Thursday, 30 September 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the report of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union entitled the Interim Report on the Impacts of Brexit, to be taken at 1 p.m. and not withstanding anything in Standing Orders to conclude at 2 p.m., if not previously concluded, with time allocated to the opening remarks of the proposing Senator not to exceed four minutes, all Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister's contribution not to exceed ten minutes and the proposing Senator to be given no less than two minutes to reply.
Yes, and I very much appreciate the kindness of the Cathaoirleach.
I learned in the last few days of the death of Mervyn Taylor. I was very sorry to hear of his passing. He was a quintessential liberal. As a Minister, he spoke out and acted decisively on contraception, which was a challenging discussion at that time. He was the first Jewish Cabinet Minister in Ireland. He was also a chairman of the Labour Party. He was devoted, of course, to Israel. The only difference that I had with him was when I spoke out on behalf of the human rights of the Palestinians but that was soon reconciled and covered over.
I was several times entertained by him and his wife at dinner. I remember him with great affection and respect. I would like to send my sympathy to his wife, Marilyn, and to his children, Adam, Gideon and Maryanne. I remember him with affection.
I thank the Senator for remembering Mervyn Taylor and his service to the State. He took on challenges that the State was often afraid to take on and brought rights to people who had fought, like Senator Norris, long and hard to achieve those rights. I thank the Senator for remembering him today and extend our condolences to the family of Mervyn Taylor.
I very much agree with Senator Norris. Mervyn Taylor was certainly a very forward thinking politician. I read an article about him in recent days on how many friends that he had in other political parties. He was a really good man. It is very appropriate that Senator Norris should mention him today and I am sure that all Members would agree.
I wish to briefly refer to two items. It is coming up to budget time and old age pensioners need to be respected, and thought about, in a very serious way. I hope the Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, will look very sympathetically at giving a good rise to our old age pensioners. Our old age pensioners have served all their lives and have done their bit for society. Many of them have raised their families and, in today's world, many of them give financial help to their children and grandchildren. It would be very wrong of the State, despite the difficulties we face, and the many financial challenges we will face, not to treat our pensioners well. I hope that a message will go out loud and clear from everybody here today that when budget time comes that pensioners would be well looked after, particularly as they still do a lot of good service for this country.
I wish to briefly discuss the serious problem that we will have with energy supply.I know the Government and Minister are making every effort to ensure we do not have blackouts this winter and, hopefully, this will not happen. Let me say clearly that I understand what we need to do in terms of the environment. I understand the difficulty and danger posed by fossil fuels. Let me be quite clear about that. I support Government policy in dealing with that but in the short term, I would like the Government to look at the possibility of re-opening two peat-powered power stations in my part of the country on a temporary basis. One station is in Lanesborough while the other is in Shannonbridge. Of course, it is not the right thing to do in terms of the environment but in the short term, it is very important that we keep the lights on in this country. When we speak about the just transition, initially we were told it would be eight years, then it went down to two and then lower than that. We all co-operated with that and we know what we need to do but I am asking that for a two or three-year period, we re-open those power stations to assure people that they will have a supply of power not just in their homes but in their businesses. This is really important and is a real challenge for us. In the short term, it is the right thing to do. I am not going against climate change measures we need to take. I understand that but the first crisis involves keeping our lights on and, hopefully, this will be taken into consideration.
On behalf of Fine Gael, I wish to be associated with the comments from Senator Norris regarding the late Mervyn Taylor. He was a ground-breaking politician and we remember him here this morning.
It was with some disbelief that farmers read the headline "Brazil to add 24m cattle as Ireland plans to cut herd" in the Irish Farmers' Journalover the summer. I do not believe that the Government plans to cut the national herd. Indeed the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been clear in saying that we need a consistent level in the national herd. We know the efficiency with which beef is produced in this country, be it in Galway, Mayo or other locations across the country. It makes no sense and in fact would be immoral to cut the herd only for it to be replaced by beef from Brazil with the clear-felling of trees that is taking place there. The Government is to publish the climate action plan 2021 in the coming weeks which, according to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, will bring forward policies and measures to support the delivery of the programme for Government commitment to achieve a 51% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and put us on a pathway to climate neutrality no later than 2050. Farmers want and indeed need to do their bit. There is no ambiguity about that.
I ask for a debate in the coming weeks with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the sectoral plans for agriculture in advance of the climate action plan. Teagasc has done and is doing tremendous research with regard to emissions reduction in our herd. Earlier slaughter dates, as highlighted by Teagasc in Athenry in the Newford herd, have the potential to reduce national emissions as an alternative to herd reduction. The use of clover and multi-species swards is being trialled on a commercial scale as a means of reducing nitrogen. That is what Teagasc is doing in Grange in Dunsany. The benefits of clover have long been known about in terms of fixing nitrogen. It would be a regressive step to cut our national herd. I do not believe there is an appetite, desire or need to pursue that approach. It is within our means in respect of research in Teagasc and elsewhere to carry out a range of initiatives that can reduce emissions in the agricultural and environmental sectors, including additional planting of trees, particularly deciduous trees and creating riparian zones. There is significant potential regarding carbon sequestration and reducing emissions without impacting the national herd, which is so important in terms of rural Ireland, small communities and keeping people in rural Ireland. I look forward to a debate on areas surrounding the action in the coming weeks with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Having listened to the two Government speakers so far, I could easily be persuaded to give way so that we could hear from the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. I think everybody would want me to sit down if the Minister of State wished to get to her feet. What it brings out is the complexity of these issues. Those of us from rural Ireland are very concerned that as we go forward to take the measures we must take to mitigate the effects of climate change, not just in our own country but particularly with the poorest people in the world in mind, we must cover our flank as well and look to our energy and economic security. The worry a lot of people might have is that the measures we are offered that will improve things might not make up the shortfall. We need a discussion about nuclear power in that context so that we can make progress and do our duty to this generation and the next regarding climate change.
I may appear to contradict myself over the next couple of minutes. That may not come as a surprise to some people but-----
I am over 50 now David. Gambling with Lives is a charity in Northern Ireland that has begun an important pilot programme to bring the message of the problem of gambling addiction to young people in Northern Ireland, where it is a particular problem. We also know that it is a significant issue in the South. Senator Ward and others are to be commended for their Bill banning betting on the outcome of the national lottery, which proceeded last night, as is Senator Wall for his proposed Bill to restrict gambling advertising. However, there is a real danger that if we all say, as I am sure we all would, that we want to discourage gambling among younger people, we will be seen to talk out of both sides of our mouths as long as we do not bring forward the serious measures necessary to tackle gambling. The long-promised gambling regulator is second only to the long-promised electoral commission. The reality is that it is not enough to ban betting on the outcome of the national lottery. There is too much advertising of the national lottery on television. I understand that Senator Ward's excellent Bill has a carve-out that would allow gambling advertising around sporting events to proceed. That is the problem. I understand the issue. I think the betting tax is bringing in €100 million with nearly €80 million of that going to Horse Racing Ireland and 20% of the take going to the greyhound industry. Therefore, yes there will be a gap to be filled but we are either serious about the problem of gambling or we are not.
This is the moment when I am going to contradict myself briefly. Although one would not encourage anybody to embark on a career in gambling, the remarkable story of Barney Curley, who got the Human Dignity award in this House and went on to raise over €6 million for missionaries, hospitals and schools in Africa through his charity Direct Aid for Africa, will be remembered today at Bellewstown races, which I hope to attend. The famous Frankie Dettori will ride there. Direct Aid for Africa has raised over €75,000. That was a wonderful contribution made by a guy who made his living through gambling but who had a much more serious dimension to his life. I recommend that people listen to Frankie Dettori's interview with Clare Byrne yesterday where he talked about the wisdom and spoke quite openly about the religious and philosophical depths of Barney Curley. I said to myself that this must be what listening to RTÉ in the 1950s was like. Some producer in there was getting chest pains. It was such a positive presentation but it was really moving and I recommend that people listen to it because it was about one amazing contribution by one very fine man and I am very glad we did honour him in this House in 2015.
I will follow on from much of Senator Kyne's contribution. Seven months ago, a headline in the Irish Farmers' Journalcarried some bad news. It read, "Fertiliser prices jump on the back of tight supplies". This week, Bloomberg claimed things were getting even worse and that Europe has a fertiliser crisis and prices are spiking. There are some tough times ahead for many of our farmers.Goods based on fossil fuels have shaped our society and fertiliser is one of them.
In the same way we cannot live without plastics, much of the grass that farmers grow cannot live without chemical fertiliser. We are all hooked. As the price of fossil fuels continues to rise, might this be time to ask does it have to be this way and can we do things differently? This programme for Government commits us to delivering an ambitious reduction in the use of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser through to 2030. It does not say by how much but it does say we must do it without undermining family opportunity.
Last week, I visited a dairy farmer on the Cork-Waterford border and I want to tell his story to the House. This farmer is no green romantic and is not an organic producer. He is an intensive farmer who milks 200 cows on 265 acres, along with his father’s 60-acre farm to carry his replacement heifers and to grow some forage crops. He is a tough businessman with an enterprise that needs to deliver for him and his young family but he believes that in the long term, his farm also needs to deliver for his soil. In 2018, recognising that his standard perennial ryegrass production system required a great amount of fertiliser and a stable climate, he decided to change tack. He started introducing multispecies swards as part of his re-seeding programme, planting multiple varieties of grasses, clovers and herbs. He also started decreasing his use of chemical nitrogen. As he decreased his chemical use, he waited to see if the grass would stop growing. It did not. He waited to see if milk yields would drop. They did not. This year, he applied no chemical nitrogen to the grazing ground at all, yet continues to see yields maintained and improved profitability.
I know that one swallow does not make a summer and that this farmer’s results do not constitute a scientific study but this farm is producing approximately 8,000 l of milk per cow per annum, which is well above the national average and has saved close on €40,000 this year alone on fertiliser and application costs. Chemical fertilisers can do a great job of feeding a certain type of grass but it is not necessary on multispecies swards, which draw on nature’s nutrients for growth. This is regenerative agriculture with healthy soil and healthy cattle thriving on a tasty and nutritious mixture of crops, however wild and uneven they might look to the casual observer. What this farmer is doing may not work for every farmer but every farmer should at least think about what is happening on that farm. I know what I saw, which was a strong family-run dairy business based on healthy soil and a farm bursting with biodiversity. I would really like to believe too that I saw the future.
Members will be aware that there are approximately 13 institutions that archive everything published in the State, including physical documents and books. These institutions are legal deposit libraries. The National Library of Ireland is one, Trinity College Dublin is another, as is the University of Limerick, UL. I raise an issue that has been going on for some years now, which is the inability of the National Library of Ireland, to, for example, to archive the web. In the past, I have met representatives of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with Senator Norris and Deputy Bacik when the Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Bill came before the Houses. The Seanad passed my amendment to that Bill at the time but it was taken out later by the then Minister of State, John Halligan. The issue here is that we are losing material. As the average webpage lasts about 100 days, contrary to the common narrative, what goes online does not stay there forever.
The alarming loss of digital material means that there is going to be a black hole in our nation’s memory. I am thinking about referendum campaigns, websites from all sides of these campaigns and the debates that took place. As even political websites and those of politicians that disappear will not be archived, there will be a black hole in our memory.
In response to Deputy Conway-Walsh, who asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media when a feasibility study would be carried out by way of establishing a digital legal deposit scheme for large-scale systematic and sustained archiving of the Irish web, that is, the .iedomain, the Minister said she hoped to bring forward a report in the coming months. There are three possible outcomes to this report. One is that the National Library of Ireland will provide an archive of the .iedomain on-site in Kildare Street. The other outcome is that it will be able to share that online with Irish people and the Irish diaspora. The worst outcome is that the library would at least be able to save it and archive it for now, until we all see sense and archive the web so that it lasts. I will table a Commencement matter on this issue but I want to call on the Government to bring forward this report as soon as possible.
In my last 20 seconds I also want to say that in advance of the project we need to keep the baseline figure for the arts as it is and we need to see the Government coming forward with whatever it wants to propose around a universal basic income. I have my own issues with that idea but I want to see the proposals that the Government has talked about for some time.
I thank and join with Senator Norris in remembering the late, great Mervyn Taylor. We were all very proud of Mervyn Taylor in the Labour Party and what he did for this country. As Senator Norris has said, it is very important to remember him and his family today.
On Senator Mullen’s contribution, today is the last day before we were to have the promised publication of the gambling control Bill. This was to happen on the last day of this particular month. I hope that we get to see that Bill and that we get the opportunity to debate it as quickly as possible for the benefit of many people. I join with Senator Mullen in calling for that.
I have been contacted in recent days by a growing number of parents in the town of Castledermot, County Kildare, whose children are attending secondary school and indeed a third level college in nearby Carlow. Not for the first time, these students have been left on the side of the road because the scheduled bus is full and cannot take them or any more passengers when it reaches the town. On Monday last, seven students were left standing on the side of the road in the town. What is all the more frustrating for them and for their parents is that all of these students had purchased tickets in advance, yet when they rang the operator they were told that the operator could not take any further passengers.
I have previously spoken in this House about the 880 route, which serves the town and nearby Carlow. Local Link has sought an extension of this particular route and I am told this is still with the National Transport Authority, NTA, which tells me it is waiting on funding from Government.
I raise with the Deputy Leader the need to debate rural transport here in the House and it is a call I have made before. Towns like Castledermot in south Kildare are crying out for more transport. I look forward to the Deputy Leader organising such a debate because the Local Link service says that it is at the pin of its collar in trying to provide more services.
Another urgent debate that we need to have is on rail transport and its costs. Over the past number of weeks I have been contacted by a growing number of students from south Kildare, who for reasons that my Labour Party colleagues have outlined here in debates in the past week and, indeed, through the introduction of Bills, are finding it impossible to get student accommodation any more in Dublin. Instead, they have to stay at home and take the train, which should be good news for them in that it may lead to them saving some money. The problem, however, is that stations like Portarlington, Monasterevin, Athy, Kildare town and Newbridge are outside the Short Hop zone and the students cannot use their Leap cards. In one such example, a young student from Monasterevin should be paying €27 per week with his Leap card and instead is paying €100 per week, so he might as well be staying in Dublin. We need to look at a mechanism where these students who are staying at home can use their Leap cards and are not forced to pay the full fare.
I would also like to raise commuter costs and the increased carbon footprint of those commuters who are getting into their cars every morning in Newbridge and travelling to Sallins because of the Short Hop fare. I am sure we can have that debate into the future but we need to have a debate on rural transport and to protect those students who cannot find accommodation in Dublin but yet are paying such high costs in trying to travel up and down there each day.
I wish to propose a change to the Order of Business, "That No. 12 on the Order Paper be taken before No. 1".
I will start by thanking Sebastian McAteer for the drafting of the legislation that I have placed on the Order Paper today. Only this week, the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action heard that while data centres currently represent 11% of grid capacity, the energy used by those existing connections will rise to almost 30% of overall capacity by the end of the decade. If all other data centres proposed for Ireland are allowed, their energy use would comprise 70% of the capacity on the national grid. This Bill, however, has its foundations in the CDP's Carbon Majors Report of 2017, which found that just 100 companies had been responsible for 71% of the global emissions since 1988. Corporations make significant contributions to global carbon emissions and must be held to account for their environmental impacts.Climate justice is not possible if State responses to climate change focus only on targeting individual consumption through carbon taxes, impacting low-income communities with low carbon footprints to boast, without also tackling, at the other end of the scale, the big polluters which create the most carbon emissions. In this context it is clear that legislation requiring private companies operating in Ireland to make mandatory public disclosures on the greenhouse gas emissions arising from their activities in the State is a necessity. Such a measure is built on the principles of transparency and accountability, the idea being that if companies are required to publish their emissions every year, public scrutiny and pressure and environmental considerations will cause them to adopt policies that will reduce their emissions.
The companies emissions reporting Bill 2021 is tabled in the same vein as a similar legal requirement in this area that has been adopted in other jurisdictions, notably the United Kingdom. It would require the disclosure of audited statements of greenhouse gas emissions by companies with more than 50 employees to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and includes a number of other important provisions. It is tabled in the spirit of ensuring that the burden of responding to climate change falls equitably and proportionally between those who make the greatest contribution, in keeping with the polluter pays principle, and to support climate justice and a just transition.
I wish to be associated with the very eloquent tribute - eloquent as always - that Senator Norris paid to Mervyn Taylor. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam.
It will come as no surprise to anybody here that I wholeheartedly agree with and support Senator Kyne's request and statement.
I will not respond to every Senator other than to say in response to Senator Mullen that I just wish I was available to accompany him this evening to the famous Hill of Crockafotha and the Bellewstown races.
There was a statement post last week's Cabinet meeting that the existing land conveyancing legislation will be amended. We are all aware of this because I have no doubt I am not the only one who has been lobbied a great deal recently about the upcoming deadline for the registration of rights of way. I welcome the fact that, as I said, the statement from Cabinet said there will be legislation to deal with this. While I am not looking for a debate on same, as I know we will have plenty of opportunity to discuss that Bill when it reaches us, I plead that this House convey the need for a public awareness campaign, be it as part of the legislation coming forward or as an accompanying element of the Bill. In my opinion, the problem arose due to the lack of awareness of people who were made aware only following inheritance, succession or purchase of property that if a right of way was involved, it had to be registered. We had a lot of lobbying from the Law Society, the Bar Council and the farm representative bodies, so I strongly urge that this House communicate to Minister and the Department that there could be something incorporated into the legislation coming to us that would include an awareness campaign and that people would be informed in order that, at the end of whatever extension is being proposed, we will not be inundated again with requests for a further extension. This deadline was extended in 2011 for ten years to 2021. One would imagine a ten-year extension would have facilitated everybody out there but, as I have said previously, the problem was not that people did not want to do this but that they were not aware of it. There is no point in changing legislation or moving out a deadline if we do not inform the people of their requirements to register those rights of way, be that through the media or through direct contact with property owners. This is a vital part of what is coming down the line.
We are in the middle of a decade of commemorations that started in 2016. We have handled it quite competently and capably in the context of issues such as 1916 and the first sitting of the First Dáil. I think next year will be a very important year when it comes to commemorations. We have the 100-year commemoration of the first sitting of the Seanad to look forward to next year. However, I think the Civil War issues will be the key focus for the next 12 to 14 months, and a very sensible and pragmatic debate on those issues is required. In my part of west Cork we will talk about August 1922 and Michael Collins's demise. Seán Hales was shot in December of that year. The Church of Ireland bishop of Cork famously said in 2017 that the Protestant community in west Cork would look upon the commemorations with some dread. It is a very sensitive issue and, I think, one in which this House will play a very important role.
We need a debate on how we will deal with these issues because they are quite sensitive and very raw for some. I believe it is appropriate that this House now get involved in that debate. There is a very important role for both the Cathaoirleach and the Leader in that regard. This House can play a key role in marking these commemorations, from the first sitting of the Seanad all the way up to the Civil War itself, in a sensible and appropriate way.
I thank Senator Lombard. The Ceann Comhairle and I have been working on the issue of the decade of commemorations and we have an Oireachtas commemoration committee, which I am proud to chair and which has representatives from the various groupings. Obviously, everybody's opinions and ideas will be welcome because, as we approach the centenary of the beginning of the Civil War and the Civil War itself, it is a sensitive time and, as we have seen from other commemorations, they have to be handled appropriately and in the right way. People come to them with a generous spirit. We can make sure we do this in a spirit of remembrance and remember what we were fighting for and not what we were fighting against.
Ba mhaith liom dhá cheist a ardú inniu. I wish to raise the question of foreign births registration, which is the responsibility of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Prior to Covid, it took 12 to 18 months to process applications, but during Covid the whole process was frozen. There was no progressing of any of the applications, and anyone who now wants to register a foreign birth for the purpose of naturalisation as an Irish citizen cannot do so. The Department of Foreign Affairs simply will not accept applications. I know of one instance in which somebody who has lived here almost his entire life, since not long after birth, has had an application in for two years and there has been no progress made on it. There are a number of others in a similar situation. I therefore ask the Deputy Leader to write on our behalf to the Department of Foreign Affairs to ask it to reopen the foreign births registration process and to expedite some of these matters.
Second, I welcome the fact that tonight there is - I hate using the phrase - a pilot nightclub event taking place at the Button Factory in Dublin. People are able to get out and dance, enjoy themselves and form relationships. I used a phrase here last November which people will recall. I thought it was interesting that Áine Lawlor on "Morning Ireland" asked Sunil Sharpe rather gingerly in respect of the event tonight if there will there be kissing. Frankly, I hope there will and I hope that people are able to get back out-----
A very serious issue is raised, though, because the night-time industry has been closed for 18 months. Nightclubs have not been open. I refer to the licensing fee legislation and the fact that so many late bars and nightclubs now have to pay for special exemption licences after the difficulties they have been through. Because they have to pay for them in advance, I do not think it is unreasonable to ask that there be at least a moratorium on these, if not their complete abolition, in the context of the Government's plan to open up nightlife. I ask, as we move to 22 October and the next phase of reopening, that real regard be given to the nightclub and nightlife sector.
I do not think I will be going to that nightclub tonight. Those days are well behind me.
I wish to raise an issue relating to Housing for All. I have spoken to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and to my local authority. I fully back the Government's plans, but there is an issue when it comes to affordable housing, that is, that under the matrix that is used as to what is called the affordability challenge and the criteria, there are upwards of 12 local authorities that will not be in a position to have an affordable housing scheme. It is not housing for all if a large number of counties cannot have such a scheme. The matrix that is employed uses CSO figures on the values of housing, not on the actual build cost of housing, which is wrong.I will give an example from my county, where there is only a handful of three-bed semi-detached houses with an average price of €150,000. To build them today would cost €220,000. No private building is going on. As a result of the use of the matrix we are not eligible. It might be said that there is a shared equity scheme but no developer is building houses so there are no houses for people to buy. It needs to be looked at. If we are going to have Housing for All, and I fully back it, this is an issue. All counties must be eligible. We are one of only 12.
As I am speaking about housing, I happened to meet Paddy Diver and his family along with several other families outside the front of Leinster House this morning. It is heart-wrenching to see the situation they are in. It is something that has not affected my area, thank God, but our hearts can only go out to the families when we meet them and see the situation they are in. One couple had been hoping to live in their garage when their house was being rebuilt. Today they found out this cannot happen and the whole lot has to be demolished. As I said, I spoke to Paddy and his family. He had the blocks out there and it is worthwhile going out to see them if they are still there. I was able to crumble a block in my hand, not with a hammer but with my hand. That is the situation they and thousands of other families are in. It is incumbent on us as a State to stand behind our citizens. I know much work is being done on it. There has to be 100% redress and no less. This is from meeting the families and crumbling a block in my hand.
I believe in building sustainable communities and part of this is sustainable transport. I acknowledge that in my area the DART+ west consultation is under way at present. We have had BusConnects, the Royal Canal greenway consultation and the Phoenix Park transport strategy consultation. We have secured significant investment under the safe routes to school programme. There is forthcoming consultation on a canal loop between the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal. A dizzying number of projects are also under consideration by Fingal County Council in terms of strategic infrastructure and active travel. There is a huge amount going on. Of course we know these are plans. With regard to active travel particularly, these are all plans but none has been confirmed or is going to construction stage. We really need to have a debate and a discussion with the Minister on all of the projects that could be going ahead and the ones that will not be going ahead. I found out a project was not going ahead in my area involving the first part of the Royal Canal from Westmanstown on the Kildare border to Clonsilla. It was going to be started but it was decided not to go ahead with it. It worries people when they do not see progression. We have seen the Hartstown cycle route and a segregated cycle way into my local park, St. Catherine's Park. This was the subject of my first motion as a councillor. A huge number of plans are being discussed but people do not know what is going ahead in terms of active transport. Coupled with everything that is going ahead with national consultations, we need to bring in the Ministers and have discussions on our areas and what is happening with major transport infrastructure and active transport.
I was not in the Chamber yesterday for the Order of Business. I was not physically present but, as Senators do, I viewed it on the monitor in my office. The Cathaoirleach will be glad to hear I will not make any comment on the controversy of recent weeks in respect of the President of Ireland. Suffice it to say I admire the President. I will not say that yesterday the Cathaoirleach agreed to disagree but he had a different perspective to another Member of the House.
Yes and I have no doubt the Cathaoirleach correctly interpreted what he called a practice of the House. My problem is that in due course that practice should be appropriately reviewed. Yesterday, the Cathaoirleach said to a Member of the House, which celebrates freedom of speech, that we can praise the President all we wish but the practice of the House is not to criticise. I respect the decision of the Cathaoirleach. I am sure it is accurate. The Cathaoirleach has been rigorously fair in all his rulings.
For the benefit of Members, Article 13.8.1° states, "The President shall not be answerable to either House of the Oireachtas [...] for the exercise and performance of the powers and functions of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of those powers or functions".
I am not questioning that. I am saying to a grown up Seanad that if there is any long-looming shadow of the words of the former Minister, Paddy Donegan, in the 1970s it is time to put them to bed and have a mature debate. It is not comparing like with like. I say this as an admirer of the President. I would detract from my fundamental comments if I were to comment on the controversy. I would also run the risk of falling out with the Cathaoirleach on a ruling. I am just saying it is ironic that the current officeholder repealed section 31 of the Broadcasting Act and is a passionate advocate for the freedom of speech. To have a ruling like this is akin to something we would see in a far-flung place at the other end of the world. It does not value or appreciate the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and democracy. I am not criticising the Cathaoirleach whatsoever. No doubt he interpreted it correctly. In this Chamber, which is tolerant and celebrates freedom of speech, I urge Members to review it through the appropriate channels and consider whether there is a more constructive and inclusive way forward in the longer term.
In recent weeks, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has had significant dialogue with Irish Water and officials from the Department on infrastructure deficits in water and wastewater, particularly in small towns and villages. A total of €97.5 million was approved by the Government and the regulator to allow Irish Water to set up a specific fund for the small towns and villages growth programme to focus on areas throughout the country that would not ordinarily be a priority for investment. Through collaboration with local authorities, areas were identified in every county to create additional capacity to service developments that have planning in place.
One such area is in my county of Waterford. In Lemybrien a local builder has planning permission for 19 housing units but cannot commence development because Irish Water has been dragging its heels regarding what work is required to facilitate upgrades to the network. I have been going back and forth on this matter over a number of months and it has been frustrating that at a time we have such a shortage of housing, priority cannot be given to progressing the relevant tests and designs to carry out this work. I am assured it will be done in October and I accept the bona fides of those who have given these commitments.
I have been informed in the past couple of hours that Lemybrien along with 20 other projects in rural and regional Ireland have been approved under the small towns and villages growth programme, to add to the 15 already announced earlier in the summer. This will represent an investment of almost €1 million in Lemybrien to upgrade water and wastewater networks. Even though there is a green light for these 21 projects, priority must now be given to carrying out the required testing and the design and procurement to ensure the projects are carried out without delay.
While I acknowledge these things take time I call for a streamlining of the process. I reiterate what I said at the committee meeting on access for Irish Water to the Part 8 planning process for these schemes. Procurement could be done alongside the planning process to speed up delivery of these projects in every town and village throughout the country.
I join with the father of the House in extending my sympathy to the family of the late Mervyn Taylor, a Trojan, progressive politician who was very brave, as was Senator Norris. Our country is a better place today because of Mervyn Taylor's time in office and I pay tribute to him.
I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on the future of work in the context of the living wage, the minimum wage and the fact that we are facing significant labour shortages in our service and hospitality industries, to name but two. If one talks to those who work in those industries and owners of businesses, one will find that they are very worried about the future of work in our country and the availability of staff. It would cause all of us to pose questions and reflect on the real reason for the shortage of work. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has commissioned a very important strategy around apprenticeships. We have seen many services with reduced services and limited opening hours and availability because they do not have the personnel. This nation is very much dependent on tourism. I ask for that debate on work - if possible before the budget but if not, in the context of the budget debate in coming weeks.
I begin by addressing the comments of Senator Martin. Freedom of speech is not an unqualified absolute right. It has to be qualified and must operate within rules of responsibility, some of which are enshrined in the Constitution and the actions and operations of this House for the benefit and ease of the separation of powers.
I came in today to highlight a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters this morning, which was fantastic because it was on the subject of the participation of people with disabilities in political, cultural, community and public life. We heard directly from the lived experience of people and their exclusion. No matter how well-intentioned or thoughtful our actions, we heard about how by default, we end up excluding. We heard from Joe McGrath speaking on behalf of the National Platform of Self Advocates. He was representing people with intellectual disabilities. He spoke about election literature and access to information about candidates and manifestos. Last week, I spoke about the ESRI report commissioned by the NDA on exclusion and access to education, the risk of poverty, literacy, digital literacy and access to all those. If we accepted that last week, then hearing Mr. McGrath's comments this morning and accepting the point that if people with disabilities are going to be more likely to be in poverty and are not going to have access to social media, digital skills and literacy, the first thing we must do is go to the representatives and those with lived experience and ask them what they want us to do not what we think they should be doing. It really brings home the whole point of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, which is "nothing about us without us". We need to really remember that and as public representatives, bow to that first and foremost in all of our actions.
I wish to raise YouTube's announcement that it will remove all videos that make false claims about vaccines and spread misinformation about Covid. I wish to ask YouTube, "Where on earth have you been for the last 18 months?" My God, thanks for waking up to this problem YouTube. YouTube should have taken this position in March 2020 when we saw misinformation about Covid spread like wildfire around the planet last summer. Now all of a sudden, YouTube has woken up to it. At least, it has woken up to it a bit quicker than some of the other major social media platforms. The reason is that, as a platform, YouTube is perhaps more insidious is because it allows grifters and con artists who are putting out the false narrative about vaccines to make money out of the views they are getting on it so it encourages people to be more outrageous and put more information out there because they are making money out of it. This is the real danger with YouTube and this is why we have seen the spread of misinformation. I do not mean to be dramatic when I say this but people are being radicalised online by Covid misinformation. When we talked about radicalisation in recent years, people brought up ISIS - really horrible things in terms of religious radicalisation in the Middle East and other places - but people are being radicalised online by misinformation. It involves vulnerable people and those who are easily led and they are being led down this path by people who are making money from this misinformation. This is the case with YouTube. The more views you get, the more cash you get in your pocket so it makes sense to be more outrageous and go further down that rabbit hole of misinformation. On one level, I commend YouTube on what it has done this morning. Other platforms should follow suit but I would also like to ask YouTube, "Where on earth have you been for the last 18 months?" Talk about closing a door after the horse has bolted. It is outrageous that it is deciding to do it now but I am glad it has woken up with some sort of social conscience 18 months too late.
I agree fully with Senator McGahon in respect of YouTube. I was listening to Senator Seery Kearney's contribution regarding the Joint Committee on Disability Matters and the participation of people with disabilities in politics. As one of the very few people with a disability who is in active politics and has been elected, I could write a book about it and maybe I will write a book about some of the challenges and harassment of people in politics that exists to a large extent but that is for another day.
The eye clinic liaison officer position in Temple Street Children's University Hospital has resulted in a 70% increase in referrals to step-down services for children diagnosed with sight loss. I want to see an eye clinic liaison officer appointed to each hospital group in this country. For somebody diagnosed with sight loss, it is a very distressing and traumatic experience. Some consultants and eye care specialists are brilliant at referring people to step-down services while others are not so good but an eye clinic liaison officer is the conduit between the consultants and step-down services. The eye clinic liaison officer is the person with the expertise. It is a system that has worked enormously well, particularly in the UK. For an investment of about €700,000, if an eye clinic liaison officer was appointed to each hospital group, it would create much better and more equal access to step-down services.
As we enter a period where things are opening up, there is an issue with people with disabilities and their personal assistants attending events with them. If somebody who requires a personal assistant to help him or her goes to a concert, it is reasonable that the personal assistant be allowed to get into the concert or event for free because he or she is essential for the individual with the disability to be able to go and enjoy the experience. This needs to be looked at. We may need to examine whether legislation is required to mandate organisations to allow the personal assistants of people with disabilities to attend events with them.
I wish to raise two issues. I have had many calls from people I know.My colleague, Senator Carrigy, will be happy that post offices will be able to provide facilities that banks cannot. Many banks have closed down or will close down in rural and urban areas, a lot of them are going cashless and ATMs are being closed down in many areas. It is a huge issue in my area. A colleague of mine in Callan, County Kilkenny, phoned me to tell me that there will no bank in the town as of the end of this week. The loss of such facilities creates fear among people. Older people are very upset because they cannot cope with banking online.
Recently, I heard from people in Family Carers Ireland due to the approaching budget. I wish to state that carers provide a very adequate facility and help to keep many people in their homes. Carers also help to extend people's lives with the care they give them. We must consider introducing the following key aspects in the budget: increase the weekly carer's payment by €8; increase the carer's support grant to €2,000; provide a carer's pension to long-term family carers as many carers give up their jobs but when they reach retirement age they will not be entitled to anything due to making a reduced number of contributions; and invest €5 million in the carer's guarantee scheme to provide supports that protect the mental health and well-being of carers and the people they care for.
The review of the national development plan, NDP, is expected to be announced in Cork next week after agreement by the Cabinet. The NDP contains a lot of road projects of which the N20 from Cork to Limerick is one. In my view and that of a lot of people, the most important road project is the N24 that links Limerick to Waterford. Once that road is completed every single city in this country will be connected by a motorway. It is a real priority that the N24 project remains on the NDP.
There are a range of issues with the project. The Minister for Transport keeps talking about small bypasses and I am very worried about the fact that the Taoiseach, during a debate in the Dáil yesterday, spoke about small bypasses. I do not know how many times we must explain the situation. Everyone in County Tipperary, including Tipperary Town that needs a bypass, want the N24 to remain on the national development plan. It has to remain. The design is going through the planning process. The money has already been invested by the Government to continue the project so there is no reason to remove the project from the national development plan.
Once design and planning is done then one will start with a bypass, in conjunction with the full N24 road, of Tipperary Town. That is what the people of the town want as well. Incredibly, they have spent 20 years waiting for a road to bypass the town. We cannot start all over again with a single bypass for Tipperary Town and forget about all of the work that has been done on the N24 over the last number of years. I cannot stress enough the importance of the route network between Limerick and Waterford, and on to Wexford and Rosslare post Brexit. The route is a crucial link for the businesses and people across the region. As much as 80% of the route goes through Tipperary and the towns that the project will have an impact on is significant, and Tipperary Town more than any other town.
I formally second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Ruane to introduce the Companies (Emission Reporting) Bill. The legislation is very important. We have clearly seen in the debates this week that our conversations cannot simply be discussions on energy supply and what we might substitute for something else. It must be about demand, and specifically commercial and industrial demand. This Bill would shine a light into different sectors that all need to be challenged to consider their consumption of energy and associated emissions. The Bill would provide us with the information for that. The Bill would ensure that we do not have situations as it seems have been allowed to happen where, for example, data centres, as one actor in the economy, have been allowed to monopolise a level of energy and, potentially, a level of emissions to the detriment of the citizens of this country and other commercial sectors. Shining a light to create transparency around emissions and energy consumption, as this Bill would do, is really important and I am very proud to second the amendment.
I look forward to reading Senator Conway's book. In the interim I suggest that the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, NCPP, or so forth could examine issues. Some very practical points were made about the Houses in terms of how we could be more inclusive and facilitate engagement by citizens who have a disability. This House showed leadership and passed the Irish Sign Language Act, in which the Cathaoirleach played a key role. It might be timely in the next couple of months to have a discussion on that legislation and how it is being implemented.
I wholeheartedly join in the tributes paid to Mervyn Taylor because the equality legislation he put in place-----
-----was one of the greatest steps towards us being a genuine nation of equals. It was one of the most fundamental contributions to our laws and culture, and conveyed to our citizens that this is a nation of equals.
I thank all of the Members who have contributed. I concur with the remarks made by Senator Norris and many other colleagues in the House on the death of the former Deputy, Mervyn Taylor. I extend my condolences, and that of the House, to his family, friends and to the Labour Party on the passing of a colleague.
Senator Murphy kicked off today's discussion by raising two issues. One was the old age pension, in the context of the budget, and a request for a significant rise so as to look after the elderly in our communities. The budget should look after not just the elderly in our communities but all vulnerable persons; those who are most at risk of falling below the poverty line and those most at risk following the Covid experience and still recovering.
Senator Murphy also mentioned the issue of energy supply. He has spoken passionately about the impact that closing the power stations at Lanesborough and Shannonbridge has had on his community, and the just transition. There is a secondary issue now of energy supply that needs to be addressed, and his recommendations and suggestions will be conveyed to the Minister.
Senator Kyne mentioned the reports in the media and the Irish Farmers' Journal, as did Senator Paul Daly and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, on the ongoing conversation about dairy production, the national herd, the Mercusor issues and the production of beef in South America because we have now signed up to import some of that beef. There is a lot of fear in the farming community but farmers may be further ahead on the climate agenda than we sometimes give them credit for. They are very willing to put their shoulder to the wheel but must be allowed to make a living at the same time. We must strike the right balance and bring people with us.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of climate change and the need to explore the option of nuclear power. We need to be open to a wider debate on energy and find ways to meet our increasing energy demands now and into the future, particularly in the context of what we now know will be, in the Minister of State's words, a tight number of years in terms of the energy supply for the country. We need to address the matter.
Senator Mullen mentioned the need to tackle gambling addiction and he mentioned the community group in Northern Ireland called Gambling with Lives. Senator Wall has passionately spoken about tackling gambling addiction on a number of occasions and the imminent publication of the gambling legislation, which is overdue. We do have issues with gambling in this country. Gambling is quite pervasive and targeted at young people to get them hooked early. These issues need to be tackled. Different aspects of society have an unhealthy relationship with funding from gambling companies, which is an issue that also needs to be addressed.
The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, spoke very well about the opportunities to change how things are done in farming. She told a very interesting story about a dairy farmer. I do not know his name but he stopped using chemical nitrates on his land with good results. She mentioned that such a switch may not work for everybody and we should embrace new ways of doing things to make things more environmentally friendly.
Senator Warfield mentioned the archiving of different aspects of Irish society and said that there could be a black hole if things are not locked into memory. He pleaded for the arts sector to receive adequate funding in the upcoming budget, with which I am sure Senators would agree.Senator Wall spoke about the gambling bill. He also spoke about rural transport. I agree with him that there is a big issue around that. Public transport is not the same in every aspect in every part of the country. Certainly, in my own county of Mayo, it is severely lacking. There are not many options for people in some parts of the country. An issue that has arisen in the recent months related to the student accommodation issue concerns young people having to travel to college. It is a very practical issue that we can deal with in the short term. We could potentially extend the zone to make it a little cheaper for those students. We should definitely look at that. It is quite an acute issue, this year in particular.
Senator Ruane proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, seconded by Senator Higgins, which I will be accepting, namely, to introduce a Bill to tackle emissions from companies. I agree with the Senator that in some ways we have been hoodwinked by many of the bigger polluters, probably over the last two decades, when the focus has been shifted onto the individual. We have spoken about the use of plastic straws, KeepCups and all of the little changes that we obviously need to make but that is not really tackling the climate problem. There is a small number of large companies, particularly the petroleum companies, that are the biggest polluters and emitters. The polluters should pay. I have no doubt that if there was mandatory disclosure from companies of what their emissions are, the public pressure would certainly change their direction in a much quicker way than otherwise might happen.
Senator Paul Daly concurred with the remarks of Senator Kyne and brought to the attention of the House the issue around the rights of way registration, which I believe was also raised last week. I welcome that legislation is coming on that issue but I agree with the Senator that if we do not tell people about it, it will not do much good and we will be back here in ten years' time looking for further extensions. It is a good suggestion.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of commemorations and how sensitive they are. We have had a couple of issues, even in the past few years, where comments around commemorations have raised tensions and have perhaps upset people in certain quarters. Therefore, it is an issue around which we have to tread carefully to be respectful of all views. I know that the Cathaoirleach is working intensely on the commemorations that this House will participate in for next year, in particular. There is a lot of work involved for all parties and none that are represented at that table. It is most important.
Senator Malcolm Byrne raised an issue around foreign birth registration service, which has ceased to operate during Covid and has not resumed. We will certainly raise the issue with the Department of Foreign Affairs to seek to get the service reopened.
In a complete change of direction, the Senator then welcomed the fact that a nightclub, the Button Factory, is reopening tonight. That is good to see. I do not know people will be doing at it, but I am sure they will be enjoying themselves, regardless. If the Senator is going, I hope he has a good time. It is good to be getting back to some nightlife. It is important for people to have that outlet. I wish the venue well tonight. I hope it goes well for everybody.
Senator Carrigy raised the issue around Housing for All, and suggested that some local authorities would not have the same access as others. I agree with the Senator that there has to be access for all across the board in every part of the country. The Senator also spoke very well about the mica issue and the families who are outside the gates of Leinster House today. They have been there throughout the month of September. They have been meeting with lots of parties and groups in the last number of months. They held a huge public protest outside the convention centre in the last term of the Dáil in July that was well attended. As I understand it, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage met the group last night. There were further developments. A memo is going to Cabinet, which has not been agreed yet. However, we are assured by the Minister that there will be significant changes to the scheme that brought in by the last Government. There will be significant changes to this scheme and it will be updated, hopefully to address the concerns of families who have been living in appalling situations for many years.
Senator Currie raised the issue of building sustainable communities and transport. I was almost jealous to hear her speak about the DART, BusConnects and other services that are just non-existent in so many parts of the country. However, I do appreciate that the pressures on public transport in the capital are clearly very different to what they might be in rural parts of the country. The Senator raised an important point. Many projects are being discussed, planned and talked about but perhaps we are not quite sure what is actually going to be delivered and when it will be delivered. That is an important clarification that is required.
Senator Martin raised an issue, which he skirted around. I am not entirely sure how to respond to the issue without breaching the rules myself. However, the issue he raised is an important one. We should not be afraid to review the current practice.
I will go no further than that.
Senator Cummins raised the issue of Irish Water and the infrastructure deficit. It is a particularly acute issue in rural parts of the country, where smaller towns and villages were at the back of the queue. I welcome the additional almost €100 million in funding for those particular areas that should hopefully see an acceleration in the development of infrastructure that is needed. Without Irish Water infrastructure, we cannot build housing, so it goes hand in glove with the Housing for All policy that was announced by the Government.
Senator Buttimer raised the issue of the ongoing debate around a living wage. It perhaps correlates with the worker shortage that is being experienced in certain sectors, predominantly, hospitality and retail. Many of those sectors are finding it difficult to reopen fully because of the lack of workers available. Clearly, people are not going back to work for a particular reason. Part of that may be due to the levels of remuneration available in some of those sectors. That probably needs to be looked at.
Senator Seery Kearney raised the issue of disability and access for members of that community who have consistently feel excluded from all parts of Irish life. Interestingly, the Senator raised the issue of access to election material that we probably do not provide in all of the formats required to give full access to all members of society. That was an important point to make on the floor of the House.
Senator McGahon spoke about YouTube coming to the realisation recently that it needs to address the masses of false information on vaccines on its platforms. I welcome that it is doing so, even if it is quite late in the day. False vaccine information has caused huge damage. Thankfully, in this country, we have had a very high uptake rate in respect of vaccines. We have had one of the most successful vaccination programmes in the world. We have topped Bloomberg's list of countries that have been the most Covid-resilient and have handled it best. As a country, we have done very well. I commend our vaccine teams, the HSE and the Minister of Health on delivering a very successful vaccination programme. We were fortunate that the false information did not permeate through all aspects of the country and that people were able to decipher for themselves what information was false and what was not.
As he always does, Senator Conway spoke most passionately about disability and people having access to all aspects of life. He rightly pointed out that he is a fully elected active politician. Not many people with disabilities have served as Members of the Houses. It is something we need to address. The Senator then raised the specific issue of eye clinic liaison officers and there being a vacancy, and the fact that there is a need for that service in all of the hospital groups. I concur with that point. The level of funding required is small money in the overall scheme of the health budget but would make a huge difference to the lives of people who are experiencing sight loss and going through that traumatic journey they are on.
Senator Maria Byrne raised the issue around the closures of banks and the accelerated demise of retail banking. It is a reality of today and the world we are living in that people are just not going into the bank physically as much as they would have done previously.
Perhaps that is the case with some banks. There has been a shift with younger generations using online banking predominantly, but that does not cater for all members of society. We are in a transition period where some people are feeling left behind. That is something we need to be very mindful of. Access to ATMs is really important. Many smaller towns and villages do not have many, if any, ATMs. That is also a big problem.
The Senator also raised the issue around carers, which is an important issue to keep to the fore in terms of our budget discussions. As I said earlier, we must look after the most vulnerable in society and those who are struggling the most. Carers save the State a huge amount of money by the work that they do in the home. They should not be disadvantaged in retirement. They should be looked after while they are doing that really important work for their loved ones. I agree with the Senator that there needs to be a special place in the budget for people doing that really important work.
Senator Ahearn raised the issue of the national development plan. As we know, the new, renewed and reviewed NDP will be launched and announced on Monday in Cork by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, alongside the Taoiseach. It is very welcome. It was a commitment in the programme for Government to review the NDP. I think we all agree that it needed to be reviewed. Many Members of the Houses have come with a shopping list, for want of a better phrase, of projects they want to see delivered. The Senator will be heartened to know that I have heard other colleagues mention the N24, that is, the Limerick to Waterford road, as being vitally important to the region. The Senator's request has been heard, because other colleagues are making the same request. The Senator also mentioned the M20, the Cork to Limerick road. I would not doubt the commitment and the ideological position of the Minister and the Taoiseach in terms of the need for those key pieces of infrastructure and roads. Roads are still important. I know that not all Members of the Government would have the same view of that. That is fine; it is a coalition Government. However, we still need to be able to get around the country, and roads will be a vital part of that. These are projects that have been long committed to. I hope to see that they will delivered for the people of counties Tipperary, Limerick, Waterford, Cork and everyone in the region.Senator Higgins seconded Senator Ruane's Bill and spoke about the need for us, the Oireachtas, to see that we have our own house in order in terms of being inclusive for those with disabilities. Can we do better? Of course, we can always do better. She made reference to the sign language legislation that was passed, the Cathaoirleach's work on it and the need to keep track of it and make sure we are utilising it properly.
Senator Ruane has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 12 be taken before No. 1." It was seconded by Senator Higgins. The Leader has indicated she is willing to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.