Thursday, 21 October 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the address to Seanad Éireann by MEPs representing the European Parliament, Dublin constituency on Tuesday, 2 November, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, the Finance (European Stability Mechanism and Single Resolution Fund) Bill 2021 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m.
I support the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader. Before today's Order of Business we received news that the restrictions in regard to partners attending maternity appointments and labour will be lifted from 1 November within the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. every day. This is welcome news. We all acknowledge that babies are born between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. At the same time we must be cognisant of the public health restrictions and reduced staff on duty during those hours. I pay tribute to all the women and their partners who campaigned for this, such as Emma Cross, who gave voice to the deep frustration and sadness they had experienced. I also thank the Leader for the role she played and the Irish women's parliamentary caucus in terms of fighting for this.
Last week I spoke to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, in regard to this issue. He reminded me, and it is important to remember, that six babies have died of Covid-19 in maternity hospitals and that on any given day, seven pregnant women were in ICU. It is important to think of those lost souls and to remember them and their parents, and to wish every pregnant woman well. It is really good news.
It is go slow day today to remind everybody about the danger of speeding and compliance with speed limits. There have been 113 people killed so far this year in fatal road accidents and many others injured and maimed. It is important that we re-emphasise road safety in our schools, both primary and secondary. We should have an education policy about cyclists, e-scooters and pedestrians. Every school student in the country should be given a yellow vest to wear at all times. This is very important.
The half-price public transport for 19 to 23-year-olds is an important and significant step. It is important that it is for all young people, not just for students. If I could make a call out in regard to mature students who are over the age of 23, it should be extended to them. It should also be extended to private vehicle owners.
I wish to comment on the Passport Office and passport services. I acknowledge the pressure the services and staff are under who are liaising with ourselves and the general public with regard to pressures within the system. There is of course pent-up demand for passports, and delays due to Covid-19. Covid-19 meant people were not travelling but they are now. We always support Ireland as the venue of choice and people to staycation. We have to acknowledge as well that people wish to go abroad for a break with family or with mates. Sometimes it is planned for months, sometimes it might be a spur of the moment, and sometimes it is an emergency, it might be for a funeral or to support a loved one abroad who has illness or whatever. The passport is so necessary, and there must be a better way than what we have at the moment in terms of the pressures, the frustration and upset, and the postponements and costs that families are incurring. If ever there was a misnomer it is "Passport Express" because eight to ten weeks is not express. Using that word might give people the view that that is the best way to go. It is not. Online is the best way to go. Online is the quickest and most efficient way to apply. That is not to say that there are not sometimes delays but they can be more quickly sorted online.
The Department of Foreign Affairs needs to introduce a system of notification of time-to-renew one's passport say six months or a year in advance, by text or email. Elderly people who may not be tech-savvy could nominate a family member to receive such a notification. It should not be outside the bounds of modern technology to be able to do that. Airlines could step up also. It might not be in their interests but there should be somewhere when one is booking a flight to tick one has checked one's passport or what the expiry date of one's passport is.Reminders should be provided because, unfortunately, too many people only remember to check the expiry date a few days or maybe a week before their flight, only to find it has passed. Then panic sets in, phone calls are made and blood pressure rises. The consequences of that are huge. There needs to be a better system in place. Yes, Covid has caused the backlog we have at the moment, but we must also move away from the paper system and provide supports, possibly in the form of sub-offices, for those elderly people who may not be tech savvy. There needs to be a better system. I urge the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government to look at those alternatives. We could also look at additional passport offices, including in the west, such as in Galway, for example, and in Northern Ireland. There are actions that can be taken to expedite the process and solve some of the delays we are having.
I agree with what Senator Kyne has said. Perhaps Passport Express should be renamed "Passport stopping at all stations".
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for mentioning the mass for the late Sir David Amess today, to which people of all faiths and none are welcome. It is no harm at this point to thank all those who made this possible, including the British ambassador, who will address the congregation after communion today, and the Australian ambassador, who I believe will be present as well.
The Leader will forgive me for not being here to hear her response because of arrangements I must make in respect of that ceremony, but I will be paying close attention to what she says. As I think everybody knows, an issue has arisen with commercial rates, stemming from a decision of the High Court last week. It deserves some focus and attention and, potentially, action from Government and the Oireachtas. As we know, registered charities are ordinarily exempt from paying rates, but last week the High Court ruled charities which include the advancement of religion as one of their charitable objects are not exempt from rates under the Valuation Act. This was in a case concerning Tearfund Ireland, a Christian group that does development work in impoverished parts of the Third World, which is a registered charity. The High Court found that because one of the objects of the organisation was the advancement of religion, a phrase well-known to people who know about charity law, it could not qualify as a charitable organisation under the 2001 Act and therefore was not eligible for a rates exemption.
It seems strange a registered charity doing work among the poor and the hungry anywhere in the world would not be considered a charitable organisation for the purposes of any legislation. I do not think that could have been the intention of the Oireachtas when it passed the Valuation Act. You could literally have two registered charities in adjacent premises, both dedicated to the cause of helping the homeless, with one being entirely secular and the other, because it has a religious ethos or affiliation, not being eligible under the valuation legislation.
If the two definitions of charitable organisation in the Valuation Act 2001 and the Charities Act 2009 are not properly or fully merged by section 3 of the Valuation Act 2001, as amended, then that means there are charitable organisations that are charitable by the law on charities but are not by the law on valuation. That contradiction cannot be let stand. It is not my job to blame either the original legislation or the courts that interpret it. There is a problem here that must be fixed. The purpose of section 2(a) of the Valuation (Amendment) Act 2015 was clearly to adopt for valuation purposes the definition of "charitable organisation" in section 2 of the Charities Act 2009. Thus, we have the faintly ludicrous, or maybe extremely ludicrous, position that the definition of "charitable purpose" is sufficient to secure exemptions from income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax, deposit interest retention tax, capital acquisitions tax, dividend withholding tax and professional services withholding tax but insufficient to secure an exemption from the payment of rates. That cannot have been the intention of the legislator. I even wonder about the constitutionality of the exclusion of an organisation on the basis its charitable purpose was religion.
This is a matter for us as legislators to attend to and I hope it is something the Government can take an interest in. I would certainly like to be involved in the process of remedying this contradiction, which seems to have no just reason for its existence.
I join colleagues in thanking those who are making the arrangements for today's service for the late Sir David Amess. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend but I take this opportunity to put on record my sympathies to his family after the tragic and unbelievable events last week.
I also endorse the remarks of Senator Kyne on the Passport Office. Any opportunity we have to engage and convey our experience of what we are dealing with is a welcome one. It is to be hoped it will assist the valiant efforts of staff there. I do not diminish what the workers are doing in the office. I just think they need to be better supported to be able to do their job and expand upon the already impressive work they put in.
Áras Uí Chonghaile, the James Connolly visitor centre in west Belfast, is a fantastic tourism, community and educational facility. It seeks to tell the story of the life of James Connolly and of his family, to give people the opportunity to engage with his story and, indeed, with his politics, writings and philosophies. This weekend the centre will organise a sponsored walk to the historic Cave Hill, which overlooks Belfast and which was the inspiration for Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. It was known also as an historic meeting place for the Society of United Irishmen, where they could meet in secret above the city. The centre is doing a sponsored walk in solidarity with the Moore Street Preservation Trust to support the trust's plans for the regeneration, redevelopment and preservation of the Moore Street historic area. I know there was a Commencement matter on this during the week but I would welcome the opportunity to have an update on Moore Street from the Minister responsible so we can all engage on this important issue. I welcome and support that solidarity being expressed between both cities, going forward.
I also want to reflect on the launch yesterday by my party colleagues, Deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill MLA, and Caoimhe Archibald MLA, of our own tourism strategy which outlines our vision for connecting the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. The Leader will know this is something I have raised before. As we emerge from the restrictions and seek to bolster a safe return of tourists and visitors to Ireland, it is a timely opportunity for the Minister responsible to address us about our international work in promoting Ireland as a tourism destination and how we can all engage to ensure that destination and those services are even better for the many visitors we hope will be able to safely come and see us.
I too extend my condolences to the Amess family and thank those involved in the service today. Unfortunately, I cannot be there myself but Senator Wall will be. It is important we in the Houses mark Sir David Amess's passing.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business such that No. 15 be taken before No. 1. No. 15 is First Stage of the Social Welfare (Surviving Cohabitant’s Pension) Bill 2021. It is incredible in 21st century Ireland that cohabiting couples are assessed jointly for housing purposes, jobseeker's benefit, care benefit, medical cards and accessing college grants as mature students, yet when a partner passes away, that couple is not recognised in the eyes of the law and the remaining partner does not qualify for either a widow or widower's pension. We believe that law needs to be changed urgently.
The issue I wish to raise is that we are seeing an increasingly difficult situation in children's hospitals at the moment because of the sharp rise in respiratory illnesses. Worryingly, we had reports this week of one pediatric ICU bed being available. We have heard also the stories of parents. Of course, only one parent is allowed in with the baby. They are having to hold their young child for up to nine hours with no access to buggies or to support other than from the staff. As anybody with young children knows, there is only a certain amount we can do to protect and prevent young children from acquiring viruses but what we can do is ensure speedy intervention when a temperature, a cough or whatever else arises. It is unacceptable we have a situation where some GPs are refusing to see babies until they have a negative Covid result.While we can access Covid tests relatively speedily, of which I am well aware having had to do so a number of times over the past two weeks because there was Covid in my household, it can take between 25 to 29 hours, sometimes longer, to get the results. That might be fine for an older child or an adult, but for a small baby that is simply way too long. When infections get out of control, parents rightly become worried and they need to bring their babies to Temple Street hospital, Crumlin hospital or to any of the other paediatric wards throughout the country. While there is free GP care, attending an accident and emergency department without a doctor's letter costs €100, which is a significant cost.
I ask that the Leader would contact the Minister for Health with regard to the putting in place of a fast-track process for Covid tests for young babies because the current process is too lengthy. We also need direction from the Irish College of General Practitioners to the effect that all GPs should be triaging babies, at least, in the car park, when they present with potential infections.
Today, I would like to discuss the recent announcement on the easement of restrictions with particular reference to the music and entertainment industry and the confusion, uncertainty and anomalies delivered on Tuesday afternoon. On 31 August last, 22 October was hailed as the date for the full reopening of this sector. Since then, preparations have been under way, rehearsals have been taking place and tickets were sold in anticipation of a return to full capacity after 587 days of closure. Unfortunately, instead, we were delivered a plan of total confusion, contradiction and anomaly. This plan had the appearance of an unrehearsed or thought-out performance, one that seemed more like an improvisation than a carefully composed piece. The uncertainty and confusion is bewildering among industry professionals. Some parts of the industry are still not free from capacity restrictions, which means work is not guaranteed or viable. This uncertainty is accompanied by phased out pandemic unemployment payments for many in the sector who rely on the pub gigs to earn their living. Pub gigs are under restrictions, as is dancing. There is a considerable dancing culture in this country. Dancing is permitted in a nightclub and at a wedding. The confusion around Tuesday's announcement has led to absurd circumstances and the question whether people dancing is permitted at a dance. This is a genuine question. It is crazy. Tuesday's announcement is another example of how the music and entertainment industry has again been disregarded and given the 11th hour and 59th minute treatment throughout this pandemic.
In the budget, the independent sector was awarded €25 million, which is a 50% cut on the necessary support in budget 2021, yet the Arts Council budget at €130 million remained the same. A pilot basic income scheme was announced to support 2,000 artists with €325 per week and budgeted at €25 million when the actual cost is €33.8 million. Independent musicians and entertainers, who are traditionally not funded, work extremely hard to make a living at their art. They have to survive. They perform, write, teach, record, manage and organise. These people are my family members. They tour and do anything and everything to earn a living. When one or more achieves fame and success on the world stage, the powers that be are quick to acknowledge and associate themselves with them and praise them for their valued contribution to Irish culture, heritage and identity, yet in their 14,088 hours of need over the past 587 days, they have had to fight hard for recognition for understanding and support.
I would like to know from the Taoiseach how much consultation took place with stakeholders in the industry prior to Tuesday's announcement. I would also like to know what engagement the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media , Deputy Martin, and her Department had in the week prior to Tuesday's announcement with the industry stakeholders and other Departments such that she was able to relay the industry's concerns.
Ba mhaith liom cúpla rud a ardú. I share colleagues' frustrations around the delays in the Passport Office, but it is at least processing applications. I want to again raise the fact that the registration of foreign births is listed as paused due to Covid-19. While we are seeing a reopening of every other sector, the Department of Foreign Affairs continues this paused registration of foreign births.
When things were normal, this process took 12 to 18 months. Now, people have been waiting for well over two years. There has been no progress. Quite frankly, given that every other aspect of public life has opened, it makes no sense that the Department of Foreign Affairs continues to pause this service. I am raising the matter again in the hope the Leader will raise it with the Minister and the Department.
I welcome the appointment this week of Professor Philip Nolan, the former President of Maynooth University, as the incoming director general of Science Foundation Ireland. He has provided great leadership during this difficult period, This appointment presents an opportunity for us to separate the role of director general of Science Foundation Ireland and that of the chief scientific adviser. This is something many in the science and research community, including the Royal Irish Academy, have called for for some time. It is important that this is done. As I said, this appointment provides that opportunity. I intended to table a Commencement matter on this issue, but I ask that the Leader would raise it with the Minister.
Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the murder of Paul Quinn, who was beaten to death in County Monaghan by a provisional IRA gang. His parents, Breege and Stephen, have long sought justice for their son, an innocent man. The Garda have said that they now have fresh information. Could we, through this House, appeal that anybody with information about this savage killing would come forward to give some level of peace to his family?
I echo Senator Byrne's remarks with regard to the Quinn family and their need for justice.
I want to read into the record a small part of an email that I received this morning. It is similar to many emails I get all of the time. I will read just a couple of lines:
My son has low vision and is registered with the NCBI. I have fought so hard over the last eight weeks and yesterday got the call that we won and the school had been allocated, the hours needed to SNA hours. They needed eight hours a week. The stress, anxiety and upset for my son over the last eight weeks in trying to manage the school ... [that is in a wider context].
Further on the email references that the following information was sent to this woman:
The NCSE has responsibility for planning and coordinating the school supports for children with special education needs, including the allocation of SNA's and reviews. The department doesn't have a role in making those determinations because we have a bespoke body who are supposed to be doing this and it's not happening.
The methodology that's applied by the NCSE is not effective or on time. It's not timely in its delivery of the needs for children who very clearly need SNA support. So here we have a budget that was fantastic in its allocation, that we have a government that provides for an additional and eleven hundred and sixty five SNA's for the coming year.
That's on top of the record numbers that we've ever had employed at the state. So we have political will for the delivery of SNA's and for ensuring the children are supported in their schools and the system itself in the administration, if that breaks down.
One of the last big public meetings I attended in February 2020 was hosted by Involve Autism in Dublin 6.They were talking about the lack of places in schools, the type of system and the relationships with special educational needs organisers. They are merely given lists of schools to apply for and they have to apply for 20 or 30 schools. The system does not work. We need an update. We need a debate. I am at a loss to know what else we need, but we definitely need to ensure that on the boards of these organisations, which are set up to serve the citizens of the State, we have people who represent the needs of distressed parents who are pushed to the limit emotionally in trying to fight tooth and nail for their children.
Today, I want to raise something that is very difficult to talk about but must be talked about. My town of Duleek had the darkest of days in 2018 and 2019 when we suffered five young deaths by suicide. This morning, I am highlighting my birth parish of Denn in County Cavan, which has experienced three young deaths by suicide this past year, all of whom were neighbours. On Tuesday, I listened to Joe Finnegan of Northern Sound talking to the Heaslip family of Carrickaboy - Raymond, Maggie, Chloe and Finn. I heard about a young man, their son and brother, Eden Heaslip, a bright witty fellow with a great grá for music and cars. I heard about his Joe Canning Galway GAA jersey, his family farm and his willingness to stand up for others. I also heard about how he was kicked to the ground every day and how he was shouted at, "Go home to your own country", on account of his Protestant background. I heard about his head being physically held down soiled toilets, of him being pinched at lunch tables and boxed, and how the threats from his abusers were so great that he would not even enter his own town. I heard how the abuse followed him online, how he could not put a single thing up on social media without vile vicious comments being hurled at him and how his abusers would create new accounts to continue to harass him even after he had blocked them. I heard about how, after carrying a pain of the heart, a pain of his mind, that it left scars deep where no one could see. Eden came to think, "This is it, I have to put up with it. This is the way it is going to be." No one can live their life that way and, on 20 September, Eden Heaslip took his own life at the age of 18. No parent should have to bury their child. We have laws to protect employers from bullying in the workplace. Where are the laws to protect Eden? I ask us to hear the Heaslip family today. Can we do our duty as legislators and put a stop to this senseless suffering? Can we, please?
I heard Fr. Jason, the parish priest, talking this morning on Northern Sound about this particular child. Like so many parish priests in the country, including my own priest, Fr. John, he is instrumental in providing counselling for these young people. God bless them in their work. We really need to put wraparound services in local areas that are suffering such as my home parish of Denn and Duleek. Otherwise, it will be left to us community leaders to step in where the Government has failed. Let us not fail the Heaslip family. Let us not fail all those families who have suffered death by suicide in this country. There are too many.
I thank Senator Keogan. I am conscious that we have to move on today because of the mass but I will say this: I am from that community and I know the exact case. I know that, tragically and sadly, everything Senator Keogan has said is true. It is a horror. It is an unspeakable event and the events leading to it are unspeakable. I thank Senator Keogan for raising it. I look forward to the Leader's response on that. This is the most serious matter raised here for a long time.
I support Senator Keogan. I just came in from the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. It is a harrowing story. I had seen it online. It is so tragic. If anything can come out of it, it is that people might try to be that bit kinder to each other and try not to engage in this activity. It is horrific. Perhaps they do not appreciate what they are doing but they are really doing enormous harm.
I rise today in relation to the final reopening of hospitality - the reopening of the late-night entertainment sector after 585 or 586 days at this stage. It has been an enormously long time. The previous Seanad was still sitting when the lockdown was introduced in March of last year. At the time, we did not know what was coming. It was all very new. I want to wish everyone who works in or is involved with the hospitality industry, including those who avail of late bars and nightclubs, particularly young people but also those young at heart who are maybe not as young, all the very best. I encourage everybody to do their best to try and stick to whatever guidelines are there. We all want to open up in a reasonable way but we are cognisant that this week there are many more people in hospital than last week and many more people in ICU than last week. This House should send a message to everyone in that industry that it is valuable and important and we appreciate the work they do. I wish all of those who have turned 18 and will be able to go to these places for the first time, with their legal-age ID card as proof of the fact, many evenings of enjoyment. They have never been there before. I hope they stay safe and they mind each other.
I will begin with something I meant to say yesterday. I wish to put on record my own support for the Leader in relation to the nonsensical emails that we have received over the past few days. Some of those people will be outside the building today. We do not believe in any of that nonsense and are in full solidarity with the Leader in that regard.
The issue I want to raise today is the plight of the people of Yemen. There was an awful landmark reached yesterday. Ten thousand children have now been killed or maimed since fighting started in March 2015. That is the equivalent of four children every day. According to a UNICEF report, four out of every five children need humanitarian assistance. That is more than 11 million children. The plight of the people of Yemen is horrendous and the elephant in the room is that our neighbours in Britain have sold €20 billion worth of arms to the Saudi authorities to help them to continue to wage their war - aircraft, helicopters, drones, grenades, bombs, missiles and various other countermeasures. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has spoken out about the humanitarian consequences but we have a seat on the United Nations Security Council. I would ask what are we using that seat for if we do not speak out against the horrendous policies of the British Government in relation to that war. They are profiting to the tune of €20 billion worth of equipment. If we are to be on the UN Security Council we must be prepared to use our voice and that does not merely mean stating that the situation is awful and something must be done. I acknowledge that we have contributed valuable aid to alleviate the plight of the people there but, surely to God, if we are on the Security Council, we need to speak out for human rights. I am sorry to say it is another further abject failure of the Government to speak out about what is happening in Yemen, in particular Britain's role in €20 billion worth of weapons to keep the crisis going and to keep children being bombed and suffering and dying, day after day. Surely, when we are on that council, we can do better.
I urge the Leader to contact the Minister for Finance before he publishes the finance Bill and ask him to extend, in budget 2022, the provision that exists for commercial residential landlords to claim tax relief to address fire defects in apartments to owner-occupiers and social landlords. This is an issue that has been aired on many occasions.The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has established an independent working group, which is evaluating the cost of these works and their extent. The Department of Finance, to be fair, is engaged on that working group. In the meantime the owner-occupiers are living in what can only be described as ticking time bombs. They are living in apartments that have inadequate fire protection. They cannot sleep at night for fear of smelling smoke or the sound of a fire. It is unnerving for them. On top of that, the home insurance they had is due to run out by the end of this year. The insurance companies will not extend it beyond next year. There is an urgency now for an intervention. We were all horrified by Grenfell and when Priory Hall was discovered, Dublin City Council moved promptly to address that. I urge the Leader to write to the Minister for Finance and urge him to even make a time-bound limited intervention in budget 2022 to extend the same provisions to owner-occupiers of apartments and social landlords that exist for commercial landlords.
I also thank Senator Keogan for raising that issue. It is really heartbreaking to hear that story. It is unbelievable for that individual and family and for all of our community. We all need to recognise that there are a lot of toxic and very ill people in our communities and in our society. We must all do what we can to address that and support those who are being victimised. It is really wrong.
I raise an issue that affects many of us around the country, namely ice rinks. In many towns and cities, ice rinks appear at Christmas. Many people visit them from schools and from families who get great joy. They usually last six to eight weeks. This year, they are finding it difficult to get the insurance. Normally their insurance comes through London where ice rinks are able to get it. It is usually between €10,000 and €25,000 for the period. One ice rink operator from Limerick told me he has had no claims over the past 17 years, yet many companies have been quoted €300,000 to operate for the six-week period while some have received quotes that are even greater. When ice rinks are lit up it is very festive. It is associated with the Christmas period. It would be a shame if ice rinks did not operate in Ireland this year. I do not know where we can raise this but it is something that needs to be raised to see if it can be resolved.
I raise matters relating to the HSE. First, I welcome the full reopening of maternity services. I congratulate the Oireachtas women's caucus, Senator Fiona O'Loughlin and the Leader for all their work on this. It is really important and it is way beyond time. The situation was ridiculous.
Second, this morning the Joint Committee on Disability Matters heard incredible testimony from advocates of the personal assistant services. It would do us all well to look back on their testimony, as it was incredibly powerful.
Third, now that maternity services are moving towards a full reopening, I want to raise something that I am personally affected by. We are not doing adequate child development checks. This country has a significant backlog. Children are not being checked. Mothers are getting a booklet in the post outlining where their child should be on the general development scale. No child is general. This is an important issue that we have to start looking at. I have had contact over and back with the HSE. There seems to be no plan to get through the backlog of child development checks. In CHO 8, almost 20,000 children have not been checked. My son is one of those. Thankfully, I do not have any worries about my children. Hearing, sight, clicky hips and many other issues can be seen by parents every day but they might not notice. These development checks are important. This morning's committee meeting was a reminder that when children are left behind, we open a bigger can of worms. I ask the Leader contact the HSE on behalf of the House to ask for the resumption of child development checks.
To follow that theme, I went through a process of speech therapy with a four-year-old on Zoom during lockdown. It was the most bizarre experience of my life. There is a real need to look at the waiting lists that have arisen because of lockdown. There are issues with timelines, particularly for speech therapy, and they will be grossly affected unless we get movement.
I would like to raise amenities in State ownership, specifically the only publicly-owned swimming pool in west Cork. It an amazing amenity that we put nearly €6 million into four years ago. It is state-of-the-art. Unfortunately, we cannot get it open seven days a week. It is closed every Sunday and Monday. If money is put into amenities and we have a public swimming pool in west Cork, the most practical thing would be to put a plan in place that it would be open seven days. The lack of such a business plan is creating chaos, particularly for swimming lessons for people who want the opportunity to learn to swim, young and old. This is a state-of-the-art amenity and it is a disgrace that we do not have the opportunity to use it seven days. We need an explanation for why that is happening. The Government must also step in. It has put money in through sports capital grants for these projects. There must be criteria in place. Local authorities cannot step back and say we can only open five days a week. If they cannot keep it open seven days a week, they should not get the funding. We will have to come down hard to make sure that the local authorities step up to make sure these public amenities can be accessed on a seven-day-a-week model.
I second Senator Sherlock's amendment to the Order of Business. The Rescue 116 families are confronted with the possibility of massive legal costs. I have raised the Rescue 116 incident several times here and the failure to deliver a report. It is outrageous that these families are being called upon to pay for their legal costs. I do not believe they were the people who initiated the review; that was the operator who has, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General, benefited from as much as €7 million in State money to upgrade their aircraft and bring them in compliance for night vision. That was in 2013 and to this day they have not fully implemented that, which is horrendous. The House should call on the Minister for Transport to stand by the families in this case and protect them and protect their assets.
On a related matter, a new air regulator has been appointed. I am deeply disturbed that the regulator has moved from one of the major airlines directly into the regulator's job. There has been no cooling-off period that I am aware of. It is just bad business. I would like the Minister for Transport to come to the House to debate that. We should also have the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform before the House too. We need to reform how people in senior positions on State boards are interviewed by various Oireachtas committees after they have been appointed, with no real methodology for us to say we do not want this person. We must look at these senior appointments urgently.
I join with Senator Gavan in lending my support to the Leader on the email we have been receiving. I stress the singular "email", although we may have been receiving multiple copies of it. Where would we be without the convenience of being able to copy and paste in the world we live in?
I wish to raise an issue that has no doubt been raised here previously, regarding scam calls and text messages. At this stage, it is time for the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications or the Minister for Justice to come in here to discuss it. I was in my parent's house recently for a very short time and during my visit my mother answered three calls on the landline that were all scam related. I know of somebody who fell for a text message scam in a moment of weakness and lost a small amount of money from a Bank of Ireland account. The transaction showed up on the banking 365 statement as going to another Bank of Ireland account. Today, if we are a suspect in any case, the Garda is able to tell us our every move in the Big-Brother-is-watching world we live in. Every activity on our phone is available and where it emanated from. I have no doubt the telecommunications companies can stop this if they have the wherewithal to do so. The saying is, where there is a will, there is a way. The question is if the will is there. Are the telecommunications companies and service providers making big money from these numbers? Are the numbers what is known as premium numbers? Is there a win for the companies in regard to them? We need to get the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and perhaps also the Minister for Justice to come in here. We must get to the bottom of it. People are wise to it and are probably not falling into the trap as often, but it is not even about falling into the trap and being caught for money. For elderly people living alone, whose landline is their only outlet to the wider world, there can be a sense of joy and almost excitement when it rings and there is a conversation, but when they answer the phone and it is a recorded message or telling them about an Amazon package that is on its way, the only Amazon they know is the river in Brazil.
In response to the issue Senator Daly describes, it is probably far greater than that. I know people of a certain age look at the numbers coming up on their phone and they think, "not again" and just ignore it. However, I also know from experience that as we get older – we all have parents and older people that we represent – people worry an awful lot more about things that Senator Daly and I would not even think about. They do genuinely start to question, for example, whether they owe €18 to somebody. They go down that little rabbit hole and they get caught for considerable amounts of money. The Minister for Justice issued a statement in recent months advising citizens not to follow through, but it does not work in a lot of cases because older people do worry. It is important that we have such a debate. I will ask both the Minister for Justice and the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to respond to us with a date after the recess.
I anticipated Senator Craughwell standing up this morning when I heard on the news yesterday evening the outrageous suggestion that the families of the people who lost their lives in Rescue 116 would have to pay any legal fees just to represent their loved ones in a case and a review that was taken by the operator. I noted with interest that the Taoiseach said in the Dáil yesterday evening that no family should have to incur legal costs, but for that to be borne out and for it to be made true, somebody has to step in. I will write today to the Minister for Transport to make sure that those families do not have to pay. All of their assets must be protected from this review. I thank Senator Craughwell for raising it this morning.
I also take note of the comments Senator Craughwell made with regard to the appointment of the new regulator. The Public Appointments Service is the body that acts on behalf of the State to ensure that there is no conflict of interest and that there is a cooling off period if it is required. I have to assume it happened in this case, but let us find out. I will write a letter today to the Minister and I will make sure to come back to the Senator.
Senators Lombard and McGreehan spoke about the service to provide development checks for children with extra special needs and how they have been severely interrupted in the past 18 months. I do not find it acceptable that the HSE says it has no plans to find a way to resolve the backlog. We will send a letter to the HSE today asking for its detailed plan in all CHOs to ensure that development checks happen as they are incredibly important, especially for newer parents. Like me, the Senators have a few children so perhaps one grows in confidence as one has more babies, but it is vital in particular that first-time parents get the support. There are also parents whose children have special needs and require extra help and assistance such as occupational therapy. In normal times, we talk about the delays that families experience and I cannot even begin to imagine the extra delays and difficulties they have experienced in the past 18 months. We must get through that and start living our new lives and making sure that we catch up on the services that matter.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about ice rinks and the fact that they cannot get insurance. I will send a letter to the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, today to ask him if he will intervene because it is certainly something that people look forward to, and it is an outdoor event, which we are encouraging people to engage in during the winter.
Senator Fitzpatrick called for an extension of the tax relief provision for commercial landlords to owner-occupiers to address the fire defects that many thousands of residents who are living in apartments face. I will send a note to the Minister for Finance today and ask him to respond to that.
Senator Gavan spoke this morning about the continuing awfulness experienced by the people in Yemen. He raises a vital point, that we cannot continue to blindly ignore those countries that are profiteering off the back of these people's misery. I will send a note to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and ask him to come back to us or for us to have a debate here in the coming weeks on the role we play on the Security Council and how it can benefit from an Irish perspective all the people with whom we stand in solidarity.
Senators Horkan and Black raised very eloquently the real frustration that is being felt by the industry they represent. I cannot even begin to understand or imagine how people must have felt this week listening to the mixed messages. I do not blame anybody for that, as the information was only related to the Cabinet on Monday. Ministers tried their very best to give as much information as they could, albeit confusing, on Tuesday. Yesterday, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications said that there was engagement with the industry. I do not know how much or how little there was, but those involved tried to engage in the last couple of days, so as to come up, I hope, with a new set of recommendations today. It is difficult. It has even been the source of mirth in recent weeks about leaving space for the holy spirit when we go dancing. How can one have drinks in a nightclub and not be standing beside someone? It is difficult, but the unenviable position of the Cabinet is that it has to find a way that these industries can reopen safely. That is nearly an oxymoron, but we must and will reopen all our industries and learn to live in the new world of trying to mind ourselves, while we make sure that people can earn their living and provide us with great entertainment. One of my colleagues from Skerries, Councillor Tom O'Leary, sent me a video last night of him in Nealon's Bar in Skerries with the fire lighting and the live music in the corner. We all just want to get back to there and to enjoy the talent Senator Black and many members of her family provide. I support her and I hope how we will deal with the restrictions is announced today.
Senator Sherlock moved an amendment to the Order of Business. I am very happy to accept the amendment. I wish her well with her Bill. I hope it brings change. I often thought when I was Minister that it was very odd that when somebody receives a widow's pension, that if she manages to find love again the widow's pension is taken off her. I do not know when one stops being a widow if one has lost one's first partner. There are lots of anomalies. I wish the Senator well.
Senator Ó Donnghaile asked me to send a letter to the Minister seeking an update on Moore Street. I will do that and send him a copy today.
Senator Mullen raised a very odd anomaly that arose from a High Court case during the week. I accept that the only way to resolve the issue is for us to amend the Bill and I will work with the Senator to see if we can find a way to do it.
Senator Kyne started the day off by talking about the passport system. We are all incredibly frustrated, and that is not even coming close to the frustration of parents whose children are getting passports and the parents are not. I do not know how we expect families to go away together if we do not look after them as a unit, but we need to come up with a better system. Something has happened with the wonderful online system that we all lauded last year, whereby people said they applied on a Monday and got their passport on a Wednesday, because it is not working either. The Minister for Foreign Affairs sent us all an email yesterday outlining his plans. I hope they work.
Senator O'Loughlin opened today's proceedings talking about the announcement from the HSE this morning that it is now going to change the visiting hours in maternity hospitals to pre-pandemic visiting hours. Anybody can go and visit from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.This means that any daddies who are lucky enough that their partners have their babies between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. will get to be there for the entire labour journey. It is a step forward, but it is not enough. I commend the women from the Better Maternity Care group because at least we know that their voices are being heard. They are making good strides in providing what should be the best maternity journeys for all women and their partners. I commend them again because this is certainly is a step in the right direction.
I thank Senator Keogan for raising what is the most awful of tragedies. I heard details of it on the radio in the past couple of days. Indeed, I saw the beautiful photograph that the family released of young Eden with his birthday cake on his 18th birthday. I extend my deepest condolences to his family and his community on what is an absolute tragedy. What is also a tragedy is that the kind of bullying to which that young boy was subjected for the last number of years in his life is not uncommon and is probably happening in every single town and school in this country in which we all live. The problem is that nobody talks about it. People keep it quiet, try to deal with it in their family and support their loved ones as best as they can. We reach a point, however, where young people cannot cope any more because there is no other way for them to deal with the pain and trauma that they are going through. For young Eden to make the choice and take the route he did was an absolute tragedy.
What we need to start talking about is not just prevention in the context of people who are in crisis, we also need to make sure that the services are in place, that the interventions start far earlier than when somebody actually presents to Pieta House or Jigsaw because they are harming themselves or looking for ways out of the pain they are in. Prevention needs to start far earlier for people who are subjected to bullying, violence and even intimidation on social media platforms, which affects our children, on the basis of their resilience, in entirely different ways. We need to start really talking to and educating the young people who are perpetrating the harassment, violence and bullying. I know from experience that they do not really realise the harm that they are doing until it is too late, and then they have to live with the harm they have caused.
Maybe the Senator is right. After the recess, I will see how we can have a debate on how best we can formulate a policy or programme in schools and homes to support families and children in order to ensure that tragedies such as that involving Eden do not happen again. I thank Senator Keogan for raising the matter.
I thank the Leader for her responses, particularly the last one. I also thank Senator Keogan. I hope, please God, that we can discuss the matter again because it is beyond serious.
Senator Marie Sherlock has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 15 be taken before No. 1." Senator Craughwell seconded the amendment. The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.