Wednesday, 20 October 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, the Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Bill 2021 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to adjourn at 2 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 2, motion re the directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive (EU) 2019/1153 of the European Parliament and of the Council, as regards access of competent authorities to centralised bank account registries through the single access point, to be taken at 2.45 p.m. and to conclude at 3.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the time allocated for the Minister's opening remarks not to exceed five minutes and that for group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes, and with the Minister to be given no less than five minutes in which to reply; No. 3, Defence (Amendment) Bill 2020 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 5.15 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 4, Private Members' Business, the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 – Second Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Today is World Osteoporosis Day. We must encourage people, particularly women, to make bone health a priority. A recent survey carried out by GPs found that 92% of those who suffer from osteoporosis were surprised with their diagnosis, and that the diagnosis came only after a fracture. Therefore, it is important that people, particularly women over 65, take the opportunity to have a DEXA scan. Early diagnosis is important. I suffer from osteoporosis. I discovered it when I was 30 after a car accident. I was not particularly surprised because my mother and grandmother also had osteoporosis. It can be dealt with through diet and exercise, and, if needed, medication. There is a good Irish website that provides this information. We should send that message out today.
I was at a three-and-a-half-hour meeting last night with farmers from Kildare and west Wicklow in the mart in Kilcullen. It was part of a consultation process that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, has engaged in around the country. Such consultation is really good. It is happening in 26 places. I was concerned, however, about much of the information I gained. Most of it was not new to me because I have ongoing interaction with farmers in Kildare, just as many Members have such interaction with farmers in their own constituencies. The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, that is coming down the line seems to be overly bureaucratic. We need the schemes to be simplified. Convergence is a particularly difficult issue for our farmers, and we need to engage more with the Minister on this.
There is a Bloomberg News article in this morning's Irish Independentthat claims curbs on fertiliser exports are to worsen the global price shock. It is quite scary to read that considering the current scarcity and price of food. We need to have a debate in this House on where we are going with the CAP. We absolutely need simplification. We need to be concerned about the eco schemes, whereby 25% of what farmers can get under the CAP will be tied in with ecological measures. My concern is that schemes coming down the line will not be accessible to farmers.
The final point I want to raise relates to the debate on dyslexia we had last week. It was an excellent debate. We all spoke about how difficult it is for young people with dyslexia and how important it is to have early intervention and diagnosis. Several people contacted me after the debate. One was a parent whose daughter has been diagnosed with dyslexia. The daughter is in fifth class and will be going into sixth next year. The school paid for an assessment and then there was a private assessment. Now the family is told the girl must go to a neurological paediatrician to get the adaptive technology. This is absolutely ridiculous. A child going into sixth class needs to be prepared for secondary school, yet there are obstacles in the form of costs and delays in getting the required assessment. If we really want to make a difference, we must make sure that we cut out some of the bureaucracy.
I wish to take up Senator O'Loughlin's point on the roadshow of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue. I acknowledge that he was in Maam Cross in Connemara last week. I commend him on that and on engaging proactively with farmers.The difficulties that farmers face in respect if convergence probably depends on which part of the country they are from. Full convergence would be positive in my neck of the woods and on much of the west coast. I acknowledge the campaign of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association, INHFA, on that over the past few years and the difficulties the IFA has faced in trying to create a balance between needs in one part of the country and another. It is a difficult area.
Project Ireland 2040 was recently launched. I would like to see a debate on that matter in the near future. The last phase of the National Development Plan 2018-2027 including many positives, including 26,000 social homes to be created by the Land Development Agency; the creation of the urban and rural regeneration funds; the climate action fund for which €77 million was provided; 526 completed school building projects delivered with more than 48,000 school places; the start of the national broadband plan, which is hugely important, considering where we have gone since with Covid-19 and remote working, which has come into its own, the programme of investment in our cultural institutions such as the National Concert Hall, Crawford Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Ireland and the Abbey Theatre; more than €46 million for support of capital and equipment programmes; new wastewater and water treatment plants; flood relief schemes; phase 1 of National Rehabilitation Hospital; and new primary care centres, to name a few.
However, the updated national development plan, which was published recently, has created a certain level of confusion regarding road projects, which has been much highlighted. It is important to get clarity on those because, for example, the Galway city ring road has been a much talked about road project. The planning application has been delayed a number of times and is due for decision again towards the end of November. On the other hand, the western rail corridor, which has a great deal of support, although not universal, and which many people would welcome, was not included in the plan. It is, however, included as part of the national rail review. As somebody commented, certainly on the road and rail projects, that there was an attempt to please everybody and it has created a certain level of confusion, so we need clarity on those projects. They are too important to left in limbo. I hope both of the projects I mentioned can be progressed. I would like the Leader to arrange a meeting in the near future on that.
I thank the Leader for setting out the Order of Business. I wish to share my concern about it now. Earlier I had a discussion with some of my colleagues regarding an amendment to the Order of Business. On reflection and to be fair to all concerned, Ministers need time to come to this House and need to prepare to come to this House so I will not proceed with moving an amendment to the Order of Business today. It is my intention to do so tomorrow if we do not have a favourable response. It relates to the scoliosis situation and the 172 children lists. I ask anyone to look at the current RTÉ feed in regard to scoliosis, which quotes extensively what the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have to say. Many members may have seen the issue discussed on RTÉ's "Prime Time" programme last night, yet again the Tánaiste, Dr. Leo Varadkar, talked about his concerns stating "The Government severely regrets that children are experiencing long delays." The Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, says the delays in treatment are not about a lack of resources but reflect on a systemic failure. The reality is I brought a Commencement Matter yesterday and it was more than disappointing, as it did not address the issues. The Minister of State at the Department of Health took the matter. I then took the time to come to the anteroom in the Seanad yesterday evening to meet directly with the Minister for Health, though not by appointment. I handed him the reply and I asked him to take it for a bit of reading for last night. I expressed my view that it was a disgrace and that whoever wrote it should not have been asked. No Minister should have been asked to take that reply from the Department of Health in here because it simply did not address the issues in regard to scoliosis.
This is all coming about as a result of the people from the Scoliosis Advocacy Network contacting me and I am sure many other Senators and, more importantly, a very engaging interview on RTÉ's "Today with Claire Byrne" programme. The issues are now so serious we can have no further delays. Out of respect for the procedures of the House and timing, I am not going to proceed with the proposal to amend the Order of Business today. After all it is only a proposal, but I ask the Leader to use her good office to make contact with the Minister for Health, and see if we can have him in the House if not tomorrow - and quite frankly it is that serious and that is what the parents are demanding and want - certainly on our return from the recess. I am conscious there is a recess and that is an issue. However, it is critical and I do not doubt that every Member shares my concerns and is supportive of the families and guardians of these 172 children who need medical intervention. They do not care if it is public or private and they do not care if the State is buying the treatment in. They are children. Many of us have children and we would not want our children suffering from scoliosis and the agony these children have to endure.
I thank the Senator. I hear what he is saying about the question not being answered in respect of the Commencement matter. The Senator might send that in to me because a number of Members have raised the issue of Ministers reading out replies that do not answer the questions they have asked. I call Senator Vincent Martin.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 19 be taken before No. 1. At the appropriate time I will formally move that request. No. 19 is the introduction of my legislation, the Protection of the Irish Native Honey Bee Bill 2021. Ireland is fortunate to have a pure population of its own native honey bees, which is perfectly adapted to this island, climate and flora. However, it is coming under sustained, ongoing and serious threat from the importation of non-native honey bees. They are less frugal, more aggressive, prone to swarming and they have an adverse impact on biodiversity and ecosystems with the resulting introgression and cross-breeding of the Apis mellifera mellifera.
We are one of the last strongholds of this pure native bee. It is under serious threat. Last year, we reported a documented 327% increase in the importation into this country of non-native honey bee queens. After more than ten years of campaigning, the Native Irish Honey Bee Society will be pleased. This is a step in the right direction. The society is not, however, getting carried away. Complacency will not set in. It is not going away. It is going to stick at this under it gets a permanent satisfying result. I acknowledge the work of its wonderful chairperson, Ms Aoife Nic Giolla Coda, secretary ,Loretta Neary and so many others engaged in that volunteerism. They do this at their own expense, as they are committed to this cause. I thank the Climate Bar Association, an independent expert body, which has reached the conclusion that to amend the law in this way is not repugnant to EU law. I am also grateful the cross-party support which this Bill enjoys. This is where the future lies. If leave to introduced is granted, Members will see on the Bill when it is published shortly thereafter the names of colleagues, who come from each and every political grouping in this Chamber and that is the way forward. With that in mind I anticipate my proposal will be seconded by Senator Erin McGeehan, who is representative of the cross-party approach that we are taking to this.
I listened with interest to some of my colleagues speaking about the roadshow that Deputy McConalogue is currently undertaking. I wish he would include a stop in this House as part of his roadshow because I cannot get a response to the emails I have sent to him. I have requested a meeting with him three times regarding the lack of enforcement of animal welfare laws, particularly in respect of dogs.This is not the first time I have raised the issue in the House. I raise it again because anybody who watched the BBC's "Spotlight" investigative report last night will have been deeply disturbed by the fact Ireland, as an island, is being used to smuggle puppies into Britain from its ports. This is enabling criminal gangs to make millions of euro and depriving Revenue of millions of euro in tax and it is down to a complete lack of enforcement of the existing laws. While we need better co-operation between the authorities North and South, there is a raft of animal welfare laws in this country and they are just not being enforced. That is not good enough. There are fake microchip numbers, fake dog-breeding numbers and fake seller numbers on websites. Illegal adverts are reported daily by animal welfare organisations but, as yet, even though the regulations have been in place since 2020, not one enforcement case has been taken against an illegal advert on online platforms. It is not good enough. The Minister needs to answer the case.
In June of this year, on my request, Dogs Trust appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Its representatives outlined how simple it would be to fix this. There could be a pre-verification system and a national database including the microchip, the dog-breeding licence number and the online sales licence number. That advert would not be able to be posted until it was pre-verified, which would save the welfare organisations all the work of having to manage these sites. Equally, a microchip system could be put in place just like the system for cars. After a number is entered, the system would identify the breed and age of the dog and the name of the person to whom it is registered. This is not rocket science.
The programme for Government promised to strengthen guidelines and dog-breeding regulations but that is not forthcoming. In light of last night's television programme, there is an anomaly in the Animal Health and Welfare Act, which the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, DSPCA, one of the authorities that, unfortunately, has to seize these puppies at the ports, has outlined. It will come before the Oireachtas committee in November to outline the anomaly. When it seizes these puppies, it cannot rehome them within five days, as it could if it had seized them under the Control of Dogs Act. Instead, it has to hold on to the dogs for up to 18 months while the legal proceedings happen. That is bad for both the dog and the animal welfare organisation.
I would welcome the Minister coming before the House. The Leader might write to him inviting him to appear in order that we can have a debate on animal welfare and the lack of enforcement. I cannot get an answer from him, so perhaps this House can.
I will support the proposed Order of Business. I raise the changes in restrictions that will operate from Friday and the very unfair treatment of the live entertainment and music sector in comparison with nightclubs. It beggars belief that patrons will be able to dance in nightclubs but will have to remain seated at music gigs. Musicians and artists have suffered particularly badly over the course of the pandemic, having to reschedule shows and losing huge sums from doing so. It is a really unfair anomaly and it shows there was a lack of thought, with the proposals for the sector almost having been written on the back of a packet of cigarettes. I ask that the Government reconsider the restrictions requiring people to sit down during live music shows because it is particularly unfair on a sector that has suffered a great deal during the pandemic.
The second issue I raise relates to the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, apartments in Finglas, which was reported in The Business Poston Sunday last by Killian Woods. For more than ten years, 26 apartments have lain empty. This underlines the need for not just a vacant lands tax but a vacant homes tax. Habitable residential houses and apartments have been lying empty for ten years and an arm of the State is sitting on empty property while children grow up in hotels just down the road.
There is an contradiction between how NAMA approaches this issue and the so-called Government commitment to home ownership. As can be seen in the marketing material for this Prospect Hill site, the agency is selling it directly to investors rather than owner-occupiers or individual people and is touting its potential rental income of more than €1 million a year. It is a great disappointment and a missed opportunity that an arm of the State, controlled by the Government, is selling on a group of apartments to investors and trying to trap people into long-term rental while, at the same time, that same State and Government are not giving renters tenancy and security of tenure. We need a wider debate on how NAMA has operated in the housing market and how it sees itself as a purely commercial vehicle rather than an organisation that has responsibility for a social good, that is, the provision of land and housing for people who live in this country.
I draw attention to the horrific abuse of adults with intellectual disabilities that occurred at the Ard Gréine Court facility, Donegal. On Friday last, The Irish Timesran another piece on the issue after it finally received a copy of the unpublished report into the matter, the Brandon report. We now know that approximately 108 incidents of devastating abuse were experienced by at least 18 residents of this facility, many of them non-verbal, over a period of about 13 years. It is shocking. The HSE management had full knowledge of this abuse, yet refused to supply the Minister for Health with a report on the abuse when it was requested. One of the most shocking aspects of this revelation is that none of the family members of those who had experienced the abuse were informed until December 2018. In some cases, this was more than a decade after the abuse had occurred.
The Brandon report is just one example of the horrendous abuse and neglect of adults at risk in Ireland that has been revealed in recent months. Sexual abuse is not the only issue. "RTÉ Investigates: Care in Covid" highlighted that the neglect of adults in nursing homes during the pandemic violated their dignity and contributed to deaths. This all comes under the umbrella of adult safeguarding. We are in desperate need of adult safeguarding legislation that will enforce the mandatory reporting of abuse in order that those who hide or cover up abuse will become legally culpable for it. We are also in need of an adult safeguarding body to monitor adult safeguarding, with powers to investigate abuse.
In 2017, the then Senator Colette Kelleher of the Civil Engagement Group introduced the Adult Safeguarding Bill in the Seanad and mandatory reporting was at its core. There was positive engagement on the Bill from many in the House and we in the Civil Engagement Group welcomed the cross-party support we received. I again raise this issue, however, to emphasise the urgency regarding adult safeguarding. I worry the Government does not share my sense of urgency. Since Colette's Bill was referred to the Law Reform Commission, no significant progress has been made to protect adults at risk. It is shocking. The commission's report is not due until next year. No interim steps have been taken to protect adults at risk of abuse.
I call on the Government to take action on this immediately and to request an interim report from the Law Reform Commission. We simply cannot afford to wait until next year. The HSE management that covered up the abuse in Donegal was repeatedly advised that what it was doing would be seen as complicity in the abuse. We in this Legislature are now at the point where we too are guilty of complicity in this abuse. Again and again, we have received shocking reports of the abuse of adults at risk occurring throughout this island and still we have not taken any concrete legislative steps towards stopping it. I hope other Senators share my sense of urgency regarding the issue. We must end our complicity in the pain and suffering of so many people. If we can save one life, will it not be worth it?
I raise the issue of the upcoming carbon budget. There has been some coverage of it on national media recently and it will be a worthwhile project as part of our programme for Government. I come from a very successful farming region in the midlands. We need assurances the agricultural sector will be afforded adequate funding. Farmers will have to pull their weight on this but they will need the funding to go hand in hand, leading to sustainable means of production.There will also be new opportunities in the areas of genomics, grasslands, feedstuffs, carbon sequestration and potential alternative energy production. I refer to the generation and use of such energy on farms themselves and its feeding into the national grid.
One of the biggest problems we face and one of the biggest transformations we must make is in the area of carbon budgets and the changes required in energy networks in that regard. I refer to the ESB and the national grid tapping into the energy generated on farms. There is a serious complication in this area and the ESB must put its shoulder to the wheel in this regard as well. I am seeking assurances from the Leader regarding this issue. It is easy to talk about our herd numbers and there being a need to cull them. The figures speak for themselves and there is no doubt about that. I am also sure, however, that farmers will make these changes if they are given an option in the context of all the modern ways in which it is now possible to address these issues and if good funding is also provided.
I raise the issue of water services and Irish Water and the impact this is having on rural towns and villages. The need for investment in water services is apparent. We have a new housing policy and its success is dependent on the provision of adequate water and sewerage services. I am talking about this issue because of an instance I came across yesterday where planning permission was refused in Rosscarbery on the back of not having adequate infrastructure. It is not possible to provide water services on the site because Irish Water's infrastructure does not have the capacity to service it.
If this trend were to continue, we could have similar situations in places like Courtmacsherry and Clonakilty as well as in Rosscarbery. Those areas could, in effect, be sterilised regarding the building of housing for the next five years until such time as adequate water services are provided. That would have a huge impact on rural society and on the constituency of Cork South-West, and we must have a coherent debate on how we are going to provide adequate water services in the short term. We all have long-term plans, but short-term needs exist and they are apparent. We must see a vast improvement in our housing figures and the key to achieving that lies in the provision of water services in the short term.
This aspect must be prioritised, and especially in places like Clonakilty, Rosscarbery and Courtmacsherry. If that is done, then significant developments can happen in the next five years. To have a situation as we now do, where development has been effectively sterilised because of a lack of water services, is bizarre and cannot continue. I ask the Leader, therefore, if we can have a debate on this issue with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien, in the context of bringing forward meaningful and short-term remedies to deal with these water issues.
I advise colleagues that RTÉ's "Nationwide" programme at 7 o'clock this evening will feature a film on what it was really like to be at Jadotville. Everybody here should watch it. I will not say any more on that matter because it is sub judice.
I am sure the Leader is aware that many of us are receiving emails concerning a statement she made in this House on 14 October. I fully support what she said.
We must have a national conversation about those who have decided, for whatever reason, that they do not wish to be vaccinated. The Government must step into the frame and provide the education and information required to deal with this issue of people who are genuinely afraid of vaccines. Early in the summer, I stated I was due to have an AstraZeneca vaccination and that I was uncomfortable with it because I was being told it was a case of take it or leave it. Like everybody else, I want to be safe. I said I was not against vaccination in any way but I felt then I did not know enough about the AstraZeneca vaccine. The HSE contacted Twitter to advise the company that I was spreading misinformation. Under the video of me speaking here, there is a statement warning it is misinformation. I expressed a concern and at no stage did I offer misinformation of any sort.
This issue must be discussed openly. Some 300,000 people in the country are saying they do not want to be vaccinated. I fully respect their view and their right not to be vaccinated. I also respect the right of all those workers who must go into an office or workplace to be aware they may be sitting beside colleagues who may not be vaccinated. I also want those not vaccinated to know that I, as a vaccinated person, may be carrying the virus and that people working alongside me may be subjected to transmission and may not have the requisite protections. There is no incitement to hatred, which is what the accusation is. There is no need for any organisation concerned with equality or anybody else to be involved. Education is required and people must understand the risk involved in both directions.
I welcome the intervention by the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, yesterday regarding the accident and emergency department in Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan. He ordered the HSE to back down over plans to shut that accident and emergency department. The Meath Chroniclecaptured the situation well this morning when it referred to the Minister halting plans to shut the accident and emergency department. I welcome the Minister ordering the management and clinicians to engage now with the community through its elected representatives, something they probably wanted to bypass.
There are gaping holes in these proposals, no more so than the fact that the North-East Doctor on Call, NEDOC, had to issue a public statement this week, and this was again covered by the Meath Chroniclethis morning, pointing out that the HSE proposals to change the accident and emergency department to a GP referral-led medical assessment unit will not work because the doctor-on-call system in the county is already beyond breaking point. One arm of the HSE had to point out to another arm of the organisation that, in 2019, a normal year before the impact of Covid-19, 33,500 patients were dealt with by that system. This year, and we are still only in October and have two months to go yet before its end, 34,000 patients have already been dealt with.
The figures speak for themselves in this regard. The basis of the HSE's plans to ram this change through using the mantra that services in the accident and emergency department in Navan hospital are unsafe has now been contradicted by another arm of the same organisation, which has stated these plans would be unsafe because the required GP capacity does not exist in the county to deal with a medical assessment unit. It would be a damn sight better if the HSE addressed the existing deficiencies in the system before trying to reconfigure it. I look forward to the HSE listening to the community and dealing with public representatives. I pay tribute to and thank the Minister for halting those plans.
I ask that we respectfully request the Minister for Justice, Deputy Humphreys, to come to the House to debate antisocial behaviour and protecting our local communities. I make that request cognisant that there are many reasons for antisocial behaviour. I am a member of the joint policing committee in Cork city and it has become clear there has been an increase in antisocial behaviour. This issue is becoming a concern not just in our capital city but also in Cork and other parts of the country.
I want to have that debate with the Minister, while being conscious that 800 extra gardaí were promised in the budget and there has also been an increase of €6.7 million in the budget for the youth justice system in respect of youth diversion projects. This issue, however, does not just concern young people and youth diversion projects. It is about ensuring we tackle the scourge of antisocial behaviour. Documentary evidence captured by the "Prime Time" programme and anecdotal information we have received ourselves demonstrate we must tackle this issue. In doing so, a joined-up approach must be adopted by a combination of Departments and organisations.
I ask, therefore, that we have a debate on this issue at the Minister’s earliest convenience to allow us to discuss how to eliminate the element of fear many people now feel regarding coming into our capital city. Equally, that element of fear is similarly felt when people are walking about the streets of their own towns and my city of Cork and other large urban areas. I hope this debate would take place over time, that it would be a rolling discussion, and that we would bring in and involve other Ministers.
Last week we heard many announcements regarding budgets and budget spending. We were told that never have we spent so much before and so on and so forth. You can imagine my reaction when I was contacted by a family in Castleconnell who are residents of a council house and whose shower has completely broken down after 15 years. I wrote to Limerick City and County Council and explained the situation. I received a reply yesterday evening which stated that, due to funding constraints, housing maintenance is not currently in a position to upgrade bathrooms but that it may be in a position to contribute to upgrade works in early 2022. The council went on to state that if the tenant could supply a new toilet, cistern, shower tray and wash-hand basin, then housing maintenance could ring-fence funding to complete the works. I would love to have an explanation for that. Can you imagine a private landlord writing back to a tenant and telling them if they supplied half the equipment, then he or she would do the job? That is the response that Limerick City and County Council is giving to council tenants. Words fail me.
In this time of abundance and unparalleled spending by Government, it appears that our local authorities do not have the money to maintain decency. I am talking about a family of seven. There is a hole in their kitchen ceiling. Yet, Limerick City and County Council is telling the family that if they supply all the equipment, it will get the work done. Is that acceptable or reasonable, or is it just plain outrageous? Why is it that council tenants in my county are being treated as second-class citizens? It is shocking.
I want a debate on local authority funding. I acknowledge that Sinn Féin included a lot more on this issue in its pre-budget submission. We stated that €30 million should be invested in this area next year and that annual funding for the regeneration and upgrading of social housing stock should be increased to €100 million per year. My God, there is something fundamentally wrong when a family of seven cannot have a shower and the council tells them that they should supply the equipment in order to have the work required carried out.
First, I would like to extend my deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of Sir David Amess MP, who I had reason to meet a number of times. He was also an alternate on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, as I was in the last term. What happened to him last Friday was truly shocking. I wish to place on the record my condolences, which I extend to his friends and family. I appreciate the fact that the Ceann Comhairle, on behalf of Members, has arranged a mass to be said for him on Thursday.
I wish to continue on from Senator Craughwell's reference to the Leader's comments, which were, I think, my fault to a certain extent, because the Leader was responding by email to me at the time on the issue of vaccines. As a result, a certain cohort of people replied to all of us about what the Leader said. This is really important, particularly in the context of yesterday. After all, yesterday should have been a really good day. While progress was made yesterday in terms of the relaxing of some restrictions, at the same time we had the largest number of cases in a single day since January. There is no doubt that those who are choosing, for whatever reason, to not be vaccinated are contributing very significantly to the number of cases. Equally, as the Leader rightly pointed out last week, the same is the case in respect of the 70,000 people who got one dose of vaccine - they are clearly not that vaccine hesitant - and who decided not to get a second. It is most important. For those in the hospitality sector, there was certainly a gap between what they expected to happen yesterday and what did happen. There is an enormous amount of confusion and palpable frustration among those individuals regarding the fact that you can do things with a late licence that you cannot do without a late licence and you can do things in nightclubs that you cannot do in bars and various other venues. There is a very frustrating inconsistency in that regard.
There is no doubt that the Government supported the hospitality sector through the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and the implementation of digital Covid certificates, but, equally, there were a huge number of anomalies in the context of yesterday's announcement. I encourage the Leader to organise a debate, if possible before the recess, with the Minister for Health. Sláintecare was discussed yesterday. Sláintecare is a long-term plan. This is urgent. We need to talk about the inconsistencies and try to support the hospitality sector as best we can.
Like Senator Davitt, I wish to call for a debate in relation to climate change and climate action. There is so much work to be done over the next ten years to meet our targets that a debate in this Chamber would be most welcome. The budget for climate action is going to be €20 billion a year for the next ten years. Ten years ago, that figure of €20 billion represented half the amount that it took to run the country. It is an enormous amount. There are many changes to be made in a number of areas, including those of the parking of cars and parking points, the exportation of energy, the development of autonomous vehicles, traffic light systems, farming and from a commercial point of view. A raft of changes will be needed over the next ten years to meet the targets that have been set by the Government. I would welcome a debate on this issue and on the proposed budget of €20 billion a year for the next ten years.
I formally second the introduction of the Bill to protect our native Irish honey bee. I am glad that we have the Minister of State from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with us today because this is a most important issue. We are at a crisis point in the context of protecting our native Irish honey bee. It is most important. The bee is a small creature, but this is not a small issue. It is about time that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine looked beyond beekeeping as a mere hobby. It is integral to agriculture and food production in this country. The Department needs to move beyond the hobby mentality and see what beekeepers have known for generations, namely, that beekeeping is inextricably linked to food production. This matter should be priority for the Department. While we have the Minister of State here, I wish to highlight that we should be looking towards counting active beehives as a unit of livestock. This would assist both beekeepers and farmers to achieve what we need, which is to protect our native bee stock and to realise what is laid out in our all-Ireland pollinator plan. It is most important. I thank Senator Martin for his work on the Bill.
Recently, I spoke in the Chamber about an intensive dairy farmer who does not use chemical fertilisers to grow his grass. Describing how he feeds his cows on a multispecies sward, a mix of grasses, clovers and herbs, I said that I hoped I was seeing the future in the way that he and his family were farming. Since then, in budget 2022, my Department has allocated €1 million to pilot a reseeding programme. We want to support farmers to use multispecies sward seed at no extra cost in order that they can try growing nitrogen-free crops too. I really hope farmers give this a go, because I continue to see more examples of productive pasture management without chemical nitrogen, which instills confidence in me that this can be the future.
Synthetic fertilisers deplete the soil of nutrients and will eventually kill it by destroying its natural functionality. While this may take a long time, and our Irish soils may be a long way from death, in the end, synthetic fertiliser, if we apply enough for long enough, will not just continue to pollute our rivers and air, it will turn our soil barren such that nothing will grow. That is simply a fact. It is a fact which does not have to fill us with dread because while chemical nitrogen helps grass grow, so does naturally fixed nitrogen, but without the damage. Clover is a really effective and natural nitrogen-fixing machine.
I have seen some of the work, enthusiasm and results. Teagasc is doing work on clover at Moorepark and Solohead Farm, while in Johnstown Castle, it has carried out years of research on multispecies swards, to see if adding in herbs can make the grazing even better, the carbon sequestration more effective and improve the soil microbial activity.
Yes, a multispecies sward is managed differently to a monoculture sward. In some ways, it might be more challenging, but in other ways it is easier. I certainly believe it is worth a try.I certainly believe it is worth a try, not just for the potential savings in fertiliser costs, but also for the satisfaction we can all derive from healthy soils and from feeding our animals and land in a way which works for them and us and for the climate challenges ahead. This is the future.
I support the calls for a debate on antisocial behaviour, but also on general disorder in public and the lawlessness we have seen. I have raised this issue in the House previously. Much of that antisocial behaviour and, in particular, that lawlessness is directed towards people who are not Irish. That is a particular aspect that we need to address. Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting two Slovak-born men who were recognised by the Slovakian Government for their contribution to society. One of them, Joe Veselsky, a resident of Booterstown, is 103 years of age today. I congratulate him. He came to Ireland in 1949, having been part of the Czech resistance and lost members of his family in Auschwitz. Tomi Reichental was also recognised. He came to Ireland in 1959, having survived the Holocaust in Bergen-Belsen. It strikes me that many of the people we are talking about are the modern counterparts of these men. They are people who have come to Ireland and made their home here and who are contributing at every level of our society. I hope that, 60 years from now, we will be able to recognise the modern counterparts of these men who have come here from Brazil and other countries that are very far away and very different from Ireland, who have made their homes here and who have made themselves part of our communities and contributed to our society not only economically but culturally and in all the other aspects of a functioning society. They are doing that and there are people in Ireland who do not understand the value they bring to our society. As part of our consideration of lawlessness, public disorder, antisocial behaviour and all of the other aspects of behaviour in society, we must consider that these people are also part of our society. As a Legislature and, more importantly, as a community and a society, we must reach out to welcome them and to acknowledge the contribution they make.
I too support colleagues in calling for a debate on antisocial behaviour. Senator Ward articulated very well a modern problem in respect of antisocial behaviour. Certain people in our community are suffering and we need to address that. We also need to address what is going on in our streets not only in the city of Dublin, but also in other towns where wanton thuggery is taking place. We need to ensure that the streets of our towns and cities are safe for people to come and go. Ireland is a place of welcome. We hope to rebuild our tourism industry and to return to 10 million people visiting our country a year. When people do come, they need to be able to travel around our country and our towns and cities safely, whether by day or by night. That debate is necessary and, like others, I welcome the announcement of 800 extra gardaí in the budget. That will certainly help increase the complement of gardaí to a figure in excess of 15,000. That is where we want it. We never want to go under 15,000 gardaí again. There has also been significant investment in ICT, equipment and vehicles for An Garda Síochána but the simple reality is that there are parts of the city of Dublin and our towns around the country that are no-go areas and that has to be ended.
I will follow on from Senator Craughwell's comments regarding the emails, which I am sure everyone will have received, in respect of the Leader's comments last week. These comments were in response to comments I made to her in respect of the digital Covid certificate. I just want to show support for the comments she made. Everything the Government is doing in bringing forward measures is meant to protect people, people's lives and industries. The comments made in emails such as those we have received are also made by some public representatives. I know of one in Tipperary who takes a populist view and calls the measures discriminatory, medical apartheid and rubbish like that when all we are trying to do is protect people. I support the Leader in the comments she made last week.
I ask her for a debate with the Minister for Rural and Community Development at some point. I do not recall us having such a debate previously. I would like to discuss the funding of projects under the rural regeneration and development fund. There was good news yesterday for a number of projects that received extra funding. There were two such projects in County Tipperary. A project in Thurles got an extra €500,000 on top of the €3 million it has received to develop a permanent structure for a farmers' market. That is a really good project for the centre of the town.
There is a problem with the rural regeneration and development fund that we need to work to solve. In the latest round of applications, a contingency of approximately 25% was allowed for to take into account the changes in material and development costs to get projects from start to finish. In previous rounds, there was only a contingency of 5%. Some of those projects are only starting now but what they will now cost to complete is far greater than the funding sought from the Department, even with that 5% contingency funding. I ask for a debate with the Minister to discuss increasing the contingency funding to 25% for those applications made in previous rounds, which is what new applications are to receive.
I stand in solidarity with the Leader's remarks and support her in them. Last Sunday, Daniel Murray published an article in the Business Post with the headline "Government to defer legislating for international surrogacy services". I appreciate that there is momentum and that hard work is going on behind the scenes. I probably know more than most about just how much is going on and how many meetings and so on are taking place. The Ministers from the Departments of Justice, Health and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have met five times in the past year to move this along, because it is within those three Departments that needs and issues have arisen. However, headlines like that and the repeated delays do nothing but cause fear and horror for families across the country whose children were born via surrogacy.
It is not that there has not been an incredibly ethical framework put forward that safeguards the rights of children and puts them first and that safeguards the human rights of the surrogates and parents. There are women around this country who are not entitled to sign permission slips for their children in school and who have been rejected and told that they are not the mothers of their children. There are children who are being teased about this in school. There are children who were born via surrogacy who are shortly to turn 18, because that is how long this has been going on in this country, and who will now never have that legal relationship with their parents because they will be adults. Mothers are being denied legal connection with their children and children are being denied legal recognition of their relationship with their mothers and the provisions regarding inheritance from parents and grandparents that flow from that. The delay is appalling. Will the Leader please write to the Ministers to seek clarification and to urge that legislation be hastened through and that, under no circumstances, should the Bill on assisted human reproduction registration be published without surrogacy, both domestic and international, being comprehensively addressed?
I echo the comments in support of the Leader on the remarks she made last week. She is 100% correct and I fully stand by and support her comments. I also support Senator Ahearn's remarks with regard to rural regeneration projects. In my own county, projects have had to be redesigned because of rising costs. Even this redesigning to bring the projects in line with the funding approved comes at a cost. I support the Senator's comments. I welcome the funding announced for a project in Ballymahon. It is a major project and has received additional funding but, as I have said, other projects are struggling.
I will raise the issue of hospice beds, which I have raised previously. There is just one hospice bed in County Longford to cover a population of 40,000 people. We raised this issue with the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, when he was on a visit a number of years ago before the redesign of the St. Joseph's campus. We secured agreement for an additional bed but now the HSE is not prepared to follow through on it.I will read a couple of lines from a letter I got back from the Health Service Executive when I asked about the two beds. It states:
Such a decision will also have a financial impact on the unit, reducing the income to the unit through the fair deal scheme and increasing the cost of care. Any commitment to increasing the number of palliative care beds at the expense of a long-stay bed would have to be accompanied by an appropriate budgetary allocation to compensate for the fair deal income reduction in order to maintain services for the current and future residents in St. Joseph's care centre.
We are putting a cost on placing an additional care bed for people with hospice needs. I do not have the exact figures but I am seeking to get them officially so I can put them on the record. We have way in excess of the average number of hours of hospice care going into homes because we do not have that additional hospice care bed for families in our county. That is not acceptable.
I rise to speak on two matters. The first relates to yesterday's announcements on reopening and the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. I am concerned about healthcare workers and particularly people in nursing homes. I call for priority to be given to healthcare workers because they are dealing with more vulnerable people in nursing homes. They should receive boosters as a matter of urgency. Perhaps antigen testing could be used in nursing homes as well when it comes to infection control etc., which is really important when people are entering nursing homes. Many nursing homes are closed now because there may be infection and people are not able to visit. If antigen testing was in place and a booster injection could be given to healthcare workers and patients, it would help.
Yesterday there were many announcements relating to the reopening of society and a number of restrictions have been eased. In the budget, we have allocated money for marketing the country and encouraging tourism but coach tours are currently operating at 75% capacity and there has been no announcement on that restriction on people on coaches being lifted. The restriction for school buses was at 50% and there was no clear announcement around that either. Perhaps the Leader might be able to find out the story for school and tourism coaches.
I deleted those couple of emails that I got straight away. When it is a copy and paste job, one cannot take it too seriously but I will focus on the rest. Two thirds of the people in intensive care units in this country are not vaccinated so what more do we need to be told about the power of vaccines? It is scientific evidence that vaccines work. This links to some points I will make about Facebook and the prevalence of Covid-19 misinformation on the platform and its groups, about which I have spoken for the past year.
This morning we heard reports that Facebook chief executive Mr. Mark Zuckerberg is planning to overhaul and rename Facebook. That will not remove the toxicity in the concept of what Facebook has become. In August this year Facebook stated it removed dozens of sources of anti-vaccination information but there were anti-vaccination protests nonetheless. They were not huge and comprised a rabble of head-the-balls. A couple of them will be coming along tomorrow, Thursday, and it is all being advertised through Facebook. For example, it is stated that this will not be a child-friendly protest. One post reads: "We are the people demanding this caretaker Government stands down with immediate effect the continuance of medical apartheid and lockdown of this people." These people are being radicalised online.
We saw excellent testimony before the United States Senate by Ms Frances Haugen some weeks ago, who said that in order for Facebook to maximise profits, the company decides the algorithm, leading to outrage and hate bouncing off each other. The algorithm increases the level of toxicity and hatred online and as a result we see events like people going into hospitals to tell people vaccines are killing people and they will save the people, only to see them dying a few days later. There must be something serious done about Covid-19 misinformation spread online, particularly on Facebook. Governments must now step in to regulate the area as social media has failed to do it time and again.
I thank colleagues for their support. The mass arranged by the Ceann Comhairle for the late Sir David Amess following his tragic death is tomorrow, Thursday, 21 October at 12.45 p.m. at St. Teresa's Church on Clarendon Street. I am sure people will want to pay their respects.
Senator McGahon spoke this morning about the need for an online safety commission and regulator of all our online social spaces. Senator Malcolm Byrne regularly speaks on the same topic. There is certainly a variety of different views on any number of topics that can be discussed on social media. What concerns me and what must be absolutely regulated is when the debate becomes incredibly divisive, abusive, threatening and harassing. It does not seem to take much to get people from just having a conversation or interaction to being called a Nazi. It does not take very long. We must further that discussion and support the Minister in all his efforts to ensure we get that online safety commission and regulator, along with a culture of regulation, into social media. People are allowed to think what they want and we must certainly respect people's views and the differences therein. We do not have to tolerate being threatened and called horrible names.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the need for screening in nursing homes. Although we are in a very different place than we were last year, there are definitely some concerns that we did not learn from what happened at the beginning of this pandemic. I very much support the Senator in asking the Minister to provide the resources to our nursing homes, both public and private, to ensure all staff receive boosters and that visitors allowed in are screened. The Senator is right that many nursing homes are not allowing in visitors because of the current spike in numbers.
I will write a letter to inquire about transport capacity. It is interesting that the Senator notes the two relatively private industries - coach tourism and school transport - are at 50% or 75% but the public transport system is at 100% capacity. There seems to be another anomaly there but I will write a letter today inquiring about that.
Senator Garret Ahearn and Micheál Carrigy asked for a debate on rural regeneration and I will write to the Minister today to see if we can get in that debate before Christmas. What Senator Carrigy described this morning is an example of an organisation being penny wise and pound foolish. It makes absolutely no sense that we incur costs in one part of the health service because we cannot afford to expend costs in another that would then save costs on the initial side. I do not know if there is anything I can do for the Senator but I might speak to him after the Order of Business to see if I can help with that hospice bed in Longford.
When I was first elected to the Oireachtas in 2011 and former Deputy Alan Shatter was made the Minister with responsibility for justice, he spent an inordinate amount of time looking at progressing the legislation around surrogacy because he had a huge interest in it. Here we are 11 years later still trying to tell people how difficult it is. I have no doubt it is not easy but that does not mean it should not be prioritised. It is really shocking to read again, in a Sunday newspaper, about extended delays with the three Departments working together. Again, I will send a letter to the Minister but we should ask for a meeting so we can find out exactly what is at the root of the problem and ensure we can give reassurances to the considerable number of families and children directly affected by this debacle. I will come back to Senator Seery Kearney about that.
Senators Martin Conway, Barry Ward and Jerry Buttimer asked for a debate on antisocial behaviour. When we started this conversation a couple of months ago we spoke about big cities like Dublin, Limerick and Cork but it is not a problem just in big cities any more. I live in a relatively small town and there is a gang of 15-year-olds and 16-year-olds going around beating up 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds. Our noticeboards are alight at the weekend asking if we have seen a particular fellow with a particular colour hair. It is the attitude and culture.
Senator Barry Ward spoke about our larger cities and the prevailing change in culture that affects our new Irish. The gentleman he spoke about is not new because he is 103. He is here a long time. We really must check ourselves and ensure correct measures can be put in place to try to arrest that kind of change in our culture.
The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, spoke about multi-species sward feeds and the use of clovers in grasslands. Her contribution was very welcome.Senator McGreehan seconded the Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill 2021 that will be introduced by Senator Martin. I really hope it gets cross-party support. Both Senators are right that there is a crisis and it is not a small issue, particularly for people earning their living and producing food.
Senator Burke asked for a climate debate. I will try to arrange this. Senator Horkan asked for a debate on the hospitality sector and the confusion caused yesterday. To be fair to the Ministers at the Cabinet table yesterday, they were trying to react in a timely manner to the information they had and to give as much notice as they possibly could. They really are caught between a rock and a hard place. I have no doubt that based on consultation today and tomorrow those anomalies will be ironed out. There are obviously some, if not many, inconsistencies and they will also be fixed.
Senator Gavan talked about a family renting from the local authority in Limerick. What he said was absolutely outrageous. I do not know whether it is worth my while writing on our behalf to the county manager or the CEO. It is absolutely unacceptable. Can we imagine the headlines on the front of the Daily Mailor the Irish Independentif a private landlord said not to mind a shower and that people would be grand in a couple of years' time. It is not acceptable. It should not make a difference who the landlord is. Landlords have responsibilities and tenants have rights. I will write a letter and send it to Senator Gavan today. Perhaps he will have a look at it and send it back.
Senator Cassells spoke about the intervention of the Minister yesterday on the accident and emergency department in Navan, which was very welcome. Senator Craughwell reminded us of a programme on Jadotville that will be shown tonight on RTÉ at 7 p.m. He also spoke about the need for a Government information and education programme on trying to encourage vaccination. I really do not think telling people vaccine centres are open and to come along on Saturday will be enough to bring some of the 300,000 people left. If they have genuine concerns we need to address them. A different type of education and information programme might be warranted and needed.
Senator Lombard asked for a debate on water services specific to Cork. We could probably widen it out. A considerable number of housing developments are being delayed because they do not have access to the services required for the sites. We need to iron these out and come up with some short-term solutions.
Senator Davitt asked for a debate on carbon and our climate action budgets. We will try to arrange this. Senator Black spoke about the awful news released over the weekend with regard to the 108 incidents of abuse over many years. What I think is most shocking is that the direction of the Minister to publish the report continues to be ignored. This is absolutely astounding. I will certainly send a letter looking for an interim report from the Law Reform Commission for the Senator and we will see where it goes.
Senator Moynihan spoke about musicians and the announcements coming from the deliberations over the coming days. I hope we have them before Friday. Senator Martin spoke about his Bill. Senator Boyhan expressed concerns about waiting lists and I will certainly ask the Minister to attend the House for a debate as quickly as I possibly can. He was here yesterday to discuss Sláintecare.
Senator Kyne spoke about the roadshow of the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. He also spoke about the need for a debate on the national development plan and Project Ireland 2040. The debate request has been made but it will be the other side of the recess before the Minister gets to come back to us with a date.
Senator O'Loughlin opened today by discussing World Osteoporosis Day. She encouraged women to get themselves screened because usually it is only after an accident or a fall that they find out there is something. The earliest intervention would provide the most efficient and best outcomes. The Senator spoke about the debate on dyslexia last week and the continuing roadblocks of bureaucratic nonsense put in children's way when trying to access services. There probably is a need for a debate on it. I will try to arrange it as quickly as I can.
I thank Senator Boyhan. I do not know how I missed it. There is a request in because Senator Boyhan wanted to table amendments to legislation a number of weeks ago. I have written to the Minister but he has not come back to me. I will ring the office again today. We keep coming back to the same mantra again that things are important and yet they slip and slip. We certainly do need to keep the pressure on. I will write to the Minister today and I will come back to the Senator. My apologies.
Senator Martin has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 19 be taken before No. 1." It has been seconded by Senator McGreehan. The Leader has indicated that she is willing to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.