Tuesday, 15 June 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No.1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 18 June 2021, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, Criminal Justice (Perjury and Related Offences) Bill 2018 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] – Report and Final 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 Leader for outlining the Order of Business, which I certainly support. Unusually for Senators, I will talk about the Order of Business by acknowledging we are finally coming to the end of a Bill introduced in the previous Seanad by former Senator, Pádraig Ó Céidigh. I pay tribute to him, particularly, for the effort he put into bringing this Bill through that Seanad. I also acknowledge the contribution of the Regional Group, which brought it through the Dáil. It will, hopefully, be passed today. It is very useful legislation that, surprisingly, was not previously on the Statute Book. People will now, hopefully, take the offence of perjury more seriously and people who decide to perjure themselves or commit perjury in a court will be pursued more diligently than they have been in the past.
I acknowledge there are significant numbers of people, particularly from Donegal but also Mayo, coming to the convention centre today to highlight their plight regarding mica in their homes. For any of us, the purchase and building of a home is the biggest investment most of us will ever make, certainly in a personal capacity. These defective blocks were sold to so many people who built their houses, which are their sanctuaries, where they live and raise families and where they think they can go to protect themselves from the whole world, only to discover their houses were crumbling and falling down around their ears. It is shocking this was allowed to happen and the people who sold these blocks will not, and cannot, be pursued. I hope that somebody tries. The State should make sure that we protect people and give them redress. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Cabinet are dealing with that today, but we really must pursue people.
We need a debate on building controls generally in this House. All of us know of people who have had great experiences with builders and contractors, but equally we all have horror stories. Many of us on local authorities know of people whose houses were not completed properly, where workmanship was shoddy and the tradesmen involved did not do what they were supposed to. We need, as a State, to make sure people working on sites are competent and able to what they do, and, if they are not, that they can be pursued. It is not okay for people to engage in shoddy workmanship. It happens all the time; obviously not in every situation but too often. We need, as a State, to look at how we regulate. People get planning permission, which they do not necessarily complete. There are no checks on that. We need a proper debate and decent action on how we pursue people who do not complete houses the way they should and do not carry out the work they were engaged to do.
I am doing something unusual this morning; I am opposing the Order of Business. I do so because I object to the Government's disgusting habit of constantly proposing, and implementing, the guillotining of legislation in this House. It happened again on Committee Stage of the Affordable Housing Bill on Friday, 4 June. Many amendments were not discussed, including one of mine. We have been promised so often that the guillotine would only be used sparingly, but that is not what is happening. It would be interesting to get the Oireachtas Library and Research Service to examine when this practice of ruthlessly guillotining discussion of legislation started. On that particular day, 4 June, the worst of it was a Committee Stage debate on housing was guillotined to give way to a Private Members' motion on housing from Fianna Fáil Senators on the question of a constitutional right to housing, something specifically excluded from the programme for Government. That sums up the attitude of the three largest political parties to housing. Instead of devoting more time to debating housing legislation, they provide time to allow debate on a toothless motion purely for political grandstanding. It is high time Government Senators stood up to their party leaders and told them to back off. The reputation of the Seanad is destroyed every time this guillotining rule is implemented.
I also raise today the strange attitudes of the Department of Foreign Affairs. On 19 May, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, met the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, which was a friendly meeting by all accounts, complete with elbow bumps. On 1 June, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, visited China and made a very emollient statement afterwards of the kind we have become used to. It was certainly nothing China would object to. The same week the Minister launched a ferocious attack on Israel in the Dáil regarding the conflict there and, just 24 hours after returning from China, he correctly denounced the President of Belarus as having no democratic legitimacy. How can he excoriate Israel one day and have friendly elbow bumps with the foreign minister of a country supplying the rockets Hamas use to attack Israel the next? How can he have friendly meetings with a totalitarian communist government and then accuse Belarus of having no democratic legitimacy? What does it say about the moral underpinning of Irish foreign policy? Have we stopped pretending we base our foreign policy on morality and human rights, instead sacrificing both on the altar of trade links? It is hardly a coincidence that we are trying to expand our exports to China and Iran but have negligible exports to Israel and almost none to Belarus.
I will conclude by referring to a very troubling paragraph I came across in an important book, Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World.It describes how the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, CPAFFC, is actually a front for the Chinese Communist Party. In May 2019, the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported on the signing of a memorandum of understanding between CPAFFC and a think tank in Ireland, Asia Matters, "to promote people-to-people exchanges and co-operation". According to this report, at the ceremony, Ireland's foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said that the deepening relationship would help Ireland reach out to the European Union so as to advance China's interest in the EU. Does that not say it all? We need a debate on China and our Government's attitude to it.
I join colleagues yesterday and, I am sure, today, in raising the need for defibrillators throughout the country, following the shock we all felt during the Denmark-Finland game when a young fit player, Christian Ericksen, dropped to the ground after suffering a cardiac arrest. The medical team on site jumped into action and with the aid of an automated external defibrillator, AED, the player was stabilised and a life was saved. The availability of trained people and an AED was key. The Irish Red Cross estimate there are between 8,000 and 10,000 public access defibrillators in Ireland but there is evidence some are not being checked regularly and, therefore, may not be working. A study by the Health Information and Quality Authority found instances of battery failure and issues regarding the accessibility of defibrillators and where they were located.
We need a central register of all available defibrillators in the country and regular inspections to ensure they are working. I previously highlighted our magnificent community first responders who are embedded in our communities and, thankfully, many of them are back at work. We must provide them with the training and funding they need to be able to certify and log these AEDs on a central system. We should also talk with all the many clubs in the country, which have AEDs locked away in clubhouses and are unsure about making them available to the public due to fears about vandalism and insurance. We need to reassure them that should vandalism occur, insurance will be in place to replace the unit.
A defibrillator used by a trained person increases the survival rate from a sudden cardiac arrest by 50% if CPR and defibrillation occurs within the first four minutes of the incident. Survival rates diminish at a rate of 7% to 10% for every minute thereafter. Let us give people the best possible chance of survival from cardiac arrest and make these life-saving machines available everywhere in the country.The Leader, like me, is aware of the terrific service carried out by our 15 Local Link bus services throughout the country. The 830 route from Athy to Newbridge has been a life-changer for so many along the route allowing so many people to obtain, and indeed maintain, new employment, to get to the shops and to visit families and friends at regular times and days. This is a route and service making a difference to rural south Kildare and its villages. The Kildare South Dublin Local Link wants to improve its service on the 880 route from Carlow via Castledermot to Naas. The application is with the National Transport Authority, NTA, but has unfortunately not received the funding required and we are told that the NTA is seeking additional funding from the Government. The Kildare South Dublin Local Link website tells us that if improved, the 880 route would benefit from additional trips in each direction, the addition of services on a Saturday and Sunday, and the addition of evening services on Friday and Saturday. Most important, the reconfiguration will also see the inclusion of the villages of Narraghmore, Calverstown and Two Mile House, bringing much-needed public transport to these great villages.
Additional to the above, the commissioning of a fully accessible low-floor bus will ensure the relevance of the service for people with mobility issues. I would really appreciate if the Leader can arrange a debate with the Minister for Transport on rural transport in respect of villages all over Ireland. Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh.
Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh. I wish Arlene Foster well in the next chapter of her life. The harsh reality for the people of Northern Ireland is that this morning they have woken up to having no First Minister or Deputy First Minister, with the clock ticking away for seven days in order for both parties to agree the nominations of new Ministers to those roles. For all of the time in the background there is the ratcheting up of tribal tensions.
There is a way forward which is to adopt a page from the book of Linda Ervine. I congratulate her on being awarded an MBE in the latest published 2001 Queens birthday honours list for her service to her community in east Belfast. She has depoliticised the Irish language, a language which is there for everyone. It goes without saying that the Irish Language Act should be enacted but it is very unfortunate that we are in a situation where the Irish language is being used in a polarising way by green and orange when it should be embraced by all communities.
A further way forward for Northern Ireland, if I was to offer advice for these next few days of crucial negotiations, is to adopt the moderate approach of the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Green Party, which is a 32-county party. On the middle ground one will find consensus which will take people with them and, as Arlene Foster has said, it is home for all people, where their different identities have to be respected and where all should treat Northern Ireland as their home. I wish these negotiations well at this crucial time, especially with the looming marching season. The people of Northern Ireland do not need another polarising election at this time. It is one of the most polled jurisdictions and electorates in all of Europe.
It is time for real talking to happen with no showboating or playing to people’s own constituency in order to get things moving and to get Northern Ireland back at this critical stage in the post-Brexit world. Gabhaim buíochas.
I listened this morning to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, announcing a task force report for Shannon and my heart just sank. We have already had an aviation task force report on top of which we have had an excellent report by the all-party Committee on Transport and Communications Networks on the aviation crisis which had specific suggestions on Shannon. We have also had a review by the Minister’s own Department on Shannon which was announced last August. Yet we are here, in the teeth of the worst crisis in the aviation sector and certainly the worst crisis in Shannon’s history, where we have lost an Aer Lingus cabin crew base with 81 jobs just a couple weeks ago, and where 500 jobs are now at risk at Lufthansa Technik. The Minister’s response is to ask for another report. If this was not a serious matter I would ask did he think he was in an episode of “Father Ted” with Dougal turning to Ted to say: “Is anything to be said for another report?”
Some 12 months ago, a whole host of public representatives, including myself and Deputy Quinlivan, met with the Aer Lingus staff who were able to tell us how much their jobs are at risk. They asked for action from all of the public representatives there. Some 12 months into this Government all we have had by way of response is report after report and no action. Crucially, the most important ask of all this is to reintegrate Shannon into a new State airport authority, which was asked for in the report of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications Networks. This is just left to hang in mid-air.
I asked the Minister about that issue the last occasion he was in the Seanad and he ignored the question. We are watching a slow-motion car crash on Shannon Airport and the future of the airport literally disappear. We have a Minister who appears to be completely incapable of taking any positive actions whatsoever.
Shannon Airport supports 50,000 jobs across the mid-west region. Right now one can book a flight out of this country from Dublin but one cannot book any flight from Shannon and will not be able to book a flight after 19 July either because there are no flights scheduled. We have seen this happen for 12 months, we have spoken to the Aer Lingus and airport staff who are in complete despair at what is happening to their airport and we have a Minister who is incapable of taking any decisions whatsoever. Respectfully, if he is not capable of taking the action that is needed perhaps he should make way for someone else who can. Gabhaim buíochas.
I extend my full support to the people from Donegal and others who are in Dublin today to call for 100% redress for homeowners affected by mica. Homeowners have long said that the current scheme is not fit for the purpose. The time for action is now.
On another matter, I will talk about an inequality in our system that continues to affect some parents who are not married but are cohabiting, many of whom are in long-term, committed relationships. The organisation Treoir, which works with parents who are not married to each other, brought this to my attention. Recently, it has been supporting a number of families who find themselves disadvantaged because of their marital status.
Treoir told me of a father who lost his life partner and the mother of their three children earlier this year due to Covid-19. Although they had been living together for 20 years they never got married. A married man in a similar situation would be entitled to the widower's grant, an €8,000 support provided through the Department of Social Protection. This can be a very important support when one loses a loved one. This unmarried father was unable to access the widower's pension because he was not married to his life partner. This unmarried couple both paid their PRSI. If they had been married for just one day, the partner would have been entitled to the widower's pension and grant. These children are being denied the opportunity to benefit from a State support that children of married parents benefit from. For all other social protection supports, these unmarried parents would be assessed as a married couple but for the widower's grant and pension these people are assessed as individuals. This is not right. The recent Citizens' Assembly report on gender equality calls for a constitutional change to protect families, with protection not limited to the marital families.I support Treoir's call for the Government to extend the widower's grant to cohabiting couples and to put in place a pension scheme for cohabiting couples. I lost my mother at a very young age. There were nine of us. If my father did not get the supports we needed from the State, we would never have survived. Therefore, we must really look at the issue of unmarried people, some of whom have been living together for 20 years, and support them in some way, shape or form going forward. It is a debate that we need to take seriously. I call on the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the Minister of State to do so.
I would like to raise the issue that has been mentioned here today, namely, the mica crisis. I totally support the campaigners who are beginning their protest at Convention Centre Dublin and marching to the Dáil today. I have had experience with the pyrite remediation scheme. It worked very well. It was introduced with a level 3 assessment from an engineer, which was a visual inspection. From there, the programme rolled out. The mica redress scheme is being assessed completely differently, as we are aware. In fairness, the Government has addressed the issue, but has only come 90% of the way. At this stage, we need to go the final furlong.
The €8,000 that people have to come up with to start their assessment and get the ball rolling is just too big of a lump sum to begin with. The county council should possibly bear that burden. Also, there are a few other issues that are causing the scheme to stall currently. The cap of €275,000 is too low. So far, around 50 homes have been assessed. The average size of the homes assessed is 2,500 sq. ft, while the original estimated figure in respect of these houses was just over 2,000 sq. ft. The payment of €120,000 or €130,000 per cost of rebuild for these houses should probably be linked under the scheme. The 10% shortfall is also a problem with the scheme. Holiday homes are exempt. Getting insurance is a problem for people who, in some cases, rebuild the outside leaf of their house but are not rebuilding the internal leaf. They will need some sort of State guarantee going forward.
Finally, I would like to mention the chair of the mica redress committee, Councillor Martin McDermott, who has been doing Trojan work on this issue. Indeed, I met Councillor McDermott and the group leader for Fianna Fáil, Councillor Ciaran Brogan, in the last few weeks . They outlined to me the issues and the problems that they face on the ground and the work that needs to be done. I know that the Taoiseach visited Donegal. I have also spoken to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage about the issue. I know that work is being done. Hopefully, we will have some clear news after the Cabinet meeting today.
In the last few weeks, there have been many discussions on the future of banking and housing in Ireland. I wish to raise the issue of the Central Bank of Ireland and the very restrictive rules that it has in respect of lending in comparison to other European countries.
While I accept the independence of the Central Bank, the Government should make it clear that the bank should relax and reduce the lending rules. As legislators, we can act, while at the same time respecting the independence of the Central Bank. There are many people in their late 20s and early 30s who are trying to buy their first home. In Dundalk, for example, they are paying €1,200, €1,300 or €1,400 in rent per month. In Dublin, they are paying much more. How can people be expected to pay that kind of rent and also save the same amount towards a deposit? If the rules were relaxed to allow people to show that they consistently pay €1,100, €1,200, €1,300 and €1,400 in rent, surely that could go towards a deposit. In one of the first Private Members' Bills in the last Dáil, the former Deputy, Noel Rock, proposed legislation in this regard. His legislation would have allowed 70% of rent paid in the previous three years to act as a form of shadow deposit, providing that documentation showed that the tenant had paid rent on time for the last three months. If we were able to do that, it would benefit people trying to get onto the property ladder for the first time. In 2019, the Tánaiste stated: "I do think one aspect of mortgage rules that is very tough is that you are expected to show you are saving at the same time you are renting, but of course if you didn't have to pay a rent of €2,000 a month you would be able to save."
To conclude, I think it is a cop-out to say we are doing everything we can to try to improve the housing situation in this country, but we are not tackling the elephant in the room, namely, the fact that we have the strictest lending laws and rules in the EU. If we are going to stand in this House and talk about solutions to the housing crisis, we must engage with the Central Bank. If an individual in their late 20s or early 30s is consistently paying €1,100, €1,200 or €1,300 a month in rent, surely he or she can pay a mortgage at the same price.
I would like to raise a few issues today. First, two months after the cyber attack, why is the Department of Health using it as an excuse for not coming to this House to answer questions under Commencement matters? I am sick to death of people who are in jobs refusing to do their job. The amount of funding that the HSE receives in our annual budget does not mean that it can shirk its responsibilities. Two months is long enough. I ask the Leader to address the issue with Government Ministers immediately.
Second, I wish to raise the welcome news on the changes to the employment permits system. As of yesterday, the occupation of healthcare assistant has been removed from the ineligible occupation list within the framework. It is a welcome change, as fewer and fewer people in our country are entering this sector of the labour market. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that we must encourage elderly healthcare. Many people do not know that families may claim relief on the actual costs of employing a carer.
I wish to make a point in relation to our mainstream media. The scaremongering and fear that is tripping off the tongues of reporters is unnecessary. Not only have they now effectively become the Government's spokespersons, but they have never looked for what they advertise as "the truth matters". The alternative voice of reason is rarely heard in this country. The pictures from the G7 meeting of all the leaders sitting around a conference table unmasked say a lot. Those who are leading us here have us sitting in a building costing €25,000 a day. This madness must stop. Like many of my colleagues in the Chamber, I will be vaccinated before we return to business in September. We must show confidence in our belief in vaccines. I will not be wearing a mask once I am double vaccinated. Either we believe vaccination works, or we are fooling the people. Variants will be with us for decades. People will present with different symptoms monthly.
I also want to support the mica protest today. I ask those who have stayed at home in counties Donegal, Mayo and Clare to look out for the properties of the people who may be attending the protest today. There are people who will take advantage, given the opportunity.
I remind Senators that their time allocated on the Order of Business is two minutes. Everybody is eating into the next speaker's time. We are going to have a vote, which will shorten the time available to discuss legislation.
I wish to raise the issue of the fishing industry in general. Tomorrow week, there will be a major protest during which fishing trawlers from Killybegs, Ros an Mhíl, Castletownbere, Dingle, Kilmore Quay and all around the coastline will come up the Liffey. I am aware that many Senators and Deputies have no interest in the fishing industry whatsoever. I have been involved in public life since 1985. My concern is that a country like Belgium has a much bigger quota for certain species of fish than Ireland. The Spanish and the French have dominated the industry. We have 15% of the catch in our own waters. That is crazy. Negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy are ongoing. Why have Governments, past or present, not renegotiated the Common Fisheries Policy to give the Irish fishers - who are men and women - a fair deal with regard to the quotas in their own waters. If our fishers fished in the coastal waters of Spain and Belgium and landed two thirds of their catch, there would be uproar in the fishing industry in Europe.I see no reason whatsoever the CFP cannot be renegotiated, because when it was agreed in 1973, Ireland got a very bad deal. We were under-represented. The catches were not properly processed and claimed, and since then the Irish fishing fleet has suffered. Fish are getting scarce. Fishing boats will soon be tied up and the fishermen, like some of the fish, are an endangered species. I ask the Leader for a debate on the issue. Let us not wait until next year or whenever else. There is a major protest organised for Dublin next Wednesday. I urge that we have a debate to coincide with the protest, either the day before or during the protest tomorrow week.
I wish to raise the issue of the sports capital grant, which is an important initiative that has ensured the roll-out of significant funding to sports clubs throughout the country in recent decades. It is unique funding that gives sports clubs an opportunity to embark on large-scale developments. The pot of €40 million is very welcome. More than 3,100 applicants have sought money from the fund. The Department stated the calls for funding amount to in excess of €200 million. More than 60 different sports have sought funding. We have approximately one fifth of the budget relative to the demand, which gives rise to the question of how we will deal with the requests for funding. We either give a small number of the applicants the funding they require to deliver their projects or we give a large number of applicants a small amount of money, which means many of these projects will not get off the ground.
We must work between now and next November to find a solution to the problem. Sports capital grants have delivered projects in nearly every parish in the country. An important step would be to increase the allocation in the budget. We must start the conversation in that regard. If possible, we should speak to the Minister about doing something on the ground, because if we do not, then sports clubs might not get the allocation of funding they require. Many of the clubs fundraise and do so much to build up the matching funding required to develop their amenities. If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is the need for sports clubs and amenities in every parish. I ask the Leader to agree to a debate on these issues and how we can fund sports capital projects in the future given the deficit in the pot.
The world held its breath on Saturday evening. Europe held its breath and Ireland held its breath as Christian Eriksen fought for his life. Many say the cameras showed us what was happening for too long, but because they spent so much time showing us, it has alerted the world to the importance of defibrillators and what they can do. I fully endorse and support the comments of Senator Wall. I want to use my time this morning to encourage the Government and all communities to ensure defibrillators are working.
There is no question about it: a great effort has been made to install defibrillators throughout the country. Between 2006 and 2010 a lady called Eunice Langley from a little village called Roosky founded DARA Ireland. That organisation went a long way towards ensuring many counties have defibrillators, but I firmly believe many of them are not working. If anything was brought home to us on Saturday evening it was the importance of defibrillators. We must ensure, first, that every community has a defibrillator and, second and most important, that it is working. We should remind ourselves we have a number of similar instances in this country almost every year. We have seen that defibrillators have been so important. I know the Leader will take this message back and I know where her own heart is in this regard, but we all have a responsibility - politicians, communities and the Government - to make sure we have up-to-date defibrillators throughout the country and, most important, that they are all working.
Four weeks ago I raised the plight of long-term patients in hospital who are waiting to get home and the fact they are allowed no visitors. I thank the Leader for writing a letter to the Minister for Health. I followed up on the issue with him in the meantime, asking that long-term patients in hospital should be afforded the same visiting rights as those who are in nursing home care. There is no reason they would not be allowed at least one visit a week. I received a very distressed email last night from a relative who had seen his uncle for all of a couple of minutes in the past week. When he went in to see him, his hair was long and his nails were long. The family asked if they could get a niece in to cut his hair and his nails but they were told they could not. A staff member pulled them aside on the way out to say that if they handed in a nail clippers they would look after him. Things like that should not happen. If relatives were allowed in to visit their elderly or vulnerable family members with early dementia, they could cater for things like that themselves. They could oversee the care. I contacted the hospital in question but the situation is not unique to the hospital. It is the case across the country.
Now that all the people in hospitals are vaccinated there is no reason for such a disproportionate restriction on visiting rights. I call on the Leader for a debate. We have debated women needing their partners with them for the entirety of labour. This is the next cohort of patients who deserve to be addressed and that must happen as a matter of urgency. I call for a debate in this House with the Minister for Health so that we urge the loosening of the restrictions.
Hundreds of millions of people do not have access to vaccines that could save their lives because they were born in the wrong place. The waiving of patents should have been sorted at the very start, but now millions of lives are at risk due to inaction on the part of von der Leyen, Macron and Merkel, all of whom are in the hands of big pharma. The European Parliament backed a motion to support the waiver. Fine Gael did not support it. Even Joe Biden is now calling for patents to be waived. In all of our names, the European Commission is putting shareholders before citizens. It is putting private profit before public health and delaying production rather than waiving the patents. We have seen unprecedented restrictions on citizens but no rules on the pharma companies whose technology has been funded for decades by taxpayers. AstraZeneca's vaccine was developed with at least 97% of public and charitable funding. Vaccines have been funded by public money yet are very much private goods and so the pandemic becomes a profit-generating machine. There are companies that are prepared to produce these vaccines if a waiver was agreed by the World Trade Organization, and the longer the European Commission delays the decision to waive the vaccine patent, the more we run the risk of new variants emerging.
The final point I will make-----
-----is that this is not only an ethical decision, the EU will be judged on it and it is a big political mistake to make. It does not bode well for the challenges we face in our world and it will have lasting impacts and consequences because the rest of the world will view this as a betrayal.
Today, I wish to raise the issue of Irish road signs. I am calling for a national audit of road signs to ensure the correct Irish translation is used and that the Irish name is grammatically correct and is spelled correctly.This issue came to my attention in recent days in my constituency. There is a roundabout outside Swords called the Estuary Roundabout. I noticed the Irish name on it was "Timpeallán Bhóthar na Mara", which does not translate as "Estuary Roundabout". The Irish for "estuary" is "inbhear". In north County Dublin we have two fantastic estuaries, namely, the Broadmeadow Estuary and the Rogerstown Estuary, so we are very familiar with the word "inbhear". There is an estate in Malahide called Inbhir Ide and one beside me in Donabate called Cois Inbhir. I was baffled when I saw the road sign as to why either the incorrect English translation of the Irish name or Irish translation of the English name was used. I will write to Fingal County Council to get that explained. It is not acceptable anymore.
There was an issue in County Kerry last March when an estate was given an incorrect and incoherent name and it is not okay that things like this occur. Every county council should have a full-time Irish language officer and a naming committee. That committee can ensure the correct Irish versions of names are given and suggest Irish names for all new housing estates, roads and pieces of infrastructure. This has worked well in Galway City Council and now over 30% of housing estates in Galway have an Irish name. This sends a strong signal of support and respect for the Irish language. I call for that national audit to take place, for Irish language officers to be employed and for naming committees to be set up in every local authority area. I also lend my support to Councillor Martin McDermott and the thousands of people who have travelled from Donegal today.
I thank the Leader for having the special debate on gambling after a number of requests on my part. We had a good promise from the Minister on foot of the last debate. Will the Leader update me on when we might have a gambling regulator and the gambling control legislation ?
I raised on another occasion the question of E-3 visas for undocumented Irish in America. Can the Leader give me an update on progress there?
I turn to the question of Belarus. At the moment, there are 461 prisoners in Belarus who are deemed to be political prisoners. We have extraordinary stories of brutality, barbarism and subhuman conditions since the questionable elections which were found to be fraudulent. The leader of the opposition has a strong Irish connection and has lived in Ireland. I believe she has a connection to Tipperary. I express my appreciation to my colleague, Senator Ward, for his articulate support on this issue over the past year. I commend a person I was in college with, Turlough Deenihan, for his voluntary work in this area. I sponsored a prisoner in Belarus with him.
Will the Leader comment on the Belarusian situation? Can we have a debate on it or get an update on progress made? Can we even once again condemn the brutality there and the fact that people who engaged in peaceful protest remain incarcerated and call for their release?
I raise the protest that will take place outside the convention centre from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. with the mica and pyrite groups from Donegal, Mayo and along the western seaboard. It is an extremely serious situation.
It is positive we have a scheme up and running but there are challenges and difficulties with the scheme. It only allows for 90% redress of the cost of replacing the home and, even at that, it is capped at €275,000 and based on a house of 1,950 sq. ft. The vast majority of the homes implicated in this are beyond that size. In reality, it is not 90% but is closer to 70% or 80%. It also does not allow for the cost of having to rent while the home is demolished in full or in part. It does not account for the cost of having to store one’s goods or of having to pay for a really expensive test at the outset, which costs up to €7,000, to get into the scheme. Many people cannot afford that level of outlay at the outset.
As we go out this afternoon to support the people of Donegal, Mayo and the western seaboard to seek that 100% redress from the scheme, it is important that as many people as possible go outside. We cannot leave people in this situation. They are standing within their homes watching the walls crumble around them. I have seen footage of homes where they have had to move to the left-hand side of the house because they have been told the right-hand side could collapse at any moment. A young family lives in that house. Some people have had to move out. Others cannot move out because they cannot afford it. Many cannot access the finance to bridge the gap between what the scheme provides and the cost of getting the home replaced, which could be up to €100,000. This is a humanitarian issue and a housing issue. People cannot afford to go elsewhere. They need help to replace the homes. It is important to note that is through no fault of their own. They did not cause this and we cannot leave people in the situation they are in.
Today, as I understand it, 4,941 people in this country have died from Covid. It is a shocking statistic and only a fraction of the people touched by this awful disease. Some 250,000 people, for example, have recovered from it. As we hopefully come to the end of the most serious stage of this pandemic and hope that nobody will be added to that death toll, there are many people across the country who have not been able to properly mourn or acknowledge the loss of loved ones, family members, parents, siblings, friends, neighbours, etc. Can we have a debate in this House on the establishment of a fund to be administered through local authorities to allow communities throughout the country to establish memorials to people in those communities who died as a result of Covid and the families who are touched by the virus? Can we allow them to erect an appropriate memorial at a local level to commemorate those people in much the same way people were during the First World War and, perhaps belatedly, people who died during the Famine? Covid is the biggest natural disaster in this country since the Famine. The First World War was not a natural disaster, but it touched many communities in a similar way. It is entirely appropriate that we as a House and a Parliament say to people that we recognise what they have gone through. There should be an appropriate mechanism for them to memorialise the members of their community who died as a result of this disease.
The details could be worked out by a committee but I would like us to come together and support the idea of a fund being established for each local authority to have a committee to establish these memorials and to have something permanent in each community, town and village around the country to remember what happened in 2020 and 2021 - hopefully just in those two years. As we know, this will probably be with us for a while but it is therefore appropriate that we move on this at this stage.
That is a lovely suggestion from Senator Ward. I am not sure whether we should just send a letter to the Department. I will try to arrange a debate but collectively we might initially send a letter to the relevant Minister to ask him for his opinion on the suggestion. We can wait for his response and see what comes back.
Senator Chambers, among others who I will name as I come to them on the list, mentioned the thousands of people we expect to see on the streets outside the convention centre and the Dáil who are fighting for their lives and their homes. The Cabinet meeting is taking place this morning and we have heard the support from my colleagues here and from Ministers on the radio and airwaves in recent days recognising the shortfalls, so I hope we get a positive outcome today. I fear for the circumstances if we do not. I welcome Members' support for the thousands of people who will travel to our capital today to register the fear they live under daily. Senator O'Reilly asked me a number of questions on the gambling regulator legislation and the E-3 visa. I do not have specific responses for him now but I will follow up and revert to him. It would be worthwhile if we had a debate in the House on Belarus and the abhorrent treatment of those 461 prisoners, and on what the world and the European Union intend to do in response.
Senator Clifford-Lee raised a very annoying issue. It does not relate just to Swords and north County Dublin but happens throughout the country. The national audit she requested on the use of the Irish language in signs would be welcome, so I will send a letter to the relevant Minister today.
Senator Warfield talked about the world vaccination programme. Notwithstanding the unfair and unsubstantiated remarks he made, the calls from the World Health Organization, WHO, the COVAX organisation and countries throughout the world to ensure we do not leave anybody behind are very worthwhile. It would be pertinent for us to have a debate in the House on the world vaccination programme and what role Ireland can play and the WHO can continue to play. I will try to organise that in the next couple of weeks.
Senator Seery Kearney raised a distressing story. Unfortunately, it is not the first time I have heard such a story. It is not acceptable, whether in a hospital or nursing home, for anybody to have long hair or long nails just because a family member is not allowed in to give the loving care they would normally give. If somebody is in hospital, it is up to the staff at that hospital to ensure the person receives the care, even if that is something as simple as washing the person or cutting his or her nails. It is outrageous that somebody said to the patient's family member that if he or she dropped in a nail clippers, they would look after it. We will send a letter to the Minister for Health, following up on the previous one we sent, regarding visiting rights. Some issues have been highlighted over the past 12 months, in both nursing homes and hospitals, that we would rather did not exist.
Senator Murphy spoke eloquently, as did Senators Davitt and Ward and others, about defibrillators. I think everybody knows and acknowledges the hundreds of towns and villages that have defibrillators, whether in churches, community centres, GAA or soccer clubs or wherever - our local shop has one outside - that were paid for by fundraising by the people in those villages and communities. The least the State can do, therefore, is not only compile a central register but also ensure they are in good working repair in order that if somebody needs them, as we saw so starkly on Saturday evening, they will be there for them.
Senator Lombard raised the big difference between the €40 million to be given in sports capital grants this year, which is very welcome and is always well received, and the €200 million that has been requested. It shows how vibrant sport is as a participatory activity in all towns and villages, and perhaps we need to acknowledge we need to do more.
On the fishing industry issue, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is in Europe today, which is why he will not be here to welcome the thousands of people coming from Donegal. The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and the Common Fisheries Policy are under negotiation at the moment, but I appreciate the sentiments raised by the Senator.
Senator Keogan raised something that, to be honest, I was not aware of. While the Cathaoirleach is responsible for this matter, I will nonetheless make inquiries today. There are a number of Ministers of State and a senior Minister at the Department of Health. It is absolutely unacceptable that any member of that team would not come to the House to respond to Commencement matters using the excuse of a cyberattack. That is nonsense and I have never heard the likes of it. We will make inquiries in that regard today.
I acknowledge the comments the Senator made about our mainstream media, something on which we all greatly rely. My fear is people in their tens of thousands are moving to other, much less reliable forms of media and believe everything posted on social media streams, with the obvious consequences. If we cannot turn on mainstream media without having to listen to the abject fear being pumped through the airwaves every day, it will not really be a surprise if people turn off.
Senator McGahon raised an issue that has been raised a number of times. We all understand and appreciate why the Central Bank has the rules it has, in order that we will not recreate the issues we all lived through ten to 15 years ago with regard to negative equity, overextending on borrowings and so on. Nevertheless, the Senator's point, which was made by Noel Rock in the previous Dáil, is pertinent. If people cannot afford to save the deposits they need because they are paying such excessive levels of rent, that participatory record needs to be taken into account. I suggest the Senator might reintroduce the legislation tabled by Noel Rock in the previous Dáil.
Senator Davitt talked about Councillor Martin McDermott and the strong work he has done to represent the families in question. As I said earlier, I hope there will be a good and positive outcome today.
Senator Flynn raised the same issue. The other issue she raised, with regard to the widow's pension, would probably be more pertinent to Commencement matters but I will contact her after this debate to see how I can help her.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of an interview with the Minister for Transport regarding the establishment of a task force. It pains me to say I agree with almost everything the Senator said. There have been too many task forces and reports and much too little action. We need absolute action now, not in a few weeks or months when we are all aghast at more job losses in the aviation industry that will trickle down to the hospitality industry. We cannot be left whingeing after the fact, given we have an opportunity to do something about it now. I support the Senator in his comments.
Senator Martin opened his contribution with some lovely comments on Arlene Foster. Her speech yesterday was dignified and ladylike and so in tune with her public life in Northern Ireland, and I wish her well. We all take for granted that when the bricks and bats are thrown in political life, we are supposed to be able to take them. Ms Foster showed yesterday with great humanity that she is a true lady. I dare say Northern Ireland will rue the actions of her party colleagues in recent weeks in regard to what is anticipated, although I wish them well in the coming weeks.
Senator Wall spoke about defibrillators and I support him in that regard, but more important, we need to have a debate on rural transport. Local Link buses provide essential transport for people in rural counties. I will try to arrange that debate as soon as possible.
Senator Mullen requested a debate on China and other humanitarian aspects of international behaviour. I have submitted a request for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the China issue, but a wider debate is probably needed on some of the issues the Senator raised. I cannot promise I will secure that in the next couple of weeks but I will do so as soon as I can. Every day I propose an Order of Business. It is entirely up to the House whether it accepts it and I appreciate that Senators are entitled to oppose it.
Senator Horkan opened the debate with a welcoming of what, please God, will be the passing of the Criminal Justice (Perjury and Related Offences) Bill 2018 today before it returns to the Dáil for a final adjudication of the amendments passed in this House. It shows the power of Private Members' time and legislation. It is very welcome and I look forward to it being on the Statute Book.
Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, , Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Lisa Chambers, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Ollie Crowe, Emer Currie, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Regina Doherty, Timmy Dooley, Robbie Gallagher, , Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, Vincent P Martin, John McGahon, Erin McGreehan, Eugene Murphy, Denis O'Donovan, Joe O'Reilly, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward.