Tuesday, 1 June 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank the Cathaoirleach. My family tells me that we are of Norman descent from Denmark and that we arrived in the 8th century. Very many happy returns today.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 4 June 2021, to be taken on completion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 11.45 a.m., and to conclude at 12.45 p.m., by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. Today is Global Day of Parents when we celebrate parenthood. There is no doubt that over the last 15 months parents have had to learn a lot more about parenting, and homeschooling as parents, than they would have anticipated before. It is important parents at every level get as many supports as possible to help them on their journey.
One of those areas is the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 from the Department of Education. It has already gone through Committee Stage. We are still waiting for it to be enacted, so that parents would have more of a statutory role in terms of consultation in everything that goes on within their school. We should ask the Department of Education when it is going to be enacted. It is more important now than ever.
Today there has been an announcement of a summer play initiative, which is very welcome. There is significant funding to encourage and support outdoor play areas. Hopefully this lovely weather will continue during the summer. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, there is a strong message to people to spend time outdoors. That is wonderful for those who have appropriate play and recreational areas. However, we need to do an audit on what is available and what is needed. For example, in the town of Newbridge, we only have one tiny playground for a population of almost 30,000. It was developed almost 30 years ago. We need a new playground in Newbridge. This is something my colleagues and I in Kildare will be taking up. However, the Minister needs to do an audit of all areas to ensure that there are appropriate places.
I also want to bring up the consultation we had in relation to the Curragh. Speaking of the Curragh, I want to say a big thank you to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, for signing off on extra pay for the technical 2 to 6 grades in our Defence Forces. This makes a really big difference. PDFORRA had a wonderful campaign in relation to this. It was great to see it signed off during the week.
On the consultation on the Curragh, 3,700 people made submissions. Their biggest issues were around the level of waste and damage that is being done to the Curragh. That is a big wake up call. This is a terrific amenity people use, in particular during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been great to have it on our doorstep. However, no more than any other area, it needs to be managed in relation to waste and illegal encampments and have places for cars to park appropriately. There is a big piece of work for the Office of Public Works, OPW, there in looking at areas such as the Curragh to ensure people enjoy it in appropriate and practical way and ensure there is constant monitoring and a management system for waste and illegal encampments.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and I echo his comments at the outset in relation to Denmark. I had the pleasure of meeting the Danish Ambassador in Waterford. Denmark has close links to my own city of Waterford. It was only last week that we had the announcement of increased shipping capacities between Waterford Port and Amsterdam, which was hugely welcome. In light of the appalling cyber attack on the HSE committed by criminals with no regard for human life, I want to commend our front line staff around the country, in particular those in University Hospital Waterford, who have had to adapt their practices massively in order to provide a safe level of care to patients. In an age where we rely on technology more and more in our daily lives, the cyber attack is a wake-up call to all organisations, State and private, that store sensitive data on behalf of people. As we in the House know, the ability to be able to get answers to representations from the HSE and Department of Health has been severely curtailed as a result of the cyber attack.
The issue I would like to raise today is the knock-on effect of this and the inability of patients to be able to get the required medical documentation that they need for appeals for applications such as disability and carer's allowance. As we know, reviews have to be submitted within 21 to 28 days. However, due to the cyber attacks I am dealing with a couple of constituents who are close to the expiry date for submitting a review but they cannot get access to the required medical documentation they need because the system is obviously not backed up and operational. Given the exceptional circumstances that we find ourselves in, it is necessary to extend that deadline for reviews and appeals until the system is fully up and running. We cannot and should not have a situation where people, through no fault of their own, have to submit new applications as a result of the system attack.
I ask that the Leader organise a debate where the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, could come to the House to discuss this and associated matters. Last year I raised the issue of disability benefit. I am aware of a number of issues with people transferring from benefit to allowance payments which perhaps we can discuss in the House. I would appreciate if the Leader could invite the Minister in at the earliest course.
I join the Cathaoirleach in congratulating our Danish friends today. These days, when colonisers and attempted colonisers are being brought again before the bar of history, perhaps it is time that we asked the Danish Government for an apology for the appalling murder of Brian Boru. The fact that he might have had some Irish co-conspirators or there might have been someone involved is no excuse. No doubt if James Joyce was here he would say, "Viking me Aarhus".
On to more serious matters. There is light at the end of the tunnel regarding Covid, but there has been no let up in how aspects of it are being mishandled by official Ireland. I spoke last week about how outrageous it was for the Government to seek an extension of its emergency powers until next February, some five months after it told us everyone in the country would have been vaccinated. As we know, on Saturday Dr. Tony Holohan tweeted about crowds socialising in Dublin city centre. As has been the pattern for 12 months or more, within 12 hours of the tweet the usual competition started. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Minister of State for European affairs, among others, all scrambled to issue statements agreeing with Dr. Holohan in ever more solemn and foreboding tones. Within 24 hours of that tweet the Tánaiste was threatening local knockdowns and talking about a possible fourth wave of the virus.
Exactly what had changed between the announcement of the easing of restrictions at teatime on Friday and Sunday morning when the Tánaiste made this threat? What new knowledge had emerged to justify that change? If the Government seriously fears a fourth wave, why did it sign off on an easing of restrictions on Friday night? The answer to all of this is, of course, that nothing new had emerged. All that had changed was Dr. Holohan's tweet. I do not like the dynamic that a tweet from the Chief Medical Officer sends the country and its leadership into a spiral of activity of this kind.
It used to be the case that backbench Deputies and Senators were the ones scrambling to curry favour with Ministers and the Taoiseach. These days, it is the Taoiseach and Ministers who are scrambling to curry favour with the Chief Medical Officer. He is a civil servant who works for, and is supposed to be answerable to, them. Important policy statements made in response to tweets is no way to run a country.
I heard Senator John McGahon speak eloquently about the impact of the pandemic on young people and the associated restrictions. In a letter to The Irish Timestoday, Ms Orla Heatley asks how the elders are repaying those young people. She said there is demonisation across the media, they are being chased around and fined by gardaí for Government-recommended outdoor socialising and there has been a closure of the very public spaces needed in order to actually do some socialising.
There is a lot of talk about weaning people off the PUP, but these events show us that the real weaning that is needed is the weaning of official Ireland and the Government of its addiction to Covid lockdowns and doom and gloom. The extreme overreaction to people socialising in the first proper weekend of sunshine this year shows that civil servants and Ministers cannot get their heads around the fact that as restrictions are eased people will have more freedom and will expect to exercise that freedom.
Today is a very important day because the Government's national economic recovery plan has been published. It should be a good day. Yet, people woke up this morning to hear that a key plank of the plan is a phased cut to the PUP starting from next September. Thankfully, there will be thousands more people back to work by this September. Thousands more will face a very long and bleak winter.
Last week I spoke about the reopening of hospitality and shops last December and the 97,000 people aged between 15 and 24 who were still out of work. There was no going back to normal for them. There is no going back to normal in the aviation, retail, leisure and arts sectors. In retail we are seeing a profound transformation in the way people shop. It will take years for the aviation sector to recover. Those working in the arts will have missed the critical summer boom period and are facing into a bleak winter.
They are being told that the payments they have been surviving on and clinging on to for dear life, while managing pay to pay mortgages, rent and other bills, now has to be cut this September. I have no doubt that the announcement in the national economic plan today will be designed to dazzle. In truth, it will depend on trickle-down economics and a hope that at some stage over the coming months it will reach those most affected. That is not good enough because we will not have in place bridging income for those trying to pay rent, mortgages or their way through college. Last week members of IALPA stood outside the convention centre to tell us about their frustrations for the aviation sector. How can any of us look them in the eye and say that the PUP needs to be cut in September?
A number of months ago I spoke about Gaelcholáiste Mhuire in Parnell Square, Dublin 1. It has been in temporary accommodation for the past 17 years. Last November I and a number of my colleagues in the constituency raised this issue. We were given commitments by the Minister and Government Deputies and Senators in the constituency that construction of the school would commence by September this year. Seven months on, there has been no progress. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister for Education to plead with her to expedite this construction process. We cannot have pupils in classrooms that are simply unfit for purpose. Teachers are doing an amazing job, but it is not on that pupils and families have to wait any longer.
I would like to join with the Cathaoirleach in celebrating Denmark day and I thank him for bringing it to our attention.
There has been a big announcement today, which for some may seem like a very small announcement, namely that every childcare facility across the country will get €1,000 for outdoor play equipment.The sum of €1,000 for children is massive. This is not just about Covid-19 but the health and well-being of children, who have been let down over the last year. We see from the research that they have been impacted most by Covid-19. In Galway, which has fantastic playgrounds, there will be a We-Go-Swing for Salthill playground and a sensory garden for the millennium playground.
On foot of some of Senator Mullen's comments, I would like to see more investment in outdoor recreational facilities for older young people. I was passing through Spanish Arch last Friday and I saw how difficult it was for the gardaí to manage. However, I do not believe that closing Spanish Arch and then funnelling people into some other part of the city or into houses is the right approach. We need to see the investment that was made over the last year. The July stimulus funding has still not been spent by Galway City Council and funding for bins has still not been spent. We should see that the funding the Government is putting in place is being spent by the local authorities and if it is not, we should follow up to find out why it is not being spent.
We have been debating the Affordable Housing Bill over the past week. I welcome the Private Members' motion next Friday from the Fianna Fáil Senators on implementing the commitment in the programme for Government to have a referendum on a right to housing. It is something that is missing from the Constitution. It would fit in nicely with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11. One welcome thing that has emerged from the debates we have had on the Affordable Housing Bill is that the Minister has taken on board much of what Senators have been bringing to his attention in the context of ensuring that developments that will be built on public land will be sustainable, mixed and deal with the intergenerational aspect of communities. This is key. It is a right to housing, but adequate housing and the right housing for the communities we have now.
I thank all Senators who facilitated the passing of Senator Boylan's Bill on Second Stage last night. The Bill seeks to remove the discriminatory policy of treating housing assistance payment, HAP, as income for people applying for civil legal aid. The Bill forced the hand of the Government and I commend Senator Boylan on introducing it. It will ensure that survivors of domestic abuse will have fair access to civil legal aid.
As has been mentioned, the economic recovery plan will be published today. I remind Senators that young people have to pay the same price for food, accommodation, transport and so forth. The fact that they are on lower social welfare rates puts them more at risk of poverty and economic hardship. It gives me no pleasure to say that it was a Labour Party Minister who cut the rates, and they have not been restored by successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments. At present, people aged 18 years to 24 years receive the reduced jobseeker's payment rate of €112.70 per week. This week, my colleague in the Dáil, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on social protection, Deputy Kerrane, spoke out on the Government's failure to publish a report on the poverty impact of reduced rates of jobseeker's allowance for young people. The report is now a year overdue. Current reduced rates of jobseeker's allowance for young people are far too low to support even a minimum standard of living, which is set at €250. That the Government is dragging its heels suggests that the poverty impact assessment has underlined what we already know.
The pandemic has affected young workers most. Recent Central Statistics Office, CSO, results show that 59% of young people aged from 15 years to 24 years were unemployed in March. This represents one of the highest levels of youth unemployment we have ever seen. It is not good enough that young people are also subject to shocking rates of social welfare support. I call on the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, to publish that poverty impact assessment. The National Youth Council of Ireland, NYCI, has consistently stated that the imposition of a lower rate of jobseeker's allowance on people under the age of 24 years is contrary to Article 40.1 of the Constitution. It must be restored immediately. We cannot exit the pandemic with young people on lower rates of social welfare. They have the same cost of living, same cost of food and the same cost of transport. It is even more for housing.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 19 be taken before No. 1. I am introducing the Employment Equality (Amendment) (Non-Disclosure Agreements) Bill 2021 in the Seanad. If passed, the Bill will restrict the use of legal non-disclosure agreements, NDAs, in the workplace following incidents of sexual harassment or discrimination under the equality legislation. It would ensure that the only NDAs that would be legally enforceable after such incidents would be those that were requested by the victim to protect the victim's confidentiality. No other NDAs after workplace sexual harassment or discrimination would be permitted. There will always be a need for ensuring legal confidentiality, for example, to protect sensitive information in the commercial or legal sectors, but the main legal effect of a NDA following sexual harassment is to silence the victim of the perpetrator from speaking out and to release employers from their obligation to hold perpetrators properly accountable for the actions. With the growth of the #MeToo movement and Ireland's continued reckoning with a shameful history and culture of silencing the vulnerable, these agreements should not be an option to force victims of harassment and discrimination to remain silent. They should be banned. I ask all Members to give the Bill their support.
Members will have received an email notifying them that I will hold an event about the Bill next Thursday. We have also carried out some research, and there will be a motion before the House in the coming months on the use of NDAs especially in the university sector. This Bill applies to all NDAs. The research has provided us with a massive amount of insight into how widespread the use of NDAs is in Ireland. However, many people are afraid to speak up and will only speak anonymously because they are afraid of losing their livelihood and mortgages. Some women have been paid off with as little as €5,000 in severance and told they can never speak about the abuse, bullying or discrimination they endured in the workplace. Then it is framed as if it is in the best interests of the victim. Anybody who wishes to attend the briefing can register on Eventbrite.com. We will have four amazing women who have been challenging NDAs around the world: Zelda Perkins, who was the first to challenge the Harvey Weinstein NDA; Professor Julie Macfarlane, who was successfully sued for defamation for refusing to give false character references for a serial abuser in a university in Canada; Georgina Calvert-Lee, who is a senior counsel in the UK and has been challenging NDAs there; Ifeoma Ozoma, another amazingly brave woman who has been challenging the NDA culture in the United States and who challenged the NDA she signed with Pinterest. This is an opportunity to hear from global international experts on this subject and I would welcome all Members if they or somebody from their office could attend and hear about this important issue.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for bringing Denmark's Constitution Day to our attention. I note that the first recorded Viking raid in Ireland happened on Lambay Island off the coast of Portrane in north County Dublin in 795 AD. Lambay Island has a mystical quality. I look at it every day, and it is a real touchpoint for everyone in north County Dublin. There were many Viking settlers across north County Dublin and I am probably descended from some of those Viking raiders. We should definitely forge greater links with our Nordic neighbours as I believe we have a great deal in common with them.
Today, I wish to raise the public consultation which the Department of Justice with its partners in Safe Ireland and the National Women's Council of Ireland have launched with regard to the new national domestic, sexual and gender-based violence strategy that is being developed by the Department of Justice. It is very fitting, given the impact of the pandemic on women.The incidence of serious domestic assault in the home has risen by 23% during the pandemic. We were all asked to stay at home but for many people, home is not safe. We should all encourage people in the constituencies in which we live and community groups in our areas to take part in the online survey. A number of online seminars will be held on this issue. We should all feed into this really important strategy. The Government needs to do more and this strategy will help to address the very serious issues. We need more refuges, better access to legal aid and better supports, education and training in communities. It is a really important issue. I encourage everybody here to highlight the public consultation process and get involved in it.
I ask the Leader to call the Minister for Transport to the House to discuss aviation in the context, in the first instance, of the need to introduce antigen testing. While I welcome the reopening of aviation on 19 July, I still believe that the lack of antigen testing - and the prospect of being aligned with all European countries or becoming an outlier - is a real concern. The fact that we are not reopening until 19 July is a concern in terms of job losses.
I would also like the Minister to make a statement on the incident in Belarus. While I welcome the investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, I believe most people would agree that the blame for everything that happened lies solely with Belarus and the authorities there. Everything I say today does not take away from the fact that the blame totally lies in Belarus. I welcome the sanctions imposed by the EU on Belarus. We need to look at ourselves and what we can do differently to make sure that something like this does not happen again, however. The transcript of the air traffic controller's communications with the plane was released last week. One can read the conversations between the air traffic controller and the pilot. One can get the sense from the pilot that there were concerns, and certainly scepticism, about the information being relayed to him. The time from when he was told there was a bomb on the plane to when he actually turned around and went to Minsk was 18 minutes. That is a lifetime in the air before a person actually makes the decision to turn around.
On all Ryanair flights, there is no satphone in the cockpit. It is important to say that there is no requirement in law to have satphones in the cockpits of planes on short-haul flights. There is a requirement in law to have such phones on long-haul flights. Most airlines have them but Ryanair does not. Satphones are extremely costly pieces of equipment. I recommend that the Minister exerts as much pressure as possible, when a review is being carried out by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, to ensure that a requirement is put in place to have a satphones on all short-haul and long-haul flights. In this day and age, a pilot should be able to contact base to say he or she has been informed of a bomb on board and tell Dublin Airport what is happening, and that an email could be sent. They would have been able to find out immediately that no email was sent. We have since found out that the email was sent after the fact and they would have been able to determine very quickly that there was an individual at risk on the flight. This is a really important issue. It is a simple thing to have a satphone in a cockpit. I urge the Minister to make that recommendation as quickly as possible.
I compliment the Cathaoirleach on his forensic knowledge of important dates relating to countries throughout Europe. His mastery of European languages is awe-inspiring to be honest.
The Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021, which came before the House yesterday, brought into sharp focus something that has bothered me for a considerable period, which is the nonsense of Irish neutrality. I constantly receive messages about military aircraft flying into Shannon Airport threatening our neutrality or about this, that and the other threatening our neutrality. Somebody please tell me where it says that Ireland is actually a neutral state and why a supposedly neutral state is allowing its armed forces to fall apart. I ask the Leader to take her courage in her hands and organise a debate in this House on what Irish neutrality is, what it stands for and how we will enforce this supposed neutrality. How do we protect our oceans from invasion, theft, robbery, highwaymen or whatever else? We do not have a Naval Service strong enough to do it anymore. It is only a matter of time before we will have to contract a guard of honour to stand outside the President's house when a new ambassador is introduced because we simply will not have the troops to do it. Let us talk about neutrality and what it means with an open and honest discussion.
Speaking about referendums, if we are to be neutral then let us put it in our Constitution and underpin it with what is required to be neutral, which is to have a military force capable of defending that neutrality. It is high time this country actually discussed that issue.
I will start by commending my colleague, Senator Clifford-Lee, for highlighting the online survey commissioned by the Department of Justice. I also encourage everyone to participate. It is open from 18 June and five workshops will be online. It is really important that we develop an up-to-date, modern strategy to combat domestic and gender-based violence. We learned so much from Covid-19 and how women were to the fore. As my colleagues mentioned, many people were homebound in a really awful situation and it was desperately unfair. I really welcome this strategy.
Today, I would like to raise the issue of the Sinopharm vaccine. In May, the WHO gave emergency approval to this Chinese-made vaccine. To date, however, the European Medicines Agency has not approved it. I have been contacted by Irish citizens living in Dubai who are not able to return to Ireland because they would have mandatory quarantine. They have jobs and could not take that much time off work. It is important that we look after our Irish citizens. It was such a big step for the WHO to approve this vaccine that I wonder why the European Medicines Agency is taking so long. It seems like a vaccine that could be turned out really quickly. It is stored at a low refrigerated temperature and could really help fight the vaccine inequality we are seeing all over the world. As the WHO said, it is a really important tool to expand its COVAX programme. Could the Leader perhaps get information from the Minister on this issue?
I really welcome the publication of the economic recovery plan later today. This is a very important development. Having met with various industry groups over the past couple of weeks, it is clear there is a shortage of people coming back into the workplace and in some instances, a reluctance to come back. We really need to recognise and highlight that staff shortage. It is appropriate that we have a tapering of supports, while at the same time having a watching brief over particular industries that will find it difficult to come back and re-emerge. A new environment is facing us in the next couple of months and some businesses will not open at all. It has gone too far during Covid-19 and we will need appropriate stimuli from Enterprise Ireland and through other mechanisms in that regard.
We also have businesses that have changed their business model to going completely and utterly online now. In that regard, we need to look at where businesses are closing on our high streets as a result of having moved completely to that online model. I highlighted to Tánaiste when he was in this House recently that we have, perhaps, a changing culture now in how people will go back to work and a movement towards remote working. We have had behavioural changes, some of which I really hope we will hold on to, such as the "shop local" trend. I very much welcome it.The Government is attuned to having a watching brief and being responsive. The Tánaiste echoed that point following my comments, and the Government does have a watching brief in respect of responding to behavioural changes. I ask, therefore, that we have statements on the economic recovery plan, which I believe the Leader will most likely bring about.
I raise two items with the Leader. First, I request a debate on the urgent need for the Government to provide further supports to our sports clubs and to support the reopening of our youth clubs that are struggling to reopen their doors. I am sure we were all excited to see our sports clubs reopening and by the prospect of attending live games again. However, behind the reopening and the associated excitement, a great deal of financial expense and headache is involved for many clubs in trying to conform to public health guidelines and alleviating concerns in that regard. Most clubs have been shut since early in this pandemic, with no way to fundraise or collect weekly subscriptions or membership dues.
Alongside our sports clubs, our youth clubs and scout troops are also seeking financial assistance to get them back to some sort of normality. Our children are really excited about returning to their sports clubs and-or looking forward to getting back to their youth clubs or scout troops. The many thousands of volunteers who run these clubs are struggling, however, to put together the finances required to get these great clubs up and running again while adhering to the public health guidelines. I would welcome if the Leader could organise a debate on youth services, youth clubs and sports clubs.
I also support my colleagues who have raised concerns regarding what is happening to family homes in Donegal and Mayo due to the severe problems with mica in those areas. The scheme offered by the Government must reflect previous schemes offered to homeowners elsewhere. Too many families simply cannot afford these much-needed and essential repairs to their homes and they now find themselves in desperate need. The Government must review the scheme and do this urgently.
It is well recognised now that aviation globally has probably been one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic because of restrictions implemented by governments, essential as they were at the time. Recovery is in sight now, however. Passenger numbers week on week have started to recover, albeit slowly and from a low base. Projections now suggest passenger traffic will take until 2024 to return to 2019 levels. Airlines are planning for that recovery by looking at closing bases, and they have already done so in Shannon, laying off staff and not reopening some routes. That is happening notwithstanding the provision of supports by states. Ireland has already put significant resources into Aer Lingus in the form of a loan of €150 million and other supports. We understand more support will be required, perhaps again to the tune of €150 million.
Consolidation is now the buzzword once again, however, and this means routing many flights through just one base. More than likely that base will be Dublin, much to the loss of Shannon, the west, the mid-west and probably Cork. While such consolidation may help to return airlines to future viability and profitability, it will also have a devastating impact on connectivity. If the regions of this country are to have some chance of recovering from the impact of the pandemic, then drastic action must be taken to protect vital, strategic connectivity into those regions, especially into the mid-west and Shannon areas.
I call for a debate about a decision the Government must take, namely, to take a strategic investment stake in Aer Lingus. The Government has already invested in the form of a loan provided from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, of approximately €150 million, and perhaps up to another €150 million will be provided by way of other loans. I believe those loans should be converted into shares and that State representatives should take a seat, or several seats, on the board of Aer Lingus to ensure and protect strategic connectivity to Ireland's regions and guarantee the country as a whole is prepared and ready to go the hard yards in helping our society and businesses recover from the awful crisis we have come through.
Two important dates are approaching, namely, 2 June and 7 June, when the hospitality industry reopens. Hotels open tomorrow and outdoor facilities on 7 June. Close to 250,000 people are impacted in this regard. While there has been criticism regarding the expected cutting back of employment support payments from next September, it has not been highlighted that it is expected there will be increased supports to keep these businesses open and retain people in jobs. That is an important point. In that regard, I wish all the businesses reopening on 2 June and 7 June all the best. Many of them have been closed for 12 months or more. It is a daunting time and there has been much talk regarding crowds gathering and related issues. However, controlled environments are safe places.
On 7 June, we will also be marking the 25th anniversary of the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare in County Limerick. A small wreath-laying ceremony will mark the event at the location where Detective Garda McCabe was brutally murdered by the IRA. Four men from that organisation served sentences for the murder and for the shooting of Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan. A quarter of a century is a significant anniversary and I ask, therefore, that on 7 June we might take time here to think about Detective Garda McCabe, his family and all the gardaí affected by the events at the time.
I raise the Government's announcement that the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, will be reduced by €50 from September. The principle behind the creation of the PUP was sound. As long as the Government imposed barriers in the form of public health restrictions preventing people from working, then there would be supports for people to get by. However, many people will be anxious this morning having woken up to the news their supports will be cut, despite the restrictions persisting. There were many sound bites from the Government in the last year regarding all of us being in this together and that there would be no cliff edge to the PUP. However, those words will bring little comfort to the thousands of workers in the aviation, event management, hospitality and other sectors still facing restrictions. Those sectors need a roadmap from the Government and continued supports which will run in parallel with it.
The PUP has been a source of security to hundreds of thousands of people in turbulent times. In recent months, however, recipients have had to live with serious uncertainty as they listened to kite flying by the Tánaiste and others in Government regarding threatening to remove their supports. Now, as Deputy Pearse Doherty said this morning, "The Government has pulled the rug from under these people". The Government's move to reduce the PUP will result in serious negative consequences for families relying on it. Let us not forget the PUP payments are circulating in the economy. People receiving PUP have already expended their savings and they are spending the money they receive from the PUP in the economy. There will be a natural tapering of the PUP payment as the country continues to reopen and people return to employment. Last year, for example, when restrictions were lifted, 400,000 people came off the payment, while this year 125,000 people have so far come off the payment. The numbers coming off the PUP will continue to rise, but in the meantime the Government is duty-bound to support workers who have been forced out of work through no fault of their own. We of course support the public health measures, but we must continue to target supports for workers and businesses that remain impacted by restrictions.
There has been much debate in these Houses in recent months concerning the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020. Recently, on the far side of the globe, the world's most advanced recycling centre for construction waste opened in Sydney. This $100 million facility uses ballistic separators and optical sorting technology to process 7,000 tonnes of waste daily, including brick, concrete, timber and metal material, and approximately 90% of it is recycled.I mention this because all of that high-tech equipment in the world's largest recycling facility was built in the tiny Gaeltacht village of Ráth Cairn i gContae na Mí by engineering solutions firm, Turmec, and then shipped all the way to Australia. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of welcoming the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jack Chambers, to Ráth Cairn. He toured the plant and saw how this firm in a tiny Gaeltacht village produced this world-leading technology. In the context of what is needed to achieve our goals in climate change, is it not amazing that technology is being developed here in Ireland - in Ráth Cairn, County Meath - and people on the far side of the world are buying our products to achieve their recycling targets? They are pursuing this circular model that sees waste as a resource to be kept in circulation at the highest value for as long as possible. With the opening of the world's largest recycling facility in Australia, I pay tribute to the workers of Turmec in Ráth Cairn i gContae na Mí who engineered the technology that allowed that to happen.
On 1 June, the first day of the meteorological summer, we need to be positive today. I welcome the announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, in recent days in relation to crowds return to sporting events. As we are all aware, one of the main joys of summer time for hundreds of thousands of people is attending inter-county championship matches, which they have not been able to do for two years.
By the end of June, in excess of 80% of the population will have been vaccinated at least once and 60% of the population will be fully vaccinated. In late July and early August, the Galway Races, which are critical to Galway, the city that I represent, will take place. I highlight the economic impact the event has on the city. Many Galway businesses survive as a result of the arts festival and the Galway Races. The rolling out of pilot events is very welcome. We are learning from the UK, which has been doing that for the past number of weeks. We must ensure we learn from the pilot events what is needed to significantly ramp up the attendance at events. By the first week of August, when the Galway Races take place, between 5,000 and 10,000 people, at a minimum, should be allowed to attend the races. I will make a representation to the Minister on this matter and I ask the Leader to write to the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers.
I raise the issue of the fishing industry. On Wednesday last, I attended a major protest when 50 or 60 vessels sailed up Cork Harbour to protest about where the fishing industry is at the moment. The industry has been through a torrid time. Brexit has been a major issue and fishers are unsure about where the markets will go. The new requirement to weigh fish on the pier side is a huge issue, as is the question of how to make the sector sustainable and comply with health and safety and food regulations. There is an awful lot at stake when it comes to the fishing industry. Fishers feel let down and left behind in the economy. Coastal communities need our support. I would appreciate a genuine debate in this House on the key issues affecting the industry, how it will develop and, more importantly, the confidence required to ensure fishing can be an economic driver in rural Ireland.
Quota issues, regulation and Brexit have taken the energy and life and soul out of the industry. On atypical work permits and efforts to get staff, major changes in the past few weeks have affected the industry's ability to get people working in it. We should have the Minister come to the House for a debate on the fishing industry and to outline his views on the Brexit regulations that entered into force on 1 January, atypical work permits and how they will affect the industry going forward and the new regulations on weighing fish at piers. These are major issues for the fishing industry.
The spectacle of 50 or 60 vessels sailing up Cork Harbour last Wednesday morning was a sight to be hold. It showed the frustration in the industry that these families came from all over the State to prove a point. They believe they have been left behind. We need a debate in the House about how we can work with the fishing industry and coastal communities to make sure everyone moves forward together.
I join Senators in commending the project in Meath and other environmental initiatives being taken by companies around the country.
With regard to the €800 million which Ireland will receive from Europe for recovery and resilience, the focus of which is on green projects and digitalisation programmes, Ireland is quite unusual in having gone directly to Europe. European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted at the weekend that she had received Ireland's recovery and resilience strategy without it ever having been debated in the Oireachtas and without the input of good ideas from all sides. While it would be somewhat later than it should have been, I ask for a discussion on the recovery and resilience strategy and the good ideas on digitalisation and the environment from across the House.
I will formally second the Employment Equality (Amendment) (Non-Disclosure Agreements) Bill 2021 later. I am delighted to co-sponsor and support this initiative by my colleague, Senator Ruane. What is important about this is that it moves from an individual justice point, which is key, to the kind of systemic change we want to see. We know from the #MeToo movement and all of the different sectoral storytelling we have seen that it is when we lay stories alongside each other that we see the kinds of systemic changes we need in society. It is difficult for people who have gone through harassment and abuse when they are pressed into signing non-disclosure agreements, which mean they will potentially see the same patterns of behaviour happen to others. It causes many people great distress to feel they cannot help others by taking actions and those who have had experiences of fear then have the fear that they may breach a non-disclosure agreement inadvertently or, indeed, in the interests of justice. This is an issue in the higher education area but it also, as the research from my colleague has shown, cuts right across many areas of Irish society. I commend the Bill to the House.
I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 19 before No. 1. I thank the two Senators and wish them every success. I hope they receive a widespread support and get their legislation passed.
Other colleagues have asked me to organise statements on the national economic development plan, which includes the recovery and resilience strategy's financing from the European Union. I will do so and I will also organise a debate on the fishing industry.
Senator Crowe spoke about something that most of us took for granted before it stopped, namely, the noise most of us who live in villages and towns hear from our local soccer, GAA or rugby club as young women and men train on a Saturday, Sunday or, indeed, any night of the week. I concur with the Senator that we all very much look forward to returning to sporting events as spectators.Senator Cassells talked about Turmec, a company that is local to where he and I live. It goes to show that Irish companies are world leaders in excellent new technologies. As the Senator pointed out this morning, it is an awful pity that we are selling that technology to foreign countries without taking advantage of it ourselves. I commend the Minister of State for visiting yesterday. I wish the company continued success.
Senator Boylan brought up the announcement that was made after the Cabinet meeting yesterday. The extension of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, until the autumn will be formally announced today. It is interesting that the Sinn Féin leader, Deputy McDonald, called for an extension to the PUP until autumn and Sinn Féin now seems to be giving out about the extension. That is a bit ironic but there you go.
Senator Maria Byrne talked about two very important dates. This ties in to the plans for the PUP in the coming months. Between 200,000 and 250,000 people are expected to go back to work in the next number of weeks. That will take a significant chunk of the 309,000 people who remain on the PUP. By Jove, they want to go back to work. The employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, will continue long after the PUP has tapered off to ensure we support those businesses to keep those jobs. Nobody in this House should want to see anybody left on a PUP, regardless of its value. Every single person whose job has been suspended because of, or affected by, Covid-19 over the past 14 to 16 months should be supported by the State to go back to that job, not to languish on the PUP or to be moved to a social welfare payment. That should be our aim.
Senators Dooley and Ahearn asked for a debate on the aviation industry. I will certainly organise that, probably for the week after next. We should not be putting barriers in front of businesses when we allow them to reopen, and aviation, as we are all aware, is going to reopen on 19 July. We seem to have taken two steps forward with the relatively quick adoption of the digital green certificate. I thank the Government, the Department of Health and the Minister for Transport for supporting that. However, we are going to take four steps backwards by putting in obstacles to stop people from travelling. The European Union allows for the use of antigen tests and we in this country have not been given a valid or scientific reason for not using them. That is an absolute disgrace. It needs to be clarified and put on the table. What scientific evidence is being supported by our scientific advisors that has arrived at the conclusion that we should not be supporting the use of antigen tests, like every other European country and other international countries? Antigen tests would allow people to travel for the essential purpose of reunification of a family or, indeed, to allow people who have been cocooning and locked in their houses for the past 14 to 16 months to go to a European city or a beach if that is what they want to do. We should not be putting obstacles in those people's way. I will arrange that debate as soon as I can after next week.
Senator Ahearn also mentioned something that is very important. Not only do we need an international investigation into the actions by the Belarusian Government in the past couple of weeks, we also need to know why Ryanair acted as it did. I would go one step further and say that we need to bring representatives of the Commission for Aviation Regulation before the relevant Oireachtas committee to have a conversation about the events of that night and, in particular, how we are going to use satellite phones to make sure that the advantage that was used by the Belarusian Government is never again afforded the opportunity to be advanced.
Senator Wall talked about sports and youth clubs. We must ensure that those clubs recover quickly from the financial restraints they have been under for the past 14 to 16 months. That will involve State support.
Senator Ardagh talked about the Chinese-made vaccine the WHO has approved. I am not sure what is causing the delay with the European Medicines Agency but I will try to find out today and come back to the Senator. She and Senator Clifford-Lee also raised the topic of the Department of Justice and its public consultation. It is welcome. We need a new national domestic and gender-based violence policy, particularly because the past 14 months have highlighted just how prevalent an issue it is and how silent an operation it has been in many people's lives. That needs to be brought out and talked about in public.
Senator Seery Kearney asked for statements on the national recovery plan which, as I said, I will arrange. Senator Craughwell talked about a debate on Irish neutrality which I will also try to arrange.
Senator Ruane will introduce her Bill this morning and I have accepted her proposed amendment to the Order of Business. Senator Warfield welcomed the passing of Senator Boylan's Bill and the support of the housing assistance payment last night. It is not up to the Opposition to force the Government's hands. Representatives of the Opposition are here to provide opposition but also to bring forward their own legislation. That is welcome and I look forward to the passage of the legislation.
Senators Pauline O'Reilly and O'Loughlin talked about childcare facilities. I agree with Senator O'Loughlin when she calls for an audit to be done by the Minister. That audit should be conducted in every single town and village where we have a responsibility to provide outdoor play facilities for our children. I would go one step further and say that we should have minimum requirements by population in law through guidelines from our local authorities to ensure that when local authorities develop towns and the population grows suddenly from 800 to 8,000, all of the amenities that are required for those children, young adults and, indeed, adults are developed. I welcome that debate. We will come back to it.
Senator Sherlock asked for statements on the economic recovery plan, which I will organise. She also asked me to write a letter to the Minister with regard to a local school building in her area. I would suggest that submitting a Commencement matter on the topic would probably get a response much more quickly, but I will write that letter today.
Senator Cummins raised a matter that is incredibly important. Most of our appeals for applications for Government services have a 21-day deadline. That has been affected by the cyberattack on the HSE in recent weeks. The very least that we can do and expect is for Departments with those 21-day deadlines to extend them. I will write to the Minister for Social Protection today and ask her to address that immediately. I will also organise a debate on social welfare in the next couple of weeks.
The outdoor strategy has been a considerable part of the advice that the Government and its agencies have been marketing for the past couple of weeks. That came in for a stark critique over the weekend. Without wanting to add to the argument, there is a responsibility on State agencies. When we have decided that the safest place for our people to be is outdoors, State agencies must provide the services to ensure that the outdoor activity can occur. Those agencies should not state that if those services are provided it will create a bigger problem because more people will come. That is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard from any official from Dublin City Council and he should be admonished for it. I feel strongly about this matter. Our officials are there to provide advice to the Government. Nobody in this country is responsible for lecturing the Irish people as to how they behave. If one has a problem or an issue with how people are behaving, then one advises again through the normal channels. If one thinks people are not listening, one comes together with a campaign to support the activities one is encouraging and educates people as to the activities they should not be doing. The lecturing tones in which the Irish people have repeatedly been admonished for what they have been doing lately leaves an awful lot to be desired. All they have been doing is what they have been asked to do, that is, to meet each other safely outside. We all need to check ourselves, whether we are Government advisors, health advisors, members of the Garda or politicians. We all need to be incredibly cautious about how we talk to our Irish citizens because we certainly should not be talking down to anybody.