Seanad debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I want to pay tribute to Austin Currie, former Deputy and Minister of State, who sadly passed away yesterday. He was born in Dungannon in 1939 and educated in Queen's University Belfast. He was a leading light of the civil rights movement. He was one of the founders of the Social and Democratic Labour Party, SDLP, alongside the late John Hume. He was a dedicated and committed politician who made an important contribution to the lives of many throughout the island, North and South. He served as a Minister of State at the Departments of Education, Justice and Health during the 1990s. I send my sincere sympathies, along with those of all Senators, to his wife, Annita, and his children, especially our colleague, Senator Emer Currie. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I join the Cathaoirleach in his words of sympathy and condolence to the Currie family, our colleague, Emer, all of his community and his colleagues and friends in the SDLP, Fine Gael and the Parliaments on this island. He led an extremely interesting life and made a significant contribution to public life. He has left a fantastic legacy. May he rest in peace.

The Order of Business today is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2020 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to adjourn at 2.15 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the adjournment of No. 1, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 105 minutes, if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, Planning and Development (Amendment) Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken at 4.30 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 135 minutes, if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, Private Members' business, Safe Access to Termination of Pregnancy Services Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the later, with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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On my behalf and that of the Fianna Fáil group, I wish to be associated with the Cathaoirleach and the Deputy Leader in sending our condolences to our colleague, Senator Currie, on the sad passing of her father, Austin. As the Cathaoirleach rightly said, his decision to squat a house in Caledon, County Tyrone in 1968 was widely seen and historically recorded as the beginning of the civil rights movement. He was one of the co-founders of the SDLP and, in political terms, successfully traversed the Border by later becoming a Deputy representing Dublin West. His legacy is great and I extend our sympathies and condolences to Emer and her mother, Annita, as well as her four siblings, the extended Currie family and the large circle of friends Austin accumulated during his distinguished career.

I wish to raise an issue that has been raised on several occasions in the House. I refer to the backlog of passport applications. It is the passport issue again. I welcome the moves that have been made by the Minister to provide Members with an Oireachtas contact line. Although it has had some teething problems and may not be the silver bullet we were all hoping for, it certainly has helped in many situations. All Members know why the backlog exists. Covid has been blamed, with people having to work from home and so on. However, Covid or the other aforementioned reason cannot be blamed for the lack of a little bit of common sense and a personal touch.

On two occasions recently, I thought I had been successful in getting a passport for people at closer to the 12th than the 11th hour. In both cases, I was trying to get the passport on a Friday. One of them was on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend. When we got confirmation that the passport had been printed, the confirmation also stated the passport had been posted. The passports were needed for flights that were on a Sunday and a bank holiday Monday, respectively, but the facility to collect them or even to organise a courier to collect them was not made available. There was no common sense shown. There has to be a personal touch and some common sense used. I know the staff are under pressure trying to get through the backlog but it is very simple to recognise that a passport posted at 5 p.m. on a Friday evening to a person who desperately needs it for a flight on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend will not reach the person in time and may as well not have been printed. The staff would have been as well served to put the effort into processing a passport for a person flying on the Tuesday.

It has been brought to my attention that in cases where further information is required, there is some fault in the application or the photograph is not up to standard, this is not being highlighted to the customers or clients until the due date for printing of the passport. These issues can be highlighted sooner to give people the opportunity to submit the extra information or an updated photograph or whatever the case may be in ample time. These are simple things. I do not wish to sound flippant but all it needs is a little common sense and a personal human touch. I ask the Deputy Leader to highlight these issues to the Minister such that he can bring them to the attention of supervisors or others in the Passport Office. I am not being critical of the staff. I know there is a backlog and they are working hard but it is nonsensical to post a passport on a Friday evening when it is evident and obvious it will not arrive in time.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I too wish to be associated, on my behalf and that of the Fine Gael group, with the remarks on the sad passing of Austin Currie. I offer condolences to his wife, Annita, who herself suffered greatly at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries, and to our colleague, Senator Emer Currie. Austin was a man of peace and decency who, with John Hume, Gerry Fitt, Seamus Mallon and others, kick-started the civil rights movement in Derry and across the North. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

There was an exciting and at times difficult public meeting in Athenry mart on Monday in respect of Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, proposals. Politicians representing east and west Galway were in the ring of the mart. There was a good crowd. The meeting was organised by the Irish Farmers Association and there was a significant turnout of very productive and active farmers from the east Galway area, as well as some from west Galway. I understand from the Leader that the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, will be appearing before the House as part of the climate change debates. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, is due to appear in the Chamber on Thursday to discuss forestry. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Ryan, will come to the House in the coming weeks to discuss transport.

The majority of farmers understand that climate change is real and they accept that agriculture has to play its part. Indeed, it has been doing so for several years. However, it is a difficult area and there is some confusion regarding what is being announced. Farmers are experiencing several things that are happening at the same time. Obviously, there is the new CAP, which is enough to deal with on its own. There are also the climate change issues on top of that and, of course, the price of commodities such as fertiliser is very high due to the current input price of gas. All of those issues are coming at the same time for farmers, so it is a difficult period for them. Those at the meeting on Monday certainly expressed their concern about it.

It is acknowledged that Irish farming and food production is among the most sustainable, if not the most sustainable, in the world in terms of a grass-based system and long grazing periods compared with other countries. We have a responsibility internationally to be part of the movement, to acknowledge the reality of climate change and to be part of the COP26 proposals to limit the impact across the system, and farmers understand that. I look forward to the debate with the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, in the coming months. There are several points and questions raised by farmers that I will put to the Minister in that debate. I am sure he will be able to provide answers in respect of the minute details of the proposals outlined in the climate action plan. I look forward to a debate on that issue as soon as possible.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Deputy Leader for outlining the proposed Order of Business. My apologies for being delayed coming to the House. I know the Cathaoirleach, too, ran up the stairs. I do not think any Senator has delayed the start of the Seanad by ten minutes. I have just come from an amazing event. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Ceann Comhairle and the Leader of the Seanad for presiding over the joyous and exciting unveiling of a portrait of Senator David Norris, our esteemed colleague. The Senator was very gracious and there were great speeches, as well as a significant press and photographer presence. The unveiling will be followed by further celebrations later in the day.

I wish to acknowledge David and his unique style, individualism, eloquence and energy but, more important, in this House I want to acknowledge the significance of David's remarkable crusade in respect of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, his crusade for marriage equality and his trips to the High Court, the Supreme Court and, eventually, the European Court of Human Rights. What an achievement by a man who is a Member of this House. It proves the importance of Independent politics, but also his ability to collaborate. While he may have had difficulties with some people, he always remained in good personal friendships with them and that is the mark of the man. In summary, he is a lover of life, humanities and antiquities, and an amazing mentor to young people coming into political life. I hope we will have many more days of David being a Member of this House.

I join colleagues in offering condolences to Senator Currie of Fine Gael and her family. These are sad times for them. Her father was a remarkable man who made a remarkable contribution to the political life of this island, and that needs to be acknowledged.

I raise the issue of local government funding. I know Senator Kyne has been very much to the fore in calling for this action on this issue in the context of Galway.Five municipal districts in Galway - Loughrea, Tuam, Ballinasloe, Athenry and Connemara - have rejected the municipal district budgets to take a stand about the lack of adequate funding. We need a debate in this House on local government funding. We need a debate on how the local property tax, LPT, is being administered. We need a debate about the major reduction in commercial rates. We certainly need to debate when we hear that local authorities are seeking commercial rates from private individuals who have small offices in their homes. Particularly post Covid, the scenario has changed. I join others in calling for an extensive debate on local government financing, especially focused on the problems in Galway County Council. The people in the Galway County Council area, the staff of the council and the councillors deserve our support. I would welcome an early debate in the House on that issue.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I apologise to the House for starting the Order of Business ten minutes late, but as the Leader of the Opposition has outlined, it was in the course of unveiling a portrait of the great Senator Norris. His contribution to this House in the longest unbroken record of service was marked by the unveiling of a portrait of him. As Senator Boyhan outlined, he championed minority causes when nobody else would speak on them. Often forgotten as we go through this pandemic is the previous pandemic of the AIDS virus, which was a silent killer in Ireland. Nobody in the establishment or society in general wanted to talk about it, but Senator Norris raised it here time and again until he ensured there was a change in public policy. That shows the power of him as an Independent and the power of the Seanad in its role of raising issues that were uncomfortable for society. He forced change by his presence in this House. It was great to be there this morning to honour his great service to the country.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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On behalf of the Green Party, An Comhaontas Glas, we closely associate ourselves with the remarks of the Cathaoirleach and previous speakers in conveying our deepest sympathy to Senator Currie and her family on the sad passing of Austin Currie. Austin was a fearless voice and an advocate of equality. Articulating those views at that time meant putting one's life in peril. It is only a short few decades ago, but it is worth noting that he was not silenced nor were others in the SDLP, despite coming under attack from extremes in loyalism and republicanism.

There are different shades of green. Austin Currie may not have been the deepest shade of green, but perhaps the deepest shade of green is a galloping green that strives to achieve and realise a legitimate dream, but in the efforts of striving so harshly, at times it can prove counterproductive. Austin Currie did not believe in rushing. He came from a place whose only crime, which caused the SDLP trouble at the time, was a consent principle and to espouse the dream of a united Ireland exclusively by peaceful means.

It is also worth noting that another member of the SDLP, Gerry Fitt, was hounded out of his constituency in west Belfast. They shouted at him, "Fitt the Brit". What did he ever do? I accept he took a peerage and many people here might not like to take a peerage. While it is not something I would do, perhaps in taking the peerage he reached out to the other community. Margaret Ritchie also took a peerage and people from the nationalist community might find it hard to accept that. In a sense, from a different prism, that may be a form of reconciliation.

Austin Currie was also involved in what many would regard as the most bruising presidential election campaign. The father of the House might disagree. He would like the bragging rights of having been involved in a far more bruising presidential election campaign. I close my remarks by mentioning the father of this House. I commend the Independent grouping's beautiful and appropriate initiative to acknowledge the ongoing and selfless work of a public representative who has made his mark nationally and internationally.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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On behalf of the Sinn Féin group, I offer our condolences to our colleague, Senator Currie, and her family on the passing of Austin Currie. May he rest in peace.

The latest Daft rental report confirms what anybody who is trying to rent in this country already knows, which is that rents are continuing to rise. Munster, Connacht and Ulster are facing hikes of between 15% and 18% and, incredibly, the average monthly rent in Ireland is now €1,516. There is no doubt the rental crisis is continuing and the Minister continues to be four steps behind with every measure he takes. For years we have said rent pressure zones were not working and yet the Minister thinks simply tweaking around the edges will fix it. Seventeen counties have double-digit rental increases and some counties have had increases of as much as 20%. What does the Minister propose to deal with it? He proposes to allow landlords to hike rents by a further 2%.

Sinn Féin has detailed proposals to support tenants, including a ban on rental increases, money back in renters' pockets through a refundable tax credit, and the prioritisation of genuinely affordable homes, including affordable purchase and cost rental. People waking up today will not be surprised with the Daft report because anybody who is trying to rent in this country knows how broken the system is. Tragically, they have a Government which gives them no hope of any change in the short term.

The recent budget offered nothing for renters and the policies coming from the office of the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, continue to be developer, investor and landlord driven. The Minister said he would ban co-living but left a long enough lead-in time to allow the developers to get their applications in before the change came into effect. The Minister said he would curb investors' bulk-buying homes, but the Government is now embarking on a roadshow to calm the investors and to assure them to stick with us, as the Tánaiste said.

Later today we will debate a Bill to abolish strategic housing developments, SHDs, a developer-led planning process designed to bypass democratic oversight. We warned it would fail and now, unfortunately, we have been proven right. However, just like co-living, the proposal in the Bill to be debated today has such a long lead-in time that the SHDs will be with us until 2022. Throughout next year developers will be able to use planning processes to delay the system of getting houses onto the market. The housing system in Ireland is broken. Despite nine years of rent inflation, the Minister is repeating the same mistakes of his predecessor. Tinkering will not cut it. Housing is like climate change and transport. It will only be fixed by State-led capital investment.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 86, motion 3 be taken before No. 1. It is moving the writ for the by-election on the University of Dublin panel, further to the election of Deputy Bacik to the Dáil.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I second that.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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On behalf of the Labour Party, I reiterate the kind words about Austin Currie. I pass on our condolences to our colleague Senator Currie. Austin Currie was one of the pioneers on housing and in the civil rights movement in the North. The housing situation was blatantly discriminatory against Catholics. We have lost a giant of Irish politics. Along with John Hume and Seamus Mallon, he was the last of the big three to pass away. On behalf of the Labour Party, I want to be associated with the words that have been spoken about him.

One of the things about speaking later on the Order of Business is that sometimes Senator Boylan raises the issues that I had planned on raising. I also want to speak on the Daft report. That has happened a few times.The Daft report that was published today is interesting. It reiterates the points made in the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, report, and states that rental increases are going up 7% nationwide. In some counties, particularly in the midlands and on the western seaboard rents are increasing in double digits. There is a supply issue, but I also believe that the investor-led approach is not working. Investors cannot, and will not, deliver affordable rents. Only direct State intervention through the Land Development Agency, LDA, and the Government will do this. In the context of a market with unprecedented scarcity, I am reiterating the Labour Party's call on the Government to increase renters' rights and put some power back in the hands of renters. As part of this, the Government must ask that build-to-rent standards be reviewed to include balconies and facilities for more long-term living. We need a commitment from the Government that the apartments that will be built by the LDA and the Government under cost rental schemes will have long-term standards that are better than build-to-rent, and will include balconies and storage space.

I have heard some worrying reports that some proposed schemes will be built to build-to-rent standards. They are not good for long-term living for people who are living in cost rental. Building poor quality housing does not allow people to live there comfortably in the long term, either as renters or owners. We need to empower renters to make them feel that their house is their home. It is clear, from the RTB report that was published two weeks ago and the Daft report that was published today, that there is clear non-compliance with rental inflation caps. The balance between renters and landlords is the cause of this. Renters are terrified to go to the RTB or challenge landlords because there is such a scarcity of rental accommodation.

We need a culture change in how we approach rent in this country and our rental laws need to be rebalanced in favour of tenants. Labour has long called for a three-year rent freeze to give renters a break while new housing comes on the market. This is hugely important to try to stymie the crisis in the market, but it also must be done in tandem with the State building of cost rental schemes. This needs to be increased beyond the 2,000 units per year that have already been proposed if we are going to make a dent in housing and rental affordability.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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On behalf of the Civil Engagement Group, I, too, would like to pass on my deepest condolences to our Seanad colleague, Senator Currie, and her family on the passing of her Dad, Austin Currie. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. I also want to commend the Independent Group on the wonderful tribute it made today to the father of the House, Senator Norris, who is a wonderful man and an inspiration to us all.

I want to speak briefly about a report that was published earlier in the week by the Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force regarding the landscape of drug misuse in the Tallaght and Whitechurch areas of Dublin. The report was launched by my colleague, Senator Ruane, who has done really important work in the area and brought attention to the realities of life for people in her community and others like it. The Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force commissioned a piece of research earlier this year in light of concerns about the deterioration of what was already a seriously challenging drug problem in the area. The relevant community health area has one of the highest rates of drug use nationally, the second highest rate of people seeking treatment for drug addiction and the second highest rate of new presentations to drug treatment services. While heroin is the main problem drug, the task force was increasingly concerned about the number of people seeking support for addiction to cocaine and crack cocaine in the area. The research supported this conclusion, with the levels of crack cocaine use found to be among the highest in this country.

When you combine an expanding young population, a high level demand on local services and high levels of poverty, you are left with a really challenging landscape in which drug misuse can become rampant. It is clear that this is what has happened in Tallaght and Whitechurch, but unfortunately, the area is not an outlier in this way. There are too many communities around the country that have been let down by the State and that are marked by high levels of drug and alcohol misuse. These two things go hand in hand but, for whatever reason, we choose not to acknowledge it. Services like the Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force do exceptional work in supporting people in addiction to lead happier and healthier lives, but they do so in an increasingly challenging landscape with limited resources.

The Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force has seen a decrease in funding made available to support its work since 2010, in spite of the increasing levels of demand for its service. When compared with other task forces in Dublin, the Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force receives less funding than some areas that have smaller populations and lower numbers of people accessing drug treatment services. How can we stand over this in good faith? The answer is that we simply cannot. As my colleague, Senator Ruane, has previously stated, the cost of inaction on this issue is far greater than the cost of action. First and foremost, we need to ensure that services like the Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force receive the funding they require to continue their work. I encourage the Department of Health to review this matter specifically as a matter of urgency. We also have to consider the broader role that the State can play in intervening in problem drug use early to ensure that fewer people, families and communities are touched by drug and alcohol addiction. It is an issue we need to give greater attention to. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it with my colleagues in the House in the coming weeks and months.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Like my colleagues, I would like to join in the expressions of sympathy for the late Austin Currie, to his family and particularly to our colleague, Senator Currie. He was a giant in Irish politics and showed the power of peaceful protest. His legacy will live on.

I wish to join Senator Daly in raising again the issue of the Passport Office and the delays in processing applications, but I want to add the question of the registration of foreign births, which is an issue that I have raised in the House on a number of occasions. As we heard, the marts and nightclubs are open, but if you visit the Department of Foreign Affairs website, you are told that the section that deals with the registration of foreign births is still closed due to Covid. There is currently a backlog of around 31,000 applications. Part of the difficulty is that documents are sent into the Department and they are sitting there. People cannot access a lot of those documents because of the delays. This issue has been raised on several occasions. I ask that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is invited to the House to respond specifically on the issues of the registration of foreign births and the Passport Office, in respect of which, as stated by Senator Daly, we all still have complaints.

The Deputy Leader and I took part in a very useful engagement this morning of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with the House of Lords European Affairs Sub-Committee on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. It is important that this Chamber looks at engaging with other chambers. One of the key aspects that was found to be useful around that was the message that we all need to keep talking. If we can arrange for more engagement between this Chamber and other chambers around the issue, it should be encouraged.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I want to begin by paying tribute to the courage, commitment and dedication to peaceful protest exhibited by Austin Currie, and to express my deepest sympathy to Senator Currie and the entire family.

Last night, the "Prime Time Investigates" documentary on wardship was aired. I wish to begin by renewing my call that the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act is commenced and that we bring forward the launch of everything that needs to flow from that. The Minister has assured me on several occasions that it will be next June, but that is a long way away for people who are being made wards of court in the meantime and who are labouring under the current regime that presumes them not to have capacity. We need to move to a place of respect and capacity as quickly as possible. This has gone on long enough.

I also ask that we have statements in the House relating to what was shown in the documentary last night that I found really quite appalling, namely, the idea that the State obliges a regime of fiduciary duty taken up by the Courts Service, and the circumstances where the investments under that fiduciary duty have led to the absolute loss of the amount of money that was there for a person's full life. These people were given awards that were supposed to last their lifetimes and in some instances, when they are still in their 40s, that money has expired because of the manner in which it was invested over the past ten years to 15 years. That is not okay. If they had left it in a bank account and not invested it in anything, they would still at least have it.We need a debate or statements in the House and we need to hear the view of the Minister. I call for that to be arranged.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I would like to say a few words about the participation of women and girls in sport. It is important, where possible, that we encourage all young people, both boys and girls, to get involved in sport whatever that might be. Volunteers do great work the length and breadth of this country to promote sport, and encourage both young boys and girls to get involved. Last weekend, there was a shining example of such great work in my constituency where history was made. The under-13 and under-15 girls' teams represented the Cavan-Monaghan Underage League in a football match that took place in Donegal. It is a very positive thing to happen and was the first time this ever happened. For the two squads involved, their coaches and mentors and everybody involved it was a super day and an historic day. For the coaches involved whose idea it was to get a team to participate was a very positive thing.

For women in sport the motto seems to be if one can see it then one can be it. Again, there are two prime examples and shining role models in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. First, there is Leanne Kiernan from Killinkere, County Cavan. She is an Irish soccer international and now she is a striker with Liverpool Football Club. Second, there is the Cavan referee, Margaret Farrelly. Next Sunday, she will be the first woman to take charge of a men's senior football final when Gowna and Ramor United will play a replay match in Kingspan Breffni Park. Her appointment is the first of its kind and is an historic occasion. I was greatly impressed with her saying that she looks forward to the day when it will not make headlines when a woman is asked to referee a football match and I echo her sentiment. I urge girls to look up to these two young ladies and aspire to be just like them.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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As the Senator has said, if one can see it then one can be it and I congratulate Ms Farrelly.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I wish to express my condolences to Senator Currie and her family on the tragic loss of her dad. Obviously this is a very traumatic time for her and her family, and I would like to be associated with the kind tributes that have been uttered about him here in this House.

I wish to refer to the significant proposal to stage a major yacht race, as part of the America's Cup, that is hoped to come to the southern half of Ireland in 2024. It would be the third biggest sporting event in Ireland in 2024 and would have a huge knock-on effect on the tourism industry as it would bring anything up to 2.5 million visitors to Ireland who would have a proposed spend of anything up to €750 million. The event has the potential to be the biggest event ever to take place here and the knock-on effects for Ireland would be huge. The event would safeguard the tourism industry for 2024. We do not know how the world economy is going to go and this event will act as an insurance policy by creating a boom in our tourism industry in 2024.

The clock is ticking and we need to make a decision. We need to make sure that we are in the race to host the event but for that to happen the Government will need to make a decision. I ask the Deputy Leader, in particular, to contact the office of the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, about the event as it has the potential to change lives and the economy. As the event would ensure that the southern side of Ireland would have a very prosperous 2024 we must make sure that the Government gets on board with the idea and makes a decision in the appropriate timeline. I believe from now until the end of the year is the appropriate time to make the decision and we should avail of the opportunity. Ireland has moved from being one of 30 contenders to one of three contenders to host the event . We need to make sure that we finish the race but for that to happen the Government needs to step up and deliver. I ask the Deputy Leader to contact the Minister about the issue in good time. It is appropriate for us to debate the issue and I ask that the Deputy Leader invites the Minister to come here, in the next few weeks, to discuss her view of the proposal to stage a leg of the America's Cup and whether she will put the full support of the Government behind the proposal.

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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I, too, wish to pass on my condolences to the family and friends of Austin Currie and, indeed, to our colleague, Senator Currie. It must be remembered that in the face of so much adversity and strife in the North, Austin Currie stood against bullies. People on both sides went against him yet he stood up for what was right and never faltered. He always positively disrupted the status quoof injustice and inequality.

In terms of the legacy of real activists from Northern Ireland, I wish to emphasise that this is an important time in history due to the Northern Ireland protocol. We have the scenario of "will we, won't we" or "will they, won't they" trigger Article 16 on this island. I hope that the British Government decides to pull back on the protocol. Earlier we had a great engagement with the representatives of the House of Lords. We are in stasis where we need to get Brexit done. We need to move on with the next stages of Brexit and deal with the consequences of same. This State remains in stasis as the British Government does not know what sort of Brexit it wants and has not planned for anything. Let us hope that there is a fruitful and proper outcome in the next couple of weeks so that all of the people on this island can move forward with peace and prosperity.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I wish to be associated with the condolences extended to our colleague, Senator Currie, her mother, Annita, and the extended Currie family on the passing of Austin. I had the pleasure of working with him when he ran in the presidential campaign back in the 1980s. I knew him to be a thorough gentleman. He brought so much to the office of the Minister of State but also in terms of his work as a Deputy, and his work on the North in the past. I am thinking of all of his family at this sad time.

I welcome the motion that was passed recently in the Dáil. The motion was proposed by Deputy Carroll MacNeill and concerned the establishment of a committee on gender equality. The figures are stark and are as follows: women only accounted for 22.5% of Deputies - there is a better percentage in the Seanad; women in Ireland effectively work for free for the last 14.4% of the year; women accounted for 22.4% of board members; and 19% of Irish companies have no female directors. Those statistics are frightening. A committee would be a step in the right direction and I would like it established as soon as possible. I seek the support of this House on the establishment of a committee in terms of securing gender equality and equality for all.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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That issue will be on the agenda of the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight today and if it is agreed there then it will be on the agenda tomorrow in the House.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I would like to be associated with the kind remarks that Members have expressed for our old colleague, Senator David Norris. I have had the privilege of serving in this House with him for 14 years and I have been most impressed by him at all times. It is nice to see him being recognised in his own lifetime.

I came into the Chamber especially to join in the condolences to the great Austin Currie. When I was growing up I considered Austin Currie a hero. He was a man of great courage who was prepared to take on the system in a democratic and non-violent way. He and his SDLP colleagues are the people who affected profound change in the North. We are at a time when, unfortunately, there are people in these Houses who will still try to justify the murder campaign of the Provisional IRA. Indeed, the leader of one of the largest parties in these Houses continues to justify the murder campaign of the IRA.It is important to reflect on the fact that people like Austin Currie showed that you can effect change without shooting people, putting bombs on buses or murdering innocent women and children. He needs to be recognised for that. I send my heartfelt condolences to his daughter, Emer, and the rest of his family, and to his parliamentary colleagues in the SDLP and Fine Gael.

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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Following on from the contributions of others, I also wish to mark the sad passing of Austin Currie. I pass on my condolences, as others have done, to Emer and the whole Currie family on their sad and sudden loss. I spoke to Emer this morning and she asked me to pass on her appreciation to everyone who has contacted her and the family. It is a great source of strength to them at this time. Mr. Currie was elected in 1989, the same day as my mother. They were very good friends and Emer and I often joke about how we, too, entered this building and the irony involved in that. It is a sad time for the Currie family.

I ask the Deputy Leader for an update on the Government's commitment to provide funding for IVF treatment for women and couples. Ireland, along with Lithuania, is one of only two countries that still do not provide State funding for assisted reproduction, even though the World Health Organization recognises infertility as a medical condition. The legislation was supposed to have passed last year and then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, worked on the matter. It was thought the legislation would have gone through by now and IVF would be available. Some €2 million was designated for the procurement of IVF doctors in the public sector. IVF patients typically have many expenses beyond the procedure itself that can add significantly to the overall costs involved. Those costs include medications, blood tests and ultrasound monitoring. Government in general, and this Government in particular, has done an awful lot to support families and women through maternity and paternity leave. Everything we do is intended to try to support the family network but IVF treatment is one area that has been left out. Many people across the country want to have a child and the expense of it, especially if they have to attend more than once or twice, is astronomical and the State needs to support those families. They only have a certain period within which they can get that treatment and the longer we leave it, the more likely it is that people will be left out. I urge the Deputy Leader to get an update on that issue.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I join with my colleagues in extending our sympathies to the Currie family and to our colleague and friend, Emer, on the sad passing of Austin Currie. He was a colossus and a leader. When it was unpopular to do so, he took the need for human rights to be upheld to a new level. He built his life around peace and building bridges. He never recoiled from what he stood for but never supported violence. For the sake of his legacy and memory, we should all work to achieve his vision every day of our lives. Ar dheis Dé go raibh an anam.

I join with Senator Lombard in asking for an urgent debate on the America's Cup. This is a generational opportunity not only for Cork but also for the south west and the whole of our country. We have had the Ryder Cup and the world championships in showjumping and athletics. We have had all types of sporting and cultural events in our country, including the Eurovision Song Contest, and they have been held successfully to a high level. The Ryder Cup showed we can do it in a sporting context. We should embrace the America's Cup and ensure it is delivered to Cork and Ireland. It is important for us to do that. Senator Lombard was right to raise the matter. The Minister should come before us. It is not a matter of money or cost, it is about the opportunity and what the event can bring to us. I do not own a boat and I do not have sea legs. I do, however, have an appreciation of what this event is and of its scale, size and potential.

We should remember Austin Currie this morning, a man who led, delivered, upheld and spoke about peace in everything he did.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach for allowing me in even though I was not scheduled to speak. The death of Austin Currie, as many of my colleagues have said, is a tremendous loss to Ireland. My sympathies go to his family. It is a pity we do not have more people like Austin Currie now working in Northern Ireland, people with nothing but peace in their minds, hearts and everything they do. As Senator Ned O'Sullivan said, Mr. Currie did not need guns or bullets. He did it with language and talk. We need those kinds of voices now, louder than ever, in the North.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I, too, would like to be associated with the tributes to Austin Currie. He is a huge loss to his wife, Annita, to our friend and colleague, Senator Emer Currie, and to her siblings. Austin Currie is also a huge loss to the island of Ireland. We saw and know what he did when he was a Minister of State and representative of Dublin West. He worked tirelessly for the people south of the Border but what he did in the North was inspirational. In the darkest days of violence and when his own family were violently attacked on many occasions, he never once contemplated picking up a gun or engaging in violence. That is real leadership. Those are the types of people who I respect in Northern Ireland. Mr. Currie was a leader. Never did he contemplate violence. I know he would abhor anyone justifying the 30 years of violence we had in this country. That is his legacy and we should all be proud of it.

On another issue, I notice there is going to be legislation for e-scooters in this country. I have been at traffic lights when e-scooters have flown past me. As somebody with impaired vision, it is quite frightening, as it is for older people and others with impairments and disabilities, to see e-scooters flying by. I do not think the Houses of the Oireachtas should pass any legislation allowing the use of e-scooters until we are completely satisfied that protection measures are in place for the vulnerable people who also have a right to use the roads. We must remember that the blind and visually-impaired community in particular are the original greens. They use public transport and walk to get from A to B. We should be leaders in this country in terms of e-scooters. We should not legislate for them or legalise them until protections are in place.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I join with the words others have said about the late Austin Currie, leader of the civil rights movement. His occupation of a house in Caledon was a seminal moment, born of his burning desire for justice. He was elected to Stormont at 24 years of age, became leader of the SDLP, was elected to the Dáil in 1989, served as a Minister of State from 1994 until 1997 and was a presidential election candidate. He was courageous, brilliant and completely giving of himself. As has been well said by others, he was a man of peace. He fulfilled the Christian ideal to the letter of the law.

I had a personal connection with Mr. Currie. The first time I was elected to this House, he came to my local community to make a little presentation of a piece of crystal to me. He came with Annita. It meant we came to know each other. I always remember that, the warmth he brought with him and the affection he was held in by the people. His spirit lives on in our colleague, Emer. I offer my sympathies to Annita, Emer and their family. Go bhfana sé ar thaobh na láimhe deise ó Dhia.

I will briefly join in the words that have been said about Senator Norris. He has been a pioneering social reformer and was one of the greatest parliamentarians of the 20th century. He is man who has broken moulds. We badly needed him in this country. I have raised my last issue with the Leader previously. It relates to the waiting list for child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. I asked the Leader whether something can be done to shorten it? Where is this at now? It is a horror to leave children in this state. I cannot see a greater social priority than to deal with the CAMHS list. My understanding is that it is too long and I would like a comment on it, and action on it.

Photo of Ollie CroweOllie Crowe (Fianna Fail)
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I offer my sincere sympathies to Annita, Emer and the Currie family on the death of a statesman. I want to raise the construction sector. It is an area, thankfully, that is rebounding strongly following lockdown with business having increased in each of the past seven months. The sector seems poised for further growth and with the new sectoral employment order likely to be implemented - I attended a joint committee on this earlier - that is very welcome. However, there are issues facing the sector in regard to recruitment, apprenticeships and, in particular, the soaring costs of construction materials, which is having a significant impact on the cost of housing, especially in my own city of Galway. This is an area of great concern. Price inflation in the construction sector hit a record last month largely due to supply chain issues and Brexit. To give an example, a couple contacted me recently who initially agreed to purchase a property for €450,000 but due to significant costs, the price increased to €525,000 for first-time buyers, which was to their detriment. They are unable to proceed now, naturally, as the price has gone up by €75,000 but they have also lost the €30,000 help-to-buy grant. This issue needs to be addressed. The costs are being passed on in all cases. Whether building homes or infrastructure, this is a significant issue facing all our people. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to the House to have a discussion and find a solution to the matter.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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I also wish to be associated with those Members who have expressed condolences to the Currie family. Austin Currie was a giant of Irish politics and the only person to have served on the Executive on both sides of the Border. I extend my condolences to our colleague, Senator Emer Currie, as well.

I also wish to be associated with those who have expressed support for the America's Cup coming to Ireland. I am a sailor, not at that level, but I can recognise the massive benefit inherent in that project coming to Ireland and I support that.

I want to mention driver's licences. Members will be aware that driver's licences are divided into different categories according to what kind of vehicle is being driven. A is for motorbikes, AM is for mopeds, W is for work vehicles and tractors, and B is the standard car licence. Until 2006, those who got a B licence automatically got an AM and a W category licence. The W is still given but the AM has ceased since October 2006. Any people who got licences for the standard car over the past 15 years are not given the right also to drive mopeds. I simply do not see the sense in that. We are unique in the EU in that regard. Every other country accords that extension to people who have an ordinary car licence. An AM is a moped of a certain size and capacity, which can only do a certain speed and can only travel with a certain power. It makes absolute sense that we should allow people to use mopeds from an environmental, traffic and common-sense point of view. Can we make time for a debate on that, or call for the Minister for Transport to revise that policy and bring us in line with our colleagues in the EU?

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I pass on my sympathies to our colleague and the Currie family on the death of Austin Currie. They can be very proud of the immense contribution he made to Irish life both North and South.

Members will be able to see the badge I am wearing to support the Irish Heart Foundation promotional month, FAST, to highlight the signs of stroke: face, arms, speech and time. It is important we recognise that. I also highlight that it is four years since the HSE was asked to produce a national stroke strategy and it has not been published yet. When will that be published?

An issue relating to Gaelic games within our diaspora in the US has come up in the media. We should be proud of how we promote our games throughout the world, and the numbers of people who play them. The GAA is a magnet to our diaspora. I lived in the US for a short while and the first thing people do is join the local GAA club. They do immense in promoting Irish culture and keeping that sense of Irishness throughout America. During 2020 a significant number of clubs did not travel to games in Boston due to Covid-19. The GAA in the US is suspending and fining clubs for not travelling more than 3,000 miles from the west coast of America to Boston to take part in games and giving them no right of appeal. I was heavily involved at national level in the GAA. It is a very democratic organisation with appeals processes for every issue, yet this does not seem to pertain to US GAA. I would ask the GAA at Croke Park level to intervene. We are very proud of keeping our culture alive and this does set a good example. People who prioritised the health of their communities by not travelling, which we also asked our citizens not to do, are now suspended.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach. Given that every colleague who contributed paid their respects and expressed sympathy to the Currie family on the passing of Austin Currie, I propose that have a minute's silence to honour his passing.

Members rose.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank everybody for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senator Daly started by raising the issue of the Passport Office and the continuing backlog while acknowledging that some improvements have been made with the direct line but also highlighting the ridiculous situation that a person was posted their passport when it was not possible to reach them. Generally when people come to anyone in public life looking for help with a passport, it is always at the eleventh hour, if not beyond that. That is why the office needs to have a system in place to deal with those emergencies. It is not a favour or a gift; it is an entitlement as a citizen.

Senator Kyne raised the issue of the ongoing Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, negotiations and the meeting in Athenry mart. I acknowledge the fantastic work done by Minister, Charlie McConalogue, who has done a tour of marts throughout the country to engage with all farming organisations on the CAP. There are some difficult decisions to be taken. There is not, unfortunately, a unified position among those in the farming community, which others have highlighted. There will be significant decisions to be taken on that, but it is important to ensure there is fairness at the heart of the next CAP.

Senator Boyhan raised the outstanding record, legacy and contribution of Senator David Norris, who is the longest serving Member of the House or the father of the House as he is so often called, and referenced the unveiling of a portrait of the Senator, which was unveiled earlier today by the Cathaoirleach and the House Leader and other Members to honour his contribution to this House and to Irish public life. There will be continued celebrations later today and we join by congratulating the Senator on his fantastic achievements as one individual who has done so much for people in this country.Senator Boyhan also raised the matter of local government funding, which has been mentioned by many other Members over the past few weeks in particular, asking for a debate on the matter. He also mentioned the local property tax and rates issue. We should seek that debate at the earliest opportunity.

Senator Martin concurred with the remarks about Senator Norris and spoke on the passing of Austin Currie as well. Senator Boylan spoke about the daft.iereport, as did Senator Moynihan, and in particular the increase in rents. It is a concern for all of us that rents are increasing at such an alarming rate. The Government has recently launched its Housing for All plan, underpinned by €4 billion of investment. This is the largest ever investment by the State in housing. There will be significant investment in public, affordable and cost rental housing to ensure we can tackle this housing crisis once and for all.

Senator Black raised the matter of drug use, referencing Tallaght in particular and the lack of addiction support services in helping people get better. It is a chronic issue not just in that area but in many areas of the country. Senator Malcolm Byrne raised the matter of the backlog in the issuing of foreign birth registrations, as he has before, and concurred with Senator Paul Daly's comments about the passport backlog. It may be worth putting down a matter on the Commencement on that very specific issue in order to get an update on why there is such a delay in the issuing of those birth registrations.

The Senator also mentioned we had a very productive meeting of the Seanad Brexit committee in a joint meeting with the EU affairs and Good Friday Agreement committees, where we had a virtual discussion with Members of the House of Lords. It was a really good engagement and I am sure people agree it is very timely, given what has been happening in the Brexit process. Senator McGreehan was also at the meeting and raised the matter again on the Order of Business this morning. It is really important we have continued dialogue and continue speaking with one another. That message was delivered loud and clear from the House of Lords as well and those Members want to continue speaking as well while keeping the door open to ensure discussion is maintained. It was a very interesting meeting with many solutions being proposed as to how we might get around the current impasse. We will continue to work towards a solution.

Senator Seery Kearney raised the question of wards of court and issues around investment. It is a serious question and there should be accountability around who was managing those funds. Ultimately, a very vulnerable person was left in a very poor position. Perhaps she could put down a matter on the Commencement and if that is not sufficient, we should seek a further debate in the House to give all Senators an opportunity to discuss the matter.

Senator Gallagher spoke about young girls in sport. It is a major issue that there is a huge drop-off rate in girls participating in sports, particularly in second level education. There is no doubt that when there are positive role models such as Leanne Kiernan and Maggie Farrelly, referenced by the Senator, who are leading the way in their fields, it will encourage other young girls to stay in sport for the benefit of themselves and their communities. I congratulate the two teams involved in that historic moment and it is great to see.

Senators Lombard, Buttimer and Ward raised the matter of the America's Cup and the importance of the event. I will not pretend to be an expert in sailing but I understand how important that event would be to so many people. I hope it will be looked upon favourably and any event of that magnitude would be beneficial for the country I am sure. We have much sailing expertise in the country and many sports men and women, as well as young people, in the area.

Senator McGreehan spoke very eloquently about the need to get the Brexit matters sorted and the real impact it is having on people's lives. We speak about this often at a high level but this is affecting businesses and citizens, particularly those living in Border areas like Louth, where the Senator lives. It has an impact right across the Border region so it is really important we get this right.

Senator Maria Byrne commended Deputy Carroll MacNeill on her proposal to set up a committee on gender equality. It is something with which I would have no difficulty. It would be very worthwhile and I look forward to hearing more information on what that committee might do or how we might get it up and running. We want to work with the Deputy and Senator on that matter.

Senator O'Sullivan spoke very eloquently, as he so often does when he gets to his feet, and we can see the depth of experience in him when he speaks. He delivered a very strong message that change can be affected in a peaceful way. That is the legacy Austin Currie left for his family and all of us. I concur with the Senator's remarks.

Senator Ahearn sought an update on the funding for IVF treatment, which is a very important matter because so many couples and families experience infertility. It is long overdue. My most up-to-date information is a Bill is being worked on to try to get this over the line as quickly as possible and provide State financial support to couples experiencing infertility, as is evident in so many other countries. We are lagging behind in that regard.

Senator Craughwell got to his feet to pay his respects to Austin Currie, as did Senator Conway. Senator Conway also raised an interesting question around electric scooters. I had not heard the term "original greens" before in reference to those who are visually impaired and have been using public transport for a very long time. It is a very important point that when we make these policy and legislative changes, we must ensure it is in the interests of everybody to do that. Legislation pertaining to these vehicles must be explored further.

Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the question of the child and adolescent mental health services waiting list, and we are all getting representations about that. As the Senator said, we are leaving very vulnerable people in a very dire position. It is a waiting list that should be cleared with urgency.

Senator Crowe raised the matter of the construction sector and the cost of building materials, which we are all very keenly aware of now. It is affecting the building of family homes and public housing so it is a major concern. A debate in the House with the Minister would be welcome. The Minister will be before the House at some point anyway and this is a very important point to raise with him.

Senator Ward raised the question of driving licences and I was not aware of what he mentioned. That probably indicates how long it has been since I got my licence. It is a sensible solution and would offer people the opportunity to drive a moped when they have been tested in a car. It might be a useful Commencement matter as it is quite specific.

Senator Carrigy mentioned the work of the Irish Heart Foundation. Perhaps a Commencement matter would give an answer on his question about the national stroke strategy, as again it is quite specific. It is important work that should be concluded. The Senator also spoke about the GAA and he has made it clear to people at senior levels in the association that the matter should be addressed. I hope they will respond positively to the Senator's request.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Rebecca Moynihan proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 86, motion 3, on the Order Paper be taken before No. 1." Is that agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.