Monday, 10 May 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the future of banking in Ireland, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude at 3.30 p.m., with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply; Private Members' business, No. 55, motion 9, re carers, to be taken at 3.45 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 55, motion 10, re the Good Friday Agreement, to be taken at 6.15 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 55, motion 9, whichever is the later, with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
I agree with the Order of Business, as outlined by the Leader of the House. I wish to raise two issues, the first being the maternity restrictions that remain ongoing. I raised in the House last Friday, as did other colleagues, the ongoing restrictions on partners attending for all the scans, for labour in the antenatal ward right up to birth and on visiting hours after the birth has taken place. The restrictions vary across hospitals. There is a postcode lottery. The chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, said last Thursday that the restrictions should be lifted and, yet, they remain in place today in many hospitals. The women of Ireland have not been given any justifiable reason as to why these changes have not happened. Since last Friday many women and men, their partners, have contacted me to tell me their stories of what they have been through during the past year. Many women have told me they are due next week or in two weeks' time and they are very nervous and anxious and do not want to be alone. Their stories are similar and that is the experience of couples right across the country.
I said last Friday, and I say it again, that this is unacceptable in this day and age. Partners are not surplus to requirements. They are not a luxury. They are part of and an essential member of the birthing team to provide the physical and mental support for the well-being of the mother and also for the partner, who should not be left sitting in the car outside wondering if they will make it in on time. I know the Leader has done her best to get an answer on this issue. We need an urgent update from the HSE and the Department of Health as to how they will address this. I do not want any more excuses about hospitals getting to do what they want and clinical decisions being made at a local level. That is utter nonsense at this point. All hospital staff have been vaccinated. It is not a question of whether we can find a solution.We must find a solution to this immediately.
Some weeks ago, as Senators will be aware, a campaign was started by Eve McDowell and Una Ring to introduce a specific offence of stalking in legislation. A number of Members raised the matter in the House on the day. We heard both women speak on "Morning Ireland" and Newstalk. They eloquently and articulately outlined their case for having a separate stand-alone offence of harassment. I am persuaded by their arguments and fully support the campaign. For this reason, I have, in recent weeks, drafted a Bill to introduce harassment as a specific offence by amending the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act. I am working with Eve and Una and hope to be in a position to bring the Bill before the House, if not next week, then certainly by the week after that. We are finalising some of the details.
I was disappointed with the response from the Department of Justice. It states that it has beefed up, for want of a better phrase, section 10 of that particular Act, which deals with harassment, and that covers everything from bugging somebody with text messages to entering a person's home with an intention to rape and potentially kill. I do not think it is sufficient that one offence would cover that spectrum of criminality. We should listen to women. There are two victims, two survivors, who said that they got their day in court and got some justice but not full justice. Many women have not had their day yet. Now is the time to listen to the women of Ireland who are asking for this to be legislated for. I hope I will have broad support from Members of all parties and none when I bring that legislation to the House.
I thank the Leader for laying out the draft Order of Business, with which I have no difficulty. I am looking forward to the debate on carers, which is timely and appropriate. Both Private Members' motions today are interesting and I hope we will have good attendance and engagement on both of them.
I raise the shocking report, "Wasted Lives", published last week by the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall. Mr. Tyndall spoke of how too many people's futures were being wasted in nursing homes. He was referring, of course, to the 1,300 people below the age of 65 who are effectively trapped in nursing homes. His report is powerful and I recommend that everyone read it.
The Ombudsman's website features a Youtube video in which people give personal testimony. One lady spoke of suffering from pain and being unable to get the support of a nursing home to allow her to get to a general hospital for treatment. She was told she would have to pay the cost of transport. The individuals who speak are all named. Another individual, Shane, said that he loves swimming but the nursing home would not pay for him to go to a public swimming pool. We heard the terrible story of Mark, at 48, who fell off a ladder, Francis, 52, who had a stroke, and Liam at 52, who also had a stroke. I also mention Rosie and Adam.
It is a shocking report about young people who are trapped in nursing homes, not given appropriate care and, more important, not given the important choice. One man asked after ten years why he was still there, having made some sort of recovery and rehabilitation, was told that he forgot he signed a consent letter. He asked how he could have signed a consent letter if he did not know what he was doing ten years ago. The Ombudsman took it upon himself and his staff to visit a substantial number of these people and hear their harrowing stories of being isolated and forgotten. In the last year, some of them have died in nursing homes. No alternative care packages were given. No care plans were drawn up for these people. We need to look at this issue and all of us must take it up in our political groupings and with our contacts and Ministers to see if we can drive something forward.
There is a disability strategy. It is interesting that today, the Irish Examinerhas a story about how it contacted all 31 local authorities. One of the councils, in Cork, stated it was not aware of such a strategy and then came back a few hours later to say "Yes, it was". Three other local authorities had never met and had no strategy in place. This is about providing alternative, transitional homes with the supports that are needed for people with disability.
We need to shout out loud and demand individual care packages for people trapped in these nursing homes. More important, we have to look at our housing mix and how we can provide suitable accommodation for these people to transition out of institutional care and back into the community where they belong. Our citizens should rightfully have meaningful engagement with their community and their lives.
I agree with and support Senator Chambers's call for clarification on maternity services. I have also received calls in recent days about partners still being obliged to sit in cars, making those phone calls and text messages to loved ones. The Leader has also supported those calls. The HSE has been out but we need clarity and, more importantly, those sitting in cars, sending texts and looking in windows need clarity.
Over recent months I have raised the growing problem of youth unemployment in the House. Recent CSO figures for April paint a very worrying picture. A report in the Irish Examiner last week stated that two thirds of the labour force aged between 15 and 25 years were unemployed last month. It stated that a Covid-19-adjusted measure of the unemployment rate for those in that age group was 61.8%, which was an increase from 58.3% in March. That means 131,098 of young people are unemployed at this time. We should take a moment to digest that figure. While it is important to note those figures include those who are in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, it is vital that we discuss this worrying trend. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I raised the issue with him during the recent statements in the House on business and Covid-19. He replied that "The rate of youth unemployment in Ireland is high and we need to act on it." He went on to explain that the figures exclude those in education and training and that the real figure is around 22%, including those who may be in receipt of PUP. He stated that many using the higher figure are misleading. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the House on the current levels of youth unemployment. Whatever the correct figure or how it is to be presented, I agree with the Tánaiste that the rate of youth unemployment in Ireland is high and we need to act on it. As, thankfully, we open up the country and the vaccination success continues to speed that up, we must ensure there are jobs for our young people and that there is no exodus of youth to foreign parts as there has been during previous recessions. The Tánaiste mentioned job opportunities from his Department, education and training opportunities from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and perhaps some more schemes from the Department of Social Protection. I am sure that many in the House would welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue of youth unemployment with the Tánaiste further and I ask the Leader to facilitate that..
Last week, the wonderful Lough Boora Discovery Park, County Offaly, made the headlines albeit for rather unfortunate reasons. The outcome of a Bord na Móna tender for a bicycle hire business there saw the incumbent well-respected local business owner lose out with a consequent outpouring of community-wide disappointment and anger. In the wake of the decision, there were some ridiculous and totally unfounded accusations of misconduct in relation to the process. While they may have been wide of the mark, the results of the tender have raised valid questions about how public procurement is conducted.
Our public procurement procedure is guided by legislation. Different approaches are taken depending on the value of the contract but the ultimate aim is to ensure maximum value of taxpayers' money. However, even with full acceptance that the public procurement process was correctly followed in the Lough Boora example, I share the concerns raised about future public procurement, particularly in the midlands at a time when we, as a Government, are supporting a just transition in this region. The Government has already injected millions of euro into the midlands region but Covid notwithstanding, many of these funds have been slow to materialise and criticism of the pace of delivery is warranted because it is essential that these funds are spent quickly and wisely to restart this beating heart of Ireland. We need to support local jobs for local people and our public procurement process should reflect that insofar as possible. It needs to be swift, responsive and locally aware.
Short supply chains are something I continually talk about in farming and food.Equally, short supply chains should be considered for public procurement. Securing a local person for a local job should always be the aspiration. Supporting indigenous businesses in counties like Laois and Offaly will be key to securing a sustainable future there. Any cost-benefit analyses of investments must go further than just the economical. There is the social and environmental to consider also. This Government has committed to evaluating our procurement strategies and part of that relates to the delivery of community benefit and minimisation of the environmental impact. This is really is important and I am working closely with my Government colleagues to ensure that this will be the case in the future.
Gabhaim céad míle buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus leis an gCeannaire fosta. It was a big weekend for Antrim Gaels and not just because the team beat Clare in the hurling. I say that for the benefit of Senator Conway. Nevertheless it was a big weekend because Saturday's edition of theIrish Newspublished an open letter to An Taoiseach and the Irish Government from 3,000 Antrim Gaels, including current and former hurlers, footballers, camógs, ladies' footballers and those involved in clubs in the county, which called for the commencement of plans for an agreed and shared Ireland. This is but one of a range of initiatives that has been taken by the people involved, from right across Irish life, on this live and important topic. They have called for the establishment of an all-Ireland citizens' assembly that reflects the views of citizens North and South to achieve maximum consensus on the way forward. I commend them on playing that leading role both on the pitch at the weekend and in terms of this conversation and the actions that are required as we all collectively move forward.
As I will not have an opportunity to speak on the Order of Business tomorrow, I wish to send solidarity and best wishes to many of my friends and fellow Belfast citizens, who are collectively now known as the Ballymurphy massacre families. The coroner's inquest, for which the families have waited for more than 50 years, is due to be published tomorrow. That comes after a decades-long fight and campaign by the families to discover truth and justice for their loved ones and to learn what happened over two nights in Ballymurphy in 1971. My thoughts are with them. I took part in a cross-group delegation from the Seanad that visited the inquest and sat in for a period. As the Cathaoirleach reflected last week, I do not think anyone could be anything but deeply moved both by hearing the recall of the events of that time and by the dignified and graceful way in which those families have carried themselves. I am very conscious of them, today especially, and wish them every success and best wish going forward.
In conclusion, I draw Members' attention to the worsening situation in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem. I am sure that many colleagues will have seen some of the reports over the course of the weekend. It would be timely if we had statements from the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the situation, in particular what the State plans to do, given its position on the UN Security Council, to assist in bringing a positive resolution and support to the people who are suffering there at present.
I will start by defining the word, "apartheid" as I will use that word throughout my speech. We all know that apartheid is defined as a policy of segregation and political, social and economic discrimination. I believe that the discrimination being practised by the Israeli State against the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories satisfies all the criteria to qualify as apartheid. The ethnic cleansing of areas of east Jerusalem with the support of the Israeli authorities must surely qualify as a war crime. There is a growing number of organisations prepared to call the regime what it is. Ireland must ensure that it is at the forefront of the campaign against this apartheid and persecution.When reputable organisations such as Humans Rights Watch and B'Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organisation, label Israel as an apartheid state, it is incumbent on those governments the world over that support human rights and international law to condemn these practices and to be prepared to impose sanctions on any regime that commits such atrocities. One of the best-known sayings attributed to Edmund Burke is “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We must make sure that we, as a country, cannot be accused of ignoring the suffering of the Palestinian people. As one of the few countries in Europe that does not have a colonial past, we are in a position to act as an honest broker. We must never be afraid to call out discrimination and illegality wherever it occurs.
The report recently issued by Human Rights Watch stated that "Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution." There is growing awareness of the crimes being committed by the Israeli apartheid regime. Even within the country that is Israel's greatest ally, there is now a move to make aid dependent on the upholding of international law. Congresswoman Betty McCollum has introduced legislation in the US Congress which, according to her press release, would prohibit Israel "from using U.S. taxpayer dollars in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem for: the military detention, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention; to support the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and homes in violation of international humanitarian law; or, to extend any assistance or support for Israel’s unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory in violation of international humanitarian law." Our Government should also take a stand and, rather than using mere words, should also introduce legislation that would impose sanctions on Israel as a consequence of its flouting of international law and its practising of apartheid in the occupied territories.
Ireland's position on the UN Security Council should also be used to highlight the situation. The 2019 concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Israel to end its policies and practice of racial discrimination and apartheid against Palestinians in the occupied territories and in Israel.
We should all be prepared to label Israel as "apartheid Israel", as we did with South Africa. We should always remember the words of Nelson Mandela, who said "our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians". I call for a debate on this issue, if at all possible.
The generosity of the Irish people never ceases to amaze me. This weekend, on Saturday morning, they went out in the wind and rain and walked, ran and swam to raise funds for the Darkness into Light campaign. After all the Irish people have been through this year, these efforts were truly inspiring. They raised over €6 million, a tremendous amount of money. I congratulate all those volunteers who went out.
I also welcome the opening of an office in Monaghan town by SOSAD. I encourage anyone who is feeling low, regardless of age, not to be afraid to call to the office or to call the service. Help is available and people should not be afraid to reach out.
I was also inspired this weekend by the people of Arranmore Island, off the coast of Donegal. A campaign is under way there, led by the local GP and headed by UNICEF, called "Get a Vaccine, Give a Vaccine". The campaign involves giving a fiver, which covers two vaccines for those living in the developing world whose governments cannot afford to purchase vaccines. It is a great initiative and I understand more than half of the population of the island, 450 people, have already raised €2,000 in that small community. I find that truly inspiring. Through the Leader's good offices, could both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Seanad and the Dáil, and the staff of both Houses get behind the people of Arranmore's campaign by giving a fiver, so that we too could purchase two vaccines, which will go a long way in helping those who are in most need? After all, at the end of the day, no one is safe until everyone is safe from Covid-19.
I ask that the Minister for Health come back to the House for a debate on the vaccination programme. This week, we are heading towards another significant milestone with the 2 millionth dose of vaccine to be administered.It is hoped 250,000 people will be vaccinated this week. It is extraordinary that one of the most valuable assets we have is the community pharmacists but they are not being utilised at all in the ongoing vaccination programme. In the first iteration of the national Covid-19 vaccination strategy implementation plan, community pharmacists were identified in the report as having a central role. Since then, we have seen 27 changes to the vaccination programme but there is no sign of the involvement of community pharmacists despite them being trained vaccinators. I have to ask why. I know the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, spoke about it at the weekend but I certainly hope we can see community pharmacists being used in the vaccination programme.
I also want a debate on the Public Appointments Service, PAS. I want to give an example to the House and I hope the Cathaoirleach will indulge me. On 20 January, the Public Appointments Service advertised a vacancy on the board of the Dublin Airport Authority. The reason I raise this is that there is no Cork representation on the board of the Dublin Airport Authority, leaving aside worker directors. Cork Airport is the second busiest airport in the country. A number of people from Cork applied and did not come through the public appointments process. I know the people, although I will not name them. They are not political and they are eminently qualified and suitable people. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Public Appointments Service when qualified people cannot come through to serve on a board who have no political affiliation - none. I ask for a debate in the House on the Public Appointments Service, in particular in regard to the board of the Dublin Airport Authority.
The Irish Examinercarries a story today about members of the Defence Forces who are not Irish by birth and who are unable to get a passport without paying €1,000 for it. It is horrendous that somebody who is prepared to stand on that wall, and look after us while we are in our beds, is denied a passport while in service. It is not uncommon for those who arrive in the United States to walk into a recruitment office, sign up for a couple of years and automatically get citizenship, and similar applies in most parts of the world. If people are prepared to serve the country, they should get a passport. This causes huge problems for these men and women when they go back to their own countries because, due to serving in a foreign army, they can be arrested. It is something we need to look at.
I have spoken many times in the House about the use of social media. A gentleman appeared on my Twitter feed this week and he spoke about health and safety officers. He referred to the ability to successfully shred health and safety reports, get sacked from McDonald's, do nixers lecturing, do as I say not as I do, the ability to lie, the ability to download porn via State computers using others’ logins, being ruthless enough to poison your colleagues and bully them when they get sick, and not sign affidavits. That is just a tiny snippet of what this person put up on Twitter at the weekend.
I contacted Twitter and I said this person had gone way overboard and that it needed to do something about it. I got an email back telling me that he did not breach Twitter's rules. Will somebody please tell me what its rules are? How can we protect people? A man has emailed me today and, because this other man was on my Twitter feed, he said he has been defamed. Who is responsible for the defamation? Is it me, is it the man who put in the stuff or is it Twitter? At the end of the day, something has to be done.
I support the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, on the need for a debate on public procurement.
I add my voice to the calls by Senator Lisa Chambers in regard to the maternity restrictions. We need urgent clarification from the HSE and the Minister for Health in this regard.I have also been inundated with calls from women and their partners in recent weeks. They are highly distressed at the lack of uniformity throughout the country. It is a postcode lottery, as Senator Chambers said. It is completely unacceptable. Today is a positive day with many services opening up in the country. Maternity services need to be prioritised.
I want to discuss an issue relating to the Covid-19 pandemic and how it has utterly transformed how we live and work. Demand for office space and commercial retail units has changed. This will become more apparent as we continue to open up our economy in the coming months. It will continue to evolve as we adjust to our new way of living, working, shopping and socialising.
We all know that we are in the midst of a housing crisis. Building targets are not being met and demand for housing is growing by the day. We need radical and imaginative thinking on several fronts to meet this extraordinary challenge. There are derelict buildings in our city centres. They are all over every city in Ireland. They have been there for so long that they almost become unnoticeable. There are buildings in bad repair and others that are underutilised. The pandemic has caused a vacancy rate in commercial premises that will not recover without intervention. Businesses in city centre areas rely on footfall. Now that footfall from offices will be reduced on a long-term basis, Government needs to make a concerted effort to replace this footfall.
There is a real opportunity now for the Government to apply some radical thinking and reimagine our city centre spaces. Tied into this reimagining is a different use for the buildings in our city centres. We need to provide homes for people in these now-vacant commercial premises. The living city initiative was launched in 2015. This is a tax incentive to encourage redevelopment in existing buildings in Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Dublin, Kilkenny and Galway to bring life back into these cities. The scheme is due to expire in December 2022. I call on the Minister to extend the scheme beyond this date and extend the remit. We need to be bold and reimagine a fresh way of living for our cities and historic buildings. What we have been doing has been unsustainable on so many fronts. Now, we have the opportunity to redesign. That is my call today. I call on the Minister for Finance to make a real commitment in respect of the living city initiative.
There is great and wonderful news today for Roscommon and Tuam. A total of 50 jobs were announced for Roscommon this morning as well as 20 jobs for Tuam. It is really wonderful. The company is Westcare Homecare. It is a female-led company driving job creation in the west. It will be fantastic.
Anyone in the region of Roscommon will be able to apply for these jobs. It will be broad because a person will not be in one location and carers are going to be all across the counties of Roscommon and Galway. It is phenomenal. It really speaks to hope, especially today when we are opening up and seeing a little return to normality. I could see the traffic when I was driving here this morning. It gives real hope to see that there are companies expanding and building.
Supports are available for businesses. It is our job as Oireachtas Members to support companies and businesses to achieve their potential. There is potential for Westcare Homecare. The company is looking at providing care to older people. We have a higher proportion of people aged over 65 in regional areas. The company is out to support people to live independently in their homes or within a community setting.
For anyone who is thinking of a new career or upskilling, Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board is running courses. A Quality and Qualifications Ireland level 5 course in healthcare support is running in Castlerea. There are real opportunities for people to train, gain skills and potentially have a new career. It is a good news day today so I thought I would share it with everyone. It is great for the west as well.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. You grabbed me just as I managed to choke on myself.
I wish to raise my concern about the purchase of properties by institutional investors in Maynooth. A total of 112 houses were bought there. It is a concern not only when it comes to suburban houses but to apartments as well.The Business Postedition published yesterday, for example, identified some of the institutional investors buying up apartments in the city. Union Investment bought 435 apartments in Ashtown. Aberdeen Standard Investments spent €20 million buying apartments in Smithfield. Avestus Capital Partners bought 120 apartments in Santry. In my area, on the Player Wills site, in Dublin 8, 132 build-to-rent apartments are being built and applied for, none of which people, including first-time buyers, will be able to buy. Since 2018, planning permission has been granted for more than 10,000 build-to-rent homes within the Dublin City Council area alone, and those figures come from Dublin City Council's press office. The Government has said it will deal with the issue of institutional investors buying up homes but it is talking about the suburbs. For some reason it thinks that people who live in the city and people who want to live in apartments do not count and that they will have to pay high rents for the rest of their lives. We really need to take a look at our housing policy overall and how we have created incentives for large financial institutions to make money off people's housing need, as opposed to putting forward housing as a human right, in particular when it comes to single people trying to access housing. When we hear Government policy refer to housing, we hear simply about what people on dual incomes can afford; we do not hear about the 400,000 single people in this country who want to be able to afford a safe, secure home to buy or rent affordably over the long term. We have to tackle the emergence of the dominance of the build-to-rent sector in Ireland or else there will be long-term societal consequences. At Clancy Quay, in my area, four fifths of the apartments are empty. We have to look at making the city and apartment living as sustainable and as low-cost, as we are looking to take action on the suburbs.
Now we are seeing the resumption of inter-county travel and I hope we will start to see people holidaying at home this summer. However, I want to raise an issue that affects many of our coastal communities and the wonderful beaches we have, and that is coastal erosion. Because of climate change, we have seen this problem manifest itself to a far greater degree over recent years. There are estimates that 300 km of road is currently at risk of falling into the sea. Three years ago there was an estimate that up to 800 properties were at risk of falling into the sea. A lot of these are located in Galway and Louth and in my county of Wexford but, as I am sure the Ceannaire, Senator Clifford-Lee and the Minister will know, in north Dublin quite a number are at risk as well. The Office of Public Works, OPW, has done some work in this area but it is fairly limited and while the Minister established a national coastal change management strategy steering group, we still await the report of that group with its recommendations. The scale of this problem should not be underestimated. Of the 7,800 km of coastline around this country, about 3,500 km, because it is made of soft sediment, faces the possibility of falling into the sea during marine erosion. I therefore ask for a debate on this and on measures we can put in place to address it. In Wexford we are seeing houses in Kilmore at present at risk of falling into the sea. We have lost a lot of the beach in Courtown, and to our tourism sector protecting not only our beaches but also where people live is very important.
Tomorrow, 11 May, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of whom I consider to be our greatest Taoiseach, Seán Lemass. In this country his contribution is not as celebrated as much as it should be. It is appropriate that we should look at doing so at a national level. I believe Dublin Airport should be named after him because of the contribution he made to opening up this country. Given the lessons we can learn about engagement in the North and opening up our country, it is appropriate we acknowledge the contribution of Seán Lemass.
I wish to raise a very serious matter that has far-reaching consequences for farm families right across Waterford, the south east and further afield, namely, the decision of An Taisce to further appeal a decision of the High Court in respect of a decision of Kilkenny County Council and An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission for a €140 million continental cheese plant at the Port of Waterford, in Belview.I had hoped common sense would prevail on this matter and that the project could proceed without any further unnecessary delays. It is important to put this project into context. The plant is critical for market diversification post Brexit. The two-year delay thus far due to appeals to An Bord Pleanála and judicial reviews to the High Court has already resulted in supply restrictions being implemented on farmers from next year. It is bad news for farmers, bad news for rural communities, and it will hurt Ireland's reputation as a location for much needed foreign direct investment. We now have a farcical situation where an entity that receives significant State funding is prolonging a court action against another State-funded entity, with a company and farmers across the south east being stuck in the middle.
An Taisce claims in its statement that it is appealing in the public interest and that it is taking this recourse to promote human and ecosystem well-being and resilience for the benefit of the nation. In my experience Waterford farmers have always been willing to diversify and to change their practices. They have been exceptionally responsible in their role as custodians of the land. I believe this is an attack on rural Ireland. I am especially concerned about young farmers who have invested heavily in recent years on the back of this project.
It is never too late to do the right thing. I call on An Taisce to reconsider this course of action and to avoid any further unnecessary waste of resources that could be put to far better use. In its statement, Glanbia said it remains available to meet with An Taisce, and I certainly hope that through constructive dialogue we can come to a reasonable solution to this matter. We cannot have a situation where State entities are taking each other to court, with farm families stuck in the middle.
I will begin by supporting every word that Senator Black has said on the apartheid State of Israel. I respectfully remind colleagues of the Martin Luther King quote that "our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter". This Government has been silent on apartheid Israel for far too long.
The topic I raise today is the Government's housing policy. I will call for a debate. I am sure we will get a lot of interest around a debate on the affordable housing Bill in particular. I spoke about the Bill to colleagues, neighbours and friends at home this weekend. People are genuinely in shock that under its shared equity scheme the Government deems a house in Limerick that costs €350,000 to be affordable. I remind colleagues that the average industrial wage in the State is just €40,000 per annum.
In my village and across Limerick city and county I see thousands of people trapped in rent. There are no means of supporting them or getting them out of that situation. They pay so much in rent each month, €1,200 or €1,400 for example, that there is no money left to save for a deposit for a mortgage. It is unfortunate but true that there is nothing of substance in the affordable housing Bill to tackle this issue. Indeed, for the good parts of the Bill, the amounts of money are so small that it produces 500 affordable homes in a year. This is less than 20 per county.
Let us be clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with the ambition and the ideology at the heart of this. It was interesting to see a quote from one of the vulture funds that cited the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government and its shift to viewing housing as an asset as opposed to a home. This is where the seeds of this ruin lie. This is what has driven our economy off a cliff. This is what has driven a whole generation out of the opportunity and the chance to own their own homes. I call for an urgent debate on this matter.
Over the next weeks Ireland will remove Covid-19 restrictions, steps which are very welcome. The reopening of libraries today is an especially significant reopening for so many people in communities throughout the State. The communities in Galway city, from Ballybane to Westside to the inner city, are looking forward to being able to attend a library in person, and to making full use of their services. There are 1.2 million library members in the State. Pre-Covid there were 17 million visits made to our libraries each year. I am sure this is equally true for all the communities from which Members hail.There is a wealth of evidence that library staff went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure they continued to serve their communities since the start of this pandemic in March 2020. Every story about library staff rising to the challenge, whether about ensuring children had an online story time, establishing a delivery service to those who had to cocoon in their homes, ensuring a researcher received an article or a health worker a 3-D printed mask, the printing of forms for those who did not have the capacity to do so at home or about the involvement of library staff in contact tracing, is inspiring and deserving of recognition. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
However, we must now examine how we can best support libraries to move forward, both offline and online. Physical libraries are particularly important for older members of our communities to access broadband or meet their friends, while virtual libraries are likely to grow in significance for the younger members. Both are important and the Government should continue to allocate resources to continued development in both spheres. The limited amount available and the high cost of purchasing resources for libraries are concerns for their sustainability and need to be addressed. The lack of transparency in the licensing costs for libraries is also an issue. Our copyright laws should be reformed to allow libraries scan and print whole books they own in print where e-books are unavailable or unaffordable, for preservation, controlled access and to support research and learning. I ask the Leader to raise these concerns with Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin.
I want to talk about a youth strategy for this summer as a spectrum of support is required. We have seen the awful video filmed at Howth Junction train station. There were various incidents in Dublin 15 over the weekend that could have been even more serious. On the other hand, children are hanging around in public spaces because they have nothing else to do. There is a spectrum here and while there has definitely been trouble, at the same time not every teenager hanging around a street corner is a hooligan.
For the summer, we need a top-down policing plan and additional resources. The local members of the Garda in Blanchardstown are all over a local policing plan but now that the ban on intercounty travel has been lifted, we can possibly refocus some of those resources into visible policing in our communities, including Covid policing.
It is very important that we also support Foróige in its youth work and its clubs. Its outreach work has continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Young people can now start to meet up in groups of 15 outside, but they are currently meeting up in places like car parks. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has dedicated €67 million to youth services this year, but it does not provide universal services for growing areas of need such as Ongar, Luttrellstown, Carpenterstown and other areas in Dublin 15. The Department of Justice announced the youth diversion project and youth diversion budgets, which is to be hugely welcomed as it is doubling the budget, but it is targeted rather than universal support. We have seen additional funding for community centres over the past week or so. Can some summer funding be allocated to youth clubs as well?
People will be working from home until September but schools are closed in July and August. We need a clear roadmap. We had one for the reopening of schools but we need one for summer camps and youth clubs, which are just as essential to some parents and children over the summer. Pods of 15 in outdoor camps will not accommodate everybody. We need to prioritise a strategy for our youth and children over the summer that includes access to indoor camps and youth clubs in a controlled environment, as we did for schools.
On this day of great hope, we certainly hope that we will have a summer and get back to some form of normality. The feeling of happiness on every local and national radio station I listened to this morning, and from speaking to people, is just unreal. Let us hope matters continue in this way, but we must always be wary and careful because that is the only way we will reopen and stay open.
I agree with Senator Dolan about the jobs announcement for Roscommon and Galway. It is particularly good coming in the light of the recent Industrial Development Authority, IDA, five-year outlook report which left Roscommon out. It was the only county not mentioned in the report, which has caused a lot of anger in Roscommon. It is good to see a private operator coming in with some jobs.Hopefully, the IDA will do more on job creation in the county now.
I want to devote my final minute to return to something that I raised here in recent weeks which is the case of Robert Pether who is from Elphin, County Roscommon, a town local to me, and who is out in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he has been taken into custody by the Iraqi authorities. I sincerely thank the Leader for contacting the Department of Foreign Affairs. His wife, Desree, and three children have asked me to pass on my thanks to the Leader and to the Seanad for supporting them. Unfortunately, we seem to have stalled now. I ask the Leader again today to use her good offices to go back to the Department to ask that either the Minister, Deputy Coveney, or some of his officials to have a phone conversation with Mr. Pether's wife. They need this. They are desperately upset. Desree Pether's father came from Dublin and was initially a McCarthy. She and her three children are Irish citizens. Their children's father, Robert, was in the process of getting his Irish citizenship. We have responsibility here, although this is primarily a matter for the Australian Government. This man and his family desperately need help.
I am also thinking of the O'Halloran family in Dublin whose father and husband is locked up in China also at the moment. These are desperate situations and we need to deal with them the best way we can. I accept that there are diplomatic channels that have to be dealt with, but we need to pressurise wherever we can.
Today is a great day with the positivity in the air. I got my hair cut at 8 a.m.. I was first in the queue. Literally and figuratively it is a weight off my shoulders. The best thing about it is that the number of people-----
I want to give no offence to the four Members beside me over here who may not need haircuts as quickly as that, with all due respects to them. Senator Byrne will be in the queue as will the Cathaoirleach. I have just lost so many potential Senate votes now if I ever need to run again. My point is about the positivity in the air. It was great for the two barbers being able to come back in this morning. The last time that they were working was on 24 December. People were knocking on the window wishing them good luck and they are delighted to be there with that sense of positivity that is finally here, which is great to see.
From today, we are allowing public transport capacity to increase to 50%. The Government said that it still wants people working from home until September at the earliest. I return to one of the first issues I raised in this House last year, which is the concept of a three-day week taxsaver certificate. It is up to National Transport Authority, NTA, to introduce this. We are going to see people moving back to offices, whether this is for two or three days a week. We need the Minister or the Government to put pressure now on the NTA to get this issue solved now. We are a year into this and people are going back to work now and it is not acceptable that we still have the same answer, which is that the system is being looked at to figure out ways to implement it. I would appreciate if we could have a discussion about that at some stage in the future.
I thank the Chairperson and colleagues. Senator McGahon is looking like a new man today and he has set the bar for all of us to achieve over the next couple of weeks. Some of us are looking forward to a haircut more than others, perhaps.
The Senator made a very valid point. We spend more time sometimes looking at and researching issues than actually doing them, which tends to be frustrating. I will write to the Minister in respect of the three-day tax saver ticket which the Senator has raised on a number of occasions in this House over the past year, particularly in light of the fact that we expect people to be coming back to work and office life resuming in whatever the new shape and form it will take from September.
I will contact the Minister, Deputy Coveney, today on behalf of Senator Murphy. I heard Desree on the radio a number of weeks ago, as I am sure most people did, and it was heartbreaking to listen to her. There were a number of days when she did not even know where her husband was and she did not know whether she would tell her eight-year-old child. It is a horrible story and I will ensure that anything we can do to support that family will happen and I will revert to the Senator later.
Senator Murphy is correct, as other colleagues have said, that today is a great day of hope. To hear the happiness involved with the return of our liberty and some of our freedoms gives us great joy for the weeks and months ahead.
Senator Currie is also correct. We have seen over the past number of weeks some instances, for example, Malahide over the weekend, Howth the previous weekend, as well as Dalkey and Cork, and how the return to a sense of new normal is causing frustration for some towns and villages. This will not be without difficulties and will involve a new policing plan to ensure that we mind ourselves and are all safe in what will be an outdoor summer. There will be tensions and supports needed. I look forward to the local authorities and the Department of Justice working closely together to ensure we are all safe.The idea Senator Currie suggested of special summer funding for youth clubs would be a welcome initiative. I might send a letter to the Minister.
Senator Crowe spoke about the reopening of libraries. I am astounded to hear that libraries here have 1.2 million members. All the services in the libraries that the Senator so eloquently described return today. The libraries do far more than provide books, but I will bring the concerns he raised this morning to the attention of the Ministerfor Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, attention and ask her to respond to him.
Senators Gavan and Moynihan and a number of others asked for a debate on housing. New housing legislation in the form of a Seanad Bill has been published and will come to this House first, probably within the next week to ten days. It will give all of us sufficient opportunity to discuss this matter. I made a commitment this morning when we were drawing up the schedule that there will be an open-ended Second Stage debate in order that every Senator who wishes to make a contribution will get the opportunity to do so. The Bill will probably have to be debated over a number of days, but I hope that will be sufficient for the Senator.
Senator Cummins referred to the An Taisce appeal regarding the new water plant. We note his comments.
Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about inter-county travel. I am very much looking forward to going back to Wexford, having not been there in probably over a year. The Senator raised the obvious issues of coastal erosion and the threats to people's property. Certain communities are more threatened than others. I will try to find out when that report will be issued and revert to the Deputy. Perhaps we can have a debate on it then.
Senator Dolan referred to the very welcome announcement this morning of 70 jobs for her area. She spoke with passion, as she always does. I wish everybody who will apply for those jobs every success, and continued success to Westcare Homecare in its growth.
Senators Clifford-Lee and Chambers spoke about the ambiguity surrounding maternity services. I contacted the HSE last Friday and received the response that there is no ambiguity. There still is ambiguity, however. I will contact the HSE again today. The response that was received indicated that the green light had been given so partners can attend, but that discretion had to be given if there were fluctuations with the virus around the country. However, that gives everybody the ability to do what they like and does not give satisfaction to the mothers and fathers who are awaiting the birth of their babies in the next couple of weeks.
Senator Craughwell referred to the story in the Irish Examiner. It seems a little strange. The anomaly with regard to non-Irish citizens in the Defence Forces in the context of passports is only one such anomaly in our passport system. Last week, I was contacted by a lady who is married to a gentleman who is not Irish. She spoke about the rigmarole he has to go through every year just to be able to stay here without having gone through the process himself. We probably should be able to find a better way, perhaps by providing a five-year visa to a person in that scenario. I will raise the Senator's concerns with the Minister.
Senator Buttimer sought a debate on health and the vaccination programme. A request has been sent to the Department so I will follow up on that.
Senator Gallagher spoke about the sunrise we were all supposed to share last Saturday morning. As it turned out, there was absolutely torrential and horrible rain, but that not dampen the spirits of people who came out in their droves in every town and village. I commend and thank them all. Pieta House is a national organisation but, as Senator Gallagher pointed out, there are local organisations in all our towns and villages that are there to listen, help and support. People should be mindful of that and reach out if that is necessary.
Senator Black asked for a debate on the ongoing issues she outlined. I will write to the Minister today. Senators Ó Donnghaile and Gavan supported her. I will revert to the Senators if I have a date.
Senator Hackett spoke about the upsetting local story that captured the national imagination. The gentleman has been operating the bicycle rental scheme on the bog for more than 11 years and appeared to be gazumped without even being offered a "Thank you very much" for his services. It highlights the issues there are with public procurement. A local person providing local jobs would be lovely if we could do it, but it is not something that can be done in the context of the European Union. We need to find creative ways to make sure we appreciate the work that people have been doing for many years before we decide that they are no longer required.
Senator Wall spoke about youth unemployment. I will request a debate. There is a Private Members' motion on youth to be debated in the next couple of weeks, but it would be timely for the Minister to come to the House. I realise that the numbers are slightly inflated because some of the younger people who are on the PUP are not technically unemployed and, hopefully, will return to their jobs once businesses reopen, starting today and into next week. Even if it is only 15% or 20%, however, the rate is still far too high.It is reflected across the EU. It is something we need to do and prepare for now so I will ask for that debate.
Senator Boyhan talked about the Wasted Lives report. The value of ombudsmen and women in this country should never be underestimated. They give a voice to groups who are jaded, worn down, tired and beaten up for fighting for their rights in a system that seems to always be working against them. The report last week highlights the 1,400 people living in conditions they should not be in, because of their age and their conditions. A number of years ago, I had to fight for more than a year to get a home care package for a lady who was only 33 years of age and had been living in a nursing home for five years. Another colleague talked about the consent form that had been signed. That is true, it happens all the time and it renders the person unhelpable because they have decided for themselves to stay in that environment, though nobody ever decides to stay in an environment that is not suitable for them. I thank the Senator for bringing it up and I will ask the Minister to come back to us on the plans for reassessment of those 1,350-odd people, so they can start living their lives again.
Senator Chambers told us about the Bill she will bring forward in the next number of weeks. We should all get behind her. I agree with her that the changes that have been made to section 10 of the Act are far too wide. The specific offence of stalking has a massive impact on the women, particularly, but also the men that have been stalked by unwanted attention-seekers. It is something that needs a specific Bill. The Senator also brought up the postcode lottery of maternal care services, and I will come back when I have an answer.