Monday, 26 April 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Koningsdag, or King's Day, is the national holiday in the Netherlands, celebrating the birth of King Willem-Alexander. On Koningsdag the Dutch turn their country orange in the same way we turn the world green on our national day. The friendship between the Irish and the Dutch is long and enduring. Together we have worked closely to protect our citizens and our countries from the impact of Brexit.
The Irish Embassy in The Hague was opened in 1950, with one of the first female ambassadors anywhere in the world, Josephine McNeill. The State visit by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima in 2019 further strengthened and deepened the relationships between our two countries. King Willem-Alexander's relationship with Ireland goes a lot further back. As a young boy he would visit Kenmare and Sneem in County Kerry. We look forward to welcoming him back again soon, once travel restrictions are lifted.
I wish His Excellency Dr. Adriaan Palm, the Netherlands Ambassador to Ireland, all the Dutch people living in the Kenmare area, of whom there are many, and all the Dutch people living in Ireland and in the Netherlands, a very happy King's Day, or fijneKoningsdag.
I now invite the Leader for Order of Business.
Happy Koningsdag also to your good self. I thank the Cathaoirleach for raising it this morning. Anyone who knows my part of the world will know there are fields and fields of beautiful tulips in Rush and the areas surrounding Rush. Once we get out of our 20 km zone and when inter-county travel convenes again, people might go to have a look. It is beautiful.
The Order of Business No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House this Friday, 30 April, 2021, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding Ireland's opt into a Europol regulation, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude at 2.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed five minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, Criminal Procedure Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and adjourn at 4 p.m., if not previously concluded, and Private Members' business, No. 55, motion 9, re An Post, to be taken at 4.15 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
Today marks the next stage of the reopening of the country and economy. Listening to the radio as I drove up from Mayo this morning, I felt I was missing out on getting into golf. Between RTÉ and Newstalk, there were reports from across the country of membership increasing in every club, with people being encouraged to join their local golf club. I am definitely thinking about it as it seems to be the thing to do these days.
It is also great to see kids' sports back in the smaller pods. They have lost out on a lot. Clubs will be delighted to get back to that too. I wish Dublin Zoo and similar facilities the best of luck today as they reopen for the first time this year. It is a massive step.
As we look to the next stage and the much-anticipated announcement by the Taoiseach this Thursday on what will happen during May, we are all getting representations as to what people want to see. I sincerely hope that proper consideration will be given to gyms and, in particular, swimming pools. I have made the case that many people use swimming pools for rehabilitation and for exercise purposes as do older people who may not be able to get on their bikes or go running. It is a much-needed source of exercise and recreation for many and it is important to get them open. They are really safe spaces which are well maintained and looked after.
Outdoor dining is one of the biggest things people are calling for. I hope we will see that. Our tourism and hospitality sector need that. Outdoor spaces appear to be quite safe. We need to trust our restaurants, hoteliers and hospitality sector that they will manage their spaces safely and give them the extra month they really need this season to get them back up and running.
Last week the Minister for Health announced funding under the women's health task force, including funding for two ambulatory gynaecology clinics, one in Limerick and one in Tallaght, as well as for something close to my heart, an enhanced endometriosis service in Tallaght Hospital. I thank the Minister for having an open door and for listening.
Advanced services for women and girls with endometriosis is a priority of mine, which I have raised many times. Some 10% of our female population suffer with this condition. It has taken until 2021 for us to have a specialist centre to deal with that. Imagine any condition where 10% of the male population were effected and it took until this year to get specialist services. I cannot and I do not think it would happen. This is only the start. It is a very small but welcome step. From talking to the Endometriosis Association of Ireland, I know it was delighted with the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly's announcement of the centre servicing the whole country, which will deal with advanced and complex cases of endometriosis. I want to see education advanced next. We cannot rely on the health system alone. We must educate our young girls as to what is a normal period, what is normal pain and what is not and equip and empower young girls to know what questions to ask about their menstrual health. It is important that happens at school level so that women are empowered as they head into their adult years and know how to look after their health as best they can.
I understand Brussels wants to see the introduction of vaccine passports or green digital certificates for travel across the EU by the end of June. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has expressed its opposition to the use of vaccine passports in Ireland as a condition for travel and for assessing goods and services. It has called for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to consider human rights implications before supporting the introduction of vaccine passports across the EU. The council's executive director Liam Herrick stated:
There are many reasons why people cannot or do not want to receive vaccines – including because of a medical condition or lack of access to the vaccine. In Ireland we have not gone down the route of mandatory vaccinations, but vaccine passports would effectively be mandatory vaccination by the back door. That has huge knock-on implications for our rights, creating a two-tier society.
The council has pointed out that vaccine passports will exclude many people from society, restrict their freedom of movement and constitute indirect discrimination. If the pass is based in a digital application, it will discriminate against people living in digital poverty or those unable to use digital services. That is not even to mention the huge swathes of the population who simply cannot access the vaccine because there is not enough supply. Infrastructure put in place to manage the pass system will be difficult to roll back and could go on to form the basis of wider migration controls based on health status. Such invasion of our privacy should be considered with the worst authoritarian leaders in mind.
I urge the Government to reflect on the impact that the introduction of a vaccine passport would have on some of our fundamental human rights, such as the right to equality and non-discrimination, freedom of movement, privacy and bodily integrity. I recognise that, of course, travel is important and we want people to be safe and to feel safe, but there are many countervailing reasons vaccine passports are not a good idea. Even the World Health Organization has voiced opposition to them. If vaccine passports are introduced, I believe it is important to ensure the uses for them should be limited as much as possible and that a sunset-type clause applies in order that they are only used as long as absolutely necessary.
On another worrying note, I will speak about the abuse of power by An Garda in Athlone at the weekend. Members of the Garda entered a church where a handful of people were praying. I found it disturbing and do not believe An Garda should be used for that purpose.
Like others, I welcome the news we will be seeing some careful reopening today not only of golf courses, although there has been a focus on golf, but also the restart of other outdoor sports, including tennis, and, in particularly welcome news, we will see the return of outdoor training for underage kids in pods of 15 or fewer. That is welcome because its absence has been a loss for many children and teenagers for more than four months. That has been a gap in the programmes for health and well-being of our young people and children and I really welcome that return. I also welcome the reopening of Dublin Zoo and other outdoor heritage sites.
I agree that the reopening needs to be done carefully. We are all looking forward to further announcements later this week but all of us watching the awful and horrific news from India are conscious of the incredible risk and danger Covid-19 still poses worldwide. Everyone will share my concerns at the pictures and terrible stories from India. We must be mindful that many of our front-line healthcare workers are from India and must be suffering terribly as they watch family and friends back home in such dire straits. I urge the Government to do all it can to show solidarity with the people of India. I know there is a plan in place to send aid to support the extra supply of oxygen, the lack of which is a problem in India at the moment. We will support the Government in that from the Opposition benches and urge the Government to do as much as it can.
I welcome the Citizens' Assembly recommendations on women's rights, gender equality and women's participation in politics. I commend the members of the assembly, particularly the chairperson, Catherine Day, for their sterling work in forensically examining what can best be done through amendment of the Constitution, legislation or other means to increase women's participation in politics. We should debate the matter in this House as women comprise 40% of this House. We currently have the highest proportion of women in the Oireachtas since independence. I would like us to be the leaders on this matter and to debate how best to implement the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly.
I know the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission meets today. I have had a proposal for better facilities for bicycle parking in Leinster House, in particular shared bicycle parking, before the commission for many years now.
I know colleagues on all sides of the House who cycle in daily will, like myself, be anxious to know why we are not seeing better provision for cyclists and cycling, especially during a pandemic and as we face a climate crisis.It is long overdue. I cannot understand why it has taken the commission and the OPW so long to move on this. I urge those at the meeting today to let us have decent bicycle parking facilities and encourage more Members of the Oireachtas to cycle to work.
I, too, welcome some of the reopenings today. My 13-year-old starts back in Galwegians this evening. That is very exciting for our family in our small part of the world. A report from today shows it does not take that long for children to get back up to where they should be developmentally, physically and mentally. We really need to concentrate on that. It is really welcome that children are returning to outdoor pursuits.
I welcome the findings of the Citizens' Assembly. It was very emotional at the event on Saturday where we were presented with the findings. Dr. Catherine Day has an article in The Irish Timestoday in which she states one of the major findings in the report is on caring. This has come as a surprise to many, but not me. Many Members will know that my position on the Labour panel is not as a result of a trade union association but because I started an organisation to advocate for stay-at-home parents. I am absolutely delighted that we are seeing a removal of the antiquated language concerning duty and women in the home. More broadly, we must continue to ensure that those who choose to care, be they men or women, or those of any gender, are supported. We must support individuals in meeting all their childcare needs. That is really important. Regarding older persons care, we must ensure people can be cared for at home as well as outside the home. The Government now has an obligation to examine all this and come forward with proposals. I would certainly welcome a debate here because, as Senator Bacik said, while we are 40% women, this also means we are 60% men. There is an impact on both so this is the appropriate place to talk about the matter.
There is another point I would like to raise. Sex education has come up today. Members will have seen the recommendations on relationships and sex education for Catholic primary schools. After a weekend when the Citizens' Assembly recommended the insertion of a formula recognising all family types into Article 41 of the Constitution, it is important that this be reflected in our education system. Bearing in mind the current constitutional references to the special place of families with two genders, or a marital relationship based on a man and woman, we must be really clear in sex education that ours is a country that has moved to a different place, where we accept everyone and do not talk about religion and God in the same sentence in which we talk about relationships and sex, because it can be very confusing.
Members should not be too jealous. I wish the vaccination roll-out programme in the South every success and every best wish because it is crucial that there not be too much of a disparity between what is rolled out in the North and what is rolled out in the South. A disparity works against our joint efforts in trying to battle through this.
On my main point this afternoon, I thank and express solidarity with all those in the emergency services and, indeed, the Air Corps, who have been battling the devastating fires we have seen in both counties Down and Kerry these past few days. The Government confirmed the establishment of the wildlife unit last year but it is crucial that it be given all the necessary resources. The last few days in counties Down and Kerry show us why. In parallel with the unit, we also need a proactive all-Ireland natural habitats management plan, similar in stature to the Irish Government's national planning framework. It would need major investment and resources.Otherwise, we will continue to mismanage our most sensitive and precious natural habitats.
The reality is that Brexit will starve Northern agencies of vital conservation and management funding. We need an all-Ireland approach to addressing this issue because our environment, ecosystems and biodiversity coexist as one. The same pressures caused by human behaviour in the kingdom of Kerry is affecting the land in the kingdom of Mourne. The prescribed period of burning in the South ends on 1 March, where in the North it is 14 April. That is very late, not least in the context of continued climate change. It is timely that we have an urgent reassessment of the applicability of burning. We should be investing in transitioning farmers and landowners away from such practices in an informed and collaborative way.
These fires will have a devastating impact on wildlife when we are already in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. The National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, is currently under review. It is important that the future of the NPWS ensures that it is organised as an independent authority like the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and that it has the resources and powers to investigate wildlife crime.
I ask for the agreement of the House that the Leader and the Cathaoirleach would write on behalf of all of us to thank the men and women who have been on the front line tackling these fires in both County Down and County Kerry over the past few days. I urge people to remember them and what they have endured when next visiting our mountains and parks, to respect our environment and to follow all the responsible guidance in ensuring we protect our people, our wildlife, our environment and our communities.
I want to highlight what I believe is a very important issue that is close to my heart. It is around adequate access to eating disorder treatment in Ireland. Over the past few months I have been aware of this issue both in my professional work as a therapist and as a Senator. I recently heard a very stressful radio programme about a young girl who rang in and talked about not having anywhere to go and who was literally on death's door. Shockingly, men and women struggling with eating disorders still have to leave the country and, in most cases, must travel to the UK to find adequate specialist mental health services that will ensure their recovery. Our mental health services have continuously failed those with eating disorders for decades and the problem is perpetuated by the lack of ring-fenced national funding.
I commend Deputy Cairns on raising awareness of this issue in the Dáil last week. It is shocking that in 2020, no funding was allocated under the national eating disorder plan and in 2019 none of the €1.6 million allocated was spent. It is not even a huge amount of money. I know of three family members who have children of 13, 14 and 15 with severe eating disorders. I know one family whose daughter is currently being drip fed in a hospital. She is on death's door yet that €1.6 million was not spent. It is shocking.
I will continue to raise this issue as the Chairman of the mental health committee. I am passionate about it. It is an area that deserves more conversation due to the stigmatised nature of the illness. We need to prioritise ease of access to adequate care for people struggling with eating disorders. The lack of conversation around eating disorders results in many people choosing to live with an eating disorder for far longer than they should. We have taken brave and bold steps in recent years to tackle the destigmatisation of eating disorders but it is our duty now to ensure access to health for those brave enough to seek it.
I am shocked that there has been a pause in the implementation of the nationally planned eating disorder services due to operational rather than clinical reasons. As our colleague, Deputy Cairns, stated in the Dáil last week, we cannot allow erratic reasons to stand in the way of access to mental healthcare for those who are more vulnerable. I would love the Minister to come into the House and explain to us what is going on around that area.
I want to welcome the groundbreaking recommendations from the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality. They are brilliant and it is important that the Government moves quickly on the recommendations. Together with others I, too, call for a debate on the Citizens' Assembly recommendations.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the Irishman an executive director of the World Health Organization, WHO, said at the beginning of the pandemic when giving advice to world governments: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." I thought about that statement many times in respect of our response to Covid-19. One example is that of rapid antigen testing, the pros and cons of which we seem to be discussing for an eternity. We eventually got around to doing a report on it and when this was compiled, it recommended that it be rolled out on a pilot basis across different sectors as we try to aid reopening. Meanwhile, other countries, including our closest neighbour the UK, have been using antigen testing for a long time now. Indeed, many businesses that I know in County Monaghan in the transport sector and meat plants were using antigen testing as far back as last August and found it to be a very useful tool in their fight against Covid-19 because businesses cannot hang around, wait and dilly-dally to keep their businesses going and have to try to keep the show on the road and move on. They have moved on and have found this test to be very useful tool. Even Professor Paddy Mallon recently said that we should be using rapid antigen testing immediately in our fight against Covid-19.
We seem to be overcautious and too slow in making some decisions. We are a bit like the guy who wants to wear the belt and the braces. We need to roll out very significant antigen testing immediately across all sectors as we try to open up and get our country back to normality again. It is a useful tool, which we should use, and I would like us to get on with doing this as soon as possible.
Like Senator Chambers, I was listening to the radio on the way up this morning and I heard Mr. Andrew Geary speaking. I am not acquainted with this man at all. He is from Cork and he was speaking about his son, Calum, who is deaf. and he made a statement that as a country he felt that Ireland does not cherish his child and that he had been a failure as a father. I want to say one thing to Andrew, which is coming from a father of a child with additional needs as well, that he is by no means a failure but that I honestly believe he has been an inspiration to all parents of children with additional needs in the way he spoke this morning on the national radio.
As I was coming in the front door, which I am so proud to do every morning that I come here, I looked over to my left to see the copy of the 1916 Proclamation underneath the portrait of Michael Collins. I went over and read it and the reference to cherishing all of the children of the nation. It made me think. I asked myself whether we as a country cherish children. I honestly believe the answer is “No”. We are in the Decade of Centenaries celebrations, and we will celebrate 100 years since the signing of the Treaty next year. Can we honestly say as a country that we have followed up what was put up in the 1916 Proclamation that we cherish all of the children of the nation? The answer is “No” when he we are still fighting for services. I have always advocated here for services, especially for autism services as I have a young lad with special needs. I felt that this was a poignant moment on our national radio and I want to say to that gentleman that he has opened up a conversation that we need to expand on to ensure that as legislators, as a country and as a State, we can say that we cherish all of the children of the nation equally.
On the issue of outdoor dining and the recently announced scheme, this needs to be expanded and I have sent correspondence to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, in that all pubs and restaurants need to be part of this. I do not want there to be any distinction, as there has been in the past, between them as to eligibility to apply for this. Can the Minister, Deputy Martin, extend that scheme so that all are allowed to apply for inclusion in it? I also welcome the minimum price of alcohol Bill, which was mentioned in the national media yesterday. This is an issue that I have always pushed in the House as well. Moves are now afoot to introduce that, which will be very important for the health and well-being of our younger generations in the years to come.
I thank the Senator and join with him in his kind words about Andrew Geary.I know Andrew Geary quite well because he championed the Irish Sign Language recognition Bill on behalf of his son - and I mean championed it. It is not acceptable that, 100 years and more after the Proclamation referred to "cherishing all the children of the nation equally", the Senator, Andrew Geary and many others have to fight for their children to have equal access to education and services. I thank the Senator for his kind words about Andrew.
After speaking about the vaccine and my concerns on Friday, I went and took the vaccine yesterday and I am still alive. Most of the people I spoke to in my age group felt hard done by insofar as they were offered AstraZeneca and nothing else. One person said it was as if they bought a load of this stuff and need to give it to someone, so they are giving it to us. I compliment the people in Citywest. My beloved Defence Forces were out there making sure everything was running smoothly, as were the volunteers. The nurse who administered the vaccine to me was absolutely wonderful. I expressed my concerns and fears and she took loads of time to explain things to me. However, she told me, at the end of the day, I had the right to say "No" but if I did I would join a waiting list and she had no idea how long that might take. It is great it is there. I have had it and I am still kicking this morning. We will see how the next couple of weeks go.
Senator Ó Donnghaile spoke about front-line people in crisis and I want to remember the 53 crewmen of the Indonesian submarine, KRI Nanggala, which sank over the last couple of days. I cannot begin to imagine the death those 53 men had. It brings me on to our own front-line services and the fires in Killarney at the moment. The Air Corps once again was there, ready to do what was asked of it by the State. The Air Corps, Army and navy have been there time and time again but this morning I read something on Twitter - I cannot use a name because the Cathaoirleach will not allow me to do that. A former director of the Irish Coast Guard on secondment in Mogadishu put up on Twitter this morning that the Air Corps was responsible for the loss of Rescue 116. I have written to the Minister and to this man's boss in the European Commission and I have spoken about the way he has constantly tweeted this type of nonsense. I have not had a response from the Minister but this is an outrageous attack on our most loyal people.
I raise the concerns I and others have about a family from my county of Roscommon whose husband and father is an Australian-born engineer. He is being held without charge in Iraq. This story appeared in The Sunday Times yesterday in an article by John Mooney. Even though it is only 10 km down the road from me, I was not aware of this story. I believe it is in the Irish Daily Mailtoday.
I ask the Leader to approach the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, and the Department to help secure this man's release. The gentleman's name is Robert Pether and he has been living in Elphin in Roscommon for over two years. His wife and three children are there and to say they are distraught and upset would be an understatement. His wife and children are Irish citizens. He was arrested on 7 April in Baghdad with an Egyptian colleague in connection with a contractual dispute over the country's new central bank headquarters. He is being held in solitary confinement but the family pointed out to me that, as far as they can find out, he is being treated well by the Iraqi authorities. His arrest has stunned the engineering and construction community in that part of the world.He is highly respected. He has carried out a great deal of work and was the main overseer of this major building, the new central bank headquarters in Iraq.
A dispute seems to have arisen between the authorities and the company carrying out the work, and as far as I can establish, he has been caught in the middle. I acknowledge that a local councillor, Valerie Byrne, has also been working on this issue this morning. It is a very sad case. There was the Dublin case previously. Will the Leader do what I have requested? I am in contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs and am sure the Minister will do his best.
Marital breakdown and family separation is an unfortunate fact of life, particularly in a modern age when we facilitate it as we should. In the aftermath of that, there are often obligations on parents, where children are involved, and maintenance obligations on the parent who does not have custody of the children. Again, that is as it should be and often it has to be done through a court process, which is unfortunate. In cases where orders are made in respect of maintenance of children, it can often be very difficult for the parent who is to receive the maintenance to enforce that order. Sometimes one parent refuses to engage with the process or to pay what he or she - more often he - should pay. The process by which a parent who is looking after the children can pursue that is very cumbersome and expensive if they do not have access to legal aid.
I wonder whether the time has come for us to have a debate on this. While it is open to parents to seek attachments and even committals, that is, taking the money automatically from the other parent's earnings or, in the worst-case scenario, committing him or her to jail for not following that order, has the time come for us to have a debate about this and to assess whether there should be an independent State agency to make this an administrative function? Such a body would take the matter out of the hands of the court once the order is made and ensure there is an automatic follow-up on the maintenance orders. It is unfortunate and demeaning for the parent who has custody of the children to have to pursue the other parent for money, and it is unfair to ask him or her to do it through the court process.
Will the Leader accommodate a debate in the House to consider establishing an administrative agency or body that can do this as a matter of course to safeguard those families and help those parents who are in circumstances where they have to plead to a former partner for money to which they are entitled under a court order?
I express my delight at the outcome of the Citizens' Assembly on gender equality and at the recommendations it issued on Saturday last. The breadth of the recommendations reflects how large the job to be done with regard to gender equality remains. The focus of the assembly was women and work and the recommendations are seismic. Crucially, the assembly recognised that there are no silver bullets and that single gestures are not enough.
As an example, there was an explicit acknowledgment that we will not fix the gender pay gap if we focus solely on pay transparency or lifting the minimum wage. I am conscious that my colleague, Senator Bacik, brought legislation on the issue to the House in 2018 and we are still waiting to see Government movement on that, although there is a bit more movement now. It is a very important part of trying to narrow the gender pay gap. We need all those things and to empower women and men to bargain collectively for their wages and conditions, and that was recognised by the assembly on Saturday. To me, that is an historic breakthrough in recognising and acknowledging that the State has a crucial role to play in regulating and protecting workers within the workplace, but there is a limit to what the State can do. It is an acknowledgment that workers also have to be able to push for themselves.
There is a clear call from the Citizens' Assembly to have collective bargaining and tangible and concrete measures to try to address the gender pay gap. We call on the Government to make clear what actions it intends to carry out. It is a great credit to the National Women's Council of Ireland, the trade unions and many other groups that made submissions.The ball is now in the Government's court and we need to hear how it will implement those recommendations.
I am thoroughly enjoying the "GunPlot" podcast series dealing with the saga of the 1970 arms crisis. The third episode of the podcast was released this morning with five more to go and a documentary will air on television on Wednesday night. It is a pity we had to wait 50 years to have that level of investigative journalism, which has come in the wake of the release of Michael Heney's book last year. It is great that we are now getting to the truth of what happened then. It is heartening and enlightening. I look forward to the day when the names of people who worked for the State are cleared. I refer to people such as Captain James Kelly and Colonel Michael Hefferon.
Like Senator Carrigy, I also listened to the Ryan Tubridy show this morning. I was struck by the garda sergeant's telling of the story of his son who along with 5,000 other deaf people struggle, getting through their childhood, getting through education in particular, and finding work and a purpose in life. He referred to the Proclamation and how our children should be cherished equally. With that in mind, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to the House to discuss this.
Listening to that father this morning talking about his son and the fear of never being able to hold down a job was terribly upsetting. Things can be done for these people, as has been done in the past for children with special needs and their parents. Work is being done in different Departments and State agencies throughout the country. Some are being employed but we can do more, and I would like the opportunity to discuss that with the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte.
I wish to speak about litter and the preparation for what we hope will be an outdoor summer. I live in a small rural part of Dublin 15 which has looked a bit like a rubbish tip in recent months as people literally throw their rubbish out of their cars. It is now spreading to some of our public parks and other public spaces across the city and throughout the country. We are heading for a litter emergency during what we are branding as our outdoor summer. In Dublin alone, in the Phoenix Park, at the Royal Canal, in Portobello and in Monkstown, the bins were overflowing this weekend. I thank people from the area and councillors who have shared their photographs. I commend Councillor Colm O'Rourke and Councillor James Geoghegan in Dublin City Council and Councillor Lorraine Hall in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and those who are already engaged in clean-ups.
I also pay tribute to the firefighters in Killarney, in the Mourne Mountains and in other counties who continue to work so hard to put out devastating fires, the sources of which are yet to be confirmed.
Right now, we are not ready for an outdoor summer. People need to remember we are in a biodiversity crisis. Officials in Fingal County Council have advised me that they have never seen anything like the rubbish they have had to deal with. Local authorities and the OPW need to provide extra bins, which need to be emptied more regularly. We need additional bin bags to be left at those spots. The Minister needs to review the resources available for bin-collection staff, park and wildlife rangers and litter wardens, and we should supplement them if necessary. We have asked so much of them recently and that will only increase during the summer. We need proper information and education for people about how to behave responsibly outdoors. The organisation, Leave No Trace Ireland, could help in that regard.
Businesses want to be able to serve people outdoors but many of our casual trading by-laws are out of date. For instance, in Fingal people may only trade at graveyards and at beaches, and people are looking to change that.One needs a licence to trade there but we should review the position. The Minister can issue guidelines in that regard. The latter would be very good in the context of waste management, segregation and designating areas for litter-picking. Things have changed a great deal since 1995, when the Casual Trading Act was implemented. We need an outdoor strategy if we are going to plan for an outdoor summer.
I welcome the gradual reopening. We need to include all industries in the plans that are due to be announced. We cannot ignore some industries, such as that relating to night-life, or exclude them from the plan. Thousands of workers and their families are relying on the plans for reopening. They deserve to get a sense from the Government of what is going to happen.
There is much to unpack in the news that the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference has developed what it refers to as a voluntary resource for primary schools. I do not profess to have all of the answers but this is not one of them. Ninety per cent of all national schools in this country are Catholic. According to The Irish Times, an introduction to the programme states that:
... when discussing LGBT issues the "Church's teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted."
The programme for senior classes states that "puberty is a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him"; while a lesson on safety and protection advises senior infant children to say the "Angel of God" prayer.
I prayed for years that I would not be gay. I did so because of shame, much of which I can place the blame for at the door of the Church. Prayer and religious ideology do nothing to protect children or young people. Prayer and ideology do nothing to protect kids against sexually transmitted infections or HIV. I raised this issue with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, when she was here for a debate on the leaving certificate. We need a debate on sex education. We need politicians in both Chambers to stand up and be allies on this issue. I know that by making this statement alone, there will be abuse and I will be called a degenerate online. We need allies to stand up with LGBT people.
I echo the calls made by my colleague, Senator Warfield, for a debate on sex education. Such a debate would be useful.
Equally, I echo the remarks made by Senators Carrigy and Blaney. It happens only occasionally that an interview comes on the radio and stops you in your tracks. Ryan Tubridy handled the interview with Andrew Geary, about his son Calum, this morning quite well. We should celebrate the contribution of deaf people and those with hearing difficulties to Irish society, but we need a broader debate around the supports from the education system. Crucially, part of the discussion was around the employment of those with disabilities. Having Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, in for a debate on that matter would be useful.
I wish to raise the question of academic freedom, which is a fundamental principle of our higher education system. In recent times, we have seen a number of powerful countries and companies question our universities and their right to be able to make and disseminate their findings freely. I refer here to Dr. Richard Maher of University College Dublin, UCD, who raised questions which drew unfair criticism from Huawei and the Chinese embassy, and Dr. Donnacha Ó Beacháin of Dublin City University, who, because he brought in a particular speaker, drew criticism from the Georgian and Ukrainian embassies. These are respected academics who are open to hearing, and who have always allowed, a variety of points of view in their courses. A fundamental part of our higher education system involves academic freedom. In forthcoming legislation on higher education governance, it is essential that we include protections in that area.I ask that in our debate on higher education we centre and focus on the question of academic freedom and that, as a Government, we indicate very clearly that no matter how powerful the company or country, we will protect academic freedom in our universities.
As co-founder, PRO and secretary of the community group, Ballinasloe says No, we have battled for more than four years against the inappropriate location of a waste transfer station in Ballinasloe town, fighting for the health and safety of families in the second largest town in County Galway, as well as the protection of the local environment. Despite that, and the fact that close to 3,000 objections were submitted by people and families over two campaigns against the granting of a permit for this type of station, two weeks ago Galway County Council granted this permit. What does this mean? It means hundreds of ten, 15 and 20 tonne trucks coming through the heart of Ballinasloe town, past residential urban streets, playgrounds, estates and the hospital, to reach this location. What about road safety? What about air pollution? As a community group, we are reviewing our options. In 2018, we won a case in the High Court on the potential adverse impact to waterways of this construction on low lying flood planes.
How did this happen? Planning was granted in 2017 to allow this development. However, nobody in the town knew anything about it. There was no consultation with the local community. Under current planning regulations, the requirement for public notice is placement in a newspaper circulating in the area and a notice fixed to the proposed site. This is not sufficient or fit-for-purpose to ensure that local communities are aware of potentially devastating impacts to safety, health and the environment. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the local authorities need to use current methods of communication such as sponsored advertising, using social media channels or feeds. This planning permission went through with no objections submitted and yet when we built a campaign and people were made aware of it, more than 3,000 people objected. How does this stack up? There is discrimination here against people who have not been able to be informed through a newspaper advertisement. How was such a development considered without public consultation?
Today, on behalf of the people of Ballinasloe, I am calling on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to review the outdated legislation for public notifications and to undertake an analysis of the impact of these waste facilities. The particular facility about which I am speaking today is within 2 km of built residential areas in the heart of Ballinasloe town. There is need for adequate resourcing within local authorities to review environmental impacts and a requirement for an environmental impact assessment for these types of proposed classes of development under planning, in particular waste management. This development is shocking to the town of Ballinasloe.
This morning, I want to address the reopening of the hospitality sector. With many pubs having been closed for more than 400 days, it is important this reopening is done in a fair and equitable manner. In particular, traditional pubs, which do not serve food, should be given the same opportunity as the rest of the hospitality sector.
I also believe it is important to have an all-Ireland approach. In recent days, I spoke to Councillor Raymond Aughey, who runs a hospitality business in Monaghan. It is clear that if a separate approach is taken by this jurisdiction and Northern Ireland for any prolonged period of time, it will be extremely challenging for businesses in the Border counties. Northern Ireland has removed the substantial meal requirement and will allow all businesses to open for outdoor trading from this Friday. In three weeks' time, it will allow indoor trading to resume. We should follow a similar pattern, allowing outdoor services to resume at the end of May, without any substantial meal requirement, and indoor services to resume when we have reached the target of 80% of adults having received their first vaccination by the end of June.
As with all people and businesses, the vast majority of those operating in the hospitality sector must follow all Government guidelines. I know people and businesses in Galway will adhere to those guidelines. The control setting of a hospitality business, where guidelines are being implemented and social distancing is in place, will be far safer options than most socialising forms that will be chosen this summer. Businesses within the hospitality sector have been hammered for well over a year.The summer is always the busiest time of the year. It is essential that we ensure all who operate in this sector are given the chance to open, are given further supports to allow them to rebuild and are given an opportunity to survive a crisis which they had no part in making.
I echo and support Senator Warfield's remarks on the need for a balanced debate on sex education, and I applaud him for his remarks in the House today.
I join with Senator Carrigy and others on the remarks about Andrew Geary. I know Andrew Geary. He is a tremendous father, a tremendous public servant and a huge and profoundly important advocate for his son, Callum. I commend him for his work.
The digital green certificate has been raised on the Order of Business today. I call on the Leader to facilitate a debate in the House on the absolute need for us, as a country and as an integral member of the European Union, to have the digital green certificate put in place. I am concerned that we do not have the preparatory work under way to ensure we can have access to the important benefit of the adaptation and implementation of the European Union digital green certificate. The vaccine passport and digital passport will enhance our country and facilitate the reopening of our country in a safe manner, not just for internal travel but for international travel, which is so pivotal to our country in the context of tourism.
I ask that we would have this debate so we can show to the world that we are ready and prepared. It is very important we do so in tandem with the Government's planned remarks on Thursday in regard to the reopening of the country. The digital green passport is of critical importance. The need for action to have our country ready is of paramount importance to the hospitality sector, the retail market, external travel agents and airlines operating into and out of our country. I hope we will have that debate as a matter of urgency.
The calls for the conducting of a border poll for Irish reunification have grown considerably in recent times. That has been amplified by the fact the majority in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. It is gathering momentum and probably more support unity now than ever before. However, surely the purpose of holding a poll is to have a prospect of success. If one is to put the question, one would like it to be successful. I am one of those who would love to see a united Ireland but now is not the time. I was struck recently by the interview given by the leader of Ulster unionism in one of the last interviews of that fine reporter, Tommie Gorman. The leader of Ulster unionism said:
There is a misunderstanding that I am, somehow, a misguided Irish person and actually all I have to do is realise that I'm Irish and not British at all. That is a fundamental misunderstanding that republicans and nationalists have.
If the leader of Ulster unionism believes that, and I believe that she believes it, now is not the time. Now is not the time because we must listen to our brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland and we must appreciate and celebrate diversity. I know we work hard on joint Oireachtas committees in the two Houses. I ask the Leader if there is a role for Seanad Éireann to try to appreciate and partake actively in a listening exercise whereby the leader of Ulster unionism can be convinced that, for many voices of Irish republicanism and nationalism, that is not the case and that we celebrate her diversity. However, she does not believe it, and that is what matters most. We have a job of work at hand before we put any border poll. Now is not the time.
I thank my colleagues. I agree with Senator Martin that now is not the time for a poll. However, what it absolutely is time for, and I do not think there has ever been a better time, is to start having the conversation with each other, those of us with opposing views, as to what we would like to see in a shared island and what the potential opportunities and, indeed, perhaps some of the downsides might be.I do not think that there has ever been a better time for us to start the conversation and obviously any part of a conversation involves listening. The other day, we discussed at the meeting of the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight the potential role that the Seanad might be able to play in that. Once a decision is made I will put it to all Members and let people know.
Senators Buttimer and Keogan have raised the need for a debate on the proposed EU legislation on digital green certificates that, please God, will pass in June. There are opposing views and that is why it is important for us to have not just a debate in this House but a public debate. The most important thing that we can do as leaders is to determine and make clear what a digital certificate will actually do because it will not discriminate. I know that there are people who feel it will but it absolutely will not. The proposed legislation does allow those who are vaccinated to get a digital certificate but it also allows those who have contracted Covid-19 and still have antibodies and, equally, those who have a negative test who may never have a vaccination for either their own reasons, medical reasons, or, thankfully, did not contract Covid. The certificate will be a game changer that will ensure the Irish connectivity that has been developed by our airlines over the past 20 years and that is vital to the rebounding of the economy will be able to resume at some stage at the being of the second half of this year. A debate has been sought and as soon as I have scheduled date I will let both Senators know, and indeed all of the Members.
Senators Crowe and Carrigy both have talked about the welcome announcement by the Minister on the grants that are available for outdoor dining for our outdoor summer this year. I hope, and I have made inquiries to the Department, that the current exclusion of the so-called wet pubs must be an oversight and an anomaly, because if it is not, then the matter needs to be rectified. I have written to the Minister and asked to be assured that it is an oversight and an anomaly. I will come back to Members of this House once she has written back to me.
I am absolutely gutted and I was unaware that the hard work of Senator Dolan and the community of Ballinasloe has been somewhat overlooked by Galway County Council. I certainly will ask the Minister to revise and review the conditions around public notifications in terms of advertisements about planning permission. The community is not unique in not knowing even though there apparently were notifications, but once people were made aware of the proposal, there were objections. I will come back to the Senator once I write to the Minister.
Senator Malcolm Byrne raised the absolute right to have free academic education and it should be enshrined.
I was distraught when I listened to Senator Warfield speak about the years he prayed and he felt shame. It makes me feel shameful we had a society that allowed him to feel that way and I am really sorry. There is a need for a debate and a number of Members have raised the issue, including Senator Pauline O'Reilly. I have religious beliefs but they play no part in the conversations I ever had with any of my four children around sexual education. Beliefs have nothing to do with it and the same should apply for everybody in all walks of life. Senator Warfield is right that, given we are still having this conversation, there is definitely a need for a debate. I will arrange it and let all Members know.
Senator Currie talked about an outdoor strategy for an outdoor summer. Like all those colleagues who have welcomed the easing of restrictions this morning, I too wish to put on record that it is lovely to see a little bit of life being injected into the population. Again, and I do not mean to be disrespectful, and I do not think it is rocket science, if we ask people to be outside, and we know human behaviour is that people do not always bring their rubbish home with them, let us just provide the bloody bins so they can put their rubbish in them. I pay tribute to all of the workers who are up at 5 o'clock in the morning cleaning up the Portobello area, the Phoenix Park and all of the other attractions people flocked to over the weekend because of the sunshine.
Senator Blaney talked about the "GunPlot" podcast. I only started to listen to it this morning and I look forward to having a full view. The podcast is interesting for those of us of a certain age who probably do not know. I also thought it was interesting to hear on RTÉ this morning that the podcast is most popular on Spotify, which has a far younger cohort of listeners, so it is interesting to hear back.
Many Members, including Senator Sherlock, have brought up the momentous recommendations made by the Citizens' Assembly on Sunday. On behalf of all of us here, I thank Dr. Catherine Day and the 99 other members for their tremendous input. I was privileged to be a member of a Citizens' Assembly many years ago.We got together in Malahide once a month and they were very enjoyable occasions. These citizens had to do it online, which meant they had a very different experience. The recommendations show just how far we have to travel if we are to have equality for women, carers and children. It is incumbent on Cabinet to react to these recommendations as quickly as it can because we all know how long it takes for legislation to be drafted. Judging by the list of recommendations, a hell of a lot of legislation will need to be passed. We will play our part. I will ask for a debate in this House as soon as I can get access to the Minister.
Senator Ward brought up an issue that is particularly close to my heart because of the dealings I had with a wide variety of people when I was Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. At that stage, we in the Department set up a judge-led inquiry with a view to streamlining the process, especially given that the vast majority of these cases involve people fighting to move a social welfare payment from one side of the table to the other, to take that burden off the courts. That commission was delayed as a result of the Covid pandemic but I will welcome the recommendations to come from the lady judge this year. I expect those recommendations very soon. I will write to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and ask her the status of the process and then come back to the Senator. This will not, however, address the situation of those who are not relying on social welfare payments in this period of their lives. We might look at the next steps involved in taking this administrative burden away from the courts.
Senator Murphy talked very passionately about a family in Roscommon. I will ring the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and write to him later today to ask him to intervene and I will come back to the Senator with a response directly.
Senator Craughwell talked about the vaccine he received this morning and he paid tribute to the wonderful staff we have in every single vaccination centre in the country. I acknowledge that.
Senator Carrigy, among others, talked about the very emotional interview Andrew Geary gave on behalf of his son. It is absolutely abhorrent that any parent in this country would see himself or herself as a failure because of either the distribution of services or the lack of services for any child in this country. Again, we have a long way to go. It is interesting that, in listening to the concerns raised here every week, they are usually about the lack of services for women and children in this country. This should make us more mindful of how we spend our euros as a nation.
Senator Gallagher gave his opinion, which I wholeheartedly share, that there is an immediate need for antigen testing in this country. We spent months compiling a report as to whether this is a good idea. Professor Ferguson came out with a report a number of weeks ago and recommended that pilot schemes be introduced. I have no idea why we are introducing pilot schemes. We know these tests work. They are not perfect but they are part of a suite of measures we could be using to ensure that teachers, special needs assistants and other staff in schools feel more confident going into their schools every day. Giving all staff in schools an antigen test five days a week would cost approximately €12 per person. When one considers the cost of a PCR test, tens of thousands of which the State is paying for every week, it makes no sense to fail to instil confidence in our teaching staff and all of the employees who will go back to work in the coming weeks, if it please God, when we reopen click and collect services or shopping by appointment or reopen in other ways. We all anticipate the announcements in this regard next Thursday. Why can we not instil confidence in all of those staff by making sure that their employers give them antigen tests before they begin work? It may also be of use for intercounty sportspeople. The list goes on and on. I have no idea why we are not doing this and at some point we are going to have to answer the question of why we are not using antigen testing to ensure a safer reopening for our outdoor summer.
Senator Bacik welcomed the loosening of restrictions, as we all do, and the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly. I will come back with the date.
Senator Chambers raised the very welcome announcement of the Department of Health last week regarding the establishment in 2021 of specialised medical services for women and the dysfunctions we go through at certain periods in our lives.
Senator Ó Donnghaile made us all incredibly jealous - or at least he made me incredibly jealous - when he told us that he received his vaccine and, indeed, a haircut last week. I am not sure of which I am more jealous. I wait in anticipation of our hairdressers opening in the coming weeks and of when I can get on the list. We are looking forward to the days when life as normal, whatever the new normal will be, can resume and we can all enjoy it.