Friday, 30 April 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No.1, motion re Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 3) Regulations 2021 (Restaurants operating as takeaways), to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion re Planning and Development (Street Furniture Fees) Regulations 2021 – back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 3, motion re the Orders of Reference of the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community, extension of reporting deadline, be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate; No. 4, Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Bill 2020 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3.15 p.m.
I support the Order of Business as outlined. A week is a long time in politics and since the House last met, Arlene Foster has signalled that she will be standing down as First Minister and as leader of the DUP. I pay tribute to Arlene Foster. Politics is a difficult game for all of us and nowhere is it more difficult than in Northern Ireland. I wish her well and acknowledge her work on behalf of the unionist community and of all of those she has represented during the past five years as leader of her party.
I want to raise with the Leader an issue in respect of the announcement during the week by the Catholic bishops regarding their relationships and sexuality education, RSE, programme, Flourish, for schools. We all want our children to flourish. I am talking about children of all religions and families. We want to ensure that all children are respected and nourished, whether they come from single-parent homes, care homes, traditional homes or if they are children of same-sex couples. That is of very great importance. I acknowledge my Catholic upbringing in a Catholic school. Those times were very different and those within the LGBTQI+ community were stigmatised, shunned and ashamed. I often think about what they had to go through. Thankfully, we live in a different country now.
In 2015, we had an equality referendum in which we, as a country, acknowledged that love is love and respect is respect. That is of very great importance. While schools can have their ethos, and families have their own particular ethos, it is very important that RSE is taught on a health-based premise within all of our schools. I call for a debate on the introduction of an updated RSE programme based upon respect for all.I also want to raise an article by Carl O'Brien inThe Irish Timesthis morning, in which he brings our attention to the fact that 4,500 children have not returned to school following closures during the pandemic. For more than half of them, this is because of health issues but that is not the case for the others. They will be our forgotten children. I have a major concern, which I have no doubt is shared by many in the Chamber, that these children will be absolutely left behind. We need to put together an urgent task force to ensure this does not happen. Children leaving school without literacy and numeracy can lead to a life of deprivation and sometimes criminality. This is an urgent situation for all of us.
On behalf of the members of the Independent Group, and I think I speak for everyone in the House in this regard, I wish to express sympathy to Senator Mullen on the death of his father. I want to mark what may not be generally known, which is how many years of devoted home care Senator Mullen and his family provided for the late Thomas Mullen. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
The exit from Irish politics of Arlene Foster is something which raises very considerable issues for politics on this island, no matter where we come on the green-orange spectrum. She broke the glass ceiling by becoming the First Minister of Northern Ireland. She came from the Church of Ireland official unionist camp into the DUP camp. She attempted, and it was a difficult task, to nudge that party towards a more inclusive and liberal view on many social issues. It has been recorded that in the end the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of support for her was her abstention on the gay conversion therapy policy of that party. She is and was a tough exponent of her views. In a popularity contest south of the Border she might not rank towards the top but it is sad to see somebody of her ability and bravery go. We have to bear in mind that her father was the subject of an attempted assassination. We are seeing somebody such as this effectively bounced out of politics for taking not a very daring stance but a compassionate stance to support young people who were in the same position as those mentioned so notably by Senator Warfield in the House the other day. We speak about reconciliation on this island. I believe we made an error in not having Ian Marshall not reappointed or re-elected to this House. It would be remiss of us to let Arlene Foster's departure go without comment and without some expression of gratitude for what she attempted to do in her own way.
I join Senator McDowell in offering words of sympathy to Senator Mullen. The Cathaoirleach asked me to do so on his behalf also. I could not agree more with Senator McDowell's words on the devoted care and love Senator Mullen displayed for his father over many years while he was in ill-health. As they say, and to be biblical, by their fruit you shall know them, and he lives according to his word.
I want to raise an issue that featured in the Irish Independentthis morning. I refer to what I see has been a very significant change in what most people understand as cost rental. The Minister has said that he wants to expand the definition of cost rental and allow investors and private firms to make equity or profit from cost rentals. That would be a significant change to what most of us understand cost rental to be and it is not linked to affordability. At this week's meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage I tabled an amendment asking that affordable or cost rental would be linked to a person's income of about 30%. That is the generally agreed definition of affordability that was given to us by the outside interests that appeared before the committee. In response, some of the Government members said that cost is cost, it is cost rental and we are recovering it. What we are finding out now, and I think what we are going to have in the eventual Bill, is that cost rental is cost plus profit, which is, essentially, a State subvention for market-led housing.
The Minister, when giving his reasons, said that he sought to expand the definition of cost rental and one that is not overly reliant on public funding. That is a very important statement because we are developing a cost-rental model that would not be publicly funded but reliant on the market to fulfil it. That, to me, is normal market-led housing. It is no different. His statement that there would be no reliance on public funds is an ideological stance. The Government's policy when it comes to housing is profit driven, investor driven and developer driven. The policy is to use State money to lease build-to-rent for social housing and we are building way more build-to-rent properties than ever before. We are also allowing investors to buy whole developments off the plans in order to be able to rent. The Government is relying on the private sector to provide social housing through the housing assistance payment programme. To add insult to injury, the help-to-buy and proposed shared equity scheme are just a subsidy for developers. We are making the same old mistakes time and again. I ask for a wide debate in this House on housing policy because today's article is very worrying.
I welcome the lifting of restrictions but there is a little confusion. Last night, we were told that 50 guests could attend a wedding ceremony but still only six can attend an indoor reception and 15 at an outdoor reception. At the end of the month I will be lucky enough to be one of six guests going to the wedding of my friends, Bernard and Eddie. They need clarification on what they can have at their wedding. For example, does the figure of six include witnesses, the couple and guests? There is a lot of confusion among people who, within this short period, are having their wedding. They have now been told that they can have 50 people but the limits on the reception are different. Therefore, we need the matter to be clarified.
I welcome Senator Horkan to the Chamber. I am still finding my feet and ask him to take it easy on me and to tread carefully.
I want to speak on two matters. Today, outside Leinster House, there is a young girl called Fossie who is displaying a Fridays for Future banner and asking for climate and environmental education to become part of the core curriculum for primary and secondary schools. I support her in her endeavours and it is a shame someone so young must be out demonstrating every Friday. I admire her and thank her but there is no point in thanking her unless one is going to listen. The House could discuss, with the Department of Education, the possibility of making climate and environment education a core subject so that there is deeper understanding and a focus on action. We do not want children to bear the brunt of all the problems that we have created as adults so it is important that any information is age appropriate.
I wish to highlight something related to the great news yesterday about all of the opening up and everything being outdoor. It is important that local authorities are supported in having proper professional urban designers because if we do not get this right then things could go horribly wrong. In the first instance, it is great that there is a grant for cafés, restaurants and venues who serve indoors normally to get some funding towards furniture, awnings and stuff, but I urge that this is not done in a haphazard fashion.It should not be that only those who have space outside get to have seating. It must be done in a more cohesive, town-based way. That cannot be done by people who do not know how to design. We have seen it done very well in other countries across the Continent, where the local authorities manage it. However, for this to work properly, the local authorities will need extra staffing and bins. Many things need to happen other than the awarding of grants for extra furniture. If we do it right, it will be amazing and we will be a beautiful, clean country. If we get it wrong, as we saw in so many places last weekend, we will be sorry. Let us do it right. It should be mandatory for each local authority to have an urban designer of some kind involved in this work. It cannot be done by road engineers or technicians. It must be done by people who know how to do it properly and do it right. They should be given extra funding so that we do not see litter everywhere. More supports need to be given for the provision of reusable cups and other initiatives that we can start again as we become a post-Covid country.
I urge the House to support me on that. We should look at doing it fairly for all businesses and not just the ones that happen to have a lot of space outside. If we do not get the local authorities involved, it will not be done in a fair way.
This weekend we celebrate May Day, international workers' day. It is a day for trade unionists to reflect on their achievements and to plan for the huge work that still needs to be done. This evening I will be addressing party comrades on our vision for workers' rights in a united Ireland.
The Leader will not be surprised that I am raising the issue of collective bargaining. The problem with the term "collective bargaining" is that it is quite technical and does not really tell people a lot. The best way to explain it is that the lack of collective bargaining means that thousands of workers throughout this country have no say in their workplace. Due to a lack of collective bargaining, employers can just refuse to engage in dialogue with workers. Workers may be told that if they really cause trouble, they can be fired. There is legislation in place which allows workers to claim a few thousand euro in compensation, but that is the best money the employer will ever spend, because it can then show other workers what the consequences will be if they join a union.
Right now in Limerick, a company called Iron Mountain is refusing to negotiate with its workers and their union, SIPTU. Iron Mountain is a global US company. It manages files for the University Hospital Limerick and does a lot of work for the Office of the Ombudsman. It makes millions from taxpayers' money. This is how our procurement system works currently. We give huge amounts of taxpayers' money to the likes of Iron Mountain, which has told workers who have worked there for 17 years that it is not interested in what they want to discuss. The workers have been told that the company will close in July and they will receive a minimum redundancy payout. When the workers' union wrote to the company, it received a response thanking representatives for the letter and declining the request to engage with workers. These companies can do that because of the fact there is no collective bargaining legislation in place in this country. I ask Senators to imagine how it feels to be a worker of 17 years' service, who started on minimum wage and is not paid much more today, in this situation. All these workers want is a decent settlement. Unfortunately, they are denied even the right to negotiate that settlement because there is no law in place for collective bargaining.
Collective bargaining is recognised as a human right. It is recognised in Article 28 of the European Social Charter. We have signed up to that charter but we have not signed up to collective bargaining. What happens, as in the case of Iron Mountain, is that workers are voiceless. They have nowhere to turn. If they want to go to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, it does not matter, because the company will not turn up. It will argue that it is doing fine as it is, which is true, because it is making millions from taxpayers' money. When is this country going to change how we do procurement by introducing a simple clause which states that if companies get money from the State, they must recognise trade unions and the workers' right to join a trade union, and they must negotiate with these unions. How many decades will it take for this to happen? Unfortunately, for decades, neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael has acted to fix this and to give us some decency in the workplace. What will be done for those workers in Iron Mountain?
Incidentally, when the workers declared that they had got the union involved, the company doubled the number of vans it was using to remove files from the premises to ensure the place was closed as quickly as possible. That was the company's response. Is that the response we will give today? We must do more for the working class in this country. It is May Day weekend. Let us stand up and do something for the workers of Iron Mountain.
I join others in passing on my condolences to Senator Mullen on the death of his father. I know my colleagues in Fianna Fáil will also join me in sending on those condolences. It is my first time in the House with my colleague, Senator Horkan. It is great to have him back.I wish to tell colleagues about an amazing brave lady who gave a presentation to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence yesterday, Ghufran Khoulani. She is a Syrian refugee living in Ireland. She bravely spoke of her brother who was disappeared in Syria. Later she learned he was illegally detained. She learned this because of a man called Caesar, a defector who had been an official forensic photographer for the Syrian military police, had managed to smuggle out photographs of the bodies of thousands of detainees. She recognised her brother, Muhammad, in the Caesar photographs and joined with other families who also recognised loved ones in forming the Caesar Families Association. She made her presentation to highlight the issues on the ground in Syria today. She wanted to tell us about the widespread arbitrary detention, the enforced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killings used brutally by the Syrian regime. Ghufran Khoulani asked all committee members to bring this to everyone's attention. I would like the Leader to seek a debate in the House on the current situation in Syria. Alarmingly, Denmark has suggested that it is a safe place for refugees to return. She argues against that, having knowledge of what is happening there on the ground.
My second issue has been raised in the House before, in particular by my colleague Deputy Higgins, namely, vaccine equality. We need to ensure such equality for healthcare across the world, as well as ensuring that we do not leave space for new variants to develop. What can we do? We can subscribe to COVAX, with its motto "no one is safe until everyone is safe", we can donate surplus supplies of vaccines to developing countries and can make financial contributions. One thing that we could do, and which we should debate here, is the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, waiver campaign. We need to debate whether we should waive intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines for the acute phase or for the duration of the pandemic.
I join with my colleague with respect to May Day. It is rather ironic that he brought up the issue of workers' rights and how workers are treated in this country. One of the worst employers in this country, if you get on its wrong side, is the State. I have brought many examples to this House of the denial of pension rights to community employment, CE, supervisors and various other issues.
Today, I raise an issue regarding education and training boards, ETBs. There are 16 ETBs, which were established under the 2013 Act. Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, is their governing body. Its function is to provide legal services, ICT, human and industrial relations governance, procurement, public sector reform governance, as well as ETBI corporate and youth services. It is a pretty comprehensive set of supports which it offers ETBs. On top of that, ETBs have the two Departments responsible for education to fall back on at any time there is a query. Yet, every ETB in the country is also a member of IBEC. It says of itself
IBEC is Ireland’s largest and most influential business lobby and representative group, with our members employing over 70% of private sector workers. We believe [in] a strong economy...
I could go on. A freedom of information request of Limerick ETB this morning revealed it has paid €10,250 for membership of IBEC. Why? Why is it, when workers find themselves before the Workplace Relations Commission, the Equality Tribunal or the Labour Court, they face not only the representatives of the ETB they work for, but also those of ETBI and IBEC. What is going on? Why do we need to have IBEC there? There are 16 ETBs paying IBEC a minimum of €10,000 a year each, that is, €160,000. Why is this being paid to a private sector organisation by a public sector body? We might have a debate on governance of ETBs.
Like everybody else, I welcome yesterday's announcements, especially on promoting and developing the concept of outside dining. However, I am slightly concerned about people with disabilities, specifically blind people, wheelchair users, elderly people and people with small children who might be pushing prams. I very much encourage outside dining but I would like to see protocols put in place to ensure the designated area for outside dining is the only part of the footpath used for that purpose and that the rest of the footpath is kept clear. By that I mean kept clear of all types of street furniture, including sandwich boards and other similar signs and obstacles.
Before the pandemic, there was an increased proliferation on the streets of our towns and cities of various objects which impacted on and impeded people with disabilities. Protocols are necessary because if this outside dining experience works, and I have no reason to believe it will not, it will become something of a norm in future. I hope it does but it must also be done right and there must be proper protocols.
The HSE portal that is up and running for the vaccination of those aged over 60 years will hopefully be used by the rest of us when we apply for a date for our vaccinations. The portal is not accessible to screen readers for people who are blind and visually impaired. While the Covid-19 tracker app is accessible, there are, unfortunately, technical issues with the online portal. This matter must be resolved urgently. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to outline the concerns of the 270,000 blind and visually impaired people in this country about the HSE portal. The vaccination process must be accessible to everybody and it must be as easy as A, B, C to apply for a vaccine. I would appreciate if the Leader would do that.
I raise two justice-related issues. First, I welcome the publication yesterday by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Heather Humphreys, of the general scheme of the Garda Síochána (digital recording) Bill. This legislation will provide the legal basis for the use of body cameras by An Garda Síochána. We have seen people shove mobile devices in the faces of members of An Garda Síochána during hostile protests. I am glad gardaí will now have devices which will record events in real time and give a full sense of what is happening. We have also seen the importance of recording devices in the George Floyd case in the United States, where there would probably not have been a successful conviction without them.
On court facilities, for several months, I have been pursuing the issue of the development of a new courthouse in Navan. This is one of three courthouses promised under the national development plan, NDP, along with Bray and north Kildare. In a response to me, the Minister noted that while the three regional courthouses are part of the NDP, the proposed family law facility at Hammond Lane in Dublin city centre has taken priority. That facility is undoubtedly much needed but the site has been a crater for a decade or more and is being used as a compound by the developer. The last time representatives of the Courts Service were before the Committee of Public Accounts, the cost of providing the project had escalated to €140 million, an increase of €100 million on the costing in 2015. There is only €15 million in the capital budget for court facilities.
I ask that projects such as the courthouse in Navan, which are in the NDP, are not sacrificed in favour of this other major facility or put on the shelf because every spare euro for capital works is to be allocated to a project whose costs have already spiralled before a sod has been turned. The site of the Hammond Lane project is still a hole in the ground. We can deliver projects at a fraction of the cost of the €140 million earmarked for that facility, while also delivering regional balance.
I offer my condolences to Senator Mullen.I have a matter to raise with the Leader which I need her to write a letter about, but I need to respond to Senator Gavan's remarks. What is happening in Iron Mountain is highly regrettable but nothing in this State stops someone from joining a union. In fact, one's entitlement to association is enshrined in the Constitution. Furthermore, unions themselves need to be much more transparent about how they make decisions about whether to go forward to the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, or not. On a number of occasions, I have had to step in on a pro bonobasis to represent people in the WRC where their union, to which they have been paying dues for decades, has refused to go on their behalf because it is not tactically suitable. To stand up and blame the Government without transparency in unions and to paint the misnomer that a nirvana of collective bargaining will solve everybody's ills is absolutely downright misleading.
I was on a forum for Deliveroo workers recently where a member of Sinn Féin was talking about "join your union and we'll deliver you an employment contract", glossing over the fact that there is a complete lack of mutuality of obligation in the Deliveroo arrangement and they can substitute other workers. Consequently, what is being said to those workers and the promises being given are utterly without basis.
On the assisted decision-making (capacity) Bill, I ask that we write a letter to the Minister to ask that this Bill be accelerated into law. The Minister has given a good commitment and there is a programme of work there to make sure the remaining aspects of that Bill are commenced as quickly as possible. There are people becoming wards of court in the State all the time and, when they become wards of court, as noted by Lorraine Dempsey of Inclusion Ireland at the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, they lose all entitlement to make any decisions about their lives or to have any autonomy over their body. It is a great piece of law. We need it brought in. We need it commenced and we need a letter to go to the Minister to accelerate its commencement.
I too offer my condolences to Senator Mullen on the passing of his father.
I raise with the Leader the importance of community first responders, CFR, and the magnificent voluntary work they do in many communities. I am sure the Leader is well aware of it and I know locally in County Kildare there are many groups operating. The issue with community first responders is the need to vaccinate these volunteers who have saved lives and are, in many cases, back operating within our communities.
The issue was raised with me recently by Councillor Níall McNelis, among others. Councillor McNelis raised the concerns of the Salthill-Knocknacarra cardiac first responders who, as an example of the great work carried out by so many of these community groups, had an average of 256 activations in the two years prior to Covid, dealing with three to four cardiac arrests each month in their area.
We know the cardiac community first responders voluntary members work with the National Ambulance Service. They respond to 999 emergency calls in their local areas on a daily basis and to calls received from the emergency call centres and dispatched by the National Ambulance Service. In recent weeks, many CFR groups have been returning but, despite requests by their members through the ambulance services for the Covid vaccination, they have been refused on the basis they are not deemed healthcare workers. We now have a situation where some groups have returned and are responding to calls to persons who have not been vaccinated themselves. Other CFRs are manning Covid test centres or vaccination centres and, again, are unvaccinated. The National Ambulance Service has provided groups with personal protective equipment but, given the work they do in all our communities in helping to save lives, surely they should be vaccinated. I would appreciate if the Leader would write to the Minister on this important matter.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I join with Senators McDowell, Ardagh and others in offering condolences on the sad death of Senator Mullen's father, who I know had been quite ill for a period. I acknowledge, as Senator McDowell did, the tremendous amount of care Senator Mullen gave to his father in his final few years. May he rest in peace.I was only returned to this Chamber last Friday and in the past week we have seen: a former Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, resign his seat; Arlene Foster announce her resignation; a former Sinn Féin councillor arrested for murder; and it was announced that the pubs, hospitality generally and the economy would reopen. I will not try to claim credit for all or any of that but it is amazing how much has happened in a week. I welcome the reopening of the economy, which I thought would probably get more attention today than it has, although I know it has not all happened yet. I am delighted that I will have to get a new suit after losing a small amount of weight and I definitely need a haircut. I am sure half the country is the same in what they need.
I mention people's self-esteem and I was out of the loop for the past 13 months myself. Many people lost their jobs in the hospitality industry, tourism, restaurants and pubs, many of which have not been open at all and some of which had small stop-start reopenings. It is so important for them financially and mentally that their businesses see a pathway back and I really welcome that. At the same time I am also looking at the figures that came out yesterday and that are broken down by every local electoral area. They show that the figures are not falling the way I would like to see them fall. I urge people to keep washing their hands and doing all of the things we have been doing such as wearing masks. People should socialise responsibly outdoors. Vaccines are the answer but I want to make sure we get to such a situation.
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate post Covid on the things that happened during this time that were positive. For example, parent-teacher meetings went online. People did not have to take a day or a half-day off work to do those meetings as they could log onto them from their computers. We need a debate in the future on the benefits and the small silver linings to that awful cloud.
Hyperemesis is a condition that one in ten women suffer from during pregnancy. It is a condition that became quite commonly known from Kate Middleton's pregnancy. It is a condition that women suffer from involving severe nausea and vomiting to the extreme levels that one cannot work or have any sort of normal pregnancy. There are three drugs for the condition, two of which are not available in Ireland and one of which is, namely Cariban. However, it is not licensed. The cost of it is €2.40 per tablet and it is recommended to take four per day. Therefore, the cost during a pregnancy is €3,000, which is not funded by the State at all. It is half the cost in Spain. Women with hyperemesis, through no fault of their own, are stuck between a rock and a hard place in having to pay for this.
I ask the Leader if the Minister for Health would ask the HSE to prioritise this important women's health issue. Will the Minister call on the HSE to meet Hyperemesis Ireland to discuss its campaign? Hyperemesis Ireland has been working hard on this issue in recent years. The organisation wrote to the HSE more than three weeks ago to request a meeting and it has not been granted to date. Does the Minister for Health still believe, as he did while in opposition, that the first-line medications for hyperemesis should be reimbursed on the medical card and the drugs payment scheme?
It is just not acceptable in this day and age that women are left to suffer on their own. How far do we have to go or how long do we have to wait before there is equality in this country? It seems incredibly ironic that Viagra can be reimbursed if one has a medical card but that women who suffer from hyperemesis receive no reimbursement whatsoever.
I want to read out a short quote to give a sense of what women are suffering through this. A woman said:
I want another baby so much. I am working extra hours so that I can afford it as I know that I will be off work with Hyperemesis. I will have to pay for medication and extra childcare as I physically wont be able to mind my other two children, If you are on a low income, it is impossible to afford the medication and you cannot continue to work.
I was vomiting up to 20 times a day and lost 20KG. We had to give up our house and move into my parent’s spare room to afford my medication.
This is utterly unacceptable in the age we are living in and I ask the Leader to speak to the Minister as a matter of urgency to look at solutions to this problem.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 12 on the Order Paper before No. 2. It is a Bill, entitled Clean Air (Smoky Coal Ban) Bill 2021, and it seeks to introduce a full ban on the sale of smoky coal. We are all well aware that smoky coal is a major factor in air pollution. The sale of smoky coal was banned in some parts of the country as early as the 1990s in an effort to address this issue. Winter smog, at the time, was a growing problem in urban areas due to the widespread use of bituminous coal. This, in turn, had given rise to serious health effects in the population. Smoky coal affects sulphur dioxide levels and these levels showed considerable improvement once the ban was introduced. The policy was gradually rolled out to several other large towns.
Since 2013, we have been hearing from successive Ministers that they intend to introduce and are committed to a nationwide ban on smoky coal. Unfortunately, nothing has happened in that regard notwithstanding the fact the European Commission gave approval for a full nationwide ban in 2017. When you look at the evidence that exists, the European Environment Agency report on air quality across Europe in 2020 indicated that in 2016 there were 1,410 premature deaths arising from air pollution in Ireland, approximately 1,300 of which were attributed to the fine particle matter which in Ireland is primarily associated with domestic solid fuel burning, in particular, smoky coal. The same report indicated significant earlier mortality for those deaths. While people may have had some complications prior to engaging with the level of particle matter in the air, they would have lived for a considerable period longer were it not for the concentration in the air. Research indicates that the introduction of the ban in Dublin in the 1990s resulted in approximately 350 fewer mortalities per year, reducing cardiovascular and respiratory mortality in the population generally. The main effects of air pollution include stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. It is incumbent on us to move on this issue. I would hope that the Bill would get a fair hearing in due course.
First, I also extend my sympathies to Senator Mullen. As a fellow Galwegian, I know the amount of time that he has spent supporting his family over the past couple of years. My thoughts are with the whole family.
I commend Senator Ahearn on bringing up the subject of hyperemesis because there is a lottery when it comes to medication. I was also going to raise the issue of the postcode lottery when it comes to maternal healthcare in this country. We have seen the opening-up announcements yesterday, which are very welcome and will give much hope to people. Over the past week, there also have been several announcements on the opening up of maternity wards to partners, but this is very much a postcode lottery. In University Hospital Galway, UHG, there is one hour per day for partners - half an hour to the neonatal unit when a father has a child there - but there are no other hospitals in the north west offering the same. Then you look at the Coombe, where partners can come in for three hours a day.
In all of these matters, it is not in any way to criticise the hospitals because they are doing their best. What it points out is that there are many regional inequalities, and that this has to do with gender and how we think of our maternal healthcare around the country The national maternity strategy has been held back. We now need to see post Covid that we are moving forward with that. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come in and have a proper conversation on how we will change that for all women in the country.
International day of the midwife is on 5 May and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, conference next week is entitled The Courage to Care. We have seen midwives in particular take a strong lead when it comes to supporting women throughout the pandemic.It is all of our responsibility going forward to jointly as a society support women who are pregnant and giving birth.
I was coming down here today to talk about a different issue, was looking at my Instagram and saw a post from Kasper Schmeichel, whose father was one of my idols growing up. His Instagram is in a social media blackout from 3 p.m. today until Monday night. I did not realise this was happening, perhaps because here in Ireland I am slightly removed from it. It is a social media blackout that every Premiership footballer, every Formula 1 driver, including Lewis Hamilton, every member of the English rugby team and the English Premiership are doing in solidarity with Thierry Henry, who went off social media in March because of the racist abuse and horrific online abuse sports players are receiving. It is great to see so many people in sport coming together to take on social media companies. Their claims about it are quite simple. They want the re-registration of abusive people online stopped. They want to ensure no anonymous accounts are allowed on Twitter. They want to ensure there are real-life consequences for people who regularly engage in online abuse. It is brilliant to see such solidarity in the UK sporting community.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Representatives from Twitter were before it. I asked them what the thought process is behind anonymous accounts. The guy replied that Twitter is very important in allowing democracies to overthrow Third World dictators in far-flung parts of the world. That was the case in 2011 during the Libyan uprising when people did organise on Twitter. However, it is not the case ten years on because people are organising on stuff like Parler, which are beneath the ether in terms of online discourse. It is not Twitter anymore. There are no despots being overthrown around the world because of Twitter so it is not a good enough excuse anymore. I would love to see something like the blackout in this country, whether it was politicians or other members of civil society, or indeed if it was people from the League of Ireland, Irish rugby and the GAA engaging in a similar campaign. I take this opportunity to commend it.
I would like to second Senator Dooley's proposed amendment.
I wish to raise the issue of third-level students. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, that a working group will gather today to get a pathway and a plan to open up in September. It is essential that is done in June. Indeed, June is possibly a little too late. At the minute students would usually already be booking their accommodation for the next college year. We have seen how students all over the country paid for accommodation and fees for the last year and now they are potentially falling into the same trap again and not getting to enjoy campus life. I stress that this is a really important issue for over 250,000 students in our country. They need to get back to life, to fun, to enjoying their late teens and early 20s and to experiencing college and university life like most of us here did. I am talking about that carefree life of college, the college bar, creating friendships and all those experiences we cherish so much. That has been stopped for the past 12 months and it is urgent that those students get some clarity as soon as possible. Perhaps the Minister could bring it forward to early June. There are 30 days in June, as we were told during the week. The earlier in June the better.
Continuing the third level theme, in less than half and hour I am going to be joining Oireachtas Members from the south east in meeting the Minister, Deputy Harris, about the application from Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, and the Institute of Technology Carlow to become a technological university for the south east. I expect positive news that the application is being submitted. In that context, it is important to state that the application has been endorsed by the presidents of both institutes, by the chairs of the governing bodies, by the bodies themselves and by both student unions. Issues at WIT were highlighted last week by the Teachers' Union of Ireland. Those issues must be addressed but can be addressed in a parallel process. It is important that such a process be put in place in order that the views of staff can be taken on board. It is imperative that we establish a technological university in order to ensure that the brain drain from the south east stops and that students can attain their third level education in a university of international standing within their own region.
I agree with the assertion to the effect that it is essential that we get this right. There is an opportunity here to create a university of international standing. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science are on record as saying that the new university will be centred in Waterford, with other campuses located throughout the south east, and that there will be further expansion of the Waterford campus. I will be calling on the Minister and the Government to engage further with WIT regarding the acquisition of additional sites. WIT has put a working group in place and I will be asking the Minister to appoint a civil servant to assist it with that process. He has written to Professor Willie Donnelly about progressing that. I wish all the staff, management and students in both institutes every success as the application progresses with the international panel and every success with the university in the future.
I would have opened the proceedings today by expressing all our condolences to our colleague Senator Mullen but I was not aware of his loss. I apologise for that. On behalf of every Member of this House, I wish him well in what must be a horrific loss after his daddy passing away. I express our condolences to him and his entire family.
I wish Senator Cummins well with his meeting today. Please God this will be the start of something wonderful and great for the south east in getting its own technological university.
Senator McGreehan spoke about the need to get campus life back for our young people. They are one of the cohorts most adversely affected over the past few months and we need them to be able to just enjoy a rite of passage that so many of us have already enjoyed.
I was not aware of the social media blackout to which Senator McGahon referred but it is a genius idea which shows the solidarity present in sport. Maybe it is a sign that we should be showing solidarity in other aspects of public and private life with regard to the continuous abuse that exists on social media. I have no idea why we cannot just pass a law that bans anonymous accounts on any platform. There is no need for them. The Senator noted that there was a need for them in a particular instance but we certainly do not have that kind of environment or a need for that kind of engagement in the democracy we all enjoy here in Ireland. That is a challenge for each and every Senator, namely, to draft legislation that will outlaw anonymous accounts. I wish the participants in the blackout well over the weekend. It will be interesting to watch the reaction to it.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly spoke about the postcode lottery in the delivery of healthcare. I fear that it does not just exist in maternity services, unfortunately. There is a disparity in the delivery of services across all our regions, not just for women but for children as well. That is something of which we should be very mindful in the future.
Senator Ahearn asked if it was unusual for a man to bring up the topic he raised. It is unusual but I applaud him and thank him for doing so. Fair play. Hyperemesis was raised in the Seanad on a previous occasion. Arising from that representation, I wrote to the Minister regarding the illogical attitudes towards State supports for these women, who are supported either through financial or income supports, because they cannot work, or through their stays in hospital, where many of these one in ten women have to stay for prolonged periods during their pregnancies. That €2.40 per tablet is nothing in comparison with what the State is already paying. Women could have productive and healthy pregnancies, supported by the State. It is disturbing to hear the Senator read out that woman's current state of mind and what she is expecting to experience during what will be a much wanted pregnancy, if and when she gets pregnant in the future.I will write to the Minister again and ask him to respond to the request for a meeting from Hyperemesis Ireland. We might see some progress, please God, in the very near future.
Senator Wall referred to our first responders. I have one of them at home and we have a defibrillator that sits at the front door on the nights he is on duty. First responders have not been included in any vaccination programme and, to my mind, particularly in our area, it means they have not been able to resume their services which are obviously vital in supporting our ambulance services. That is a real pity. I will write to the Minister and ask if he will have a look at that issue.
I will write to the Minister about the commencement of the Act to which Senator Seery Kearney referred. I will send her a copy of that letter today. That is no problem.
Senator Cassells talked about the general scheme of the body cam Bill that was published yesterday. I think it will add another tool to the armoury of gardaí in being able to support and mind us in the course of their duties.
I will also write to the Minister about the courthouse in Navan. The allocated budget for family law services' budgets should not in any way impact on the delivery of the three regional courts in the programme for Government. I will write to the Minister and ask for an update on that matter.
Senator Craughwell referred to the governance of education and training boards. I am at a loss to know what to say in reply because I am probably as surprised as he was when he discovered the issue. I will write to the Minister for Education and see what comes back. I will send a copy of the letter to the Senator.
Senator Conway referred to a matter about which that most of us do not even think. I will not speak for everybody, but it is not something about which I thought when we were talking about having an outdoor summer yesterday. I did not even think about the impact on our streetscapes of parklets or outdoor furniture. It will impact on mothers, and I did not think of that because my kids are not in buggies anymore. It will also impact people with disabilities. Perhaps that is something of which we should be more mindful. I will write to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications on that matter to ask him to be mindful of that.
Senator Garvey brought up the need for our local authorities to have centralised areas. There are an awful lot of facilities that do not have an outdoor area on which to put tables, chairs, benches or whatever. Perhaps we need a more holistic approach to that matter.
Senator Ardagh asked for a debate on Syria, which I am happy to request. She also asked for a debate on a TRIPS waiver, which I will request of the Minister today.
Senator Gavan, as he always does so passionately, talked about the virtues of, and real need for, collective bargaining in this country. While there is no impediment to anybody joining a union, and it is our entitlement, there is not always as free-flowing a relationship between employers and unions as there should be. I do not know whether the Senator would like to me write to the company concerned, as we did previously on an issue relating to Rehab. I think that elicited a comprehensive response.
I can do that today, that is no problem. I do not know why our procurement clause do not have a clause such as that suggested by the Senator. Any State-sponsored or State-supported company must have a minimum standard of engagement with its employees and it certainly sounds as if the example the Senator gave us this morning is falling far short of that. I will send the Senator a copy of that letter.
Senator Moynihan spoke about what she feels is a contradiction in terms regarding the expansion of the definition of cost-rental. I do not know whether me writing a letter to the Minister will give the Senator anything more than she already knows. I can only suggest that she raises it as a Commencement matter and that might elicit further information. I wish her well.
Senator McDowell spoke eloquently about Arlene Foster. A week is an awfully long time in politics. Senator Horkan referred to everything that has happened in the week he has been here. He is very welcome. I have huge respect for Arlene Foster, not only because she has broken the glass ceiling, and she certainly has, but also in terms of how much she is being mistreated at the moment. Perhaps that is just politics. Senator McDowell talked about her ability and bravery, which she has in spades. She also has compassion and is a formidable woman. I would like to take the opportunity to thank her, from this House, for her contribution to Irish politics and wish her well in whatever she does. I have no doubt that this is not the end of Arlene Foster. She is only warming up. I thank the Senator for raising that matter and giving us an opportunity to discuss Arlene Foster. As Senator O'Loughlin also mentioned, she is a formidable woman.
Senator O'Loughlin started matters off by seeking a debate, as other colleagues did earlier in the week, on sexual education in our schools. What happened has certainly raised eyebrows. Senator Warfield spoke here last week about how he felt as a young man, growing up, and that is not something that anybody in this country should tolerate and we should certainly not tolerate it now. Anybody fostering those kinds of thoughts in our children's minds certainly needs to be challenged or at least brought out into the open. I will arrange that debate as soon as I can.I am very happy to accept the proposed amendment. I wish Senator Dooley well with his smoky coal Bill. I live in an area that has not had smoky coal for many years and it certainly is a benefit because we have clean air. Coincidentally, 5 km up the road they are allowed to use smoky coal. You can see it from our house, which beggars belief. I wish the Senator well and will accept that amendment.
Finally, on behalf of all us today, I wish to extend our great thanks to Jimmy Dunne who is retiring today after 43 years of serving us and many who have been here before us in these Houses, for the past 43 years as an usher and attendant. He has served under seven taoisigh, which is some kind of record, to be fair. I wish Jimmy every success in his retirement and to thank him sincerely on behalf of all of us, for all of his support, good wishes and his smile, because he is an absolute gem of a gentleman. I wish him and his family a very healthy, happy and long retirement with thanks from everyone in this House.
There is a proposed amendment to the Order of Business to introduce a Bill. Senator Dooley has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 12 on the Order Paper be taken before No. 2." This has been seconded by Senator McGreehan. The Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.