Tuesday, 2 November 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Fearaim fíorfháilte romhaibh go léir ar ais tar éis na saoire agus is cosúil go bhfuil fuinneamh nua ag gach duine anois. Anois iarrfaidh mé ar an Ceannaire an tOrd Gnó a chur os comhair an Tí. Gabhaim buíochas mór libh.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2021, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the Sectoral Employment Order (Construction Sector) 2021, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion regarding a reasoned opinion of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications regarding the EU legislative proposals, COM (2021) 552, 556, 559, 561, 562 and 567, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 4, address to Seanad Éireann by MEPs representing the European Parliament Dublin constituency, to be taken at 5 p.m. in accordance with the arrangements set out in the motion agreed by the House on Thursday, 21 October 2021; and No. 5, statements on energy security, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4 and to conclude after 90 minutes, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.
I agree to the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader of the House.
Last Thursday, we had some very welcome news for the north west when we had the official announcement of a technological university for the north west, comprising a multi-campus structure across eight campuses at Castlebar, Galway city, Killybegs, Letterfrack, Letterkenny, Mountbellew and Sligo. To say it was a significant day for the region is an understatement. This technological university marks a significant change in how we offer third level education across the north-west region to students in the area. It also means that my home town of Castlebar will now become a university town, which is a big deal for Castlebar and County Mayo.
It is fantastic to see the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, our local campus, get an extra level of status and become part of a bigger campus across the north west. This development means students in County Mayo and other counties will have the option to travel across the region to the various campuses to pursue third level education. They will be able to start a course in one campus and finish their studies in another campus. This offers them a wide range of opportunities and exciting access to multi-campus structures.I commend all the colleges that came together to make this happen. It has been a long time in the making, but it is a fantastic day for Mayo and the north-west region to have the technological university announced last Thursday. I wish it all the very best.
I also wish to raise the forestry sector. As Senators will be aware, the sector is hosting an information briefing in Buswells Hotel between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. today to inform us about the ongoing crisis in the issuing of afforestation and felling licences. There are in excess of 1,000 applications for afforestation licences awaiting a decision and many more felling licences also. We have the bizarre situation where nurseries are exporting seeds just to survive and sawmills are importing timber and logs for the same reason and to serve the Irish market. This is having a direct impact on timber supply in the country which, in turn, is having an impact on the cost of construction and building homes. It is well accepted that this is a crisis and it is having a serious impact, in particular on rural communities where forestry is a significant industry and employer. I urge all Members to meet the forestry sector today in Buswells Hotel. I ask the Leader to arrange statements in the House and questions and answers with the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, who has responsibility for this area, to see if we can move this issue along and find a resolution for the sector.
I acknowledge the ongoing COP26 conference in Glasgow. I commend the Taoiseach on his attendance at the conference and his comments on climate change to the effect that Ireland will meet its targets and will be counted among global world leaders in meeting the climate challenge. The facts emerging from the conference about where we are and the challenges that lie ahead are very stark. There is no doubt that the climate challenge is the biggest one we will face in our generation. We owe it to the children of this country and future generations to hand over this country and planet in a good state and to make the changes now needed to reverse the climate challenge. I join with other colleagues in accepting that there is a big challenge ahead. However, it is one on which this Chamber should be to the fore in have ongoing dialogue and discussion with all Ministers on their carbon budgets and how we intend to meet the targets.
I welcome the Minister's approval for the new Connacht-Ulster technological university for the west. This is an incredible achievement by the presidents, staff and students of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Letterkenny IT and IT Sligo. The new university will have eight campuses located in Killybegs, Letterkenny, Sligo, Castlebar, two locations in Galway city, Letterfrack and the agricultural college in Mountbellew. These towns will now become university campus towns. Students will be able to study courses locally and these will range from post-leaving certificate courses, PLCs, and diplomas to master's degrees, and to PhD level if they choose.
The technological university will also attract investment to the region. I also welcome the engagement it will have with industry in the area. It is important that we develop courses from PLC level all the way to diploma certification but that we link in with the education and training boards and apprenticeship programmes and also that we link in with the technological universities.
It is the season of club championships. I congratulate the Padraig Pearses GAA Club, which is based in Woodmount, Creagh, just outside Ballinasloe. It covers the areas of Taughmaconnell and Moore in south Roscommon. The club won its second ever Roscommon senior football championship in the pouring rain playing against Clann na nGael. Players from both teams gave it their all. It is a phenomenal and historic win. Great goals were scored by some of the local heroes, Paul Carey and Jack Tumulty. I wish all the team well. It was a wonderful celebration for the players, managers and volunteers.
There is something in the water around Ballinasloe because the ladies team also won on the same day. I congratulate the Ballinasloe GAA team, which sailed high last Sunday and won the Galway junior C ladies football county final. It means so much to all the teams involved in the club games played recently. It involves years of training and commitment. There has been a lockdown and great hardship recently, but these wins are magic and they bring real joy and pride. I congratulate all the teams. I hope we, too, might get fit as well.
A couple of weeks ago in the House I spoke about the crisis in the Coast Guard. Some days after that, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association in Kilkee. I must say that things have deteriorated to a point where, maybe this evening, we will have no volunteers in Doolin in County Clare. It looks very much like we will have no Coast Guard volunteers right along the west coast, from Clare to Kerry, at the rate things are going.
There have been a number of damning reports into the Coast Guard through the Comptroller and Auditor General, particularly regarding the procurement of night vision for a private company paid for by the taxpayer in the helicopter service and the procurement of vehicles for the Coast Guard service for towing the rigid inflatable boats, RIBs, out to sea or for bringing rescue equipment to cliffs or wherever. The vehicles that were purchased are totally unsuitable. One of the questions that I need to raise with the Coast Guard straightaway is how many tractors have we bought because I understand it has had to buy tractors to drag the equipment out to sea.
We are in a situation where the Coast Guard service is largely voluntary. The allegations that are being made - they are allegations at this stage - are that there is severe bullying and harassment going on within the service. The allegations are that if one raises an issue of concern one will be greeted with thanks for one's interest and concern. Some days later a senior officer will arrive at one's house and tell one one's services are no longer required. This is dividing communities. Most of us here come from rural areas and we know how closely knit communities are. In particular, coastal communities are extremely closely knit, and where one gets an organisation that is starting to split down the middle, there are the insiders and the outsiders. It is dividing coastal communities. It is really serious.
I am bringing the matter up today because the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications will look at this issue but the Minister must act immediately in order to save the service. There will not be a service at the rate things are going in a couple of weeks' time. This is frightening for the people in western coastal areas who depend on this service. We have many cliffs and some dangerous seas. Something that came to light when we attended that meeting was that a couple of weeks before Caitríona Lucas lost her life in west Clare, the Coast Guard was warned that the way things were going the next time it visited there it would be for a funeral. Sure enough, a few weeks later it was a funeral.
First and foremost, we have to commend the volunteers who give of their time all of the time to deliver these services but if there is a problem there, it needs to be rooted out straightaway from the top down. I would ask the Leader, on behalf of the Seanad, to write to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, and ask him to immediately instigate an investigation. I have written to him today.
These two weeks are critical for our future. In advance of COP26, it was made clear from the IPCC report that every single thing we do matters. All over this country our citizens and our inhabitants are calling for action to reverse climate breakdown. Children have been calling for action for many years, taking to the streets and pleading with politicians. Small farmers who I speak to know that the future is a future based on a greener product and a resilient food system. They have felt powerless.What of the business sector? This week Chambers Ireland called for a dramatic change - a change that is not incremental but hits the fast forward button. It says our economy needs it, and it is right. Let us be honest. We also need it for our health and for the many species on this earth that depend on us to do the right thing not least for the survival of our own species but for peace on this planet because, make no mistake, war, migration and famine will escalate without it.
I returned from pre-COP in Rome a couple of weeks ago and felt some despair. I spoke to delegates from some of the countries most impacted by climate chaos and which have done little to bring about this collapse. There was message after message of solidarity but I wondered whether all trust had broken down. The developed world failed to live up to its climate finance obligations under the sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement of giving €100 billion a year to developing nations. There was also that feeling that trust had broken down because the developed world even failed to follow through on a TRIPS waiver when it came to the pandemic.
Over the past few days, as I and other parliamentarians prepare to go to COP26 in Glasgow, I have felt hope, and we have to feel hope. That is what the IPCC report calls for. The very fact that today I heard the Taoiseach give an unequivocal commitment in an interview on "Morning Ireland"gives me that hope. The actions of politicians will in large part define what happens next for the future of our species. Today the Taoiseach is telling the world that Ireland will double its climate finance to developing nations by 2025 but the biggest contribution we will make as a country will be to reduce our emissions. As one of the highest emitting nations in the EU, how we will do this will be laid down in the climate action plan.
In light of all this I find it alarming that today, of all days, is the day Sinn Féin called for more consultation on the climate action plan. There will of course be consultation, but we have to see all politicians stepping up to the mark for the sake of our country and our world, and demonstrating leadership. Not only does Sinn Féin throw shade on the climate action plan but again this week, of all weeks, it wants to put a Bill before the Dáil that would effectively stop wind energy turbines from being built on land in Ireland. It withdrew it, no doubt because of the push-back. I do not like saying this but it is incumbent on all of us who care about the environment to call out this lack of commitment and this populism. We have done it when it comes to the media and we will do it when it comes to the Opposition. It too must play its part.
On today's Order of Business, there is a motion on the horse and greyhound racing fund, to be taken without debate. Regardless of people's views on greyhound and horse racing, I find it incredible that we would have no discussion in this House on the allocation of €70.4 million of public funding. It is not good enough simply to say we are going to refer this to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Greyhound Racing Ireland's chair, Frank Nyhan, said in response to the budget allocation this year that GRI has invested significantly in its care and welfare policy during 2021 and that this year's budget increase will assist with the expansion of a range of care and welfare initiatives in 2022. Yet Greyhound Racing Ireland is still only selectively collecting data on injuries and deaths of greyhounds at the race tracks.
On the back of a member of the public coming forward to me, GRI has confirmed that there are no vets present at either the public or the private trials that take place throughout this country. The eyewitness I spoke to told me of how he has witnessed howling dogs that are in pain being put into trailers due to the lack of a vet being present at the track. Surely if GRI is in receipt of €17 million of public money, it can put in place a permanent vet at every racecourse as is the case in Britain. This would also allow for proper independent data on the number of injuries and deaths that actually take place at race tracks. It is also worth noting that dogs injured at the private trials are not even eligible for the injury scheme that GRI has. Given that it is mostly young, inexperienced greyhounds that race at these unofficial trials, surely it makes even more sense to have vets present there, so that those dogs would be eligible for the injury scheme. It is convenient that no data is collected and no vet is present to verify how many injuries and fatalities take place at the trials, particularly at the unofficial trials when it is young and inexperienced dogs, because of course that would push the figures downwards.I will call a vote on the Order of Business because I think it shocking that we would allow a motion for the allocation of €17 million in public funding proceed without any debate in this House.
I joined the parents of babies born via surrogacy standing outside Leinster House this morning - as did other Members - in calling for the Government to progress the assisted human reproduction Bill, which people have been speaking about since 2015. There has been promise after promise but we have yet to see any progress. Of course, the issues are complex and there are no easy answers but we cannot allow a situation to continue where the mothers of these babies have no legal recognition in this country.
I again ask for a debate with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, on arts and culture and all that has happened and that needs to happen in that space. We have been asking for such a debate for a number of months. I do not know if the debate in question took place. If not, it needs to take place as soon as possible because there are serious issues with regard to the reopening of the night-time economy. There is massive frustration on the part of those who have been beating on the door in that regard for a long period regarding what needs to happen for a safe reopening. There is also frustration among many nightclub and late-night bar owners in respect of the shambles of the regulations that are currently in place
It is important to say that a meeting was organised by Theatre Forum Ireland in mid-October and that it was attended by more than 70 theatre workers from across the country - actors, actresses, theatre directors and producers. This happened on foot of very important research published by Theatre Forum Ireland in August about pay and conditions in the performing arts. The results of the survey to which that research relates were stark. The survey was conducted among more than 90 arts organisations, venues, production companies and festivals and 139 artists. As a result of that important research, we know that: 22 respondents said they earned less than the national minimum wage; the median income was about €21,000, which is just over half of average earnings in this country; and more than one third had to rely on work outside the sector in order to get by. When we talk about treasuring and supporting the arts, we need to talk about the participative arts and those who make the arts their livelihood. Many of those who go into the arts do not do so to make a fortune. If we are in a situation whereby people cannot afford to live in our cities and are being obliged to undervalue their own work in order to get other work and have to live a precarious lives, we need to ask serious questions about how we support those working in the sector. To its credit, the Arts Council has its Paying the Artist policy, which was launched in February 2020, but we need to see much greater action and recognition by the Government and across the economy of the fact that we need to pay artists better. I would like to have a debate with the Minister on the matter.
I wish to call attention to the report on the Traveller community and homelessness that was finally released last week. The report makes for difficult reading. I wish I could say it comes as a surprise but we have seen too many reports like this before. My colleague in the Civil Engagement Group, Senator Flynn, has spoken passionately in this House about the unacceptable conditions our Traveller neighbours are still forced to live in. It is a deeply emotional subject for generations of Travellers who have lived in these conditions.How many more reports will it take before we see effective, transparent and comprehensive Government action? Senator Flynn said that an advocacy paper was also released alongside the report, which she thinks highlights the severity of the situation. There are such aims as reducing Traveller accommodation deprivation by one third by 2030, cutting overcrowding by half by 2030, and assuring access to clean tap water for 95% of Travellers by 2030. Senator Flynn said the Government must act immediately, as the aspirations towards a delivery for 2030 are simply not enough. She said that after nearly another decade of hard work this should not be the best the Traveller community could expect.
Travellers continue to be terribly over-represented in our homeless population. The report notes - and we know this - that all homelessness has severe, negative consequences on physical and mental health and for children's education. The cost of these Government failures is measured in Traveller lives. The costs are the physical, mental, emotional and communal health of people that have been decimated over years. We cannot allow it continue. Traveller children and families are worth exactly the same as all our family members. They must be valued in the same way. Would any Member here, who has a duty towards our collective society, honestly accept such a neglectful approach to the needs of their own family? We have a roadmap to address to this, if the political will is there. This report comes with very strong recommendations. These recommendations do not just outline what Travellers want, but they detail what Travellers need and deserve. This is not a Traveller issue, however. This is a societal issue and a collective call for a true, honest and transparent response. We have to learn from our mistakes, mistakes that generations of Travellers have had to pay for. We are talking about the most basic needs, such as access to clean water, heating, safe accommodation, access to potential private accommodation providers, and the elimination of overcrowding. Our aims, targets and timelines must be clear and it is on all of us to make this happen.
I rise today to ask the Leader, or implore her for assistance with a particular matter. I have a neighbour and constituent who, in May 2021, got a Pfizer first jab for Covid-19. Unfortunately, she had a serious reaction and ended up in the accident and emergency department and eventually recovered. Since then, she has been endeavouring to get her second vaccination, if not Pfizer, then maybe Moderna or AstraZeneca. I will read a small bit of what she sent to me in handwriting.
She is a highly educated research scientist, who is currently working as a global project manager for Janssen with more than 20 years' experience working in the pharma sector as well as in academic lecturing. She says:
I am not a crackpot anti-vaxxer. I want to do my part in reducing the risk. But right now, the only way I can have a normal life like the rest of my family is to get Covid-19 myself and recover in order to get a Covid-19 certificate.
It is an awful situation to be in.
This woman has an 81-year-old mother. That is creating difficulty. She was to appear in RTÉ six weeks ago on a particular issue. It was nothing to do with her problem, but she had to refuse. She contacted the Taoiseach's office, and he referred the matter to the Minister of Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. The Minister for Health kicked it down the road. The National Immunisation Advisory Committee, NIAC, is not interested. I cannot understand. It is five months later. This woman badly needs help for her family, her work, or even to go out for a meal - not that she is a big socialiser - but nobody is prepared to help her. Every night I put on the television and there are people from the HSE, NIAC and officials from the Government and Ministers saying we must get everybody vaccinated to prevent this crisis. Here is an example. I hope the Leader will take this up with the appropriate persons. I did not raise this here lightly. I think that is the second matter I have raised in 18 months. However, I really feel for this lady. I think she has been badly wronged and we need to find a solution.
I rise today to speak about an issue that was brought to my attention yesterday. It is do with an eleven-year-olds and basketball. I have been led to believe that the decision was made by Basketball Ireland that children can go to their basketball training, but they cannot play a match because they are not vaccinated. We have not started vaccinating that age group. This 11-year-old and friends have been training.They were getting ready for their match only to be told they can no longer have matches. Children have been through so much with Covid. They were so excited about upcoming matches and now they cannot have them. If Basketball Ireland has made this decision, I believe it is wrong. We have not given 11-year-olds the opportunity to be vaccinated yet.
I saw today in the news that it is envisaged people aged under 60 years who have underlying health conditions will be offered the vaccine next. This is very welcome along with the healthcare workers. As healthcare workers especially are working with people daily, it is important to welcome the news they are being vaccinated and that people with underlying health conditions are to be provided for too.
I seek a debate on the Government's approach to tackling homelessness in the capital. A recent article in The Sunday Timesreported on the number of voluntary groups involved in the provision of food services in Dublin, which was approximately 27. This has even led to argument among the organisations over prime locations. Were these all self-funded ventures, the duplication of service would not be any of our business. However, it is the remit of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, to co-ordinate the efforts of the four Dublin councils to combat homelessness. The DRHE spent roughly €159 million last year and the Government has spent close to €1 billion on homeless services from 2013 to 2020. Homelessness is clearly not an issue that will be resolved by throwing money at it. The largest of these charities took in over €56 million last year with €30 million of that coming directly from the State. The State has a duty to ensure such money is being spent in rehousing homeless persons in a sustainable manner rather than enabling individuals to remain on the street.
Is there something to be said for the centralisation of homeless services either in the DRHE or another statutory body established with the goal of eliminating homelessness? The sheer volume of volunteers we have who are willing to work in this area is testament to their hearts being in the right place but the system in which they work may not be right. Yesterday, Mr. Justice O’Moore gave an order to wind up Inner City Helping Homeless and appointed Mr. Kieran Wallace as permanent liquidator. While the circumstances which led to this outcome do not reflect on other charities working in the area of homelessness, perhaps it should give us cause to think about the structure through which the Government seeks to operate. Perhaps it is not a lack of funding which has lengthened Dublin's homelessness crisis but a refusal to go back to the drawing board in regard to how we set about tackling the issue as a whole.
On a separate issue, I spoke a couple of weeks ago about my home parish of Denn. This weekend, they actually won the junior championship in County Cavan. It was lovely to see the brother of one of the people who committed suicide taking the cup on behalf of the team. It was a lovely, joyous occasion for the parish.
Today, the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media launched our report on the proposed online safety and media regulation Bill. It is hugely important legislation that it is to be hoped will be coming before us in the House in the winter. After nearly a year of intensive work, where we dealt with a huge spectrum of witnesses from across Irish life, the joint committee made 33 recommendations to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, in respect of the Bill because it must be got right. We are dealing now with a medium that is highly influential on the manner in which society itself is conducted. We heard from our witnesses about the impact it is having, especially on young people. Some of the key recommendations we have made today include an individual complaints scheme available to people, that provisions be responsive to the need to, in particular, protect children and vulnerable groups and the provision of an online safety commissioner.We had as a witness the Australian eSafety Commissioner. She has done amazing work in bringing to heel the social media companies which talk about self-regulation and the need for community standards, but whose standards fall very short when it comes to certain people. Other key recommendations include a ban on advertising to children online and that disinformation and financial harm, including gambling, be included as categories of harmful content and the need for a content levy on the major streaming companies in order that we can invest in original Irish content again. I look forward to the Minister taking on board the cross-party recommendations we made today on the online media safety Bill and to the Bill coming before this House before Christmas in order that it can be debated thoroughly and implemented.
I concur with Senator Cassells's comments. I was on that committee, along with Senators Byrne and Hoey. It is among the most important legislation we will see over the coming years. I am delighted and look forward to seeing the 33 recommendations we put forward implemented.
I also concur with the proposal from Senator Cassells on a discussion on forestry. It is a major issue and I welcome the recent acquisition by Glennon Brothers of Longford of Balcas, another large timber company, to turn it into one of the biggest timber-producing companies in the country. We need to address the issues in the forestry industry. It is having a knock-on effect on our house building.
I mentioned sports capital funding at the time of the budget. My understanding is allocations were to come out at some stage this month, but we had a small funding budget set aside for a large number of applications and there was only an extra €5 million in the budget for sports capital. I ask that we look again at that and the amount of funding available to make sure that all these sporting organisations, which have played such a pivotal part throughout Covid-19, get the funding they need to deliver their projects.
I will finish by welcoming back my party colleague, the Minister, Deputy McEntee. I happened to come in the gate of Leinster House today along with her. It is fantastic to see what she has done and highlights the need for permanent reform. I am glad there seems to be overtures in that direction. It is not before time.
Tá mé píosa mall as beannachtaí breithlae a sheoladh le TG4 a bhí 25 bliain ar an saol ag an deireadh seachtaine. The leader may have seen at the weekend Oíche Shamhna marked the 25th birthday of TG4, one of our greatest cultural, entertainment and information outlets in Ireland and globally, given the new media that exists. It is available to and taken up by a global audience. TG4 reflects the best of us. It shows our rich cultural heritage and history, but also the vibrancy and dynamism of the Irish language community, especially the creative sector and the arts and music in the Irish language community, in particular. It was a timely reminder for us of just how much TG4 has made a difference to the life of the Irish language community and broader Irish life over the past 25 years and of how when we enable the Irish language sector to flourish and grow, it does so impressively. TG4 is in many ways the jewel in the crown for the Irish language community and plays such a big part in Irish life. I wish it a breithlá sona. Go maireadh siad an céad.I also wanted to take the opportunity to again call for a debate on the protocol and its roll-out. At today's Brexit committee, representatives from the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, put quite impressive statistics to us, including a statistic that really resonated with me regarding a 90% increase in trade from the North into the South post-Brexit, which was enabled by the protocol. I again make the call for that debate. I also call on the Irish Government to develop a communication and marketing strategy that tells businesses, in particular, how to avail of the benefits of the protocol and that clearly and coherently outlines how it is protecting business.
There is a lot of excitement and debate about the COP26 summit, and that debate is very important. However, I want to register my disappointment and anger at the fact that the Israeli energy minister could not access the debate yesterday because she was in a wheelchair and there was no accessible transport for her to enter the summit. It was rectified today, but it sends a very bad message. Let it be a lesson to all of us that, anywhere we are organising anything, there has to be an absolutely accessible place for people to enter and to participate in the debate.
In talking about the debate at COP26, the area of climate change is hugely important to all of us. In the debate that has taken place over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of demonisation of the agriculture sector. In fact, the biggest contributors to emissions are fast fashion and food waste. Some of the statistics are quite shocking. The average household in Ireland wastes 3 kg of food every week. Globally, 25% of food that is produced is wasted. That represents 10% of the emissions.
About two weeks ago I requested that we ask the Minister for agriculture to come to the Seanad to have a debate on CAP. Coincidentally, that was the day the announcement was made on where Ireland is going regarding CAP. We need to have a wider debate on how we support, in particular, progressive commercial farmers, many of whom are in my county of Kildare. I met with them again yesterday and listened to their concerns. In 2016, Kildare alone had €256 million worth of exports. When one looks at the industries we have, such as Glanbia and Kerry Group, chilling, for example, provides a lot of employment. As a county and a country we need to be very proud of what is produced here.
In terms of what is facing us, we have accepted there has to be 85% convergence but there are only five eco-schemes in this country, while there are 20 in France. We need to have a debate about how these schemes can be opened up to help support the very important industry we have.
In recent weeks we have heard a lot about spiking - the Leader has made public statements on it - whether it is by needles or putting something into the drinks of people who are out in public socialising and doing their thing, having been allowed to be out in public again after such a long time. I have looked at this issue. Some of the early messaging that came out on it from the HSE and other groups was to tell young women that they needed to be careful and they needed to watch their drinks.
As the Leader said in a public statement a week or so ago, that has been the case for a very long time but it is the wrong approach. We need to look at the perpetrators rather than the victims of this kind of behaviour. In the past number of days I have spoken to a number of young people, and I was quite struck by those, young women in particular, who told me they are not now going out because they are afraid of what might happen to them if they do. It is an intolerable position for us to be in that in a developed modern country, young women in particular feel they cannot go out and enjoy themselves the same as their male counterparts because of this kind of thing.It is important that we send out the message to people who are thinking about doing this, particularly any men who are thinking about doing this, and who believe they might get away with it that it is against the law. We do not need new legislation because legislation was passed almost 25 years ago by the then Minister for Justice, Ms Nora Owen. Section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997 makes provisions in respect of assault, which is a minor offence. More importantly, though, section 6 deals specifically with syringes being used to injure someone. It is clearly an offence. On indictment, it carries a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment. The House should be sending out the clear message that not only is this activity not acceptable and grossly unreasonable, but it is seriously criminal and carries serious penalties. I am not sure that some of the people involved in this activity understand the criminal liability to which they are exposing themselves. I wonder whether we can consider having a debate on the matter.
I wish to reference the student nurses and midwives who are outside Leinster House with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, supported by the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland, PNA, SIPTU and Fórsa, about student nurses and midwives' pay, which is an issue that I ever so briefly mentioned in the House previously. We are back at it again. There have been hints in the media that some of this will be resolved and that students in their fourth year internships are to receive an increase in their payments, but those are just media reports and there is no clarity. My understanding is that the report has been with the Minister since 12 August. By any measure of industrial relations issues, that is a long time for a report to be sitting when there is an outstanding dispute. The Leader wrote to the Minister previously on behalf of the Seanad. Will she engage with him again to ask for the report to be released and for unions to have access to it so that they can have a reasonable amount of time to assess it?
There have been other media reports today to the effect that there may be an extension of the €100 per week pandemic placement grant. Given that this payment ceased last September, first, second and third year students who are still working in pandemic conditions are not receiving any recognition of or pay for their work. Given that 3,000 healthcare staff are out at the moment, there is no doubt that what student nurses and midwives are doing on hospital wards is work. It is disappointing that that payment was ceased. Whether it will be reintroduced is one matter, but it should not have been cut off.
Last February, I proposed a Bill on this matter. There was no opposition to it and everyone stood up and said that he or she supported our student nurses and midwives. It is frustrating that student nurses and midwives who have been working on the front line are once again outside Leinster House calling for a resolution to this issue and for a bit of respect, decency and fairness. That is not too much to ask for. Will the Leader please write to the Minister?
Aontaím leis an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile agus leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach faoi TG4 agus an ról tábhachtach atá aige. Guím breithlá sona dó.
I welcome this afternoon's positive announcement by the Minister, Deputy Harris, on the designation of a technological university for the south east. This is something that our region has been seeking for a long time and it will be transformative for the region. When it opens on 1 May, it will become the fourth or fifth largest university by student number in the country. It will be a considerable achievement and will play a role not just in regional economic and social development, but in dealing with national and global challenges. We should put on the record of the House our thanks to all of the team in Institute of Technology Carlow, Waterford Institute of Technology and others for ensuring that this has finally come to pass.
The House will recall how I raised a problem that arose in Gorey in August at the Creagh water treatment plant when E. coli was found in our water supply. In an unrelated incident, a boil water notice is currently in place in Gorey and Wexford town. There is also a boil water notice in place in Enniscorthy. This means that the three largest towns in County Wexford are facing boil water notices.I accept that this is part of the major review of all our water treatment plants that is going on to make sure they are up to scratch but there is also a problem with regard to housing. We have discussed in this House previously that a lot of our failure to reach some of our targets will be because Irish Water will not supply enough connections to have an adequate water supply. As we are moving towards a single utility, I ask for a specific debate on the role of Irish Water in the housing area, as well as in ensuring that all our citizens have access to a good, reliable and clean water supply.
I wish to raise the issue of antigen tests and five to 12-year-olds, who are without the protection of vaccines. Cases are rising at a worrying rate for parents and teachers. This is affecting teachers and the need for substitute teachers in schools as well. As we read in the newspapers today, there is concern about people at home who are vulnerable who have children at school. Parents are not reassured by the Chief Medical Officer's comments at the weekend that international evidence tells us that in the vast majority of cases, children who become infected with Covid-19 experience mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. They are still worried. They are worried about long Covid, just as they were about teenagers, and they are worried about paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome, PIMS. This is not to say there is widespread support for going back to the way things were with the previous test and trace system but it is clear as day that primary schools and teachers need an extra line of defence. The Tánaiste talked about mandatory antigen testing for asymptomatic close contacts in schools, and of course we all know that if someone has symptoms they should get a PCR test, but what about voluntary antigen screening for five to 12-year-olds and school staff? We know it can be done. It has been done in the UK, where tests are much more accessible. It is being piloted at present in third level. In the UK there are videos on how to do the antigen tests with children. We have to acknowledge that identifying symptoms in children is not black and white. We can lean into the doubt parents have about a runny nose or when a child says they are not feeling well but the parents do not feel there is enough concern to go for a PCR test. This is something we should consider seriously.
I welcome the COP26 statement. I just read the remarks of the Taoiseach, who was speaking as we started the Order of Business. It is very important, as a number of people have said, that we all play our part in every way we can, be that through a small thing or a big thing. That might be not buying as much food when we do not really need it, which Senator O'Loughlin referred to, or something like cycling. I cycled in today. I am lucky enough to live relatively close so I can do that but the route I take is one on which a cyclist unfortunately had a fatality yesterday. I pay sympathy and give my condolences to his friends and family for that fatality.
We are entering into the wintertime. The clocks have gone back and we will all notice in the next few minutes how dark it is going to be so early. I am a motorist more often than I am a cyclist, although I still cycle a fair bit, and motorists in particular must pay attention to cyclists and pedestrians. It is of course helpful if cyclists are well lit up or are wearing high-vis jackets and helmets and so on but if there is a confrontation between a motorist and a cyclist, or a motorist and a pedestrian, it is fairly certain that the cyclist or the pedestrian is going to be the worse off in the collision. I ask that we have a debate on road safety but at the same time, all of us here, from both urban and rural Ireland, should get out there and tell motorists to take that little bit of extra care. As part of COP26 we are trying to get more people to cycle, engage in active travel and walk but we need to make sure it is safe because fatalities and injuries are what frighten people away from those modes of transport.It might be useful for us to have a debate with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on road safety. Now that the clocks have gone back, let all of us, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, be vigilant all of the time to make sure we all stay safe.
I join with others in commending and congratulating TG4 and our former colleague, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, who is one of the key people in TG4 making it the success it is.
What happened to the Israeli energy minister, in terms of her being left outside of the climate summit for a couple of hours, does not surprise me one bit. It is symptomatic of an attitude towards people with disabilities throughout the world. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only Member of this House with a declared disability. Two weeks ago, I was in a situation where I could not access material at a very important committee. The reason for that is, perhaps, that I do not shout loud enough or not make enough noise and I just work away with people. I could give countless examples in this House of situations in which I found myself in terms of not being able to access information to facilitate me to do my job. It is nobody's fault, but it is everybody's fault. A better effort needs to be made across the board, certainly within this House and within the Houses of the Oireachtas, but throughout society in general. It is great to promote climate justice. That is extremely important but so too are the basic issues of equality and being able to access a venue. To think that that happened at an event about which we all espouse, namely, climate justice and climate action, is appalling. It should never happen. We, and the institutions, always should be mindful of whether there is a person on a committee or within the Houses of the Oireachtas that might need some extra attention or accommodation in order that he or she can have the same level playing pitch as everybody else.
I would like to raise one other issue. Today, I heard that Doolin Coast Guard has been stood down. That is very regrettable. Doolin Coast Guard is one of the busiest Coast Guard units in this country, carrying out 60 to 70 recovery and rescue missions every year. I want answers as to why that happened. I want to know the reason it is being stood down.
I commend Irish Families Through Surrogacy, members of which were outside Leinster House today to raise awareness among Members of the Seanad and the Dáil in regard to their simple demand that the Government legislate in order that their children can be afforded the same rights as every other child in Ireland. It is not an extravagant demand; it is a very basic human request. England legislated for this in the 1980s. These families feel failed by previous Governments. They welcome that this Government has given a commitment to legislate to create a legal and ethical framework that will protect everybody, children and parents. I ask the Leader to write to the Ministers for Health, Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to draw their attention to the demonstration today, to urge them to deliver on the Government's commitment and to ensure that the legislation brought forward commits not only to giving them the basic human right of affording them the same rights as every other child in Ireland, but includes provisions for international surrogacy.
The second issue I wish to raise today is that of vaccines. We are all very proud of the vaccine roll-out in Ireland and of how Ireland has been a huge success globally in terms of vaccine roll-out. We commend everybody involved in that process. However, there is growing concern among people who received the Janssen single-dose Covid-19 vaccine.There is concern about the waning efficacy of that vaccine. Will the Leader write to the National Immunisation Advisory Committee to seek clarity on its intention regarding those who received the Janssen vaccine. Is its intention to recommend a Pfizer second dose, a booster, for those people?
I want to commend everyone involved in the roll-out of booster vaccinations to those over 65 years and those in our nursing homes. It is welcome that all those front-line healthcare workers have also been approved for the booster vaccines. However, the Janssen vaccine cohort is concerned and needs reassurance. It would be most welcome if the Leader could seek that assurance.
The HSE has published a new list of locations around the country served by BreastCheck vans. The service provided by the vans stopped during Covid for the last 18 months. Before Covid, it generally did a yearly visit to Tipperary and did all its checks in one visit. However, the new list which was published has no location in Tipperary. The Irish Cancer Society has said higher numbers of late-stage cancers are being diagnosed as a result of the screening delays caused by Covid-19. The longer we leave these services lapse, the more advanced cancer will spread. Early intervention is key. The HSE says the cyberattack has had a huge impact on cancer screening services, which is understandable, but patients in Tipperary should have been contacted months ago to attend screening services.
Women aged between 50 and 69 years are offered a mammogram every two years so women who were almost due their assessment when the pandemic began are waiting almost four years at this stage. The number of mammograms carried out by the HSE BreastCheck services fell by more than two thirds in 2020, leading to a detection of 600 fewer breast cancers. Some 56,000 women had a full mammogram last year compared with 170,000 in 2019. I ask the Leader to contact the HSE and ask that Tipperary be included in the schedule. Tipperary has two Covid vaccination centres, one in Clonmel and one in Nenagh. There used to be a BreastCheck van in Nenagh, but I would ask that it also come to Clonmel. It is very important. It is very significant. It is close to my heart. My mother passed away at a very young age from breast cancer, so it means a lot. The BreastCheck van detects about 1,050 cases of breast cancer every year, saving lives. It is very important that it be a relatively close distance from where people live. Tipperary is a massive county.
I do not know about that, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I want to speak in favour of Senator Conway's remarks on extra support for disabilities. I made some inquiries, and it was my understanding from the Houses of the Oireachtas that there was additional funding, resources and staff for people with a disability, and rightly so. I speak as someone with a lot of knowledge of local councils. I am a director of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind for many years and have advocated really strongly for it. Many of the service users of Irish guide dogs are working as telephonists in various local authorities. One thing that is really good about our local authorities is that these users are supported with additional assistance around accessing the building, the utilities and also accessing open spaces for the dogs, etc. It is really important and I would be quite disappointed, as we all would be, if people did not have that extra support. What Senator Conway outlined warrants some further inquiries, because we should support people with disabilities. I have come across three or four people who have started employment here in recent weeks who have disabilities. That is really important. We might say hello to them when we encounter them in the corridor. The conversations I had was that people tend to back off when someone has a visual impairment or a long cane, not because people are indifferent but because sometimes they feel awkward. We need to have a conversation with everyone. I welcome the good news that ten-year-old Adam Terry has had his operation. His parents issued a statement to RTÉ and that is really positive. However, 170 other children are still languishing on waiting lists. They are still in pain as they await surgery. I know the Leader and her office made strenuous efforts to arrange a debate with the Minister but I am disappointed with the date of Tuesday, 23 November. It is simply not good enough. I do not want to come in here to roar, shout and fight with people. None of us wants to do that. We all have a job to do but, quite frankly, Tuesday, 23 November, which is in three weeks, is not good enough, considering I first requested a debate two weeks ago. I am not prepared to accept that and I do not believe the Members of this House are prepared to accept it either.
I know the Leader's office has gone back to the Minister's office to make inquiries. I wrote to the Minister today and I look forward to his response. I must acknowledge that when one writes to the Minister for Health, one gets a detailed response. I wanted to share my own concerns with him. It is important when one is getting a message out that it is one's own message and not spin or someone else's version of the message. My message to the Leader, respectfully, is that I will make a proposal on tomorrow's Order of Business if we cannot negotiate an earlier debate. I do not want to put too much pressure on people. I am prepared to give the Minister another week but I am not prepared, on behalf of those in scoliosis advocacy groups to whom I have spoken, to wait for three more weeks for the Minister to come to this House for five or ten minutes to set out his timeline. I respect that the Leader has a difficult job and is dealing with the Minister's office but I hope we can have some movement on this before tomorrow.
That is true. I appreciate that Senator Boyhan has a job to do but he knows that I have done my best. I will try again. I never say never. The Senator will ask and I will ask and we will see if we can get a better date than 23 November. That said, at least we have a date, even if we are not happy with it. We will try to bring it forward. I will do my best and I am sure Senator Boyhan will do his best too.
Senator Ahearn raised the quite bizarre situation whereby in one of the largest counties in the country there is no BreastCheck venue for an annual analysis of the women of the age that the screening service looks after. I am happy to write to Mr. Paul Reid of the HSE today on that matter and will send Senator Ahearn a copy of my letter. It is incumbent on the HSE to catch up on the backlogs in its BreastCheck, CervicalCheck, prostrate cancer and other screening programmes to make sure we can keep people healthy. It does not make any sense to exclude Tipperary and I will write to Mr. Reid about that today.
Senator Fitzpatrick and several other Senators raised the surrogacy protest outside Leinster House this morning. Several Ministers for Justice, as far back as when Alan Shatter was Minister for Justice and Equality in 2011, have been working on this. I know how complex an issue it is but it is not satisfactory that ten years on, we are still saying it is complex. I am happy to write to the Ministers for Health, Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to ask them what their plans are in this regard.
I am not sure that NIAC would appreciate a letter from me but I will try. I will send it on and see what happens. I was not aware that people were concerned and had not read anything about the efficacy of the Janssen vaccine. I will write to NIAC on that.
Senator Conway also spoke about Doolin coastguard, which was also raised by Senator Craughwell. The coastguard has been stood down which is a very concerning issue, not least in terms of any rescue that may be required in the coming weeks but also in terms of the overall culture and ethos.I will write to the Minister about that and come back to the Senator.
Senator Horkan looked for a debate on road safety, not least because the clocks went back and the evenings are getting darker earlier. We all need to be conscious of that and I will try to arrange that as soon as I can. He also welcomed the strong statement from An Taoiseach this afternoon on COP26, as we all do.
Senator Currie talked about introducing antigen tests for our schoolgoing children and the teaching population. We all know parents are concerned and worried and as parents we know it is our job to do so. We need to recognise that we need to employ any and all measures we can. We have been talking about antigen testing in this House for well over a year and some of our health providers are only catching up now but I welcome the Minister for Health's introduction this week of antigen testing for common public usage in instances of close contacts. I have no doubt that we will start to use them in a much wider setting in the coming weeks.
Senator Malcolm Byrne asked for a debate on the role of Irish Water in the provision of housing and he also welcomed the technological university for the south-east that was announced earlier this afternoon by the Minister, Deputy Harris.
As she has done so many times in recent months, Senator Hoey raised the student nurses who are protesting outside Leinster House today. I suggest to the Senator from my previous experience as a Minister that when one reads something in The Irish Timesof a morning, even if one does not have confirmation from the Minister, it tends to be true. I welcome the fact that our fourth-year student nurses will be given 80% of a nurse's starting salary and a training allowance for their fourth year. That is welcome and the reintroduction of the Covid payment is something that is long overdue and should be welcomed by our student nurses who are not learning when they are working in our hospitals. They are working their socks off and all credit to them but they need to be rewarded for it.
Senator Ward raised spiking, which I raised last week because a young lady I happen to know well reported that she had been spiked. It is interesting that in the past week, I have spent a lot of time arguing with men over whether we are scaremongering and whether women have nothing to worry about. I have to question why some men would protest as much as they do about trying to make women aware of the daily and nightly ailments they have to prepare for. We have to try to speak to the fellows who are doing it and tell them it is not on, we will not accept it and there will be zero tolerance. I have to wonder about some of the responses to this issue. Senator Ward has asked for a debate and I will try to organise that with the Minister for Justice, who only returned yesterday, and she is very welcome back from her maternity leave. We will give her a couple of weeks to get back up to speed.
Senator O'Loughlin raised COP26 and the Israeli minister being unable to access the debate but also she spoke about the effects of the decisions that will be made at COP26 this week. Demonising any sector from any country will not do any of us any good because collectively we will not reach our 2030 or 2050 targets and whatever targets come thereafter unless we all take responsibility and work inclusively together. We must also compensate those who may have to do more of the heavy lifting than those in other industries. It must not be a case that it is tally-ho and they are left on their own. We will not do this without everybody working together and recognising that there are some industries that will have to compensate a little more than others. The State needs to recognise that and work with those industries.
Senator Ó Donnghaile again asked for a debate on the Northern Ireland protocol. The Taoiseach is here on 18 November but I recognise that a further proper, stand-alone debate on the Northern Ireland protocol is required and I will ask for that.
Senator Carrigy talked about forestry, as did the Fianna Fáil leader, Senator Chambers, earlier. A real debate on this is required because far too many people are waiting for licences for far too long and it is causing a backlog so I will try to organise that as quickly as I can.
Senator Cassells talked about the report of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media and I heard the Chairperson of the committee on the "News at One". The 33 recommendations from the pre-legislative scrutiny of the online safety and media regulation Bill were welcome. It is a prime example of how pre-legislative scrutiny can help facilitate a much broader debate and bring things to the table that a Minister and his or her advisers might not have thought about. That is why it is so important that we have pre-legislative scrutiny of all Bills.
Senator Keogan asked for a debate on homelessness. In a lot of ways I feel for the DRHE because it tries to find a fine balance between recognising that there are an enormous number of volunteers who want to help and who come from a good place in trying to help but that there also have to be minimum standards in the provision of services.One is caught between a rock and a hard place of not insulting somebody but making sure that we give the best services that we can to some of the most vulnerable people. A debate would be very welcome and I will organise it as quickly as I can.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about an anomaly that was raised with me the other day with regard to junior basketball. Basketball Ireland has issued statements that junior basketball cannot be held at a competitive level because no children under the age of 12 are vaccinated. Sport Ireland has disagreed saying that is nonsense and should not happen so there is an anomaly. Both of the organisations need to work things out. I have written to the Minister responsible for sport and asked the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, to see if he can be of help and intervene.
Senator O'Donovan raised a case today in the Chamber that he raised privately with me the other day. The lady involved has done absolutely everything that she can potentially do to get the vaccine that she has sought but to no reward. This morning, I wrote to both Dr. Colm Henry and Professor Brian MacCraith asking them to alleviate the situation. I will revert back to the Senator to make sure this matter is resolved.
Senator Ruane talked about the Traveller community and homelessness report. She also talked about the incredibly strong recommendations, even though some of them are as obvious as the nose on one's face and should not need to have had discussions and reports. I refer to the basic fundamental rights of having access to clean water, electricity and energy supplies, and not being alienated in one's own community. We need a debate to highlight to people who take for granted an awful lot of the things that they have on a daily basis. A tremendous amount of citizens do not have these things as a basic right.
Senator Sherlock spoke about the surrogacy Bill and sought a debate with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin. The debate has been requested and I await a date from the Minister. I assure the Senator that I will let her know as soon as I have a date.
Senator Boylan spoke about the motion on greyhounds, as she has often done here before. I totally appreciate and understand why she might call a vote. Genuinely, the debate will happen at the committee but I appreciate why she would want to have the debate here.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly talked about COP. She made one of the most eloquent contributions today because she underlined that it is all our responsibility to make sure that we hit the targets and not just the few.
Senator Craughwell spoke about the crisis in the Coast Guard and the Comptroller and Auditor General's reports and the feeling that there are certain anomalies in Government spending around the provision of services. More important are the allegations of bullying and harassment that have led to volunteers in Doolin standing down. That is not a tenable situation and I will contact the Minister to see where we will go with that.
Senator Dolan talked about the university in the north west. She also talked with great pride about the fact that both ladies and gentlemen football teams from Ballinasloe won last weekend. There must be something in the water down there.
Senator Chambers, the Fianna Fáil Seanad leader, opened the Order of Business by again welcoming the technological university in the north west because it will have a major impact on her home county of Mayo. She also sought a debate on the forestry sector, which I will organise. She also talked about the very significant statement that the Taoiseach made today, on all our behalf, at COP26, which is very welcome.