Seanad debates

Monday, 31 May 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 – Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude at 2.45 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, motion re continuation of Health (Amendment) Act 2021 (No. 1 of 2021) (Mandatory Hotel Quarantine) to be taken at 3 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude after 75 minutes, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, statements on the Covid-19 vaccination programme to be taken at 4.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude after 75 minutes, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, Affordable Housing Bill 2021 - Committee Stage (resumed) to be taken at 6 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the later and to adjourn at 7.15 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 5, Private Member's business - Civil Legal Aid (Exclusion of Value of Free or Partly Free Board) (Amendment) Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 7.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 4, with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Our first speaker on the Order of Business is Senator Burke.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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The Leas-Chathaoirleach has caught me by surprise.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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That does not happen too often.


Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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It is very seldom that Senator Burke is caught offside. Indeed, I have yet to experience it. I see Senator Chambers nodding.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Today, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, will be in Swinford, County Mayo, which Senator Chambers will know well, launching community hubs, and we welcome that launch very much in Swinford today. This House played a major part in that regard. In 2009 or 2010 when the Courts Service Bill was going through the House, I tabled an amendment to the effect that when changes were made to the Courts Service and some courthouses were closing, that they could not be sold off and would be given to the community, with the result the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, is announcing one of those hubs in Swinford today.

As Senator Chambers will also know, businesses on Main Street, Castlebar, have very poor broadband facilities. If that continues it will result in those businesses having to leave their premises on Main Street and move to the rural part of the town where there is much greater broadband bandwidth. We have some great businesses in the centre of the town. Vaughan Shoes, for instance, won an award for its online retail sales - it was the best in the country. We have Egan Jewellers, Stauntons Pharmacy and a whole host of businesses that cannot operate to full capacity due to the broadband bandwidth available. Something will have to be urgently done about that. I call on the Deputy Leader, Senator Chambers, to arrange for a debate on broadband and the facilities and opportunities it brings about. On the one hand, a hub is being opened in Swinford today and, on the other hand, the capital town of County Mayo has very poor broadband width, which leaves it at a major disadvantage. Businesses there are suffering and may have to move from the centre to the rural part of the town, which would be a disaster for the town. We have to keep our town centres intact. That is where people congregate and business hubs begin. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate on broadband services.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator. That was quite a rally for someone caught offside or suddenly called to speak but I am not surprised by that.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the fact that this year's national TidyTowns competitions are up and running again having not gone ahead last year. It is great news for some 900 communities of various sizes throughout the length and breadth of the country that do great work week in, week out, tidying up their villages and towns. I refer not only to the picking up litter we usually see volunteers doing, but also to actions they take to address climate change with respect to biodiversity or sustainability projects. By and large, the TidyTowns projects lead the way. I cannot but mention the fact that Glaslough in County Monaghan are the reigning all-Ireland champions. We are very proud of that achievement and of all the volunteers, not only in Glaslough but in Carrickmacross and other towns in County Monaghan and County Cavan and throughout the country. We are deeply indebted to them for the work they do.

While I welcome the fact that the competitions are going ahead, many people have told me they are disappointed the adjudication this year will be in a virtual context only. I find that decision somewhat baffling bearing in mind county travel is now permitted. Perhaps that decision was made when the situation was worse with respect to Covid. Thankfully and hopefully by the end of June, 80% of the population will have received a vaccination. One would have thought that would limit the danger for adjudicators travelling to a village or town. The volunteers look forward to the adjudicators coming and seeing how their town or village performs. The Deputy Leader might respectfully use her good offices to write to the Department to ask it for a reappraisal of that decision and it might reconsider it with a view to having some form of physical presence by an adjudicator at this year's competitions. With the good weather, we can see increased activity on farms across the country. That brings its own dangers because, unfortunately, up to 40% of all fatal work accidents happen on farms. They are dangerous places to be. We can all see that silage cutting is up and running. Many farmers are taking cattle out of sheds and onto grassland. That brings with it potential dangers. There are many dangers on a farm that farmers need to be aware of. With school holidays coming, many young farm children will be out, running about on their parents' properties. Farmers are outside working all day and they are exposed to the sun and the dangers which come with that. I ask that farmers be aware of these facts and take a minute to think before they take on a task, and perhaps we can limit the number of accidents that happen on farms this year.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Deputy Leader for setting out the Order of Business. I am happy to accept it.

To touch on the theme to which Senator Gallagher referred in the context of TidyTowns and tidy districts, I make an appeal for all of us, with our political connections, regarding the winding down of restrictions and the reopening of society. I acknowledge the importance of opening businesses, doing business and trading and the suggestion that it will be an outdoor summer. I understand that. Even today, the weather is fabulous. One could see the number of people around Dublin city during the first two hours of trading this morning. It is important. I walked through Dublin city yesterday and it was trashed from South Great George's Street over to Wicklow Street and the back of Grafton Street. The thing that I came across most was tourists visiting this country using their phones to video the filth and dirt, the human excrement, the urine, the food, the cans, the bottles and the slabs of beer. People were rightly angry. I met a number of people who suggested that the council workers should have been out. They should not have been out at that hour of the morning. We, as citizens, have to take some responsibility for what is happening in our city. I heard reports about Limerick, Waterford, Wexford and Cork. It was atrocious when I turned on the news last night to see it.

I spoke with the city manager, Owen Keegan, yesterday. What came of our brief conversation on the phone about Dublin city was that we need to be clear that it is an offence to drink in a public place in Dublin city, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and many other places and that there should be no mixed messages from Government about trading out. There are by-laws. Who enforces them? Council officials will tell you that they do not want to confront people. I understand that, especially where alcohol is involved. An Garda Síochána does not have the necessary resources and has to maintain a balance. This is all about a balanced approach. It is about people coming out of lockdown. Those people are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and family members. They are a disgrace and we have to take responsibility for them.

I ask the Deputy Leader that there be a public campaign in the next two or three days before we line up for next weekend. Hopefully, it will be a fabulous weekend. I am not a killjoy but I do not like to see people having to navigate the trash and the dirt, and the disrespect for our county and city officials and the workers who go out and have to clean up. The campaign has to be about people taking responsibility for their own actions and taking alcohol containers or whatever it is away. If they must use it, then drink it and take it away. People should clean up after themselves. What happened sends a terrible message to our citizens. We cannot have a recurrence in Dublin city of what happened at the weekend.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I call Senator Martin.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I want to bring to the attention of the Deputy Leader-----

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Sorry, I should have called Senator Bacik.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I am happy to give way to Senator Bacik.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I was happy to give way to Senator Martin too. I thank the Deputy Leader for the change in the schedule so that we will be debating Committee Stage of the Affordable Housing Bill today and on Friday. I look forward to that continued debate. Those of us who were involved in the debate on Friday will be well aware of the substantial number of amendments tabled in respect of this important legislation and of the substantive nature of the issues involved. Our housing spokesperson, Senator Moynihan and I were concerned about the key issue of affordability and how the criteria for affordability are to be set.We have been arguing that they should be set in accordance with people's income rather than in accordance with the fluid and, unfortunately, manipulable criterion of market value. That debate will be continuing today and I look forward to it. Housing is such a crucial issue. Across Dublin Bay South, where, obviously, I am working extensively at present, you hear it from so many people who are priced out of accommodation, who have had to move back home with their parents, who simply cannot afford to rent flats in the area and yet we see apartments lying empty. This housing debate is hugely important. I am really glad that we will see it resuming on Committee Stage, today and Friday, we will not be truncating it, and I hope we will not be needing to guillotine it. That is a very important issue. It is so important to get it right. So many attempts at adjusting housing policy have failed, as we have seen over the past few years.

I also ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on the new strategy to combat domestic sexual and gender-based violence. I welcome the fact that today the Department of Justice is launching a consultation on this, the third national strategy, which it hopes will be concluded by the end of this year, and that that is being done in conjunction with Safe Ireland and with the National Women's Council. Colleagues who were in this House in 2017 and 2018 will recall that we made really important progressive changes to our law on domestic and sexual violence through two legislative measures, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Domestic Violence Act 2018. We brought in such important measures as the new offence of coercive control and a statutory definition of consent for the first time in Irish law. It is really important that we continue in this House to champion necessary changes to protect those who are suffering from domestic and gender-based violence and I hope we can have that debate.

Finally, I commend the Portobello Tidy Towns, my local Tidy Towns organisation. We had a big group of volunteers out, this weekend and the previous weekend, tidying up in Portobello with the assistance of Dublin City Council and local businesses such as 31 Lennox and many others. It is so important when we see areas such as Portobello getting a bad press because people are gathering there that we remember there is a huge community effort. Portobello is a fantastic place to live and a huge community goes on all the time there for so many of us volunteering to help clean it up and to make it a really lovely place to live in, to bring up children in and to just spend time in. To remember, our city spaces can be really pleasant. They can be really positive public amenities and we need to strengthen that and commend that where we see it happening.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Bacik. That, earlier, was not a display of parochialism. I now call Senator Martin.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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There are two issues I wish to bring to the attention of the House this morning that have potentially serious implications for world peace and stability. First, the recent decision by the UK Government in respect of its announcement concerning its integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, of its nuclear weapons and the nuclear warhead cap. It is most worrying, as the British are lifting the cap on the number of warheads it can stockpile, having previously committed to reducing its stock. The new UK position runs contrary to disarmament commitments and risks contributing to a dangerous arms race. The UK's review also confirmed it will no longer be providing public figures on the UK's operational stockpile of its deployed warheads and deployed missile numbers. The UK's new position also sends a very dangerous message at this crucial time in global non-proliferation methods and efforts. Ireland has a proud history of supporting the advancement of multilateral nuclear disarmament through active participation in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Our efforts are driven by a firm belief that nuclear disarmament is an enabler of security and that the only guarantee of safety is to complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The British Government's decision is most worrying and it has largely gone under the radar.

The second matter I wish to bring to the attention of the House and the Deputy Leader is a much better or prominently documented matter, namely, the recent hijacking of the civilian airline. This House and every democracy should put this on the agenda indefinitely because there is a real danger with the passage of time that the dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, will get away with this.The President of Belarus has taken the law into his own hands. His action is a strike on all of our freedoms and a flagrant breach of international law. For an extradition from an organised democracy like Ireland there is an amount of forensic detail and the process is fair, yet a dictator has organised successfully and arranged the hijacking of an Irish-owned, Polish registered civilian aircraft as it flew between two EU members states with up to 12 member states' citizenry onboard. Over a week has gone by and I again call for the release of Roman Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega. We should call for their release on a regular basis. The world has spoken, by and large, but it has had no effect to date on the welfare, safety and liberty of these two people. Roman Protasevich is a blogger and young journalist whom a dictator felt he could not cope with. This is an attack on the freedom of the press and freedom of expression. I am really concerned about the safety of Roman Protasevich, as is any democrat in the free world. We should continue to mention and highlight the case on a regular basis until we get a result. We must ratchet up the sanctions, and not just EU sanctions. We must use the EU appeal throughout the world and the US to do more and more, and not let this case fade into the past. As time fades people forget, which is what is happening so we must continue to highlight this case.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the change to this week's Order of Business to allow for the continuation of Committee Stage of the Affordable Housing Bill on Friday. The arrangement is a helpful and positive move given the level of debate that is required and the amount of amendments that have been submitted.

I recognise the historic vote in the Dáil last week with the passage of the motion on Palestine. It is important, timely and sends a positive and correct message internationally from these Houses.

I pay tribute to one of Ireland's and certainly one of Belfast's leading blues guitarists, musicians and singers, Rab McCullough. Perhaps unjustly, Rab is not one of our best known musicians. For those who did and do know him and his music, his playing meant the world.

Rab performed with other legends and shared the stage with people like Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, AC/DC, Paul McCarthy and Wings, and the Rolling Stones among many others. In the 1970s, Rab was a political prisoner in cage 17 of Long Kesh where he taught Bobby Sands how to play the guitar. My father, who was with them in cage 17, reminded me this morning that Rab would often play guitar with his teeth in the style of Jimi Hendrix. Apparently, Rab was a great help with the many sports injuries that the men in the cages suffered due to football, soccer and everything else. Clearly, Rab had magic hands whether it was on the guitar or assisting his fellow prisoners.

I was lucky enough to hear Rab play on a number of occasions. Especially now with his passing, it strikes me how mesmerising a privilege that was. He was a fantastic blues guitarist and musician. His music was a great gift to anyone who had the opportunity to hear him play, particularly live and he was a regular feature in small, intimate venues throughout Belfast in recent years. I take this opportunity to send my thoughts to his wife, Marian, his three children and his grandchildren. In his memory and in the spirit of the life that he lived, I call for statements and discussion on how we support musicians, artists and the cultural sector as we safely, and wisely, emerge from the restrictions over the next short period.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I join in welcoming the motion on annexation. It sends an important signal in recognising some of the reality of what is happening in the occupied territories of Palestine. There is more that we can do but the motion is an important step.

I join in the calls for a debate on disarmament that Senator Martin mentioned because Ireland has played a key role in that regard.In a moment when we are seeing a shift away from some of the international principles of disarmament, this is a timely and appropriate debate.

I join previous speakers in welcoming the decision to extend the time allowed for Committee Stage of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 because it has been a constructive debate. I recognise that there has been some engagement and several amendments have been accepted, including one of mine related to sustainable urban communities, which is the issue I want to speak about.

When we talk about sustainable urban communities, we need to acknowledge the lack of meaningful public space in Dublin city centre. I live in the city centre where, during much of the 2 km lockdown period, St. Stephen's Green and the Iveagh Gardens were closed. All that was open were Merrion Square and a stretch of canal path that is not even 6 ft. wide. We have been talking a great deal about compact growth and encouraging people to live in city centres but we do not create city centre spaces that people can enjoy. Where are families to go at 7 p.m.? Where could a family meet another family outdoors if, like me and many others, they live in an apartment and do not have a back garden? We need to have more public spaces and more diverse kinds of public spaces. I worry at the response that suggests we should shut down more public space and push people back into small apartments where many have been for a year.

The longest queue in Dublin is the one for the public toilets at the top of Grafton Street. That is ridiculous. Flann O'Brien wrote The Hard Lifein the 1960s. He was writing about women's rights being affected by the lack of public toilets. A campaign on that issue runs through his book, yet here we are 40 years later. It is an inequality issue. It becomes harder for families, people with a disability and women when there are no public toilets. We need public bins and we may also need more directly hired and publicly accountable council staff, not for confrontation, but if we are to have an outdoor summer.

We also need to stop sending mixed messages. If we send a message that 1 m distance without a mask is fine for indoors, that sends a signal that it is fine for outdoors. We spent a lot of time showing what 2 m distance is and we have all internalised that distance. When we send signals that we are suddenly shifting to 1 m, we need to be very careful. I am concerned about accelerating that move to 1 m. It has to be done slowly and from an indoor perspective because we are sending that signal and telling young people they need to go back to work, even if they are not vaccinated, in places where 1 m distance will apply.

I join Senator Paddy Burke in calling for a debate on the wider digitalisation agenda. There is a European recovery and resilience strategy and we know there are hundreds of millions of euro being invested in this area. Broadband is part of it but digital empowerment and training for communities are also part of it.

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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I echo some of Senator Higgins's sentiments. The weekend events around the country highlighted for me that this issue boils down to how we respect our public places, private property and fellow citizens. We saw disgusting littering, which has been raised. Councillor Dónal Gilroy in Sligo called me this morning at his wit's end about Streedagh Beach in County Sligo. This was replicated around the country. Our beaches and public amenities are not fit to accommodate the number of people who are flocking to them.

We need to help local authorities to deal with the outdoor summer. We need to embrace summer tourism. I look forward to travelling around the country and hopefully getting to some hot spots, cool spots or wet spots. We need more litter, traffic and dog wardens. We need more public toilets and lifeguards. We need to protect our special areas of conservation so that people do not light campfires. This was a problem throughout the country last weekend. Dogs need to be kept on leads in commonage areas so that they do not attack wild birds and sheep.It is sad to think that we need a campaign to tell people to pick up after themselves. We really do need such an awareness campaign, however, to start immediately to address how people should behave outdoors and to help local authorities to deal with these types of situations. It is not right that members of TidyTowns committees have to come along and act as binmen and binwomen and do that heavy lifting every weekend. Those people need support. TidyTowns committees should be for planting flowers and lifting rubbish occasionally, and not for this type of regular heavy lifting. Those organisations are intended to complement that work and not to do it.

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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This morning, I raise the TidyTowns competition. It is great to see it back this year and that there are €1,000 grants available. Many groups were disappointed that the competition did not go ahead last year but that did not stop much of their work. Members worked within their 2 km and 5 km zones, and boy did we need them. As we heard this morning, there have been masks on the ground and overflowing bins. Cigarette butts are now emerging as one of the biggest issues, in addition to an increase in illegal dumping and dog litter. In that context, there is an award this year for those groups which did keep working.

We must encourage this new localism. We are going to have more staycations and local tourism. Along with my colleague, Councillor Siobhan Shovlin, and a colleague of the Deputy Leader, Councillor Howard Mahony, I launched a Dublin 15 tourism initiative last week because we want to see people coming into our area and preparations made for our outdoor summer. I spoke previously during our debate on period poverty regarding our lack of public toilets and what a disadvantage that is, as well as the need for bins and a strategy to complement our outdoor summer. I also spoke about casual trading bylaws and what we can do in that regard, as well as about supporting the organisation, Leave No Trace Ireland, which encourages responsibility regarding activities outdoors.

I raise the specific point that it is disappointing that only TidyTowns groups which were registered in 2017, 2018 and 2019 are eligible for the €1,000 grant this year. It includes a group of which I am a committee member, Blanchardstown TidyTowns. We have been active since 2018. We have done a colouring competition, been in the St. Patrick's Day parade, engaged companies in the area and we are of course doing our clean-ups every week. We secured funding from other sources, but we cannot now get that €1,000 grant because we were only set up in late 2018. We did not apply and register for 2019. Our year would have been 2020, but we could not do it then and now we are not eligible for this €1,000 grant. We need that money to get out and purchase equipment and make it a level playing field. We are trying to encourage people to get involved and we have seen an uplift in that regard. We should be encouraging people and capitalising on the goodwill of people who want to get involved.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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There has been a great deal of finger-wagging over the weekend and even this morning on RTÉ by broadcasters calling for our cities to be locked down at weekends. Businesses that this Government closed have been scolded like bold children for allowing the crowds to gather. Today, I want to illustrate the contradictions in our plans for reopening this summer. In two days' time, on 2 June, I will be able to travel to a bed and breakfast or hotel anywhere in the country. Cross-county travel and small space gatherings will also be allowed in respect of bed and breakfasts and hotels on 2 June but restaurants, bars and cafes will remain closed.

It will not be until 5 July that our food and drink venues will be able to open indoor dining. In the meantime, however, I can eat inside a bed and breakfast or hotel. The CEO of the Restaurant Association of Ireland, RAI, Adrian Cummins, has called this practice discriminatory and unjust, and I agree with him. Why the double standard? Why can I travel to a bed and breakfast or hotel on 2 June to stay among other families that I may or may not know, while until 5 July it will remain an offence for me to have members of three other households in my home? There is a flaw in the Government's logic. In fact, there is a flaw in the Government, because it is not applying any logic at all. There is a problem with this because it affects people's lives. People in power are playing with people's lives. If those people and the Government want to stop playing and start helping, antigen testing should be given the go-ahead immediately and not in five weeks' or five months' time.The Government needs to stop pointing the finger at airline companies having to lay off workers and help them get back up and running by allowing those vaccinated to travel. It needs to start an interdisciplinary team, filled with people who have experienced different hardships and headaches throughout this pandemic, to open the discussion on addressing issues fairly and avoiding future lockdowns. This country will not take any more lockdowns. We need to stop the slow vaccine roll-out. We either need more vaccinators or we do not, but if we are to continue to search for them then somebody should reach out to the 1,200 pharmacists who have offered to provide vaccines. Variants will be with us for years to come. We need to live alongside Covid-19, not live in fear of it. Until we do, people with power are playing with people's lives and this is a very serious problem.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I will not comment on the last speaker other than to say that the issue is not vaccinators but the supply of vaccines, which is a problem we have no control over.

I raise an important issue which featured in one of the lead stories by Lorcan Allen in yesterday's Business Post. Part of the article stated:

An expert has warned that Ireland's power system is at risk, amid concerns that national infrastructure is buckling under pressure of growing demand. System alerts typically occur during the winter months when electricity demand is highest...there have been two already this spring. The number of system alerts warning of potential electricity shortages on the national grid has risen dramatically in the last 12 months, leading one expert to warn that Ireland is showing the early signs of a power system at risk of blackouts. In the last year the Single Electricity Market...has issued six system alerts to warn of capacity shortages on the electricity grid, compared with just 11 alerts over the previous ten years.

I can identify with that as in my part of the country, over a period of time, there has certainly been a major increase in the number of power cuts. I have been asked time and time again by business and ordinary householders why it is happening. I was given various excuses. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to come to the House to reassure us that we are not facing this debacle.

I am somewhat concerned because we closed down two peat-burning stations in Lanesborough and Shannonbridge. While we all accept the peat-burning era is coming to an end, the eight-year closedown and just transition virtually became a one-year closedown. Have we put the cart before the horse to some degree? This is something we cannot allow to happen. We must get it right. I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House to reassure us we are not heading down this road.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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It was great to see so many people out and about enjoying facilities at the weekend. I was in places such as Dún Laoghaire, Blackrock, Dalkey and Killiney and saw a lot of responsible behaviour. The aftermath is clear to see. Parking was a particular feature of places like Dalkey and Killiney. It seems many people drove there to go swimming, go to the beach or whatever it was, but then parked wherever they wanted. While it is wonderful to welcome people to our area and it is great to see people using the amenities, we cannot have a situation where residents are impounded in their houses and people cannot access roads around the area.

Litter is another consequence. I pay particular tribute to a young girl in my area, Flossie Donnelly, who has an organisation called Flossie and the Beach Cleaners. They collected 74 kg of waste in Sandycove yesterday, which gives an idea of just how much litter was left behind by people. Most of the solution to that is for people not to leave that waste behind, but part of it is for councils to provide easily accessible bins. I pay tribute to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for putting on extra bins in places like Blackrock. I saw people using them, which is great. Flossie Donnelly has a campaign at the moment, which is a petition to have environmentalism become a core subject in our curriculum at all levels in school. There is a great deal of merit to that suggestion. There is a petition on the website and I encourage Members to look at it.

We need to look at including a whole range of subjects in the curriculum, be it digital citizenship, sex, identity, relationships, environmentalism or coding and programming.These are the skills children will need in the future. Much has changed since the curriculum was drawn up and we need to have a debate in this House about what should be in that curriculum, what it should be addressing for the future and what skills the children who are currently in school are going to need when they go out into the adult world and become functioning citizens.

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
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I commend the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, on its Education for All campaign. Other Senators may have passed representatives of the union outside the gates of Leinster House this morning. At €3,000, Irish students are now paying the highest fees in Europe. When I was president of USI in 2015 and 2016, we campaigned against an increase in the student contribution fee. It is, obviously, a position about which I still feel strongly. I agree with the USI and the demands its representatives made outside Leinster House today. It is time to cut fees, fix student rental prices and take care of our students. The Cassells report came out five years ago. It had a comprehensive roadmap for publicly-funded higher and further education but no action has been taken by two consecutive Ministers in the relevant area.

Last week, I raised the issue of the denial of Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants to students on the grounds that they accepted the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. Those students were entitled to that payment. It was a payment for people who lost their jobs and were unable to work. No advance notice was given that availing of the PUP would affect a student's SUSI grant. The Ministers for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and Social Protection, have taken no action on that issue. A number of weeks ago, I raised the issue of the cost of housing for students and I mentioned, in particular, the need to bring on-campus housing providers to the table to discuss what we can do to help students who are out of pocket for rent and accommodation they could not access. Nothing has been done thus far on that issue, as far as I am aware. A considerable number of outstanding issues are facing students who have been through an unprecedentedly tough 18 months and those issues warrant a debate. We need to discuss how we can support them and work together to resolve these issues. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to the House to discuss these issues. Given that six of the Seanad seats are filled by the university panel, it is appropriate that we have such a discussion here. I reiterate the USI call for publicly-funded education and not a student-funded system. I offer my support to their campaign and I ask all Senators to engage with the Education for All campaign.

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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It has been a long and hard year for all of us. There has been little good news. However, I acknowledge the good news that has been the vaccination programme. More than 50% of the population have received their first dose of a vaccine and 300,000 doses were administered last week. There is an expectation that a further 2 million doses will be administered by the end of June. All of that has happened despite problems with supply and delivery of the vaccine. Huge tribute is due to everybody who has been involved in the vaccination programme. I was lucky enough to get my vaccine last week at DCU. I commend the staff at DCU, the Helix, the Aviva Stadium, Croke Park and all around the country. I was with the Salvation Army last week in King's Inns Street. Staff and volunteers from the HSE and the Department of Health and from NGOs of all sizes right around the country have been involved in saving lives and livelihoods by administering the vaccine. This House should acknowledge that enormous effort and pay tribute to them all.

I raise the issue of protections for renters. The Deputy Leader will be aware that the Government has legislated to protect renters four times during the pandemic. The legislation has protected renters from rent increases and evictions. The current protections for renters who have been negatively impacted by Covid will be in place until 13 July. We are all looking forward to the reopening of society but we acknowledge, and the Government certainly does, that it will not be like turning on a light switch and there will be a need for continued supports. The Deputy Leader should write to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and ask him to look at extending the rental protections that ensure against evictions and rent increases until the end of the year. If he can do that and bring forward emergency legislation, I would ask this House to facilitate that emergency legislation.I also ask that the rent pressure zone loophole that has emerged be tackled at the same time.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I wish to speak about job creation in the west. I would like to acknowledge the sterling work of our regional agencies that attract investment. On Thursday, the Tánaiste announced that Ballinasloe had won an investment of €5 million, with the expansion of Chanelle Pharma into our town. That means the creation of 60 jobs for 60 families. Chanelle Pharma is a Galway company based in Loughrea that specialises in human and animal health. It is in the midst of growth and expansion. The company doubled its capacity a number of years ago. It has won awards, including that of pharma company of the year, making it the first indigenous company to do so.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of IDA Ireland west and Enterprise Ireland west in working with Chanelle Pharma to achieve this investment. The regional agencies and people on the ground in our areas are crucial to attracting investment into our counties and outside of the larger urban centres. Development associations and voluntary community groups drive investment into our towns. In my own area, the Ballinasloe Area Community Development group has done significant work, including its recent initiative, the Pulse Club, which is a network of entrepreneurs, start-ups and mentors. For the past two years, the group has organised workshops on digital marketing, finance, business planning and speaker events with high-profile entrepreneurs. Two years ago, Michael Burke, the managing director of Chanelle Pharma, was keynote speaker at the launch of the Pulse Club. Less than two years later, investment is being made in our town. It shows what a buzz there is and the importance of networking and bringing communities together.

I also wish to raise the announcement by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, this morning regarding The connected hubs network is crucial for our towns, villages and regional areas. There are now more than 66 hubs online. I encourage those who may be watching the debate today while they are working from home to make use of the hubs. It has not been ideal for those working from home during lockdown, who have sometimes been working from the kitchen table. There is now an opportunity for those workers to look up connectedhubs.ieand book a desk, workspace or a meeting room. Some 66 spaces are currently available. The aim is to increase this number to in excess of 100 by the end of the year and the overall target is 400.

I congratulate the managers and teams working in our enterprise centres to deliver this network for our towns.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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I plan to reopen my own business on Wednesday. That reopening would not be possible without the Government supports that have been provided over the past 15 months. I wish to acknowledge that before I raise a similar issue to that of Senator Keogan.

I am in the privileged position to be able to allow indoor dining in my hotel from Wednesday. However, the locals - who are my regulars - who want to dine in the hotel have to sit outside. I find that two-tier approach most unfair. Why should locals coming to the hotel to dine be treated differently from a hotel resident? I have always argued that we should use the science that is available. If the science tells us that it is safe to eat indoors, why is it not safe for non-hotel residents to dine indoors? Equally, I object to the complex messaging on time limits for dining. Those dining at tables 1 m apart are subject to a limit of 105 minutes, but those dining outside at tables that are 2 m apart can sit for as long as they like until they are kicked out at the end of the night. I understand why the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Vintners' Association of Ireland are frustrated by this approach. I do not see how the science supports that.

I also wish to touch upon another issue that was highlighted over the weekend. I wonder what we would be talking about here today if it had been raining over the weekend. We would not be discussing any of the situations that we saw unfolding in our city centres or indeed in other hotspots across the country. In Glendalough, on the first fine weekend in May we ended up in the same situation as Dublin over the weekend. The place was packed to capacity. There was no room and not enough bins and facilities. As we plan for an outdoor event, we should plan more for these occurrences. It is very difficult to cater for a one-off event. I am not saying that the weekend was a one-off event. However, it is not often that we have a weekend of such fine weather. Perhaps the reopening of society will help reduce these occurrences in the long term. If we knew the weather forecast, we could plan for these events. The uncertainty is the weather. If we had certainty around the weather, we could plan better for these occurrences.

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
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I wish to raise a serious matter that occurred at the weekend. There were probably similar issues at other popular beaches around the country. First, I thank Ben Bennett, Mike Paige, Aaron McGettigan, Ollie O'Flaherty and Richard Brangwyn. They put their lives at risk to save over 40 people yesterday at a beach in Lahinch. There were zero lifeguards on duty. We knew last weekend was going to be sunny and that thousands would flock to the beaches. This is our second summer in lockdown so we should have figured this out by now. People deserve to be outside. They have been told to go outside and the country has been told to take a staycation, and I have been promoting that. We should not be shocked at the number of people outside on the streets or at the beaches. We knew this was coming.

I am wondering what the solution is. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, and several Departments have given millions to local authorities for bins, outdoor seating, extra amenities and creating spaces, but I do not see that happening on the ground. I do not know what the problem is. There were no lifeguards on duty yesterday in Lahinch, although it was packed with thousands of people. There were two-year-olds missing and one guy nearly had a heart attack. The five men I mentioned are all surfers and they did this voluntarily. They could not leave the beach because they were afraid people would die. They were putting people on their surf boards and bringing them in from the water. I know we cannot predict our weather, but we can predict if it is going to be sunny. I booked a trip to the Aran Islands a week ago because we were told last weekend was due to be sunny. We will have to be more creative and quicker off the mark. The climate has changed and our weather patterns are more unpredictable, but this is our second outdoor summer and we have not nailed it. We have failed.

I wonder if it is necessary to have a meeting with all the chief executive officers, CEOs, of the local authorities to find out what the problem is. It is not fair to ordinary civilians and surfers that they would be afraid to leave the beach in case somebody drowns if they are not there to keep an eye on them. It is a serious issue and it is ongoing. We cannot wait until somebody dies to realise it is serious.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I was delighted to hear Senator Burke mention Swinford because, as he knows, that is the birthplace of my grandfather. I believe every Horkan in the country originally came from there. I am delighted that the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, is there today.

I would be more than happy to speak about what happened at the weekend, which has been covered so often. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown had a protecting upland and rural environments, PURE, policy relating to upland dumping in the mountains. It is all about leaving no trace. It is all very well that we need more bins and we have more traffic wardens, dog wardens and litter wardens, but it is down to people's personal responsibility. People have to behave properly. Of course, when alcohol is involved people occasionally lose the run of themselves but, by and large, if one goes to a beach, a park or elsewhere, one should bring what one has. Ideally, there should be more rubbish bins. Hopefully, however, this will all change. We will have outdoor dining in the next week. I asked the Leader a few weeks ago if this could be reopened earlier. Between 700 and 800 pubs in Dublin will be open next week for outdoor activity, and they all have toilets which will be available to people to use as they are public houses. The sooner we have the pubs open, both outdoor and indoor, the more we will spread the burden and there will not be a focus on illegal drinking, as that is what it is under the law, taking place.

The point I wish to raise relates to a report that was commissioned by the Association of Irish Local Government about the intimidation of councillors, both online and in person. It was published last week and is a comprehensive document. The association surveyed its 949 local authority members, who elected many of the Members of this House, and there were 223 responses. Almost a quarter of the members gave a response, which is a phenomenal response rate. They pointed out that people have been subject to violence, threats of violence, threats of sexual violence, death threats in some cases and threats to their family members. I call on the Deputy Leader to have a debate on that report as soon as we can and certainly before the summer recess. It is a comprehensive report.

Councillors do a great deal of work. Almost every Member of the House has been a member of a local authority. My apologies to any Member who was not, but almost every Member in the Chamber at present was. Social media has accentuated this problem and we must tackle it properly, both with the social media companies and also by engaging with the public and saying it is not okay to intimidate public representatives, either anonymously or to people's faces.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I have been listening to some of the comments made by previous speakers. We need to give young people a break. They have endured enormous sacrifices over the past 14 months. I got quite annoyed listening to some of the finger wagging going on over the weekend, particularly from people who have been vaccinated while young people continue to have to wait. Similar to Senator Garvey, I saw it in Courtown. We had traffic chaos over the weekend at our beaches. We have had a year to prepare for all of this. Resources have been provided to local authorities. We should have known this would happen. I have been very fortunate, like many others, because I live in the great town of Gorey and I have access to the sea and country areas. If people are cooped up in an apartment for a long period once we get a bit of sun of course they want to come out. It is only natural. This does not excuse irresponsible behaviour, for which the minority were responsible. If people bring a bag of cans into a public area, they are well capable of loading those empty cans back into the bag and taking them home with them. If we are going to have an outdoor summer, and the resources have been provided, then in these circumstances we should make sure our local authorities prepare for it. I listened to Mike Cubbard, the mayor of Galway, earlier on "Morning Ireland" and I thought he was right. We need to give young people at break. They have endured an horrendous year.

I ask that at some stage we have a debate in the House on the question of grief and sacrifice. We have lost almost 5,000 people. Many of their families have not had the opportunity to mourn. There will be issues when we emerge from this. We know about the potential mental health impact. There will be a need for counselling services and support. As we finally come out of this pandemic, the House should consider ways we can remember those who lost their lives and allow those who have lost loved ones to grieve appropriately.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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My County Mayo colleague, Senator Burke, raised the very important issue of the scarcity of broadband in many rural areas. Mayo is a perfect example of a county where in some pockets broadband is very good and in others there is none, and there is no sign of it coming any time soon. It is great that the connected hubs network was launched in Swinford this morning. It is fantastic and it will give people the option to work remotely but have somewhere to go where they can have reliable broadband so their broadband does not crash in the middle of a meeting or when they are trying to upload a file. People living in rural areas are concerned their broadband will fail, as I am sure it has done for many Members, myself included. Senator Aisling Dolan raised the same issue with regard to hubs being rolled out throughout the country. It is a welcome step towards a new era of working from home and flexible working, which is something all citizens want to see maintained.

Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the issue of the Tidy Towns competition, which he has raised many times in the Chamber. He particularly congratulated Glaslough, the outgoing champion in County Monaghan. He spoke about the importance of the competition. He raised an important and interesting point regarding the virtual adjudications this year. I agree with him that it seems a strange decision to have taken given that we are opening up. It would certainly be better to adjudicate on the ground with a view of the town or village and meeting the committee on-site. This would be preferable for all those who have done so much work. I will ask that this be reconsidered and that those responsible for the Tidy Towns competition might change their minds and get out on the ground to meet the Tidy Towns committees.

The Senator also raised the important issue of farm accidents. We are heading into a busy season for farming and I concur with him that it is important that farm safety is paramount on all farms and that children on farms are also watched. We know farms are particularly dangerous workplaces at times and many people lose their lives. Many also get injured every year and we do not often hear about these particular instances.

Senator Boyhan made an impassioned speech on behalf of the residents of Dublin city and throughout the country with regard to the outdoor summer and people recreating outdoors, which we expect them to do. There is a responsibility on citizens to pick up after themselves. We should not have to say this but clearly we do. Many Members made this point this morning. Senator Boyhan was correct that it is disrespectful to council staff to leave rubbish behind. It is very unsavoury for others who want to use the public spaces and cannot do so because they are so filthy.There is a point about civic responsibility and being responsible for one's own actions. It is an important message.

Senator Bacik raised the matter of the Affordable Housing Bill and welcomed that the debate will be extended. It is worthwhile having as much debate as is needed, as I believe it is the defining issue of this Seanad and Oireachtas. It deserves adequate time for debate. We are getting a good opportunity for people to share their views on the floor of the House. Senator Bacik also mentioned the new strategy of public consultation around sexual and gender-based violence that was launched this morning by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys. That public consultation is open until 18 June and I encourage all citizens to participate. It is really important we hear directly from people who may be or have been affected and they should have their say on this really important strategy we are developing. It is around keeping this on the agenda, really, as it will be an ongoing matter. We saw the increase in rates of domestic violence throughout the pandemic, which is one of its really sad outcomes. It is a very important matter.

Finally, Senator Bacik raised the matter of the TidyTowns competition in her local area of Portobello and Dublin Bay South, where she is running in the by-election. I wish her well in the election.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Labour)
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I thank the Senator.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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My colleague, Councillor Deirdre Conroy, is contesting the election as well so I wish her and all the other candidates in Dublin Bay South the very best in the upcoming election. We would be very sad to lose Senator Bacik if she is to leave the House but we wish her the very best nonetheless.

Senator Martin raised the question of the UK's defence and foreign policy around nuclear non-proliferation. It is not an issue that is on the radar too much in this House but it is an important topic. The UK is a very close neighbour so it is important to be aware of a significant change in defence and foreign policy around nuclear weapons. We clearly have no control over UK domestic policy and those matters but it is nonetheless an important point to raise on the floor of the House. The Senator also raised again a matter that was brought up by many Members in the House last week, namely, the hijacking of the Ryanair flight by the regime in Belarus. He is right to make the point that we cannot simply move to the next matter and we must ensure this stays on the agenda. The EU has issued significant sanctions and all Members of the House welcome those. The Taoiseach has been very strong on this matter too, as has the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney.

Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the matter of the passing of the motion on Palestine last week in the Dáil and he welcomed the extension of the Housing debate so Members would have the opportunity to have a say. He spoke about Mr. Rab McCullough, a musician I had not been aware of, to be honest. The Senator gave a really lovely and heartfelt tribute to somebody who clearly meant a lot to him, his family and his community. He was somebody who was clearly very talented as a musician. With Senator Ó Donnghaile I extend the sympathies of this House to Mr. McCullough's wife, Marian, and three children, along with the family and friends grieving his loss.

Senator Ó Donnghaile followed those comments by seeking additional supports for the music and arts industry and a debate on the matter. It is an issue on which many Members have spoken. This is one of the sectors that has been lacking a little direction in how it might exit this pandemic. Some pilot schemes have been set up to try to get back to having music events, mainly outdoors, but many people in the industry really do not see an end in sight. We need to provide some guidance for people in the sector.

Senator Higgins raised a number of questions, including Palestine, disarmament and sustainable urban communities. The Senator gave her perspective on how confining it was to be living in Dublin city centre with just a 2 km radius within which to move around. There is a lack of public spaces. The Senator raised a really important point on the lack of public toilets, referring to the queue at the toilets at the top of Grafton Street. I pass by those facilities every time I leave work and there is some anti-social behaviour in the space, which we might not normally see. This is an equality and human rights issue and it relates to basic sanitation and access to public toilets. It is not a luxury and particularly when businesses around the area are closed, one does not have the same opportunity to pop into a coffee shop or pub to go to the toilet. It is important for women, children and people with a disability to have access to public toilets. It is a good point to raise on the floor of the House and the city council must do some work on that.

The Senator also raised the question of young people getting back to work and not having a vaccine. I heard a debate last week about why hotels, restaurants and hairdressers cannot get people back to employment and many people working in the sectors are younger people who are not vaccinated. They may not feel comfortable going back to work just yet and it is quite possible some of them are holding out until they are vaccinated in the next month or two. There could be a little leeway around that.

Many Members have raised the question of young people, including Senator Malcolm Byrne. They are having a really difficult time and they are first to get the rap on the knuckles when something is not happening, such as getting back to work or socialising.There is a very good reason such these things are happening. It is often a lack of support for people of that age to help them get back to work, or to provide a space to socialise as well, which is clearly important.

Senator McGreehan raised the issue around public spaces, respect and the litter issue. If we are asking people to vacation or holiday at home and move around the country it is a very real issue. I was at the beach in north Mayo at the weekend. Usually not many people attend these beaches and it is quiet, with the other side of the county being more popular. There was a lack of bins there. There was only one bin and it was full by midday. The place was heaving. There was very little space to park and people were pulling up on the side of the road. There was no lifeguard on duty. Again, as Senator Garvey has said, months ago we knew this was coming. We did this last year also. A lot of money has been given to local authorities. Where is the additional seating? I have not seen it. Where are the bins? I have not seen them. Why are lifeguards not on duty a little bit earlier given that we know people will be at the beaches since there is nowhere else to go? It defies logic that there has been absolutely no change in the approach by local authorities to preparing for summer, given that we are in extraordinary times and that we know people will be there. It is not a lack of support or funding from national Government. The money is flowing to the local authorities. It is right across the State and in every county. The local authorities need to up their game. The citizens are losing out and it is even becoming unsafe in many places.

Senator Keogan raised the issue of businesses being scolded. I believe the Senator is right. A lot of businesses are doing their best. People are entitled to buy a takeaway drink or food, and to sit wherever they want. It is not up to the businesses to police the people around their premises. They are not being given the opportunity to spread it out, as other Members have said. Due to the staggered reopening there was always going to be such difficulties.

I take on board the point that Senators Keogan and Casey raised about bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels being allowed to offer indoor dining from 7 June, and restaurants not being allowed until 5 July. Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, RAI, has been a fantastic advocate for this industry over the past year and a bit. Restaurants have been really struggling. The logic behind the staggering of the reopening was to try to keep as low as possible the numbers of people circulating, and to keep it steady as she goes. There is definitely a disparity however. It strikes me as quite unfair that if one can afford to book into a hotel for the night, one can have dinner and drinks and to socialise, but if a person cannot afford to pay for a hotel then he or she does not get to do that. This is one of the inequalities of that position. I hope that we get back to full opening.

There are probably different views on the success of the vaccine roll-out. My view is that it has been quite successful. The issue is one of supply, not of getting it out. I do not believe we are short of vaccinators; that is fine. The issue appears to be about getting enough doses to administer. To be fair, the HSE is working around the clock on that to try to get as much as we can as quickly as we can.

Senator Murphy raised the issue of national infrastructure. I also read the piece in The Business Postaround pressures on the national grid and the potential for blackouts. It is an important debate that we need to have on the future of our electricity supply and our infrastructure. It is currently a bit of a patchwork, and we are trying to move to renewables. With those changes, there has not been enough support to move towards micro-renewables to allow people to generate electricity at a local level and feed it into the grid. We can be doing a lot more things to be smarter about it.A debate with the Minister will be the first port of call for this House to see what the plan is.

Senator Ward struck a more positive tone with regard to the weekend, and said that he observed a lot of positive behaviour in his area in Dublin, where lots of people were doing their best. I loved the name Flossie and the Beach Cleaners. I do not think we will forget it. It is quite memorable and certainly sticks in one's head. I congratulate Flossie Donnelly on her environmental work in the community. It is fantastic to see it. I am sure she will be an inspiration and a leader to other people. Often it is individuals like Flossie who lead the way and inspire others to do the same.

There is a very important point around reimagining our school curriculum for young people who are going into what is a very different and ever-changing world. A child entering national school today will be in a very different world in 20 years' time to the one we are in now. The curriculum is probably based on a world from 30 or 40 years before. There is space there and important points were raised on this by Senator Ward.

Senator Hoey raised the issue of the Education for All campaign. I saw the students union, the USI, outside this morning with their placards. I agree with the Senator. The Cassells report has been gathering dust for the past five years. There has been a reluctance by a number of Ministers to just make the call and to discuss this. It does not just provide a pathway to publicly-funded education, which I strongly believe in and support because otherwise it becomes elitist and for those with money, and it would disadvantage a large swathe of the population.It also presents other options like student loans but I do not believe we should go down that road. Ultimately, it presents the Government with three funding options. It is up to the Oireachtas to make a decision but nobody wants to make it because it is a difficult one. The decision has been kicked down the road numerous times. A discussion in this House as to where we go next is long overdue.

This issue is related to accommodation. Universities and colleges are using student accommodation as a source of funding because they are struggling to afford to run their campuses. It also explains why the registration fees are so high. Universities and colleges argue that they cannot run their institutions on what they get from central government which is why they have to take so much money from students. It is all linked into the question of how we intend to fund third level education for the long term but we have not made a decision yet. I will invite the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to the House to start that debate and hopefully we will see a decision on the Cassells report this term.

Senator Currie raised the issue of Tidy Towns committees and the fact that committees that were not registered before 2019 cannot avail of grants today. That is quite an arbitrary decision. Surely we should be encouraging people to set up Tidy Towns committees and get involved in the scheme. In the greater scheme of things, €1,000 is such a small amount of money for the Government but for a Tidy Towns committee, it is a huge sum. It will buy the necessary bits and bobs, the tools, lawnmower, flowers and so on. I do not know why there is an arbitrary cut-off date. We should be welcoming with open arms as many people as possible into the scheme. Hopefully that decision can be reversed.

Senator Fitzpatrick raised the issue of the vaccine programme and its success. She noted that 50% of our population has already received one dose which is amazing, particularly as there are so many countries in the world where front-line health workers are still not vaccinated. We are very lucky to be where we are and many countries are not in the same position. We should remember our privilege as a first world, wealthy country with ready access to vaccines now and into the future. There has been much talk recently about vaccinating younger people. Professor Luke O'Neill was on the Brendan O'Connor radio show on Sunday. He suggested that once we have vaccinated everyone aged 18 and over, we should seriously consider giving any surplus vaccines we have to vulnerable Third World countries that still have not vaccinated their older citizens or healthcare workers, and I agree with him. We do not need those vaccines and we can get them again in the future. It is important not to leave anybody behind. We will not get over this pandemic if we leave pockets of the world unvaccinated.

Senator Fitzpatrick also raised the issue of protection for renters and called on the Minister to introduce legislation to fix the loophole relating to rent pressure zones. Basically, if landlords did not increase rents by 4% last year, they can add that on this year, leading to a cumulative increase of 8% which was not the intention of the legislation. Clearly this is a loophole that needs to be closed. Unfortunately, landlords are availing of the loophole. I know of one particular case where the rent was increased by 12% in one go. The tenants had no option other than to pay it because Threshold told them that the landlord was entitled to charge it. It is scandalous that somebody would do that to young working people, one of whom had lost a job. They were struggling through the pandemic but there was zero sympathy for the young people in the accommodation in question. They had nowhere else to go and had to pay the increased rent. I welcome Senator Fitzpatrick's suggestion in that regard.

Senator Dolan referred to the fantastic news that Chanelle Pharma is expanding its operations and will create 60 jobs in Ballinasloe, which is a very significant number of jobs for a town of that size. An announcement like that would be significant in my county town of Castlebar, for example. That is a huge number of jobs in a smaller rural area and it will have a big impact on many families. It is great to see confidence in that business and the fact that it is growing. Chanelle Pharma is one of the great success stories of indigenous Irish business. I wish Mr. Michael Burke and his team the very best in their expansion. I also wish the community well.

Senator Casey raised the issue of indoor dining. As a hotelier, he has expert knowledge in the area of hospitality. He knows what is involved in running a hotel business and understands the difficulties and challenges faced by people in the sector over the course of the pandemic. He spoke very eloquently of the challenges caused by indoor versus outdoor dining for a month, when some businesses can serve customers inside while others cannot. It is an unfairness in the reopening that should possibly have been reassessed and many Members have raised it in this House.

Senator Garvey raised the fact that there were no lifeguards at Lahinch and the same was true in many coastal communities around the country. The local authorities must get their act together in that regard. It is not acceptable that five local volunteers, who should have been enjoying their day surfing, were rescuing people from the water.I commend the individuals whose names the Senator read into the record for the work they do on behalf of their community. It is really commendable.

Senator Horkan raised the issue of the intimidation of councillors covered in a report that was published. Some 223 councillors participated in that survey. A significant number of councillors reacted to it. It goes to show the challenging environment public representatives work in at all levels, be it as a councillor, Senator or Teachta Dála. It has become a more aggressive job to be in but that still does not make such intimidation acceptable. There must be a level of decency in the workplace. People should not be subjected to that. We need to continue to talk about it, call it out, say it is not okay or acceptable, and encourage people to report any incidents, particularly where there is a threat of violence or sexual violence. It is important that is reported to the Garda, otherwise we will not have the data to support making those changes.

Senator Malcolm Byrne said we need to give young people a break. We in the House would agree with him. He has been a fantastic advocate for them in raising youth issues throughout the pandemic. Young people have been extremely impacted. They have lost out on major milestones. As the Senator said, they have missed out on their first year in college, celebrating their 18th or 21st birthday and learning to drive - they cannot sit a driving test. It is very hard for young people who have missed out on those milestones to get that back.

The Senator also called for a debate on grief and sacrifice. When we get through this there will be a major job of work to check on people's well-being and how they are doing. We are still in this fight and have yet to come out the other side, off the front line as it were, and start to reflect on how much we have lost. Everybody has lost something. Many have lost loved ones, which is the most horrific thing one could have gone through in this pandemic, and we are still going through that. However, we have all lost something. Everyone has been through a difficult period. We will have to look after people's mental health afterwards. It will require a great deal of support and help, particularly for counselling services. That will bring to the fore the affordability of those services and making sure they are affordable and accessible for every citizen who needs that assistance. We will definitely have to have that debate.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Cheannaire as ucht na freagraí cuimsitheacha sin.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 1.18 p.m. and resumed at 1.30 p.m.