Seanad debates

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

2:30 pm

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Fiona O'Loughlin started the Order of Business today and paid her respects to Máire Mhac an tSaoi, Brendan Kennelly and Sir David Amess. A number of colleagues also paid respects to Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Brendan Kennelly. Senators Mullen and O'Sullivan recited very beautifully some poetry for all of us, which was a pleasure to listen to. It is not something I would be capable of doing and I am always very impressed when people recite such things.

Senator O'Loughlin raised a very important issue around the level of sentencing that is being handed down for certain crimes, and particularly for domestic violence crimes. I do believe that three months seems extremely lenient, but we cannot really say much more than that without having the full knowledge of all factors. We do need to send a certain message on sentencing, across the board.

The Senator also raised the important issue of derelict sites in Newbridge and the need to bring those back into use. This would be a huge help in increasing our housing stock.Senator Conway spoke about the reopening of Ireland, which was announced earlier, and the need to proceed with caution. He wished the businesses that will reopen their doors for the first time in 19 months this Friday well and I concur with those remarks.

He also referred to the ambulance service and the unusual circumstance where an ambulance was sent from Galway to service an incident in Kilkee and the requirement to have a debate in this House on the National Ambulance Service, which has also been requested by other Members. It is something that we will seek to have in the near future.

Senator Craughwell raised the issue of the UN Security Council and said that words are just words. I agree with him. The UN Security Council has the potential to do great good but the veto limits its work, of which there is no doubt. A good example of where it did fine work was in response to the Ebola crisis when it passed a resolution to bring people together but one does not often find issues that unite everybody. The Senator eloquently pointed out the deficiencies in that. It is important that we use our time and our seat on the council to try to effect some good.

The Senator correctly pointed out the worsening condition for the rights of women and young girls in Afghanistan. The Taliban, just two days ago, stated that they would permit women to work where they were needed and that it would take time to get women and girls back to school. I believe we will be waiting a long time and that words are not going to encourage the Taliban to do anything differently this time around. We certainly need to see action on that issue.

Senator Gavan proposed an amendment to the Order of Business regarding No. 19, which I will accept. This is the Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services Bill 2021, which was put together for safety reasons, introduced by the Senator, and seconded by Senator Moynihan. I agree with the Senators on the need to progress this legislation and I have been told by the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, that his Department is also currently drafting legislation. We will all agree that it does not matter which Bill does this work as long as it gets done. Whichever happens more quickly is the best option. This is a commitment in the programme for Government. There was an expectation that the Bill would have advanced further when the Minister entered office but he has taken a great deal of advice on board, some of which is to say that it is not needed. He is clear in his commitment to get the legislation over the line. That is positive if the endgame is to get this over the line regardless of which way it happens. It is important that there are cross-party initiatives, which show that we have come a long way as a country on this front.

I take on board the remarks of Senator Mullen that there is a significant and different view out there. I respect this and we have had many debates, particularly at the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution on this issue. There are different views on this but we respect each other’s views. I understand the complexities in balancing free speech and the freedom to demonstrate and protest peacefully. That is a very delicate balancing act and I agree that we need to be careful on that front. I have no doubt that the Minister will strike the right balance in that regard.

Senator Wall sought a housing debate, in particular, on the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, being potentially a vehicle through which, in his own figures, 4,000 cost rental and 4,000 affordable houses could be provided. Certainly, if there is any other way of delivering more housing more quickly, we should look at it.

He also raised an interesting amnesty that Kildare County Council have put in place to take mattresses and sofas on a given day and on the level of uptake there was on that offer. The issue of illegal dumping is prevalent and widespread in the country.

Senator Gallagher raised the issue of the ongoing significant waiting lists for eye procedures, both inpatient and outpatient. The colossal waiting list for outpatient appointments of more than 41,000 is a scourge on the health system and on those people waiting for those procedures. I listened to Tony Canavan on the radio this morning where he said that the term “elective surgery” does not cover what it means to be on a waiting list. It may be elective but that does not mean that it is not urgent, necessary, or that the person is not living in considerable pain and suffering. It is important that we get those waiting lists down. In excess of €200 million was allocated in the budget specifically to deal with reducing those waiting lists across the board.

Senator Keogan raised the issue of media coverage and vaccines and she may have a slightly different view on vaccines. We need to encourage as many people as possible to take up the vaccines to try to protect everybody but not everybody will avail of that, as we know from the figures.

Senator Malcolm Byrne raised an issue and gave two examples. One was of Claire Byrne and Nigel Farage and the highlighting of the lack of knowledge of Irish history and the importance that it plays in politics to know the history of the country that one is speaking about. He also referred to David Puttnam who suggested that the knowledge of Irish history and politics among members of parliament in the UK was not as good as it could be. He suggested that it was something that we should take the initiative on on this side of the water to try to inform people a little better, and that we would all be the better for it, if I can put it that way.Senator Cummins raised a very important issue that I was not aware of. He mentioned a blockage facing people accessing the Rebuilding Ireland home loan while benefiting from the employment wage subsidy scheme. I will certainly ask the Minister to take a look at that. We will be seeking a debate on housing in the future in order to get an update on the progress of the Housing for All plan.

Senator Murphy proposed an amendment to the Order of Business relating to No. 20, the flooding Bill, which I will be accepting. I commend Senator Murphy. He has been working on this issue for a number of years now. In the last term, he was a really strong advocate for communities that face flooding every year. It is very distressing for families to watch their homes flood again and again. They cannot get insurance and it is really stressful. If we can bring legislation that would help people before the House, that is exactly what we should be doing. I look forward to that debate when it comes before the House.

Senator McGahon raised the issue of the digitisation of Irish society. He raised two issues he feels need to be addressed but was looking for advice not only from myself, but from the House, as to how best to progress some ideas he has. One of these ideas was that people should be able to withdraw cash using an ATM card loaded on their phones. That is a clever suggestion and probably the next step given that we have become so used to using our phones and not carrying a wallet, purse or anything of that nature. He also spoke about carrying hard copy identification and suggested that there should be a digital way to carry ID. That is again clever and progressive and something we should be looking at. It probably depends on the type of ID he is seeking to digitise. He would need to talk to different Departments but it is certainly a conversation we should be having. It is logical and it makes sense.

Senator Moynihan seconded the amendment proposed by Senator Gavan and also spoke about a chilling effect on GPs arising from those protests and demonstrations. Only 10% of GPs are providing these services and that is a very low figure. It is something we need to address. I am very keenly aware of a deficiency in many parts of rural Ireland. It is something we need to address. These services must be accessible to people without having to travel great distances. Otherwise, what is the point? We need to look at that. GPs have told us that they are worried about providing the services. In Roscommon, for example, there is only one GP providing them and she regularly has to pass demonstrations to get into her workplace. That is really not acceptable but all credit to her for continuing her work regardless of that extra stress.

Senator Paul Daly raised an issue regarding mixed vaccinations. I have had some issues helping people to get access. People who get one dose of vaccine administered in Ireland and another in the UK get their certificate where they receive the second vaccination. That is also a difficulty. I hope we will be a bit more open-minded about what we accept. We have to take care of our own citizens trying to get back into the country. It was really only by luck that the individual the Senator mentioned made it back for his father's funeral. It would have been unthinkable if he had not.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly referenced the issue of safe access zones. I know the Senator has been a very passionate advocate for this legislation and very supportive of the Together for Safety campaign. She also referenced the strong commitment to women's health in the budget. That did not happen by chance. There was a great push for those changes in the last year, particularly from female Members of the Oireachtas. Now that we are increasing in number, albeit at a slower pace than we would like, we are finding our collective voice and we are working better together on those acute issues that are specific to women. She is right; between the roll-out of several menopause clinics across the country, free contraception for young girls and women, increased access to obstetrics and gynaecology and funding for the National Maternity Hospital, in excess of €30 million was allocated to women's health initiatives in this budget alone. That has never happened before. Between the advocacy of a number of female parliamentarians in the Oireachtas and the open-door policy of the Minister, who actually understands the need to invest in women's health, we have had a good team advocating for these issues across the board and we are now seeing the fruits of that advocacy, which is great.

Senator O'Sullivan very beautifully recited one of Máire Mhac an tSaoi's lovely poems. He paid great credit both to her and to Brendan Kennelly.

Senator Currie referenced the ongoing issue of the lack of substitute teachers for schools across the country. It is a problem and it is widespread. We need to find a better way of putting together panels and making sure that schools have access to substitute teachers because the nature of the job is that they are required at the last minute. Their use is not planned far in advance, or at least not for all absentees. In my own county of Mayo, I know there is a problem in getting supply teachers.

Senator Carrigy raised an issue regarding the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. We have all dealt with issues, at some stage or another, we thought the RTB would be able to assist with only to find it did not have the powers or scope to do so. It is important that we help property owners. Access to the courts is fine but it can be quite an expensive route to take and is not open to everybody because of the cost involved or the fear that one will not be able to afford it.We all should be able to have our rights vindicated and protected and have our property protected, so the need for the RTB to step up in that regard is certainly required. Perhaps a Commencement matter to the relevant Minister might start the ball rolling on that discussion.

Senator Ahearn raised the issue of the digital Covid certificate and welcomed that they would be extended into February of next year and possibly beyond that. It was one thing that, at the outset, we required digital Covid certificates when we had not offered everybody a vaccine and those who had not been offered one were the very ones who were working in hospitality, so you could work in hospitality unvaccinated but you not participate, which I had a difficult with because I thought it was not the right call, whereas now everybody has been offered a vaccine, so if you have not taken one through choice, and not because you cannot, because some people cannot, then there should be no apology made for requesting a vaccine cert to make sure everybody is kept as safe as possible. It is the right balance to strike in terms of protecting everybody's rights and ensuring businesses can stay open and people can socialise safely. The Senator rightly pointed out we would not see the numbers lifting for weddings and nightclubs opening if that system was not in place and were it not for the high levels of vaccination we have, thankfully, but we still have a way to go on that.

Senator Ahearn said 22 October is International Stuttering Awareness Day.

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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That is correct.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator said that the representatives of the organisation will be in Buswells Hotel tomorrow from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. for anyone who is available to pop along to show their support. It is very important for us to support those awareness campaigns.

Senator Mullen paid tribute to Máire Mhac an tSaoi and Brendan Kennelly. I also responded to the issues the Senator raised about the Bill proposed by Senator Gavan.

Senator Ward finished off the Order of Business by drawing attention to the Speak Out facility that has been launched by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, which allows for the online, anonymous reporting of sexual assault, harassment and other violence against people in third level institutions. I will be honest and say that I am not fully up to speed on all of details of how that would work, but it might be welcome to have the Minister in at some stage to talk to us about that, how it would work in terms of anonymous reporting, and the procedures to follow up on that. It is a welcome step, and anything we can do to make our campuses a safer place for everybody, both men and women, is very welcome. Certainly, if it works in those settings, there is no reason it could not be extended across the board. It is a very welcome initiative and I look forward to hearing more about it from the Minister. That concludes the Order of Business.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Paul Gavan has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 19 be taken before No. 1." The Deputy Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Senator Eugene Murphy has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 20 be taken before No. 1." Senator Paul Daly has seconded the amendment. The Deputy Leader has indicated she is willing to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.