Seanad debates

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

9:00 am

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The leader of the Fianna Fáil grouping in Seanad Éireann, Senator Lisa Chambers, will outline the Order of Business this morning.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 9 July, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, Private Security Services (Amendment) Bill 2021 - all Stages, to be taken at 11.45 a.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 12.45 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, with regard to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, and the proceedings of the debate on Second Stage shall be confined to an opening contribution of five minutes by the Minister, a contribution of five minutes from group spokespersons and a reply not exceeding five minutes by the Minister, and Committee and Remaining Stages shall be taken immediately thereafter.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I second the Order of Business. Members will remember my raising in the House the case of Mr. Pat Tinsley and his very difficult and debilitating disease, amyloidosis. I called for a debate on how the extra €50 million in the budget for battling rare diseases is being spent.

This morning, Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan is launching a Bill that would address this matter. It is very similar to the Bill that former Deputy John Brassil introduced to the Dáil two years ago. It would reform the Health Service Executive's current reimbursement process by establishing a unique procedure in which to evaluate claims and ensure people get their required medication. People like Pat would have access to patisiran and people suffering from degenerative retinal disease would be able to access the gene therapy Luxturna, as Mr. Ciáran Joyce from Kildare town has informed me. Sadly, his mum Betty passed away last year from this disease. This Bill is a long overdue but credible solution to the ongoing crisis and it is very much needed.

I was shocked to see in this morning's Irish Examinera piece by Ms Aoife Moore in which she wrote about a female solicitor having to visit a jail in Ireland in June to consult a client. This was an urgent referral and the solicitor needed to be there. On her way into the jail, she was told she had to remove her bra. It is a woman's choice whether she wears a bra but for those who make that choice, it is important, and we make it for particular reasons. For a woman to be told that for security reasons she has to remove a bra and remain braless for a consultation is completely wrong. This solicitor spoke about how traumatised she felt about this. The process completely disrespected her and took away her dignity. It is appalling and we must examine such an incident.

Sport defines us as a nation in many ways, both in participation and viewing. I am really surprised to see that over the weekend Horse Sport Ireland made the decision not to have two competitors in dressage at the Tokyo Olympics. This is the first year that Ireland has qualified for the event. I understand there will be two competitors in Tokyo who could participate in this competition. This decision is completely wrong and should be investigated. We take our sport very seriously and there are people in Ireland who put so much time into practising and competing in this elite sport. I ask the Deputy Leader to take up this matter if possible.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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The bike-to-work scheme has been a major success and a number of people have availed of it, allowing them to invest in a bicycle and use it to get to work. We know that cycling is, in many ways, a far superior way of getting around. It can be faster and it does not cause pollution. There are health benefits. However, the scheme operates by alleviating the tax burden for those in employment but people who are not working cannot benefit. This applies to people seeking work and those who are retired or cannot work, etc., but who may be able to cycle. Is now the time to have a debate on this and consider whether we should expand the scheme to include people not within the coterie of people at work and thus unable to benefit from the scheme through payments from wages, etc? We should expand the scheme to include as many people as possible.

I have been contacted by a constituent about a One4All voucher he received. The Consumer Protection Act 2007 was amended in 2019 to ensure that gift vouchers do not have expiry dates. There were cases when people did not use them in time, rendering such vouchers useless. In 2019, when that law was passed, we recognised it was important that vouchers would have a period of validity going beyond a year or two years. Sometimes it takes a long time for people to get around to using those vouchers. The reality is that for the people who buy them, they are as good as cash. Those who sell the vouchers have cash in hand in advance. The system is as advantageous for retailers as it is for those receiving the vouchers as gifts or who buy them for friends, etc.It was right and proper that we deal with the issue of time limits on these vouchers. However, it now appears that some voucher companies, including One4All, of which I have been made aware of, circumvent that system by applying a monthly charge after a certain date. The person who contacted me is elderly and was unable to use the voucher for the last 18 months or so. During this time, the period within which One4All starts to apply the monthly charge kicked in. From a certain date, a monthly charge is applied - I do not know the exact amount but I think it is €1.50 - which comes off the voucher and substantially reduces its value. It seems absolutely wrong to me that companies like that, for whatever the reason, can circumvent the consumer protection legislation that was passed in 2019. I wonder whether there is something we could do legislatively speaking to address that issue and close the gap in the amending legislation.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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At the outset, I wish to put on record my gratitude to members of the Royal British Legion in Ballymoney and Coolrain for their support of the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen on this island when they raised more than £1,000 in a walk across the Giant's Causeway.

Speaking of Defence Forces matters, I am aware that post-1994 contractees are still not aware of their future fate, whether they will be allowed to serve past the age of 50 years. They were promised this would come through at the end of May - it has not yet come through. Furthermore, there was outrage from former colleagues in the Defence Forces at the lack of participation at the recent Oireachtas defence committee meeting where we heard from the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO. As far as I can recall, there were only two political parties and two Independents represented at that meeting which is simply not good enough. It sends out a poor message.

The Department of Education has done away with the abatement of pensions for a period to attract retired teachers into the system. However, a former member of the Defence Forces who is a teacher will not be able to avail of the waiver on abatement. I would love if the Deputy Leader could find out what is so different about former members of the Defence Forces that they are not allowed to benefit from this while former teachers are allowed. It is an outrage and shows, once again, a disregard for members of the Defence Forces.

I oppose the Order of Business today. I am sick and tired of Bills being run through this House as if they do not matter. The people of Ireland voted to retain this House and many of us here are dedicated in doing the job that this House is supposed to do. Some Senators, I regret to say, are here in a place or state of purgatory waiting their chance to get a Dáil seat. This House has a function under the Constitution. Bills are going through this House with all Stages taken in a single day and they are guillotined regularly. I am seven years in this House and I think this year is the worst I have ever seen. I realise we are in the middle of a national emergency, but we do not have to guillotine Bills at the current rate. We do not have to run Bills through this House in one day. We are either serious about the Seanad or the Government should go back to the people of Ireland and tell them that it did not listen to what they said when the referendum passed and that it has no intention of reforming this House. Does it want to keep the Seanad the way it is or does it want to finally close it down? It is heart breaking to see the way this House is being abused by this Government, and it must stop this.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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I wish to raise two issues with the Deputy Leader of the House. The first is a Defence Forces issue and one that could benefit the terrific Defence Forces families we have in this country. Since the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association medical assistance scheme, PMAS, has been waiting on confirmation that it can continue to operate on a permanent footing after December of this year and under the current Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme. The issue of worry for PDFORRA, is that the Northern Ireland planned healthcare scheme is due to end in December of this year. This is at a time when we should be ensuring that members of the Defence Forces can continue and advance in their careers with a working and workable health scheme. The PMAS scheme was described at a recent meeting with the HSE as an excellent initiative. It is a scheme with more than 4,000 PDFORRA members and PDFORRA is seeking to extend it to family members. This would be a fantastic development.

The reason I am raising this issue is because the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has introduced a Republic of Ireland reimbursement scheme for a period of 12 months. This new scheme opened on 1 July 2021 and is available to Northern Ireland residents, according to that Department's press release. The scheme provides an option for patients who may wish to access private treatment in the Republic of Ireland and allows them to claim reimbursement of health and social care equivalent costs. The Department of Health in the North described this scheme as being based on the EU cross-border healthcare directive. From this, we can understand the worry of PDFORRA and others who are waiting on news of the extension of the scheme here. In the case of PDFORRA, it wants to expand its scheme to include Defence Forces families. It sees the Northern Ireland Department of Health introducing a scheme that will run until at least the middle of next year, while there is no word on the extension of a similar scheme here, with the December deadline on the horizon. I ask the Deputy Leader, once again, to raise this matter with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Defence.

The second issue I wish to raise today is the continuing and urgent need to ban gambling advertising. In a speech last week, President Michael D. Higgins hit out at what he described as "dangerous" gambling advertisements which he said were causing so much damage to families and individuals. The President went on to say that his heart has been broken regularly during the pandemic as he watched advertisement after advertisement for gambling during sports programmes accompanied by what he described as the "minimal, tokenistic invitations to be responsible". He said it was "not good enough". Once again, the President was speaking on behalf of many of us. Since introducing our Bill in the Seanad to ban gambling advertising, I have been inundated with calls and emails from Irish people who feel the exact same way as our President. Many cannot enjoy sport anymore because they are flooded with ads to gamble before, during and after the event that they are trying to watch. What disturbs me is that we still have no watershed on gambling advertising in this country and our children are being exposed to a highly addictive behaviour.

The eighth anniversary of the 2013 gambling Bill will take place on 15 July next. We need a ban on gambling advertising. We cannot allow this to continue any further. We have introduced a Bill that could be accepted by the Government. Time is ticking. We are storing up a serious health problem for this country by not acting now.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I thank the Deputy Leader for taking the Order of Business today. Some 200 million people across the globe are living on land that is projected to be permanently below the tideline by the end of this century. Apart from that, chronic floods are set to affect 300 million people within the next three decades. We do not have to look that far ahead. In recent days, Dublin Cycling Campaign has highlighted that significant portions of the Dublin Bay South constituency - the constituency where we have all been pounding the pavements - are set to be below annual flood levels by 2030. It includes the Aviva Stadium, Trinity College Dublin and the whole of Sandymount and yet it is not coming up on the media. This is the most important issue of our time. It means that we need radical action. We need to ensure we put the funding of €1 million a day that is committed to under the programme for Government into cycling and walking. We are starting to do that. It is important that we do not bury our heads in the sand. We have heard about the small town in Canada where temperatures have reached 50°C. There are 250 people in that town and each person matters. Hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people across this globe are set to be impacted over the next few decades. We must play our part.

I refer to some of the Bills that the Government is bringing through the Houses. The climate action Bill passed Committee Stage yesterday and the Government took four amendments on board in relation to that Bill. However, that Bill has gone through almost a year's worth of pre-legislative scrutiny, not to mind decades of action by environmentalists and children, who last weekend stood outside Leinster House again. It is time to move on with these things. We must take on board amendments. The Green Party Senators' amendment was accepted. It promotes climate justice which is an international standard, and a just transition for the people of Ireland. We must also think about the intergenerational impact of doing nothing.We must protect workers. We also need to get on with taking the action which will protect our children and our children’s children.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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The first issue I raise relates to my earlier Commencement matter. I refer to the urgent need for a review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. The response from the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, confirmed that there will be an independent chairperson, which is welcome. However, no timeline was provided regarding when that person, whether he or she, will be appointed, nor was there a timeline for the review itself. Like the Deputy Leader, I was a member of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Three years later, I am concerned that no urgency is evident from her colleague in government in dealing with this matter.

I ask that the issue of safe access zone legislation be addressed as well. It is provided for in the programme for Government, which is very welcome. There have been daily protests outside the University Maternity Hospital in Limerick, so we need safe access zone legislation. I am very concerned that the Government is retreating from this commitment. I could get no answer on it from the Minister of State this morning. An answer I got to a previous Commencement matter suggested there was no need for such legislation. I ask that this matter be addressed. I suspect that Senator Chambers, like me, supports the need for safe access zone legislation. It is very important that we have a clear call on a cross-party basis for such legislation as soon as possible.

The second issue I raise is Colombia, which is close to my heart. I travelled with the Justice for Colombia group to that country two years ago to meet trade unionists and social activists. One of the young men I met then was gunned down just a few months ago. There has been huge social upheaval in Colombia. People are campaigning and standing up against poverty, corruption and the failure to implement the peace process. To give some statistics, Colombian human rights organisations recorded 3,798 acts of police violence between April and May 2021, with 41 people killed, 26 sexual assaults, 1,649 arbitrary arrests and 65 eye injuries.

One harrowing video shows four police agents dragging 17-year old Alison Meléndez into a police station in Popayán, as she shouts that they are removing her trousers. The next day, after having reported that they had sexually assaulted her, she took her own life. Something horrific is happening in Colombia. The response from the Colombian Government has been frightening. Rather than address the issues, it is trying to disparage the protesters by calling them terrorists, when they are no such thing. They are ordinary campaigners and ordinary people standing up for justice. We must not forget that Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a member of a trade union.

Ireland has an important role to play. We are on the United Nations Security Council. I ask that we have a debate on Colombia. I am also asking for the Government to take action. The only thing that concerns the Colombian Government is its ability to trade freely with the world. We must use that leverage now, because the Columbian Government is killing its own people in horrendous numbers. We need to stand up and our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, must stand up and put real pressure on the Colombian Government to respect the peace process, engage with the national strike committee and stop killing its own people.

Photo of Eileen FlynnEileen Flynn (Independent)
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I thank the Deputy Leader for being here this morning to listen to us. Education can be a great leveller in society. It can help to break down inequalities, raise people up and provide opportunities for employment and skills. Education can be a game changer in people’s lives through helping them to reach their full potential. Education can also be a game changer in the life of a community. It can empower a community, it can show value and value all members of a community equally. This State has an opportunity to showcase those benefits by providing a state-of-the-art facility for young people in Ballyfermot.

Three local secondary schools in Ballyfermot, Caritas College, St. Dominic's College and St. John's College, are joining together to provide a more comprehensive education to 800 students, which I welcome. The new school is being built as a modern campus and is due to open in September 2022. However, no provision has been made for a physical education, PE, hall or for a canteen facility for the 800 students. How can this be right? Physical education is a vital part of young people's development and their overall mental health and well-being. We are all aware of conditions such as diabetes and obesity, and having a healthy diet and exercising is something that we often talk about. The young students in Ballyfermot were promised a top-class school but now they are not getting one.

Three existing schools are being amalgamated in this new school. I call on the Minister to meet members of the local community. Nobody, including the Minister, is listening to the young people in Ballyfermot. We are talking about a working-class area and about young people who have fewer opportunities because they are from an area like Ballyfermot. I call on the Minister to meet staff, students, members of the local community and local young people who are going to be impacted by this project. There will be a top-of-the-range school for young people in Ballyfermot without a canteen in it. We all know how vital it was during the pandemic to have hot meals available every day for some of our young students.

I again stress that we are calling on the Minister to come out to Ballyfermot to meet the young students who are going to be impacted. The Minister must not allow the young people of Ballyfermot to be failed once again. I genuinely do not believe this would be allowed to happen in upper-class areas of Dublin. My mother always said to drink the soup while it is hot and that if you are going to take on a job, be able to do it and do it properly. The decision was made to amalgamate these three schools and now the young people of Ballyfermot are going to be failed. We cannot allow this to happen.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I support the words of my good friend, Senator Mark Wall, concerning gambling. The Deputy Leader will be aware that I have been raising this subject in my own right for many a day as well, as has Senator Wall. The important point is that President Michael D. Higgins has now come on side in this regard and made a very clear speech at a Tiglin charity event in Wicklow. He stated that gambling advertising was pernicious in our media and needed dealing with. In that regard, we need a gambling regulation Bill and a gambling regulator. I ask the Deputy Leader to raise that hare again and ensure action is taken on it.

I raise another issue which I also raised in the previous Seanad. It has not yet been done but it should be. I am not in favour of undoing the leaving certificate in its current form, but I am in favour of credits being given to young people for cultural activities in sports, music and drama, for example, and those credits counting for points purposes for admission to college. I refer to sporting activities across all sports and, especially, to social activities where students undertake charity work, develop empathy with others and have a concern for their fellow citizens. I mention the environmental sphere as well in respect of global warming, etc. We should have credits available as part of the leaving certificate for students who undertake such sporting and cultural activities and these should form part of their points total for admission to college. They should be given for extracurricular activities and a broad range of areas for personal development. Students would bring a mix of skills and competencies, idealism and a broad skills set into universities and colleges. It would be in addition to academic excellence, from which there is no getting away and nor should there be. I hope the Deputy Leader will raise this matter with the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, and that it will be examined seriously.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute. We all recognise that one of the positives from the pandemic will be the opportunity many people have had to work from home and to have the blended experience of working some days in the office and some days from home. It will benefit those who had long commutes and those who live in the west and mid-west. However, concerns have been relayed to me regarding some of the large multinationals now giving people opportunities to work outside the State. That development has all sorts of implications for economic life here. It may also be the thin end of the wedge, where some of these very large multinational companies that are benefiting from the Irish tax regime may ultimately have very few of their employees based here. I am not suggesting that will happen overnight but it may be the beginning of a process affecting the way these companies manage their employees.We know these large multinationals are very good at managing their tax affairs. They are here for all sorts of reasons. It would be timely to have a debate about the whole working experience post Covid to look at the opportunities and see how Government might respond to assist those who want that blended experience but also to identify the potential pitfalls and problems that might exist in our tax legislation or in other supports that are provided, particularly by the Industrial Development Authority, IDA. It would seem quite bizarre that the State, through the IDA, was funding jobs that were supposed to be located here but may now transition very quickly without any recovery of the investment that has been made in them. While this is, therefore, a great opportunity and I really welcome the potential, there are also some pitfalls and we should discuss them at the earliest possible opportunity.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I wish to raise the issue about the lack of infrastructure and funding when we look at issues pertaining to roads. West Cork, in particular, has a population of almost 90,000. If it was a county on its own, it would be the eighth largest county in Ireland. It is on a par with County Kilkenny and places like County Westmeath. The lack of funding for infrastructure is a huge issue, however.

Last 15 August, we had significant flooding in places like Rosscarbery, in particular. Rathbarry, Skibbereen and Bantry were devastated by huge floods and they made the national if not international media. The lack of funding for the infrastructure on the ground is one of the key issues. The culvert in Bantry needs to be replaced badly because that was one of the key issues regarding the flooding of Bantry on that night. The main road network itself is also under exceptional pressure, however.

We need to have a real focus on how we are going to fund these local authorities going forward. There are significant pressures and huge costs pertaining to these developments. The cost of road development has increased dramatically, particularly in the last few months. The cost of labour and materials has increased dramatically but the budget has not matched it. Until we put a real focus on putting a proactive budget in place, areas like west Cork, unfortunately, will have that lack of infrastructure, which is huge for us.

We need to have a comprehensive debate before the budget with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, in particular, on how he is going to fund these local authorities when one takes into consideration the extraordinary inflation when it comes to construction costs. These construction costs will see fewer roadworks carried out throughout the length and breadth of Ireland and will, unfortunately, have a huge impact on the rural infrastructure in west Cork in particular.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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It is time we had a debate about the problem of human trafficking and how we are dealing with it in this country in light of the latest Trafficking in Persons, TIP, report, which was published by the US Department of State recently. As colleagues will know, this report monitors international standards on combating human trafficking and is viewed as the most comprehensive analysis of trends in the area. The recent report includes some startling conclusions about Ireland. We are ranked as what the State Department calls a "Tier 2 Watch List" state, which is the third of four possible rankings. States included in this bracket are deemed not to meet minimum standards in combatting human trafficking where the number of victims is "very significant or is significantly increasing and the country is not taking proportional concrete actions".

The TIP report states that in 2020, the Irish Government "investigated and prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers, did not prosecute any labor traffickers, and victim identification decreased for the fourth year in a row". It states that the lack of conviction for trafficking "weakened deterrence, contributed to impunity for traffickers, and undermined efforts to support victims to testify". This is the second consecutive year that Ireland has ranked so badly. I wonder what it says about us as a country. The report found that victims are being exploited in domestic work, the restaurant industry, cannabis cultivation, nail salons, food processing, waste management, fishing, seasonal agriculture and car washing services.

I was in touch with a religious sister recently who is doing very good work in this area. She made the chilling comment that there is not a town in Ireland but has victims of human trafficking working in it. This is all going on under our noses and we talk very little about it. We virtue signal, of course, when the Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr. Viktor Orbán, introduces a law that we do not like but we rub shoulders with Iranian and Chinese leaders in the name of trade when it suits us. Certainly, there is not enough happening on this issue of trafficking. I call for a debate to see how we can urge the Government to do better in combatting human trafficking.

I will conclude by saying that I support what my colleague, Senator Craughwell, had to say in opposing the Order of Business today in light of the ongoing guillotining and bad treatment of the legislative process in this House.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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I support my colleague, Senator Flynn, with regard to her call that a high-tech, state-of-the-art school be built in the new amalgamated school in Ballyfermot and for that to specifically include a canteen and sports hall. We know Ballyfermot is a very working-class area. The children there need every advantage to level the playing field in order that they have every opportunity, like the rest of the children in Ireland. It is not good enough to build this school without those facilities, which are very much basic in every other school around the country.

I am here today to raise the environmental conditions of the Oliver Bond flat complex. A thorough survey was completed by the Robert Emmet Community Development Project on behalf of the residents in the Oliver Bond flats. It is a very old flat complex, which many of us will know, along the River Liffey.

Some really disturbing results came to light out of that survey. More than 80% of residents are living with mould and damp on their walls, more than 45% feel there are serious fire safety issues in the complex and more than 30% complain of rat infestations.

I ran for election in 2009 and at that stage, a different plan was in place for the rejuvenation of the Oliver Bond flats. Since then, a new plan has been put in place, which is on display at the moment in the Robert Emmet complex. However, it has been literally 15 years and nothing has been done. We have been told now by the council that it will be another 15 years before the current plans on display will be going anywhere. I thank the Deputy Leader for coming to the House today. I really feel that we need to highlight this issue. The regeneration of the Oliver Bond complex must be a priority for this Government. These residents have been left behind in so many ways, especially with regard to the antisocial behaviour that we see and that residents are witnessing. It is not just the antisocial behaviour but the living conditions, for instance, the damp, mould and lack of refuse. It is absolutely appalling. None of us would live like this. These people are forced to. I would really appreciate if the Deputy Leader would bring this matter to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I wish to raise to two issues with the Deputy Leader this morning. The first is in the context of attendance at championship matches. We all witnessed and welcomed the return of matches with crowds and spectators at the weekend. The pilot games were a success and we salute and congratulate Cumann Lúthchleas Gael on its successful handling of the matches in all the provinces. I ask and call on Government today to increase the number of spectators who can attend sporting events. In particular, at the weekend we will have Cork versus Dublin in the all-Ireland under-20 hurling final from 2020 in Nowlan Park. Some 500 patrons can attend the match next Saturday in a stadium with a capacity of approximately 27,000 or 28,000 people. I concur with many that this capacity ceiling should be lifted. I ask the Cathaoirleach and Deputy Leader that we have a debate on the issue of pilot attendances at sporting occasions.

The second issue I will raise is the debate on our readiness regarding the European digital green certificate, which is one of huge concern. We are the only country in Europe not operating that digital certificate as of 1 July. I hope the Deputy Leader will join with me in saying that we should have an urgent debate this Friday on our preparedness for the European digital certificate. It is of absolute importance that our country is reconnected to the outside world.

Finally, I concur with Senator Mullen on the absolute need for a debate and activity on human trafficking. The report last week was very disappointing and distressingSenator Mullen was right. We rub shoulders with some world leaders on the pretext of trade while we turn a blind eye to human rights issues and the abuse of human rights. It is time we stood up for human rights.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Last week, we saw the culmination of 80 years of work in the OECD with the reaching of an historic agreement for fair tax competition across the developed and developing world. However, the Government decided to stand apart from 131 other countries by not supporting the agreement in full. There are serious questions for the Government, to which we need answers in this House. We need to know what is its strategy. Hedging our bets and waiting to see what will happen in the US Congress is a dereliction of responsibility and a failure of leadership.

Unfortunately, Ireland now appears cowardly in the eyes of many in the world. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand because, sooner or later, we will be called out for our approach to the base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, initiative. For years we were extolling the virtues of BEPS when the European Commission was pushing for a common corporate tax base, CCCTB, and digital tax. Our national accounts benefited dramatically from the BEPS reforms back in 2015, but now that it does not suit us, we find ourselves in the company of Hungary and other countries. I accept that this agreement is important in terms of its impact on jobs and tax revenues. For years, I represented workers working in multinational companies here.

Two specific issues in this tax agreement jumped out at me. The first is that it makes no sense for Ireland to sign up to pillar 1 of the agreement and not sign up to pillar 2 because the two pillars are related. They both have an impact on the effective rate of tax multinational companies would pay here. A second key issue, which I do not understand, is our reluctance to engage on the headline rate. No multinational looks at the headline rate of corporation tax. They look at the effective rate of tax and we have an opportunity to lead on those discussions.

There is a concept of Ireland as a small country. Geographically and in employment terms, we are small. The tax agreement defines small countries as those with a GDP of €40 billion or less. Ireland’s GDP last year was more than double that. Let us not kid ourselves by making an argument to other countries that we are a small peripheral country. I ask that the Minister come to the House and explain this strategy.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for this opportunity to raise an issue on the Order of Business. It is always good in these times to speak about good news. I very much welcome the announcement by the Department of Education yesterday confirming, at long last, that an agreement in principle has been reached with the HSE on a four-acre permanent site at the Parkmore estate in Ballinasloe for St. Teresa's Special School in Ballinasloe, County Galway. The school does fantastic work and its principal, Anita O’Reilly, staff, students and their parents are thrilled. We have a long way to go yet but this is an important step.

I will address briefly the threat to thousands of jobs in the horticulture sector, an issue that has been discussed many times in the Seanad. We are facing a scenario where we will be out of peat in the autumn. Despite some people thinking this is a Government policy, it is not. The shortage of peat is down to a High Court ruling in 2019, which seriously impacted on the way peat could be produced. Peat is crucial for the horticulture sector to operate successfully. The Deputy Leader has spoken about this at our meetings with her. I call on the Government to examine the possibility of introducing emergency legislation to allow some harvesting of peat without going through the very complicated system that is now in place, which is just not working.

I spent my college days studying horticulture and I know a little bit about it. I also live close to Mountdillon, which is known nationally for peat production. There is significant peat in the area and Bord na Móna decided to draw this down to its peat factory in County Offaly to keep production going. This peat is very much suitable for use in the horticulture industry. I mentioned this to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan. I know the Deputy Leader will convey to the Taoiseach and the Minister the message that we should seriously consider introducing emergency legislation to ensure the horticulture sector does not fold with the loss of thousands of jobs.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I also want to welcome good news. I am chairperson of the board of management of Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh. The Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, announced the building project for the school can now go to tender. We have been waiting for this news for two years and it is fantastic. We will have a 26-classroom school for 650 students.

While I am on the subject of Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh, one of its teachers, Naomi Carroll, is a member of the Irish women’s hockey team that will travel to the Tokyo Olympic Games at the end of the month. I should also acknowledge that seven of our Olympics team will be travelling from Limerick to the games. It is an opportune time to wish the Irish Olympics team all the very best. We have Naomi Carroll and Róisín Upton on the Irish women's hockey team. Sarah Lavin, who recently achieved a new personal best, looks like she will be travelling, as will Carolyn Hayes from Newcastle West, Greg O’Shea, a member of the rugby sevens team, and Mark English. I wish them all the best.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, produced a pre-budget submission report on the reopening of hospitality and what the sector has suffered as a result of Covid. It recommended the wage subsidy scheme for the sector be extended to June 2022 and the 9% VAT rate be extended to 2023 because the hospitality industry has suffered more than it fair share. If we are to secure many businesses and ensure they remain in operation, it is important we support that call. I call for a debate on the reopening of the hospitality industry. While I understand yesterday's meeting with representatives of the sector went well, the statement this morning by a Minister that reopening could be put off until August was disappointing. I do not know what has been the experience of my colleagues but my phone lit up when that statement was reported. If the industry has to wait until August to reopen, many businesses will never open their doors again. It is important reopening happens as soon as possible.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Deputy Leader to support the demand made my colleague from Cork, Senator Lombard, for extra funding to address the severe flooding we endured in places like Bantry and Skibbereen, not once but twice last year, and which cost millions of euro.

I raise a matter related to fishing, which is close to my heart. It concerns an application for funding to carry out a development options report for Keelbeg pier in Union Hall in west Cork. Cork County Council is frustrated. Its management, engineers and all of its councillors have unanimously sought €200,000, which is not a huge amount of money, to carry out a feasibility study of developing the pier. Union Hall has one of the biggest fish landing ports in the country, although it is not as large as the port in Castletownbere. Some €12 million worth of fish was landed at Union Hall last year. There is congestion and traffic jams on the pier as boats try to land their catches. It is a pretty old pier which needs some attention.

The discussion on this matter was the first time I saw the county manager and senior engineers of Cork County Council in total agreement with councillors that something must be done. I hope to table a Commencement matter on this issue but it is one that should be dealt with. The amount of money involved is not great. Before any major work can be done on the pier, an initial development options report must be done. To put it in context, Union Hall has more fish landings than Baltimore, Kinsale and Ballycotton combined. Some €12 million worth of fish, mainly whitefish, demersal fish, were landed at Union Hall last year, which was a major boost to the area. Fishermen and the fishing industry are under great pressure. I hope something can be done.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I read with some concern and alarm a report in yesterday's edition of The Irish Timesthat the Government intends to change the current judicial review court system in respect of planning applications. The speculation is - and I believe this idea was concocted before the formation of the current Government - that the intention is to deter people from objecting in planning related matters by placing a greater financial risk on their shoulders. There was not a word in the piece about seeking leave as the first step, as a safeguard, or about how any vexatious or frivolous case would be flushed out at that stage by the able member of the Judiciary hearing the application. There was not a word about the poor planning preparations and submissions made or about developers' unrealistic, avaricious intentions to make as much money as possible. That is not true in all instances but we all know that some developers would love to sew a tail on a cat if they could get away with it, or say mass. There was not a word about An Bord Pleanála's adjudication of these cases. The speculation also suggested that there would be a dilution of the environmental impact assessments, which are a crucial safeguard for communities. This all stems from the strategic housing development legislative regime that was introduced in 2016, which circumvented local authorities and has been an unmitigated disaster. The solution is not to shoot the messenger. This is a lazy approach that attacks the fundamental principle of access to the courts for people who are not seeking financial reward. There are no damages being sought here. These people are being vigilant on behalf of their communities and they should not be deterred or discouraged.

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to highlight the lack of proper action with regard to the recommendations for Drogheda published last March in the Guerin report. As we know, Drogheda has experienced serious drug crime and serious problems with drug feuds. For far too long, the people of Drogheda have been left behind, ignored and failed. Drug crime in Drogheda, as well as the heartache, tragedy and hardship the entire town has been put through, is a symptom of underinvestment and not enough help for the town over the past decade. I urge the Department of Justice to start funding those recommendations. There are community groups and organisations there now like the Red Door Project and the Holy Family Boxing Club but they are pushing back a wave. There is a serious cocaine problem in Drogheda. Anyone who knows the town of Drogheda knows it is a beautiful town and a gorgeous Georgian place. Many of us visited it for the Fleadh Cheoil a few years ago. The place is beautiful and there is so much history and culture to offer, as well as the finest people. I worked there for a couple of summers so I know it well for someone from north Louth. We need actions. We need to look after the people of Drogheda and to listen to them. It is the biggest town in all of Ireland and we need to listen, act and resource those recommendations in the Guerin report.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank all Members who contributed to the Order of Business. Senator O'Loughlin raised the orphan drugs Bill that is being launched today by Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan. I pay tribute to former Deputy John Brassill, who initiated this Bill in the previous term. We are now bringing it back again. It is important that we deal with the issue of drugs that combat and treat rare diseases. I was heavily involved in the Spinraza campaign in the previous term. We were lucky to get that over the line after many years of campaigning but while people were waiting they were getting much sicker and their families were suffering. We need to find a better way of dealing with rare diseases because they often do not get the same level of research and so the drugs that are produced are very expensive. There is still an onus on the State to look after those citizens, the same as it would anybody else. I commend Senator O'Loughlin for bringing that issue to the floor.

She also raised the story in the Irish Examinerthis morning by Aoife Grace Moore about a young female solicitor who had to go to a consultation in a prison and was asked to remove her bra because, we gather, there was some sort of metal component in the garment that set off the alarms. She was made to enter that consultation having removed her underwear and was requested to do so by a number of male guards on site. It is an appalling story. I commend the young solicitor for speaking out about this. She said she hopes no other professional person would have to do that as they go about doing their job. I note that many colleagues have said they will be contacting the Minister for Justice to address that issue and I shall do the same.

Senator O'Loughlin also raised the issue of Horse Sport Ireland. It is disappointing that it has taken a decision not to enter two competitors in the Olympic dressage competition, given that they have qualified for the first time. I sincerely hope it will reconsider, as the issue has caused much public outrage. It is a huge honour to represent one's country in any sporting endeavour and I wish all our athletes well.

Senator Ward raised the bike-to-work scheme and suggested that we look to expand it. We want to get people out of their cars and onto bicycles or walking for many reasons, including health and environmental ones. I see no reason we should not explore either expanding that scheme or creating a new scheme that would provide access to more affordable bicycles for all members of society. In that vein, I have recently taken to using Dublin Bikes to get up and down from Leinster House to the Convention Centre Dublin. It is a fantastic service for a very reasonable cost for the year but it is not available outside of Dublin. We need to provide access to cycling for people all across the country.

The Senator also raised the issue of the Consumer Credit Act, which was amended in 2019 to stop companies curtailing the date on which a voucher expires. He noted that some companies appear to be circumventing that consumer protection legislation by adding a monthly charge once the voucher has passed a certain date. That goes against the spirit of the law that was enacted in 2019. I agree with the Senator that it should be addressed through amending legislation to remove a clear loophole that companies are unfortunately using.

Senator Craughwell once again raised a number of issues relating to the Defence Forces, something that is also close to my heart. He commended the Royal British Legion for raising £1,000 for the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen. As Deputy Leader, on behalf of the House I extend my gratitude to that group for its fundraising efforts. It is much appreciated. I will make some inquiries about the post-1994 contractees who are still awaiting confirmation of whether they can serve beyond the age of 50. We will seek a response on that. I concur with the Senator's remarks. RACO recently appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and was unimpressed with the level of attendance. It is important that members make an effort to attend these meetings with organisations that are representing their members to the best of their ability. RACO does a fantastic job in doing that for the commissioned officer ranks. I do not have an answer on the waiver for teachers who were also Defence Forces members. I will come back to the Senator on that.

I also note Senator Craughwell's objection to the Order of Business. I agree that it is not ideal to be guillotining debates. There is always a bit of a rush towards the end of term. I am not suggesting that is okay but to be fair to the Leader of the House there is pressure from the Government to get certain legislation passed for a variety of reasons. She is doing her very best to accommodate all requests in that regard but also trying to make sure the House has sufficient time to debate all issues. It is a difficult balancing act and she is doing her best to strike the right balance.

Senator Wall raised the PMAS health scheme. As the Senator will be aware, this issue came up at the Seanad committee on Brexit, where PDFORRA presented to us on that scheme. It is an excellent scheme. The organisations have been very inventive in how they set up the scheme to mirror the cross-border treatment directive to facilitate members of PDFORRA accessing health treatment in the North. Due to the nature of their work, they often pick up injuries that would not be normal in other workplaces and treatment can be very expensive.Unlike the cross-border treatment directive where one has to pay up-front and be reimbursed afterwards, PMAS pays for the cost of the treatment and then seeks the reimbursement on the person's behalf. It allows the member to access treatment without he or she having to go through the stress of getting that credit initially. It is a very good scheme. At the Brexit committee it was recommended to the Minister that the scheme be expanded so other citizens would have access to a similar facility.

Senator Wall also spoke passionately about the need to ban gambling advertisements. I concur with everything he said. Senator Joe O'Reilly also spoke on that issue. The President's comments on this matter were a significant intervention and I welcome them. There is no doubt that the companies are becoming even more clever at targeting younger and vulnerable people and keeping people hooked on what is a very addictive pastime, if I can call it that. There is a need to do more. The consistent advertising during sporting events encourages people to bet while they are watching an event. No good can come from that. The only benefits I can see in that are the benefits for the company making money from those individuals. There are no benefits to society and I believe action is needed.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the issues of climate change, climate justice and the need for a just transition in Ireland. She spoke about the impact climate change is having on millions of people globally and gave the harrowing statistic that 200 million people are now living on land that will be below the tide line by the end of the century. That is quite stark. She referred to parts of Dublin that are below the tide line, an issue we do not hear discussed very much. I welcome her comments and the amendment proposed by the Green Party Senators to the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 whereby the just transition was embedded in that legislation. As we make significant changes in our fight against climate change, and we will make those changes, and as we all play our part in that, it is important that nobody is left behind and that we recognise that those in lower-income households can be more adversely affected if we do not take the right mitigating actions in that regard.

Senator Gavan raised the upcoming review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. I listened to the discussion on the Senator's Commencement matter this morning and I agree with everything he said. We need more detail on how this review will be completed. I share his concern that it looked as if it was going to be an internal review, which was not the original commitment. I welcome the Minister of State's comment that there will be an independent chairperson, but we need a timeline for that. It is important that we have an open, honest and respectful debate when that legislation comes forward and when that review takes place. I concur with the Senator's remarks about safe access zones. The previous Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, promised that this would happen. It is terrible that at Limerick maternity unit, and it is happening elsewhere as well, women who are accessing a legal service for whatever personal reason, and it is their choice to make, are confronted by those activists outside the doors. If one is unhappy with a Government policy or with legislation, the place to protest is outside Leinster House where the policy makers and legislators work. That is where the changes are made. Do not intimidate or take action against ordinary citizens who are just going about their daily life and doing what they are perfectly entitled to do.

I also commend the Senator on his comments on Colombia. I do not know what to say about the young lady who went through that experience. It is just horrific and I am sad to hear what happened to her afterwards. It is right that we, as a First World, democratic country, always condemn any human rights abuses wherever they occur. The hypocrisy, which was highlighted by Senator Mullen, is that we are very quick to condemn human rights abuses in some parts of the world, but not so quick to condemn them in other parts of the world. There should be consistency in the standards and values we espouse.

Senator Flynn raised the important issue of the school in Ballyfermot, where three schools are amalgamating into one state-of-the-art facility. I concur with what the Senator raised. She was also strongly supported by Senator Ardagh. It makes no sense to build a new school that has no PE facilities or canteen. That is clearly unacceptable. It would be a good idea, perhaps, for the Senator to table a Commencement matter on the issue next week because that is probably the quickest way to get a detailed response directly from the Department. I strongly urge the Minister and the Department to engage with the local community, the school community and parents to rectify the situation. We have an increasing problem with childhood obesity and health issues in the early years that persist into adult years so there must be canteen facilities in which good, healthy food is served, as well as PE facilities so children can get exercise throughout the day. It is very important. These are not luxuries or an add-on, but an essential component of any school facility. That we would build a school without those facilities in this day and age does not make sense. That must be addressed and I support the Senator's call for that engagement and for rectifying those plans, which are clearly not what they should be.

Senator Joe O'Reilly joined the calls for a ban on gambling advertisements. He also raised the issue of leaving certificate examination reform. I note his comment that he is broadly supportive of the current leaving certificate system, but wants the inclusion of sport, music, drama, social issues and environmental activism in terms of assessment. That is a wise proposal. A wider debate is needed on reform of the leaving certificate. There is no doubt that the current system suits some students, but not all students. It is difficult to find a system that suits everybody, but we can do things better. There are many ways in which students can show their ability and intelligence rather than just regurgitating something they have learned by heart onto a page. Rote learning seems to be what we train students to do, rather than teaching them to be good, active citizens.

In response to Senator Dooley, I agree that one of the positives from this pandemic is the ability to have more flexible working arrangements. They were probably coming anyway, but this has certainly accelerated the pace of change. It is welcome for many workers and particularly for people in rural areas who might have greater employment opportunities. However, with all change there can be downsides. It is right to have a debate on working structures post Covid. I note what the Senator said with regard to the potential for some of the multinationals to hire from outside the State because people can work wherever they wish to work now and can connect with their employers. That is an important point. I do not believe it would be in the interests of the Irish people and of the State for the State to fund jobs that are not in the State. That is a reasonable point to make.

Senator Lombard, and this was supported by Senator O'Donovan, raised the lack of infrastructure and funding in rural parts of the country, rural municipal districts and rural local authorities. I concur with what he said. It is an important point. We know the cost of materials has gone through the roof. It has become more expensive to do things such as road maintenance, maintenance of piers and harbours and all the different basic services that people expect from their local authorities. As somebody from a rural county, County Mayo, I can say that it is very difficult for municipal districts that have a coastline, for example, the areas of Belmullet, Achill Island and Westport. They have similar levels of funding to other municipal districts, but they have islands to take care of. The cost of repairing a road on an island is about three times the cost of repairing a road on the mainland. We need to readjust our budgets for local authorities to take into account the diverse nature of some local authorities and municipal districts where the cost of repairing the basic infrastructure that people expect to be repaired and maintained is much higher. The budgets for those areas often tend not to meet that difference.

Senator Mullen eloquently raised the important issue of the TIP report on human trafficking. He was supported by Senator Buttimer. I strongly concur with what the Senator raised. It is unacceptable that Ireland would be ranked so low for the second year running in tackling this issue. The Senator made a chilling comment when he referred to the religious sister who said there is not a town in Ireland that does not have somebody being exploited through human trafficking and working right under our noses. We are failing victims of human trafficking and turning a blind eye to the criminality that is happening in every community across the board. We have to improve our statistics. I am very glad that an independent, objective analysis of how we are doing on this issue is being conducted elsewhere. The Department of Justice must respond to that. It must respond not just with lip service and an acknowledgement of what a poor job it is doing in this area, but with concrete and better actions so that the next time we read this report we will see Ireland improving in how it is dealing with the issue.

Senator Ardagh concurred with Senator Flynn's comments about the school in Ballyfermot. She also raised the issue of the Oliver Bond flats, as she has often done. It is appalling that over 80% of residents are living with damp in their homes, 40% feel their home is not compliant with fire safety and 30% are living with rat infestations. This is a modern, progressive, First World, wealthy country. No citizen should be living in those conditions.This has been talked to death. It has been going on for years and years. Dublin City Council must step up on this issue. Any suggestion it would take a further 15 years to resolve this is not acceptable. Nobody should be living in those conditions and improvements can be made much more quickly than that. I therefore urge Dublin City Council to go back to the drawing board and accelerate its plans without any further delay.

Senator Buttimer raised the issue of championship games. I concur with him that the pilot schemes for having spectators at these games have been a huge success and I commend all involved on making that happen. We have learned over the past year and a half how important sport is to all of us. It is important to every community in every part of this country, to our young people and to everybody who wants to participate in sport either as a spectator as a player on the field. We have taken quite a strict approach with attendance but if a stadium has a capacity, as the Senator said, of 27,000 to 28,000 and we are only letting 500 people in then we could probably look at a degree of flexibility on that, especially given that if that number takes in family and club members then there really is not a whole lot left over. I agree with the Senator that if anything can be done to increase the capacity and allow more people to attend the game, even by just a little bit, it would be broadly welcomed by everybody.

Senator Sherlock raised the OECD report into fair tax competition. This has been an ongoing debate. I note and take on board what the Senator is saying although I caution that the Government and the Ministers for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform, as well as the Department of Finance, are doing their very best to represent the interests of Ireland to ensure we protect the jobs of those who work in many of the large multinational companies. We have benefited from significant foreign direct investment, FDI, over the years and many people are employed directly and indirectly by those companies. I do not suggest they are all here because of the tax regime but I it plays a part. I note what the Senator said about what is classed as a small country and what is not, if I can put it that way, and that we exceed, in terms of our GDP, what is considered to be a small country. However, it would not take a huge amount to tip that in a different direction. I have not been involved in these negotiations or in any of the preparatory work but I trust the Department and our Ministers are protecting Ireland's interests. I do not have a huge difficulty with there being a degree of caution in how we go about this. We have been very competitive with our tax regime to try to attract foreign direct investment and we have been very successful in doing that to the benefit of many citizens across the country. I take on board what the Senator said about the effective tax rate. Our headline tax rate and our effective one are actually very similar; there is very little difference there. The same cannot be said for all countries across the globe. Some member states in the EU can be quite inventive in the sense that their headline rate can look quite high but when all the concessions they give to some of these businesses are taken into account it brings their effective rate right down, sometimes to below where ours is. Ireland can often be painted in a very bad light with respect to our tax regime but the headline tax rate is generally what people pay. We have a good system that has served the people very well. Change is coming and we accept that but I am in favour of a cautious approach to ensure we do not damage Ireland's interests, although we have a role to play in the global community in getting this right as well. I thank the Senator for raising the issue. It would be a welcome debate to have, with either of the finance Ministers, in the new term to have an opportunity to tease that out. It is something that will have a significant impact on Ireland in the decades to come.

Senator Murphy began with some good news which is always nice in the morning. He welcomed that St. Teresa's Special School, Ballinasloe, has now secured a permanent site. I wish the principal, Ms Anita O'Reilly, and all the staff and students the very best of luck. It is great to see a school progressing to that stage and it will serve the community well into the future.

Senator Murphy has often raised the issue of the horticultural industry. He was being modest when he said he had some knowledge of the industry because he has a lot of knowledge of the industry and has been a good advocate and representative for the horticultural sector. I agree with his remarks that emergency legislation would be merited and could be explored to allow for minimal peat extraction, just to keep the industry afloat while we find other solutions. We should not cut off our nose to spite our face and it seems we are putting undue pressure on a sector that could do with a little bit of help just to tide it over until we find a more permanent solution.

Senator Maria Byrne raised the issue of Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh, which is going to go to tender for a new school. Again, it is some welcome and really good news. The Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, is doing a fantastic job across the education sector in delivering for local schools like this. I gather Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh has been waiting some time to get the go-ahead on this so it is good news for Limerick. I join with the Senator in wishing all the Olympians, not just those from Limerick but across the board, the very best as they embark on their journey to Tokyo to represent Ireland. She mentioned in particular Ms Naomi Carroll who has had double good news in that she is heading to Tokyo but is also part of the school community which is getting a new school. It is a great day for her and her family.

The Senator finally raised the issue of the PwC report, that is, the pre-budget submission on behalf of the hospitality sector. It called to extend the employee wage subsidy scheme to June 2022 and to maintain the 9% VAT rate into 2023. I agree with the Senator that it would be worthwhile to explore these things. The hospitality sector has been through a lot and is still going through a lot. We do not know when and if it will recover. I concur also with the Senator's remarks around the suggestion the sector will not open until August. I agree with her that if the sector is left without any real summer season, many businesses will be in serious trouble and I would be worried some would not reopen. I therefore urge the Government to ensure the hospitality sector reopens as soon as possible. I believe plans are afoot for 19 July. We hope that date proceeds with some good news for the hospitality sector.

Senator O'Donovan concurred with Senator Lombard on the infrastructure resourcing issue in rural areas but also raised a very important issue in relation to the fishing sector and fishing community. He raised in particular the issue of Kilbeg Pier and the need for a feasibility study costing around €200,000. I suggest that another place we could look for funding for that project is perhaps the Brexit adjustment reserve fund. We have got significant funds from Europe to assist with mitigating against the damage of Brexit. There has been a commitment from Government that much of that funding will go towards the fishing community, which really paid a very high price to get a Brexit deal over the line. It is only right and proper that we give back to that community and that sector. It would be a very worthwhile project which could come out of that funding stream. The Senator might want to explore that with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine who in turn can make inquiries as to how that fund might be accessed.

Senator Martin raised the issue of judicial review in the planning process. I take on board what the Senator is saying. He made a very good point that access to the courts is a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy and our justice system. I agree with him that we should not make it financially impossible for somebody to take a judicial review where he or she has a good and genuine case to bring forward. I note what the Senator said on the ability to seek leave at the outset and how, if there is a frivolous or vexatious application being made, the judge has the ability to dismiss the application. He then made the point that people looking to take these cases are being vigilant on behalf of their communities. That is the key. The feedback I am getting from councillors right across the country who are dealing with these issues is that they have people who not part of the local community objecting to planning applications, that is, people who are not living in the area and have no connection to it. That is the crux of the problem we are trying to deal with. We have serial objectors. It has been suggested these serial objectors may be benefiting in certain ways. We do not know exactly how but there have been suggestions made that there may be a personal benefit to some of these serial objectors. I believe it is really important there be a local connection and we should focus on that. The Senator made the point himself that if a person is being vigilant on behalf of their community he or she should of course have access to the courts to advocate on behalf of his or her community and I agree. However, we need to deal with people who are making objections for the sake of it, objections which could be to the detriment of the community which might in fact be in support of the application. That is the problem I would like us to address.

Senator McGreehan mentioned the Guerin report and the ongoing social issues in Drogheda with drugs and criminality. It is really unfortunate, especially for the people living in the area who want to see Drogheda do well. I completely concur with the Senator's observations that Drogheda has great history and culture, as well as the finest of people. It absolutely does. It is a fantastic and beautiful town. It is unfortunate a small number of people are causing so many problems. We have seen this in other parts of the country such as Limerick, for example, which had social issues going back quite a while. A specific task force was set up, key recommendations were funded and followed through on and the city has been transformed because of it. Thus where there is the will, and funding behind it, these areas can be transformed.That criminality and antisocial behaviour can be stamped out. I concur with the Senator in her call for the recommendations of that report to be properly funded and followed up on.

That concludes all of the issues raised at the Order of Business.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Chambers for outlining the Order of Business.

Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 5.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Robbie Gallagher and Seán Kyne; Níl, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Rónán Mullen.

Question declared carried.