTÉ Investigates programme "Who Am I?" into the practice of illegal adoptions. I commend Aoife Hegarty and the RTÉ Investigates team, and particularly those brave individuals who came forward and told their own stories of their discovery often quite late in their lives that they had in fact been adopted, and that their birth certificates or other documents had been falsified. They expressed their horror and distress at these revelations and that they are still not enabled to have access to original documents.
I also commend my colleague, Joan Burton, who as many will know, has been very vocal on the issue of the rights of adoptive persons to access information. In 2019, she published a Bill to address precisely this problem of falsified birth and adoption certificates. I supported her with that at the time. That was in the wake of the initial revelations from Tusla that it had received files from St Patrick's Guild which had revealed that 126 cases of illegal registrations of birth or adoption had been exposed to it. This week's RTÉ programme has revealed that there may be many more than 126 cases where adoption records are birth records were falsified.
We need urgent legislation to address this. I ask the Leader not only to join us in supporting our Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill today but also to join in supporting the need for legislation to address the specific practice of illegal adoption and falsified records. The Bill we are introducing is simple and straightforward. It will simply provide adoptive persons with information from the index already in place, which maintains connections between entries in the adoptive children's register and the register of births. Our Bill would enable an adoptive person to request that information from the index so that they can access their original birth certificate. Since 1987, anyone north of the Border has been able to get their original birth certificate at the age of 18 if they were adopted at any time. In this jurisdiction for far too long we have had a far too restrictive view of the GDPR and of the Constitution, and it is time to legislate on this. I ask colleagues to support this.
I wish colleagues a happy International Women's Day in advance of Monday. I know we will have a debate then on that.
Some time ago I asked myself why the Government coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party was subjecting the construction industry to lockdown when the UK and every other country in Europe was not. What was the scientific or medical reasoning behind this? What was the empirical evidence to support this construction lockdown? Was it clear that building sites were significant sources of transmission of Covid-19? Were a large number builders and tradespeople flooding our hospitals and intensive care units on foot of workplace-acquired infections? Given how vital construction is to every section of the economy, what a major source of employment it is, and the dire need to provide housing and infrastructure to people, I thought there must surely be cogent empirical and scientific data to support such measures.I received answers to my questions. The comprehensive answers, backed up by the HSE data, are in correspondence from the Construction Industry Federation dated 25 February, which I am sure every Senator received. It stated:
HSE evidence shows that our safety protocols effectively prevent Covid-19 from spreading on construction sites. The HSE's evidence and our track record demonstrates that industry can operate safely at full capacity ... there has only been 8 admissions to hospital of which 5 went to ICU related to construction since Sept 1, 2020.
We have a certain Fianna Fáil Senator making frivolous speeches in this House lamenting lost opportunities to "get the shift". The only lost shift I am concerned about are the ones that provide houses for people in need, shifts that build hospitals and roads, and the shifts that put bread on the table of workers and their families. I call on the Government to expedite the opening and reopening of the construction industry in this country.
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution, one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our time, and an horrific tragedy beyond comprehension. The Irish presence in Syria of Oxfam, World Vision, Concern, Trócaire and GOAL make us all incredibly proud.
I commend Councillor Janet Horner of the Green Party and each and every member of Dublin City Council, which recently agreed a statement and read it into the record of a council meeting. Moves are already under way to read a similar type of statement into the record of my home county council in Kildare. It is a powerful display and demonstration of solidarity and unity. I would like to read some of it into the record of this House:
[We express] ... our deep sorrow at reaching the milestone of a decade of devastating conflict in Syria which has displaced ... million[s] [of] people, and forced many to take perilous, often fatal journeys to seek refuge.
We regret that our collective response across Europe has been inadequate in the face of this humanitarian catastrophe. We extend our thanks to those who have provided life-saving humanitarian assistance in Syria, and in the region. We also thank those who have assisted Syrians fleeing conflict and persecution who have sought asylum here, in Europe and across the globe.
We commend and encourage Ireland's continued funding to support the humanitarian needs of all those still living in crisis and uncertainty, as well as Ireland's important voice in ensuring that the rights and dignity of those in need are not forgotten.
We welcome Ireland's willingness, in the UN Security Council, to co-facilitate international negotiations to maintain humanitarian access in northern Syria where 2.7 million people internally displaced by the conflict are in desperate need of such assistance.
And we welcome and thank those Syrians who have made a home in Dublin [and in Ireland] for their endurance, their contribution to this ... country, our communities and our shared culture. [That richness should be noted.]
And we, united ... across our political differences, pledge that [we] should always be a place of welcome and sanctuary to those fleeing violence and conflict.
Maith thú, a Chathaoirligh, as úsáid a bhaint as do chúpla focal. Tá ardmholadh tuillte agat. Go raibh maith agat as sin. I wish to raise yesterday's unilateral decision by the British Government to extend aspects of the grace period of the protocol.I think the Leader and colleagues would agree that things are heading in a very negative direction and it is completely unnecessary.
More than a week ago, the joint committee met and understood the issues to be addressed at the next meeting in a couple of weeks. The meeting was supposed to be about jointly agreeing solutions to these very issues but here we are faced again with a solo run by the British Government, which is nonsensical, provocative and puts it on a collision course with the EU. The messing needs to stop. The British Government needs to get back to the serious work of managing these issues at the joint committee.
Sinn Féin shares the concerns of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, that the EU is negotiating with a partner that it simply cannot trust, which has been our experience of the British Government over many years. Just a few weeks ago in this very Chamber the Seanad unanimously agreed a motion calling on the British Government to fulfil its legal obligations to hold a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucance, which is a commitment that was made and agreed at Westin Park in 2001. Just this week, again in this very Chamber, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement heard from Irish language groups that called for urgency in the implementation of Irish language legislation. An Acht na Gaeilge was committed to and agreed by the British Government at St. Andrews in 2006. The British Government continues to renege on the legacy mechanisms it agreed with the Irish Government and all of the parties in the North at Stormont House in 2014.
The DUP, the Tories and loyalist crime gangs are engaged in an anti-democratic campaign against popular opinion, international law and the Good Friday. As Susan McKay said in her article in today's edition of The Irish Times, the DUP has decided that chaos is the best plan. The Good Friday Agreement has been transformational for Ireland and our peace process so it must always be protected. We must now ensure that these issues are resolved within the parameters of the legal agreement between the EU and the British Government. I would once again, as I have done consistently in recent times, call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to update the House on the latest situation regarding the implementation of the protocol and, crucially, our steadfast collective response to the unilateral action taken by Britain in regard to it.
This is not the first time that I have raised the following issue in the House, and I feel that I must do so again today. I refer to the struggle being experienced by musicians, artists and anyone who works in the entertainment industry during Covid, which seems to be getting worse. It is still a very pressing and important issue that needs to be discussed.
In my ongoing communication and contacts with people in the industry, and it is a lot, I have grown increasingly concerned about the state of the entertainment sector in Ireland. In particular, I am concerned about the mental health and mental well-bring of musicians and artists because without the outlet and expression of live performances many of them are struggling emotionally and mentally.
I want to take a moment to remember and pay tribute to the talented musician Gareth Kane, who took his own life a number of months ago. My heart breaks for his wife, Caroline, his family and his three young boys. Gareth was a very talented bassist who performed in David Keenan's band. He also played in a band called Harry Hoban and The Brothers Kane with his brother, Gerry, and Harry Hoban whom he met at Ballyfermot rock school in 2001, and my son was there as well. Since Gareth's tragic death his partner has spoken about the lockdown and how it devastated his mental health, his inability to gig and express himself during the pandemic lockdown. How musicians can express their emotions and feelings through music is really important. His wife, Caroline, said "Gar would be alive today if there wasn't a pandemic.” Gar took his own life in October 2020 and a paramedic told his brother that it was the fourth suicide she had seen in three days, so it is just devastating. People have been deprived of their livelihoods and way of life. Musicians, artists and those who work behind the scenes have been through a really difficult time.
We have to consider the greater picture and understand the threat that the current crisis poses to the music and arts industry in Ireland, which is one of the most cherished industries. Irish people are known across the globe for their creative talents as musicians, artists and storytellers alike but people's ability to work has been taken away either by guidelines or a lack of clarity over Government guidelines.More supports are necessary to ensure that musicians, artists and all of those who work in the industry who are struggling with their mental health right now see that there is a commitment to reopening the arts industry. I call for a debate on the very important topic of the effects of Covid on musicians, artists and those who work in the industry. I ask that the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, be present to discuss how to improve supports for this sector.
Aontaím leis an Seanadóir Black faoi thionchar Covid ar ealaíontóirí. Is rud an-tábhachtach an díospóireacht sin. Tá trí hábhar le hardú agam inniu ach, roimhe sin, I am glad to note the latest shift in Senator's Keogan's position. On Monday she wanted everything locked down but now wants the construction industry open.
The first issue I will raise is the impact of Covid on young people and their return to school. The impact Covid has had on young people has not been trivial. While I welcome the return to school and the increased clarity with regard to the leaving certificate, there is also an obligation to look at the supports put in place for fifth year students, those going into transition year and those who were to do the junior certificate this year. We will have had two years without junior certificate examinations. That is two years without offering students an opportunity to experience State examinations. We need to look at what supports are to be provided for those other students and for fifth year students, who have missed out on a good part of the year. They will be facing into the leaving certificate next year.
The Leader will be aware that Senator Ward and I raised the question of Hong Kong in a recent Commencement debate. Overnight, the Chinese Communist Party has declared that only those who show loyalty and fealty to Beijing and who are considered to be patriots will be allowed to contest elections to Hong Kong's legislative council. The continuing repression of human rights and democracy in Hong Kong has to be a cause for concern. I hope that we will have a full debate on China in this House.
Finally, I will move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 12, the First Stage of the Health Insurance (International Students) (Amendment) Bill 2021, be taken before No. 1. This Bill sets out to provide reform in the area of health insurance and would be of particular benefit to international students.
Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht a chuid Gaeilge a úsáid inniu. Aontaím leis go hiomlán gur cheart dúinn cúpla focal a úsáid, más féidir, an t-am ar fad agus i rith na coicíse seo, Seachtain na Gaeilge, ach go háirithe.
Tairgim leasú do Riar na hOibre, chun Uimh. 11, an Chéad Chéim den Bhille um Rialáil Tacsaithe (Leasú), 2021, a thógáil roimh Uimh. 1. Tairgim an leasú seo ar son an Seanadóir O'Reilly agus ar mo shon féin. I move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 11, the First Stage of the Taxi Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2021, be taken before No. 1, on behalf of Senator O'Reilly and myself.
Aontaím leis an Seanadóir Byrne on the subject of Hong Kong. I was dismayed to read the news today that the so-called democratic People's Republic of China - a descriptor which is very much in question now if it was not before - has decided that only people who agree with the Government will be allowed to run for election to the legislature in Hong Kong. This is a further step in what is a very worrying trend. I support the calls for a debate on this issue.
I raise the issue of the provision of mobile telephony coverage. We talk a lot about broadband and the roll-out of the national broadband plan, which is very welcome. The licence for mobile phone companies requires them to cover a certain proportion of the land mass and phone users of the country. We often expect that those who do not have such coverage are those in remote rural areas. A number of people have brought to my attention that a small part of my own area, Dalkey, comprising Coliemore Road, Nerano Road, Vico Road and Sorrento Road, which is an area where one would expect a very high level of mobile coverage, has a very poor level. This represents a great inconvenience to the residents but, in addition, the lack of mobile phone coverage in the marine leisure area of Coliemore Harbour and Dalkey Sound would be an issue if one needed to call the emergency services.I have raised this issue with the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. It is not ComReg's job apparently but I would like if we could bring in the Minister with responsibility for communications for a debate on this issue.
I rise this morning to ask whether industrial relations mean anything in this country. Have we any respect for the processes which have been put in place? The Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court provide resolutions to industrial disputes and yet State run organisations, in particular, decide to totally ignore them. When I was the leader of a trade union, I took cases which had favourable adjudication at the WRC and the Labour Court. However, I had to go to the courts to have it implemented. This is an outrageous waste of Government money.
Right now, there are adjudications sitting on desks in the Department of the Public Expenditure and Reform in favour of the Garda superintendents and community employment scheme workers, going back two or three years, which have not been implemented. There was an announcement that pay negotiations had been finalised and that we are waiting on the Army and Garda members to vote on these pay negotiations. They were not included in the negotiations. Their pay was negotiated by a teacher, a nurse and two trade unionists. They had no place at the table. They were given a note at the end of negotiations and were told what the deal was and to ask their members to vote for it.
Have we any respect for proper industrial relations in this country? If we have, then how are we going to implement recommendations? Recommendations from the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court should be implemented. We should not find that people have to beg for their implementation. Who are the gatekeepers in relation to this? Are they within the political system or are they in the permanent Government? Whoever the gatekeepers are, they need to stop what they are doing and start recognising the rights of workers in this country. We are quick enough to run them into the Labour Court or the WRC for a resolution. I ask that a discussion on this issue be allowed in the near future.
Today, I will discuss the "RTÉ Investigates" report televised on Wednesday night. It brought to light more atrocities and heartbreak. When one looks at the people affected, one can see the heartache and exhaustion on their faces. The story of our dark past is absolutely relentless. As a Christian and a Catholic, I always separate the institution from my faith. It was very hard to see that these people who espoused Christianity and decency, hounded women for money which they did not have to pay. It was a disgusting act.
I welcome Senator Bacik's Bill. The Government will bring forward Fianna Fáil's Bill very soon. I hope we will have cross-party and Opposition support to bring that legislation through. The adoption Bill is very important. We need to get it through the Houses and get Members to work on it. I absolutely agree with Senator Bacik about working on the issue of illegal adoptions. I would appreciate it if we could get the Minister with responsibility for children to the House to discuss how we will rectify the issue of illegal adoptions. How will we investigate and fix this? How will we provide people with their truth and answers? Due to the fact that these adoptions were illegal, we do not know all the truths. Can we trust the records? This issue seems relentless but we do need a clear path and a clear focus in what we do next in order to be able to give answers to the people affected.
I welcome the return of children to school, in particular, the 100% return of children with special needs. Parents of children with special needs require assurances. I do not think the union, Fórsa, acted fairly towards them given that children were off school for two months.This is almost the only country in the western world where that happened. The unions need to give assurances to parents that this will not happen again no matter what happens in the country and that we will not have a situation in which children with special needs are not in school. I have been speaking to parents and parents' groups. Parents want those assurances from the unions.
I would also like to speak on the issue of vaccination centres. A list was announced last week which included the Longford Slashers GAA complex in my county. I found out this week that the HSE said that complex is not suitable. County Longford is the only county without a vaccination centre in place or identified. The people of my county want assurances and want the issue dealt with immediately.
Planning permission was recently announced for a major extension project at St. Joseph's care centre in County Longford. An investment of more than €5 million was announced by the then Minister, Deputy Harris, two years ago. We met with Longford Hospice Homecare at that time and we got a commitment from the then Minister that there would be facilities for Longford Hospice Homecare in the building but that has not happened. Planning permission has been announced but there are not sufficient services for a voluntary organisation that does huge work in my county and throughout the country.
I ask the HSE meets with Longford Hospice Homecare and ensure it has the facilities it needs to look after the people and families in the county at a very tough time in their lives and that this is dealt with immediately.
I welcome the confirmation by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage of €53 million funding for the urban regeneration fund, particularly within the south inner city. A number of the projects being funded today are ones I was involved in initiating as a city council member, namely the Liberties greening project, which followed on from a campaign I lead for Weaver Park and the identification of a lack of green spaces in Dublin 8 in comparison to other areas of the city.
The funding for the Dolphin's Barn community improvement scheme is also particularly welcome. My grandad moved to Dolphin's Barn in the 1950s and my family ran a shop there until the 2000s. I got the small amount of €10,000 through the discretionary fund in the city council to put together a plan to regenerate the village but there was no funding left to fund the plan we had put together. It has now almost four years since the consultation process involving residents and businesses in the area. I welcome that it is now being funded through the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF. I also welcome the developments in respect of Francis Street, Newmarket Street, Cork Street and Meath Street and the environmental improvement plans which we were involved in.
In light of the funding going into the urban regeneration fund, I ask that we consider guaranteeing multi-annual funding for the trial project based in St. Teresa's Gardens. The funding for this will run out in June 2021 with no guarantee of additional funding beyond that. Some 39 participants are involved. It is about early and intensive intervention for young people in that area who are likely to get involved in the drugs industry.
Last week a 17-year-old child was shot four times in an act of attempted murder. He was just a child. It shows the value of early intervention to try to stop young people in that area getting involved in drugs. I ask that the Minister for Health address the House and consider providing that project with multi-annual funding beyond 2021.
I second Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business.
I second the amendment from Senator Byrne to the Order of Business. I welcome the announcement by Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, that we are participating in the feasibility study with the UK Government on the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2030 with the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As the Taoiseach rightly said, it is very exciting. It is also good we have Wales and Scotland on board, given what happened the last time we bid for a major tournament - the Rugby World Cup. Our Celtic neighbours threw their lot in with the French when the time came to vote.Perhaps we might all vote for each other this time given that it is a joint bid. Although, as we have seen in this Chamber many times, being on the one team does not necessarily mean voting for one's man, but we live in hope.
I will address the feasibility study which is part of this bid. The Government spent just over €1 million assisting the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, on its Rugby World Cup bid which cost more than €3.25 million in total. The contribution from our side is probably going to cost around €3 million this time around. There is provision under the major events division of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to assess the bid's viability.
As we know, the feasibility of these bids comes down to infrastructure and the demands of the International Federation of Association Football, FIFA, which are very high when it comes to hosting one of the biggest global events. It is not just about the stadiums. It will be about the supporting infrastructure for the movement of hundreds of thousands of people. We anticipated half a million people for the Rugby World Cup. The FIFA World Cup will be many more depending on how many games we host. The basic infrastructure, such as the MetroLink from the major airport to the city centre, would be a prerequisite. The standard of our public infrastructure will also come under scrutiny. We have to be honest with ourselves. Our deficiencies will be highlighted by this feasibility study.
Many countries in the past, when holding major events, have thrown a lot of money into them but the facilities afterwards have been white elephants. The most important thing regarding the money we invest in this feasibility study will be to give us a blueprint of the deficiencies. Regardless of whether our bid is successful or not, the investment that is called for as a result of this feasibility study, whether it is MetroLink, public services and so forth, should be made because our citizens deserve it, not just the visiting fans.
I raise the very concerning report in today's edition of The Irish Timesthat Forest Industries Ireland lobbied the Government to appoint the author of the Mackinnon report and offered to pay some of the costs. Regardless of differing opinions on the Mackinnon report, and putting aside the fact that we all accept there are deep systemic problems in the forestry sector in Ireland, this is about industry and the influence it has within Government Departments.
This report was commissioned under the previous Government and it once again highlights the close connections between Fine Gael and industry. I would like an explanation from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as to what due process was carried out in the commissioning of this report. I do not intend to call into question the experience or capability of the author; I am calling the process into question. According to the The Irish Times report Forest Industries Ireland contacted Mr. Mackinnon in advance. Forest Industries Ireland then informed the Department that Mr. Mackinnon was enthusiastic about carrying out a report in Ireland and that it was willing to pay €10,000 towards the cost of the report.
On the face of it, it looks like the Department is doing the bidding of industry. It might deny that but without a full explanation of the process used I have to say, if this is how the Government does business, the optics are not good. A former Member of this House spoke in favour of a Bill on financial services, one week before he went to work in that sector. There are developers who are literally writing the Government's housing policy. It now appears we are allowing industry to tell us who we should appoint to carry out studies and even offering to pay for them. The House deserves an explanation from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the process carried out in appointing this individual to carry out that report.
Le linn na seachtaine speisialta seo, is deas an rud é go bhfuil a lán daoine sa Teach ag baint úsáid as a gcúpla focal Gaeilge. Is cinnte go bhfuil an tseachtain seo chugainn ina páirt de Sheachtain na Gaeilge freisin. B'fhéidir gur theideal níos fearr é coicís na Gaeilge an bhliain seo chugainn. However, it is good to see everybody having the cúpla focal.
I want to pay tribute to a man reared in my own county who passed away recently, Mr. Mike Burns. He was, of course, a significant broadcaster and news media man. During my own media days, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mr. Burns on numerous occasions.He has been described as a colossus by his good friend, Mr. Seán Duignan. He was behind "News at 1.30", which is now "News at One", "This Week" and "World Report", three excellent programmes. He went on to become a media officer with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. He has a sister living in Roscommon and another in Galway. I extend our sympathies to the members of his family.
I give my strong support to Senator Black. We are probably the two Senators most associated with the music sector of the entertainment business. We should congratulate RTÉ in proceeding with its Choice Music Prize competition last night and Ms Denise Chaila on her win. We should thank everyone in the music business, be it traditional, country, rock, modern or any other genre of music, for keeping entertainment going despite the absence of live entertainment. I appeal for us to sort out the issues. I will compliment the Leader, as she and her staff are good in following up on issues. Will she write to the Minister? When I spoke to the Taoiseach a few nights ago, he told me that progress had been made. However, the money is not getting to those whose livelihoods used to be the €20,000 or €30,000 they earned from music. We must get it to them urgently. They have just weeks to spare before they are in real financial difficulty. We must push this matter onwards.
I wish to raise the issue of religious discrimination in our education system and ask for the Minister for Education to provide the House with an update on what the Government intends to do to address it. Article 44.2.4° of the Constitution states "Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school." I am constantly told stories from up and down the country of children doing busy work in classrooms where the other children are predominantly of one religion, that being, Catholic. That is also a cultural phenomenon. We need to address the issue beyond giving children a colouring book in a corner and making them feel isolated from their peers. It is not good enough in this day and age.
The newest schools are the most impacted by a lack of buildings. The Galway Educate Together Secondary School, which is the first Educate Together secondary school in Galway, only has first and second years. It will have a reduced intake next year. That will be the last year it will have any intake. We do not know what will happen for the children beyond first and second year. The school would have been able to take 72 pupils had it a proper building, but it can only take 48. This means that fewer children from different religious backgrounds can access the school. We need to see the urgent delivery of a school building.
I will begin with the good news of today's announcement of funding and the significant change it will bring to the south inner city. I congratulate Dublin City Council on the applications it made and the creativity and innovation found within same. However, as much as I had intended to speak about that, I have just received a copy of letter that a parent received this morning about that parent's child, who was born in January 2018 and was exhibiting special needs, that is, autism. According to the letter, there will be a 40-month wait to access appointments for assessment for speech and language and occupational therapies.I am appalled.
At a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration earlier this week, we heard from the HSE about the children's disability network teams, how fantastic they are, the standard operating procedure that has been put in place and how it will be enveloped by services. This morning, in the same week, this parent received a letter stating that they will have to wait. In the next paragraph, it outlines how to make a complaint if the parent has a problem with waiting lists. There is an assumption of failure, therefore, and an anticipation of complaint in the very letter that welcomes that child to the care of the children's disability network team, which, quite frankly, it is appalling. Forty months is a massive length of time in a child's life. Two or three months at that age is a significant change in a child's development, not to mention 40 months, with all that is lost by that loss of opportunity. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, needs to appear before the House for a debate in order that we will be able to ask questions and to hear answers directly from him in that regard.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. Ba mhaith liom rud amháin a ardú inniu ar dtús agus buíochas a ghabháil le mo chomhghleacaí agus mo chara, an Seanadóir Ó Murchú, mar tá a lán oibre déanta aige ar an gceist seo.
The issue I raise relates to both flooding and insurance, which have been raised in the House on numerous occasions. A case was brought to my attention in the past week. A neighbour of mine, from Cumminstown, Kilbeggan, received planning permission seven years ago and built his house, where he lives happily. He lives 500 m from the River Brosna. When he sought to reinsure his house, his premium was hiked dramatically. To try to counteract this, he sought quotations from other companies, all of which refused. I have a copy of one letter he received, which states that because the property is located in an area prone to flooding, the company is refusing even to give him a quote. The increase in his premium will over the average life expectancy equate to a hike of between €20,000 and €25,000.
The flood risk report on our area states that on the riverbank in the town there is no fluvial flood risk to any properties and that no remedial action is required. Somebody drew a line on a map, however, from the other side of the river to his house. I am adamant that irrespective of all the science that will be presented regarding how and why these maps are concocted, those lines are put there with a strong element of to be sure, to be sure. The report states: "This should not be interpreted to mean that the areas will flood, just that there is a chance that may flood in the future." There is a chance that we will get the World Cup that Senator Cassells mentioned earlier, and there is even a chance that we will win that bloody World Cup, but I do not think it will happen. If that man's house is in a flood risk area, the rest of us need Noah's ark quickly or we are doomed. This hike in the insurance policy will potentially cost the man and his neighbours up to €25,000, index linked, over the course of their lives because they happen to be on the wrong side of a line that somebody has drawn on a map. We need a debate on the matter. It is a cross-departmental issue, relating to insurance and Office of Public Works, OPW, flood risk maps. I appreciate that the maps are needed. There are areas that need remedial action and the maps play a positive role in those scenarios, but not in this one.
I second Senator Ward's proposal.
We are expecting a major protest in Cork tomorrow. This is a big issue that could, but hopefully will not, affect many people in Cork in the next 48 hours. There is great fear in the city about what is going to happen. We saw in the media what happened in Dublin last weekend, where there were 23 arrests and several gardaí were hospitalised. There is a great fear that something similar will happen in the southern capital of Cork tomorrow.It is a real concern that people may be protesting on the streets of Cork while numbers are so drastically low in Cork at the moment. The approach being taken has really changed. We have very low figures in Cork city and county and that is because of the good work of people who have been following the guidelines. As they have followed the guidelines, we have managed to reduce the amount of Covid in the community, which is a very positive step. To be faced with a protest at which people without masks will meet on St. Patrick's Street and walk through the city centre tomorrow afternoon is a real concern. The protest needs to be abandoned. To have it in an area in which the rate of Covid is so low actually puts the health of the entire population of the city and county at risk. It is a significant issue for the House and for Ireland, but particularly for the people of Cork.
The Seanad needs to propose today that the protest be abandoned. It must not go ahead. It is against fundamental laws of the State and it is an affront to the front-line workers who put their lives at risk, such as the members of An Garda Síochána whom I met this morning on the way up from Cork. Those front-line workers meet people day in, day out. They are doing a great job. For a few people to hold such a protest in the southern capital is a slap in the face for the front-line workers. I am appealing for the protest not to go ahead. I hope the Leader will follow my lead and call for the abandonment of the protest in Cork tomorrow. The damage it will do to the health of society is unknown and the knock-on effect it could have on our entire society cannot be justified.
I wish to acknowledge the very sad passing of Eoin Faherty, a man well known to many in this House. Eoin served as a member of staff in the Oireachtas for more than 20 years and retired as a committee clerk. He unexpectedly passed away yesterday. Eoin was well known to many Members of this House and to me in particular as one of the founding members of the Dáil and Seanad rugby team which was set up in the early 1990s when Nelson Mandela asked all Parliaments to come to South Africa to partake in the parliamentary rugby world cup before the Rugby World Cup of 1995. Eoin was a leading member in setting up that team and ensuring it ran for the past 25 years. I am wearing the club tie of the Dáil and Seanad rugby team which was presented to me by Eoin three years ago when I first played for the team as a member of staff. I wish to take this chance to acknowledge his passing. In this House, we often pay tribute to former Senators or Deputies when they pass away but we do not pay enough tribute to members of staff who walked these halls for so long and contributed so much to the life and daily running of the Oireachtas. I acknowledge Eoin's passing and send our deepest sympathies to his wife, Carmel, and his children.
I join the Senator in expressing sympathies to Carmel and all the rest of Eoin's family. He was a gentleman. I too played on his rugby team. We won and we lost but we always had fun and Eoin was a big part of all that. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.
I add my condolences to Senator McGahon's very timely tribute. It is very sad to hear of the passing of Eoin. We extend our condolences to his wife and children.
I could not agree more with Senator Lombard that there is absolutely no need for a public protest to take place in Cork. I note the irony of the call on the Minister by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties yesterday to look for safe guidelines regarding how public protests can be conducted under a level 5 lockdown. I think it is as clear as mud to even the brightest person in the country that the level 5 restrictions are impinging on all our movements for our positive good health.
There is a way for people to accept and exert their feelings at the moment and that is in the virtual world. They can also do so in the old-fashioned way by writing letters or picking up a phone. In today's world we have social media, emails and a plethora of other ways through which people can express their frustrations.
There are many frustrations among all communities and societies but there is absolutely no need for a public protest to take place in Cork tomorrow. I echo the Senator's request for it to be called off by the organisers. I wish the gardaí and other front-line services, particularly those who will have to deal with the outcome of tomorrow's protest, well. For the people of Cork to be needlessly put at risk while we are under continuing lockdown for our own good health reasons is a real shame.I echo the Senator's call for the protest to be abandoned by its organisers.
I will request a debate on insurance. I know these reports are done in order that a local authority can indicate where people should and should not locate but there are real grey areas that only end up costing citizens money with insurance hikes. The €25,000 mentioned by the Senator as a cost for the insurance needs for the man's home is just crazy. I will request that debate today.
Senator Seery Kearney raised what is probably the all-too-common practice with our young children of waiting lists for those who appear to have extra, special and additional needs in their very early years. There is a myriad of reasons those lists seem to be getting longer but we do not seem to be addressing any of them in the public community, other than the inclusion model that the previous Minister with responsibility for education and now the Minister of State with responsibility for special educational needs is continuing to pursue. If the Senator does not mind I will take the details of the child after the Order of Business and we can speak with the Minister to see how it can be addressed. A wait of 40 months for any parent with a child with special needs is an absolute lifetime.
Perhaps the lists continue to grow because parents are not responded to. These parents cannot wait for 40 months. If a child has speech or occupational therapy needs, families scrimp and save, making sacrifices in their own lives although they cannot afford them, to ensure the child gets the best available care needs if an early intervention diagnosis is made. I wish the family well and I will make an intervention on its behalf after the Order of Business.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the question of religious discrimination being felt by many of our children in many of our schools. When I first came into public life, Ruairí Quinn was the Minister for Education and Skills and he attempted to redistribute patronage of our schools up and down the country. To the surprise of many, he found massive resistance in our communities when people were given the opportunity of changing the patronage of existing Catholic schools in villages. In my home village there are four national schools and are all Catholic-run. They are fabulous schools but when the opportunity was given to parents to change the patronage, they refused with each of the four schools. Sometimes we take two steps forwards and two steps back but that does not mean the Department should not continue to try to particularly protect the educational requirements for children in schools if they are practising the religion being taught in the school. I will ask for a response by letter today.
Senator Murphy brought up the sad passing of Mr. Mike Burns. I will speak to the requests of both Senator Murphy and Senator Black. The relevant Minister will be in on Monday week to speak on tourism but there is a standing request for the Minister to speak about the universal basic income pilot scheme that is particularly aimed at people in the entertainment and music industry. I extend my condolences to the wife and three children of the man about whom the Senator spoke. We do not really understand the effects of what people have been living through for the past 12 months other than those we can see. We will be living and dealing with the hidden effects for many years, including the fallout from them. The very least we can do is ensure financial security for the people whose incomes have been suspended for the past 12 months. I will again extend an invitation to the Minister to have a debate on the entertainment industry that takes in all our musicians and artists. We must continue the State support for them, although I hope it will not be for very much longer. The money that is available must get to the tables that need it fast. I thank the Senator for raising the memory of Mr. Burns today.
Senator Boylan asked for a full explanation of the process for a report issued by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I will get a response in writing and get it to the Senator as soon as the Minister replies.
In the passionate way only he can speak about sport, Senator Cassells raised the potential bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup, which was announced the other evening by the Minister. I am not mad about soccer but I noted with interest how Twitter lit up on Wednesday with all our male politicians and journalists so excited about it. If that excitement was replicated in all our towns and villages and by all of the people who love sport, it certainly would be something to get behind. I wish the team applying for it every success. It certainly will lift the country if we have something to look forward to.The Senator is right. We do not just need to rely on a feasibility study on the deficiency in our infrastructure because it has been heralded in recent years by different Departments. We are all aware that there are reasons things have been delayed. Some of those reasons have been bureaucratic, which we should get through, but a lot of it has been to do with funding. Various colleagues mentioned the massive €435 million investment that was announced, some of it on the back of Project Ireland 2040 but it is definitely money that has been invested in what we would consider to be the new Ireland and the regeneration of some of our much loved areas in Dublin city that will definitely be getting money. However, money is needed for every county in the country and I hope that feasibility study will again highlight some of the things we need to do.
Senator Moynihan brought up the welcome funding for her area in the south inner city. I will take on board the annual funding request and send a letter to the Minister on her behalf.
Senators Carrigy and Byrne talked about the welcome return to school of our children in junior and senior infants and in first and second class. I welcome our leaving certificate students returning to school. It is also welcome that all of those children with special needs are able to return full-time. We must ensure, for those children and for all of our children on their return to school, that this is the last time they miss a week of school because even that is too much. We all know the sacrifices our children have made over the past year and we need to ensure that does not happen.
Senators McGreehan and Bacik both brought up the programme that was aired on RTÉ on Wednesday night. I seem to find myself week in, week out commending the "RTÉ Investigates" team on its careful approach to highlighting issues that we would much rather not have in our past but that we do have in our past. The beautiful way in which it presented the programme with such care and compassion on Wednesday is a tribute to Aoife Hegarty and her team and I commend them. It highlights again another horrible and awful practice and brings to the fore the misogyny with which the State, church and medical profession treated women in this country for generations. I welcome the fact that the Minister will meet these representatives again. It is a similar situation to the victims of the mother and baby and county homes who we spoke of last week. I welcome Senator Bacik's Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2021 and I accept her proposed amendment to the Order of Business. Regardless of whose Bill we adopt in the coming weeks, I look forward to legislation coming in because these people who want their truth, as Senator McGreehan said, have waited for far too long for any legislation that would give them access to what they need.
Senator Craughwell brought up industrial relations and he is well aware that I agree with him in many ways. If we ask arms of agencies of the State to make recommendations to us, the least we can do as a State is to take on board those recommendations.
I am happy to accept Senator Ward's amendment to the Order of Business. I welcome the Taxi Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2021 and I will request the debate on mobile phone coverage he has sought.
Senators Byrne and Ward brought up Hong Kong. I will ask the Minister for a debate on China and will come back to them with a date as quickly as I can.
Senator Black talked about the music industry.
Senator Ó Donnghaile brought up the unilateral action by the United Kingdom's Government to extend the grace period for the Northern Ireland protocol for six months. Nobody could have put it better than the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, did on "Morning Ireland" this week. The EU is now negotiating with a partner that simply cannot be trusted and it is just not fair.
We are all well aware of the reasons behind the extension this week and it has nothing to do with Northern Ireland. That means it is even more disingenuous to see the response from some of our politicians from Northern Ireland. I mention the chilling effect and the weakening of the support for the Good Friday Agreement. We are in a dangerous place. We should all be concerned and conscious that we need to get this resolved now. The actions of the Government of the United Kingdom are very unwelcome and we need to respond to them quickly.
Senator Martin read out some of a speech from one of his colleagues on Dublin City Council about a motion that it passed recently on the Syrian revolution. I thank him for bringing that to the attention of Members. We should probably have a debate on the fallout from the almost 3 million people who are displaced. It is two thirds of the population of our entire country so I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through.
Senator Keogan brought up her frustrations with the closure of the construction industry. I want to answer the question she directly asked me on why this is happening and if we think construction is a cause for concern. The response that came out after Christmas was that movement and interaction were a cause for the increase and flow of the virus.It was not any specific sector; it was every sector. That is why the entire country was put into lockdown in January. I know we are all tired and frustrated and we are probably going to start having conversations in the coming weeks and months about reopening society, once the vaccine programme steps up a gear. However, it is not helpful for us to be pitting one section of society against another. The most important section we needed to reopen was our schools. That started last Monday and I wish the the staff and the teachers in schools continued success to make sure we manage that safely.
I accept Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business.
The regeneration of Dublin's inner city was raised by Senator Fitzpatrick. She is obviously incredibly proud of the area she has represented for many years. In fairness to her, the funding that was announced for the museum, the library and the entire quarter around Moore Street and Dublin's inner city this morning is exceptionally welcome. I welcome her passion for her area. It is something the entire nation will be able to enjoy once it is finished. We can all enjoy the splendour of the museum and remember our humble beginnings where it all started back in 1916.
Senator Ivana Bacik has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 13 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.
An Seanadóir Malcolm Byrne has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 12 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.
Senator Barry Ward has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.