Tuesday, 23 November 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m and the proceedings thereon, if not previously concluded, to be brought to a conclusion at 4.30 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 2, statements on children in care and children leaving care, to be taken at 5 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 1, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 90 minutes, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, statements on paediatric scoliosis services, to be taken at 6.45 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 60 minutes, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed six minutes, those of all Senators not to exceed six minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2021 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 8 p.m. or 15 minutes after the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the later, and to adjourn at 10 p.m. if not previously concluded.
I support the Order of Business and congratulate Christy Kelly on behalf of the Fianna Fáil team in the Seanad. He is a true legend. Not many people have a 40-year career in the Oireachtas. The best of good health and happiness to Christy, Paula and family.
I also wish to congratulate a wonderful Kildare man, Christy Moore, a pure legend, on receiving a lifetime achievement award last week. Christy is very much cherished by the people of Ireland, not just the people of Kildare. He is authentic and has great honesty and integrity in both his singing and his writing and of course in terms of his story. We are very proud of Christy and indeed of all of the Moore family in Kildare. I am good friends with his sister Terry and his brother Barry. When any of us think of Christy, we think of the ordinary man in particular and the way he has really given voice to the voiceless over seven decades. It is an incredible achievement and I congratulate him and wish him well. I want to mark the very profound impact he has had on music in Ireland.
Yesterday the Oireachtas all-party group on dementia had a very interesting presentation from a team led by Professor Sean Kennelly, co-director of the Tallaght University Hospital memory clinic, about current innovations and trends in dementia research. A lot of what he told us was eye-opening. For example, there are new studies being done and they are going to be elevated to just a simple blood test that will identify the onset of Alzheimer's or dementia 25 years before it happens through proteins in the blood, which is quite incredible. It struck home with me that 40% of dementia can be preventable in terms of lifestyle changes, particularly when we look at brain health around the age of 50. We need to have a debate on brain health and the possibility of it being checked along with cardiac health and other areas we have checked at that age. I would like to see a debate in the House on that.
Especially in my own county of Kildare, we have significant housing issues. We cater for two Dáil constituencies. There is a real need for extra staff in the housing department, particularly in social and affordable housing. We need two more project teams to be able to deliver on the commitments that have been made under Housing for All.I would like to see a strong message going from the Seanad for that.
I, too, would like to be associated with the comments that were made on the retirement of our colleague Mr. Christy Kelly. He gave great service here for four decades and was always fantastic to deal with. He is very amenable and very accommodating, which is not easy at times. I wish himself and his wife Paula all the very best.
We have been very successful in this country with our vaccination programme. Ireland has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world with nearly 95% of our population vaccinated. This is a marvellous achievement. It is a reflection on how seriously the people of Ireland take Covid and the challenges and threats caused by the pandemic. I do not believe, however, that we are using to its optimum the vaccination infrastructure we have built. The Covid-19 certificate should be used far more widely. I cannot understand why it is not required for access to gyms, hairdressers, hotels and events that take place throughout the country. The use of the Covid-19 certificate needs to be extended. It is appropriate that it would be extended because it is a very effective way of protecting public health. I cannot understand why a person can go into hairdressers, for example, without showing a Covid-19 certificate, given that he or she spends so long in the company of the hairdresser. I cannot understand why the Covid-19 cert is not used in gyms. I cannot for the life of me understand why it is not required in hotels, or at least when using the facilities in hotels such as bars, restaurants and gyms. I want to see the Government coming out in the next few days with a measure for the increased use of the Covid-19 certificate, a certificate 95% of Irish people have bought into. Such a measure will absolutely help to prevent the spread of Covid and it will be a very important public health measure.
We have seen stories about nightclubs in Dublin opening at 6 p.m. until 12 midnight, which is a method to get around the restrictions. The Government did not close the nightclubs. In my view, the Government should have closed the nightclubs. The Government should never have reopened the nightclubs. Be it as it is, the problem now is that the nightclubs in rural Ireland are being discriminated against. It is totally unrealistic for a nightclub in west Clare or other parts of rural Ireland to open at 6 p.m. until 12 midnight. They must continue to pay their insurance and continue to pay their fixed costs whereas if the Government had closed the nightclubs, they would have some chance of dealing with their insurance and other fixed costs.
In the absence of the Government doing the right thing by nightclubs and by the people who work in nightclubs, I would like the Minister of State with responsibility for insurance, Deputy Sean Fleming, to come before the House to explain how he will deal with this. I am told by clubs around the country that they are not getting a waiver on their insurance because the Government has not closed them. I look forward to the Leader's response on these important issues.
I thank the Leader for setting out the draft Order of Business today. I will start by congratulating Dublin city councillors for approving an 853-home development. It is a very important decision and it took a long time coming. There was much debate about Oscar Traynor Road and that site with regard to the quota and percentage of social houses, affordable houses and council-owned houses. It is a council site and the councillors exercised their powers and functions, and they must be commended on doing so against a lot of resistance and negative commentary by a lot of people. Dublin City Council members have approved these new plans for the development of 853 social and affordable homes. The council's decision, which was backed by most councillors last night, is very important because 40% will be used for social housing, 40% will be used for cost rental units, and 20% will be for sale to low- and middle-income workers who qualify for the upcoming affordable purchase scheme. I acknowledge the Government's role in that scheme. This is a positive day. It is positive in giving power back to local government and giving power back to councillors, in this case Dublin city councillors. I commend them and acknowledge them.I note from an email that the Leader and Senator Gallagher are bringing in a Bill in regard to peat and doing a briefing tomorrow. I look forward to attending that briefing. I welcome the recent comments by the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, on the availability of peat in the horticultural sector. That is available in one of his statements issued two or three weeks ago in which he recognised that there were no viable alternatives to peat for the horticultural sector and that the Government needs to find a solution to the problem. That is a very important statement from him, recognising that fact. I now use this opportunity to call on the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, to publish the final report without any further delay. It is feeding into much uncertainty in regard to the horticultural sector but particularly the mushroom sector. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, will be familiar with the horticultural sector in Lusk, north County Dublin, which is a huge, viable business. In terms of organics and pursuing the horticultural food sector it is an important sector and one that we need to embrace and support. It is madness that we are importing peat from Baltic states. It should stop. It is not appropriate. We need to address limited resources of peat and use peat from Ireland for specific targeted areas for the horticultural sector. I commend the Minister of State on his initiative in that regard.
I want to raise an issue I am concerned about. As spokesperson on enterprise, trade and employment I am all about accessing EU funding for the SME sector to support it in any way we can. I am also all about Ireland never waning on its neutral stance when it comes to being involved in war. I have deep concerns on the vague wording used about an event happening this weekend. An event entitled EU Funding for Irish Defence and Security, Enterprise and R&D - Maximising the Opportunities, is happening this weekend. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, will be attending. It is very important that we do not move towards ever encouraging any SME, no matter how stuck we are for jobs, in getting involved in any way in manufacturing anything that can be used as weapons of war even if it is only a small component or something that can be used. We are a neutral country. I organised the very first anti-war protest at Shannon Airport before the Iraq war started. I have protested outside the gates of Leinster House to maintain our neutrality. This kind of event is deeply worrying.
I do not know if I have to appeal to the Minister or to the SME sector. Just because there is funding for something does not mean we have to go and get it. There are many other ways of getting jobs and we are working very hard at creating other jobs including the green economy. I would beg that our SME sector does not go down that road, that it holds on to its morals and ethics around what it gets funding for. We do not want to turn into a small neutral nation that all of a sudden is supplying in any shape or form anything to do with war. If wars ever solved anything we would not still be having them. War is one of the biggest moneymakers in the world. We know it is a huge global industry. I have read many books about it. I try not to get emotional about the money wasted on weapons of mass destruction and on small weapons because it is so wrong. The terror has never resolved any issues, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not anywhere. We should have no hand, act or part, and I implore the Minister to tread very carefully with this kind of event. I implore the SME sector to hold onto its moral compass and never take money that will enable it to manufacture anything that will be used in war.
I want to raise the launch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Impossible Choices appeal because we are in no doubt now that winter has finally arrived in Ireland with freezing temperatures being felt throughout the country. This is at a time when inflation and rents are rising and energy costs are skyrocketing. In its report released today the Society of St. Vincent de Paul said it is expecting as many as 200,000 calls to its organisation by the end of the year. It is talking to people who face the impossible choice of heating their home, paying their rent and putting food on the table. One in four people it has spoken to are cutting back on food and utilities.
The St. Vincent de Paul appeal comes on the back of another report that came out recently from the Free Legal Aid Advice Centres, FLAC, the Pillar to Post report, which warned of rising household debt that has built up over the pandemic. At least 36,000 payment breaks have been granted during the pandemic but due to a lack of data that might just be the tip of the iceberg. We need emergency measures to address the perfect storm we now face this winter. Sinn Féin called for a discretionary fund to be put in place to help people with their heating bills. This was rejected by the Government. We were told that the budget would increase the eligibility criteria for the fuel allowance. However, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, has confirmed to my colleague, Deputy Kerrane, that that will only benefit 4,500 households and will not come into effect until 1 January.However, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, confirmed to my colleague, Deputy Kerrane, that the increase in eligibility criteria will only benefit 4,500 households and will not come into effect until 1 January. People need help now. They need to heat their homes now. The impact of energy poverty on households is not just about discomfort, it has real long-term consequences. There are nearly 3,000 deaths a year related to fuel poverty on this island and children who grow up in poorly heated homes are more likely to develop respiratory diseases and have prolonged absences from school and, therefore, poorer outcomes in their overall life. However, we still have no energy poverty strategy from this Government. The last such strategy lapsed in 2019. Where is the urgency to address what is happening in this country right now with rising energy bills and poverty?
It is all well and good to tell people to stop burning solid fuels but often, when one lives from week to week, the only way to manage one's budget is to burn solid fuels. Sometimes that is wood collected from laneways, as was reported in the survey I did, or wood taken from skips to heat a home. That is how people are heating their homes right now.
While I commend the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the launch of its appeal and I would encourage anyone to donate to the organisation, it cannot be an excuse to allow the Government off the hook when it comes to energy poverty. We need to hear from the Minister for Environment, Climate an Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan. We should have a debate on the subject. Where is the energy poverty strategy? What are we doing to help those households who cannot afford to heat their homes right now?
I am passionate about improving breastfeeding supports in this country. I have been pleased to see that there has been an improvement in supports this year. That is very much due to the work of Bainne Beatha and Ciudiú, and is a result of this Government listening to women talk about the need to support those who want to breastfeed.
I must put on the record that I am appalled at the attitude within the Passport Office at the moment with regard to what it classifies as a medical emergency. To give some context, we know there are long delays for first-time passport applicants at the moment. I know a woman with a young baby whom she is breastfeeding. She is a Czech citizen but has residency here. She needs to travel to the Czech Republic on 5 December for urgent surgery and, of course, needs to bring her baby with her because she is breastfeeding that child. There are long delays in the Passport Office. I understand it can take up to eight weeks after a passport has been submitted for the Passport Office to begin to process that application. Because of that long delay, that Czech woman wants to withdraw her passport application but she has been told that she must wait for eight weeks. She cannot get her own passport back from the Passport Office. Not alone is she not able to travel at the start of December for her surgery, she cannot bring her baby either because she cannot get a passport for the child. We have asked about medical emergencies and been told that breastfeeding a baby does not qualify as a medical emergency. We must see a shift in the mindset within the Passport Office with regard to these exceptional cases. We must be seen to be promoting and supporting women who choose to breastfeed in this country.
I have listened to the arguments about the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and why it should not be reopened to applicants and why the cuts that were imposed last Tuesday were justified. It is worth reminding the House that the cut was imposed on the day restrictions were reimposed for certain elements of the night-time economy. There have been reports that the Department of Finance has stated that in order to get more construction workers off the PUP and into the sector, the payment needs to be cut. We must ask what dignity and respect we are affording to workers who are losing their jobs because of the restrictions. What are we saying to DJs, musicians and people who work as bouncers on the doors of nightclubs about their skills and livelihoods? We are telling them to go and get a job in a café. There is a real issue here. At the start of the pandemic, we did respect people's livelihoods and skills but that has gone over the past week, in particular. It sends a poor message to those in the arts and culture sector, and to those in the night-time economy, about our respect for their livelihoods.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that the Horticultural Peat (Temporary Measures) Bill 2021 be taken before No. 1 on the Order Paper. We all know the Bill is really important. I commend the Leader on her work on it. It is necessary to stop the hypocritical practice of importing peat.
I wish to highlight the report of the Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Tyndall, called Grounded: Unequal access for people with disabilities to personal transport schemes. I have stood here on many a morning raising the inaccessibility of transport services. I have outlined how each Department is failing in respect of its responsibility to implement the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The scheme for the motorised transport grant and mobility allowance has been closed since 2013. Many of us have raised issues concerning the disabled drivers and passengers scheme and the ridiculous hoops people have to jump through to get a primary medical certificate from the HSE. In 2001, the scheme's criteria were highlighted by a former Ombudsman as being extremely limited and excessively restrictive. I call for a debate on these schemes so we change our rigid, bureaucratic system to allow people to gain access to transport and services and live like the valued people they are in our country. Every day, I receive emails from people who are just blocked out of, or barred from, our society. The time is up on that.
I join Senator O'Loughlin in congratulating Christy Moore on his lifetime achievement award. I am not from Kildare and do not have any connection with the county but I am a lifelong fan of his. I tried to get tickets with my son for his next concert but they were just gone when I did so. Maybe if he is listening, he will send complimentaries to me.
I wish the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Ó Fearghaíl, well and a speedy recovery from Covid.
I have two specific questions for the Leader, which I will follow with one point. When will the gambling control Bill be before the Oireachtas? Are there any answers to my questions on the need to deal with the waiting lists affecting child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS? I would like those questions addressed.
I have two practical solutions to propose in the context of dealing with climate change. First, given the threat to energy supply, there should be community wind turbines looking after every community and feeding energy into the grid and sometimes making money for them. This could be based on the co-operative model that worked and developed Ireland at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century. It should be done immediately. It can be done and should be done in every community. A wind turbine should be put in each community for that community. That is the first point on which I would like the Leader to follow up.
Second, a small section of each farm in the country could be planted rather than having an ambitious plan to plant whole tracts. A few acres of each farm could be planted. This could be incentivised. Most farms, certainly in the part of the world I come from, have a few non-arable acres, a few difficult acres or a few acres in a bad place. These could be planted. They would comprise a carbon sink.
I had better observe good timekeeping because I will assume the Chair and cannot ask others to do what I do not do myself.
I do not know what it is with Fine Gael and these free tickets. If its members are not looking for Kylie Minogue tickets, they are looking for Christy Moore tickets. The United Nations 16 days of activism begin on 25 November, which is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and end on 10 December, which is Human Rights Day. Human trafficking, which is a $150 billion global industry, is one of the greatest examples of violence against women and girls. In addition, millions of women and girls are forced to marry and to work in terrible conditions for little pay and no chance of education.
Ireland's Actions Against Trafficking in Human Beings, which is the submission of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, to the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, came out in October. According to that report, Ireland is both a destination and a transition country for trafficking in persons. Overall, more women than men are trafficked in Ireland, and almost all are migrants. Certain sectors, such as hospitality, fishing, agriculture and construction, may rely on a workforce of people in vulnerable situations. At the same time, victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation are almost exclusively migrant women. Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Ireland is highly gendered. Based on the sources to date, it is established that at least 34 minors, mostly girls, have been trafficked in Ireland since 2013. The UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, visited Ireland in May 2018 and published a report on her visit in November 2019. In her report the rapporteur pointed to a lack of a dedicated and integrated strategy to respond to sexual violence against children. She further noted gaps in data gathering, barriers within the criminal justice system and the need for care and recovery services to be bolstered around the country in order that services available to child victims are timely and continuous. IHREC recommends that the State works with the Central Statistics Office to develop a methodology for collecting uniform and reliable data on the scale and different forms of sexual abuse and exploitation of children, in line with the recent recommendations of the UN special rapporteur's report on the sale and sexual exploitation of children. Perhaps we could get the Minister for Justice to come before the House for a debate on this very serious concern. It is awful to think that 34 children in our country have been trafficked since 2013.
I congratulate my colleagues on Dublin City Council who approved the scheme to build 853 homes on the Oscar Traynor site. It includes 40% cost-rental, 40% social and 20% affordable housing and is a physical manifestation of the legislation that was passed in these Houses, so we should congratulate the Minister on that. It is a hugely welcome development but there are other really important developments around the city, such as St. Michael's Estate, where I would like to see a scheme approved. I raised this last week and the Minister has agreed to meet the community behind the cost-rental model in St. Michael's Estate. I would like to see more fresh impetus behind that scheme.
I am disappointed that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has sought to exclude from the redress scheme those who were in mother and baby homes for less than six months. I know other people have raised this. I saw today that 30 clinicians have written to the Minister to say how damaging early childhood trauma can be and that it is shocking that these people have been excluded. Whether you are one day or one year in such a place, it will have a really detrimental impact on you. In the space of six months there is ample opportunity to be emotionally or physically abused. Many children were boarded out, sometimes adopted out illegally or sent to industrial schools. I would like to know the rationale for the exclusion of those who spent less than six months in these homes.
This Friday is Black Friday, which promotes a huge amount of Christmas shopping, predominantly done online. We see today promotions about buying on Black Friday and they will get greater and greater in number over the coming days. It is the day on which you can get products cheapest, supposedly.If there was ever a year when we should try to promote local shopping, it is this year. The Government has supported businesses throughout the pandemic, over the past 18 months and longer, but there is no greater support that an individual can give than to go into his or her local shop to buy a shirt or book because the money goes back into the community. As attractive as some online offers seem to be in the context of people getting the best sale price they will ever get, much of the time this does not seem to be the case. The prices are put up for a period in order that they can be dropped again for Black Friday. The latter has become a phenomenon in America and there are major sales online in Ireland. The Government needs to do as much as it can to support businesses in small towns such as the one I am from, Clonmel. I accept, however, that Clonmel is actually a fine size. If the Government or the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment could set up a campaign of some kind for businesses that greatly rely on support from their local communities, that would be great. We should encourage people, this year above any other, to shop locally and support local businesses as much as possible and to spend their money in shops in Clonmel and other towns.
Like others, I listened to Peter Tyndall, the Ombudsman, speaking this morning about his frustration regarding the abject failure of successive Governments to assist people with disabilities with transport schemes. We know that two key schemes were scrapped in 2013, namely, the mobility transport grant and the mobility allowance. These were grants which allowed people to purchase motorised vehicles or to access taxis to go to work, to shop and to take part in the life of their communities. It is bad enough that they were scrapped in 2013, but the fact that there are still no schemes in place for these people eight years on is just unacceptable. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for people with disabilities listening to the Ombudsman express his deep frustration as he leaves his role and stating that after eight years in the job he has made no progress and that there appears to be no one in government willing to listen and take action on this key issue. We often talk now about previous Governments and what they should have done, but this Government is not delivering for these people and nor did that which preceded it.
How can it be that we have a Government which appears to be happy to sit with its arms folded and continue to discriminate against people with disabilities eight years on? There is absolutely no excuse for this. The Ombudsman made the point very clearly that the reason there has not been any action is because the Government is not prepared to spend the money. That is not my view; it is the view of the Ombudsman as he leaves his role. I am asking for an urgent debate on this issue. It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that this action is not delayed any further as eight years of failure are more than enough.
Today is 23 November. It is almost exactly one month to Christmas. I know that we all want to look forward to Christmas but all of the media talk and speculation is about lockdowns, shutdowns and circuit breakers. It is three weeks since I contributed to the Order of Business because I was also hit with Covid-19. Everybody is very alert to the infection rates and we are all frightened. We have all been there and nobody wants to go back to the lockdowns.
I do not believe that a lockdown is inevitable. I listened to Dr. Tony Holohan. He clearly stated that nobody has yet been infected, has been hospitalised or has, sadly, died in December. With 80% of the population vaccinated and with more than 7.8 million vaccines administered, with the booster campaign already delivered to the most vulnerable who we are protecting, and with the Covid-19 certificate being more widely used and accepted, a lockdown is not inevitable. We certainly have to increase, however, the public’s ability to conduct their own screening such as people who are not symptomatic but who are engaged in education, entertainment, retail, in public transportation, all of whom are considered now to be high-risk activities which we need to recognise.
The Government and the Cabinet are meeting this week and are considering all of the actions they can take to support businesses, the entertainment and hospitality sectors and all other sectors.I urge the Leader to urge the Government to make antigen tests free and freely available instead of €5 a test. We want people to screen themselves two or three times a week, which is what people need to do when they are not symptomatic, to ensure they are safe and engaging in safe activities. We need the Government to make antigen tests free. I ask the Leader to write to the Taoiseach and the Cabinet subcommittee on Covid and urge them to make this tool available to the general public, who are reducing their contacts and increasing their social distancing. They are doing everything they can to avoid a lockdown.
I want to raise the issue of the messaging through all sources of media on a lockdown in the middle of December. It is having a serious effect, particularly on many people in the tourism and hospitality industry, including pubs and restaurants. My party colleague, Councillor Colin Dalton, works for a local cash and carry that covers the midlands. I spoke to him this morning. Businesses are afraid to order in advance for Christmas based on what is in the media. They are afraid of being left with out of date stock. We need to come out quite clearly and state that we will not have a lockdown. We need to push a new communication message to get more people to get vaccinated. There is a responsibility on the 7% of people who have not been vaccinated to look at the effect they are having on our hospital service. I spoke to a relative who works as a theatre nurse manager in one of the major hospitals in Dublin. A significant number of theatre staff are not vaccinated. Unvaccinated staff are not allowed to work in theatres so hospital management must try to get agency staff to cover theatres because of staff who have not been vaccinated. There is a responsibility on people. We need to reinforce this message ahead of Christmas. It has to be our priority this year. We do not need a lockdown. Businesses have suffered enough. We need to support them.
David McRedmond, the chief executive of An Post, was on the radio this morning. As everyone knows, I work with An Post. There is a responsibility throughout the Government to support the network. It is a very difficult period for An Post. Our social welfare business dived dramatically during Covid. It is reducing by 12% per year. The long-term future not just of rural post offices but of the entire network including in cities is at a very difficult stage. I urge colleagues from all parties to support the network throughout the country. It has huge significance for all of our communities. The local post office is about maintaining communities throughout the country.
I send my sympathies and best wishes to the Ceann Comhairle, who has Covid. I hope he is not affected too badly by it. I will continue on the theme Senators Conway, Carrigy, Fitzpatrick and others referenced on Covid and next month. Here we are on 23 November and the month of December is traditionally the most important for the licensed trade and hospitality business, at between 2.5 and three times the normal month. It is not like closing in March, November or October. It is a significant month. Of course we have to have balance and of course we have to make sure we are safe but it is so important that we encourage people. We must look at the figures and try to make sure everybody knows the vaccination system is very safe. I know we got a lot of emails in response to something I said to the Leader on another day. They really work. If we look at the figures that came out yesterday, the 54% in ICU who are unvaccinated are generally younger and extremely healthy before they get Covid but they end up in ICU. They are healthy younger people who just did not think it would affect them.Everybody who has been vaccinated and is in ICU has an underlying condition. We wish them all well. However, the point is that vaccines work.
As others have said, vaccine certificates should be required for entry into gyms and hairdressers. Why not introduce such a requirement for supermarkets and public transport? I know it is difficult to police some of these things, but really, if people want to participate in society, they need to be vaccinated. If they do not want to participate in society, that is okay. They can stay at home; that is their business. However, unvaccinated people are putting themselves, their families, the rest of us and the economy at risk. None of us wants a lockdown. It is in all of our hands to behave as best we can. We can socialise safely. If people are vaccinated, it is unlikely to do them too much harm if they do not have a pre-existing condition.
I ask the Leader to organise a proper discussion of this issue. New communities may not be as tuned into mainstream media, newspapers and radio. Let us ensure all are aware of the benefits of vaccination.
Last Friday, Senator Ruane and I had the honour of participating in the launch of a short film called "Turning Down the Volume", which was produced by our respective drugs task forces. Senator Ruane is the chair of the Canal Communities Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force and I am the chair of the D12 Local Drug and Alcohol Task force. First, we must remind ourselves the drug task forces, as we all commonly refer to them, are actually drug and alcohol task forces. We recognise, particularly following the entry into force of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, that alcohol is a problem. It is a drug and it affects communities and people's health. Three people die every day of alcohol-related illnesses in Ireland.
The short film is extraordinary. It has hand-drawn by Sadhbh Lawlor and Gary Gowran. It shows and demonstrates the incredible increase in the supply of alcohol and in the number of outlets supplying it in our respective areas, between the canal communities and Dublin 12. In the period between 1991 and 2018, the number of outlets supplying alcohol increased from 45 outlets to 125 in what is quite a small community. If you live in that area, at any one moment, you are no more than 300 m away from an outlet that will sell you alcohol. For those who are recovering in the community, coping with the aftermath and trying to hold it together, especially in Covid times when it has been especially difficult and stressful, a short walk brings them past probably four outlets that sell alcohol. I wish to bring the film to the attention of Members. It is coming everybody's way. It is going to be used by the drug and alcohol task forces and youth groups throughout the country. It is very powerful and impactful.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, on having the courage to bring forward the Commencement matter on the minimum unit pricing of alcohol in January. That will make a huge difference. The figures are such that for every citizen over the age of 15 in this country, 40 bottles of vodka are consumed per year. It is an extraordinary consumption. Indeed, consumption has increased by 425% over a very short period of time. We need to take that very seriously.
Today, we show yet again how the Seanad makes a difference. On behalf of the Fine Gael group, the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, together with Senator Robbie Gallagher, presented the cross-party Horticultural Peat (Temporary Measures) Bill 2021 today. The Bill shows how we can deal with the practical impact of the lack of peat for the horticultural industry, and that industry only. Currently, peat is being imported, which does not make sense. The Bill shows how to deal with those practical impacts. It is a temporary measure and will support growers. Only 0.12% of the total of Irish peatland is required to deliver the measure. As highlighted by Senator Doherty, importing peat involves high monetary and environmental costs. It is practical temporary step we can put in place until there is a viable alternative. Limiting the number of licences will also ensure it is used for the domestic market only. It is a practical measure that will be in place only for a short time until we have practical alternatives. It is a measure that will prevent the higher costs of importing peat into this country.I thank Senator Doherty for working on cross-party lines and for working with us as well to pass the Bill.
I second the proposed amendment, which is very important.
I raise the issue of the high cost of road diesel. Tomorrow, the Irish Road Haulage Association will hold a demonstration outside Leinster House and will probably bring the city and the country to their knees. Many road hauliers' businesses are on the line. It is difficult for them to keep going in light of the high cost of road diesel over recent months. That is not taking into account the carbon tax increase that will be in place from next May. I propose the Government examine this issue and provide some form of rebate for road hauliers. The price of diesel affects everybody because it increases the cost of food and the cost of the transport of food, including in regard to exports.
More than any other country, we need road hauliers. Most of our exports and goods in general are trafficked by lorries and road haulage. The industry is a must for this country and is very important. Hauliers would not plan to demonstrate tomorrow were they not feeling the pinch. I ask that the Government introduce some sort of rebate. We did this before in regard to road tax on goods vehicles, which was reduced a number of years ago, and something similar should be done to resolve the predicament faced by these people, who give a great service to this country.
Never before was the cost of transport so competitive. It is a very competitive industry. This will put some hauliers out of business and will, eventually, affect the competitiveness of the entire industry. Will the Leader convey that message to the Government?
I echo the accolades expressed to our colleague and friend, Christy Kelly, who is retiring after 40 years' service. He is a gentleman and a pleasure to work with. I thank him most sincerely for his tenure in the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I support Senator McGreehan and commend the Leader and Senator Gallagher on the horticultural Bill. It is farcical that we are importing peat.
I rise primarily to seek a debate on the future of sport, particularly boxing. There seems to be an all-out civil war in Irish amateur boxing. The representative association's annual general meeting, AGM, scheduled for next weekend, has been deferred. Candidates have been put forward and then retracted and 25 members were expelled last week. Members of the Dublin, Leinster and Connacht clubs have voted no confidence in the central council. It is a great concern that people of the calibre of Andrew Duncan are being treated the way they are. I know him well. He is a person of value, substance and high integrity who puts the sport of boxing first, second and third.
Our boxers should be revelling in the joy of last summer with the deeds of Kellie Harrington and others who have achieved Olympic success. Instead, there has been an Oireachtas committee meeting on Irish amateur boxing and there will be an independent review. Will the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Chambers, come to the House for a debate on boxing? Let us bring an end, once and for all, to this ongoing review that is damaging the sport of boxing from grassroots level to high performance. The young boys and girls of our boxing clubs, and our young adults and potential and current Olympians, deserve boxing to be free from rancour. Will the Leader invite the Minister of State to appear before the House for a debate on the future of sport, especially boxing, in our country?
There is a chill in the air as we approach winter. We all feel it a little bit but the colder weather has not stopped the good people of Dún Laoghaire and south-east Dublin from swimming in the sea, despite the temperature having fallen so much. We know the benefits of sea swimming and how good it is for the cardiovascular system and for building up the immune system. There is no doubt about that. The people who go swimming at Seapoint, the Forty Foot, Hawk Cliff and Sandycove are entitled to a minimum standard of water quality. At the moment, they are not guaranteed it. I go swimming less often than I would like. The quality of the water varies greatly from one day to the next. It is reasonable for people who swim in the sea to expect the water to be clean and hygienic and for it to be unlikely that they will pick up an infection, possibly bacterial, because the water being discharged from sewage plants is not properly filtered and cleaned. UV treatment and ongoing monitoring of the water throughout the year, and not just in the summer, is needed. People swim all year round and should be entitled to expect high-quality water all year round. They should be given assurance by Irish Water, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and local authorities that the water is clean and free of bacteria that might make them sick.
I could not agree more with Senator Ward, particularly since our swimming pools were closed for such a prolonged period. Even people who are not as brave as some of those who have been doing it for years have taken to our seas. I see it outside my office in Skerries all of the time. It is just wonderful. The very least people expect is for the water to be tested and for guarantees to be given. I do not know if Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, in the Senator's neck of the woods, continues to test, but Fingal County Council certainly does in ours. I can write to Irish Water if that would be of any assistance to him.
Senator Buttimer asked for a debate on sport. I brought the issue of boxing, which Senator Carrigy raised last week, to the attention of Deputy Chambers. I am very sorry to hear that the situation has deteriorated even further. I can contact the Minister of State's office again today to see if we can schedule a debate not just on boxing, but on sport in general. I will come back to the Senator on that.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of the impending protests, which we are aware are to take place tomorrow. The increase in the price of fuel is driving an awful lot of the discontent in certain industries. The haulage, taxi and transport industries expressed concerns over the weekend. I will certainly bring the Senator's concerns to the Ministers for Transport and Finance and let them know what the feedback is.
A number of colleagues raised the issue of the Horticultural Peat (Temporary Measures) Bill 2021. I will be very pleased to accept the amendment to the Order of Business in that regard. I thank colleagues for their help. I will take this opportunity to thank all of my colleagues for their assistance and support. I ask all of our Opposition colleagues to look favourably on the Bill after they have had an opportunity to look at it. There is a briefing session tomorrow. We hope to schedule debate on the Bill in the coming weeks. There is a crisis in the industry that is not of the industry's own making. I totally acknowledge that the Government should have addressed this issue before now but I hope it will now see our Bill in the spirit intended and understand its intent. It aims to bring this issue to a conclusion by providing a derogation to the industry, which supports 17,000 jobs and, more importantly, produces food for every one of us, supplying the supermarkets and markets we go shopping in every week. I thank Senator Dolan for raising the matter today.
Senator Seery Kearney talked about the video, "Turning Down the Volume". I wish her well. She highlighted some shocking statistics. I was sitting there and thinking that, because I do not drink vodka, it does not apply to me but that just means that somebody else is drinking a number of bottles on my behalf if the numbers are right. I am sure that is true for many people in the country who do not drink spirits.
That accentuates the problem and makes it even larger than it seems. I will try to organise a debate on that level of consumption and the State's reaction to that growing issue.
Senator Horkan and others raised an issue. It is interesting to see that for every person who gives out about the fact that new restrictions may come in between now and Christmas, there is another who would very much welcome such restrictions. That is not only the case in here, but in society. Society is very divided at the moment. People need to have the opportunity to earn a livelihood. We have taken that away from too many people for too long. We should do absolutely everything possible to keep businesses, venues and entertainment, including swimming pools, sporting venues, GAA clubs, restaurants and bars, open. We need to keep society open.We must do everything we can to ensure we keep it open. The many people who are minded to be more cautious - last night the survey carried out by RTÉ showed that many people would welcome restrictions - can certainly take care, mind themselves and change their behaviours, but we have to try to keep society functioning as much as possible, not least the schools.
However, I will certainly organise a debate. There is one scheduled with the Tánaiste on business supports in the next couple of weeks, but I have attempted to seek debates from a health perspective, a transport perspective and a business perspective and I will organise them as soon as I get dates.
Senator Carrigy, among others, mentioned the lockdown issue. I listened to Mr. David McRedmond on RTÉ this morning and heard his welcome call seeking more business to be put through the An Post network of more than 900 post offices around the country. I appreciate they are doing banking on behalf of some of the pillar banks that have pulled out of some towns, which is an awful pity, but there is a great deal more that the State can do and should be doing. During my time in the Department of Social Protection they played a huge role in alleviating fraud in respect of the social welfare payments made through the system. One of Mr. McRedmond's biggest criticisms this morning was the fact that the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, was paid directly into people's bank or Revolut accounts. I have to be honest with Senators. Obviously, I was a Minister at the conception of the PUP. It was done for speed. Many people did not have post office accounts so we just had to do it. However, we have managed to tweak and refine that payment over time and now it is being wound down, but we certainly should be looking towards increasing the social welfare payments through the post offices. It was a vital flow of revenue for them, but it also ensured that we saved revenue because of the human interaction with payments. It is something we should definitely return to.
Senator Fitzpatrick mentioned lockdown and the media, and asked for antigen testing to be free. That is something I concur with and I have been saying it until I have probably been blue in the face, but I believe we will get there eventually. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, is bringing a memorandum to the Cabinet next week.
Senator Gavan asked for a debate on the Ombudsman. I have put in a request. This morning's report is shocking and I am not taking away from it. It is a sad reflection on the response of this Government and its predecessor to the shelving of the mobility grant scheme in 2013. I acknowledge the Senator said that today. I have a debate scheduled on the cost of disability report that I commissioned in 2019. That might encompass both aspects because transport is obviously a huge cost for people who have different abilities or disabilities but if the Senator would like a separate debate, he might talk to me afterwards.
Senator Ahearn spoke about the need to shop local, particularly this year. It is probably more important this year than it has ever been. We will have campaigns in all our localities to try to support businesses on our high streets. It is absolutely vital given how businesses have been afflicted in the last 18 months.
Senators Ardagh and Boyhan mentioned the passing of permission last night for 853 homes to be built on Oscar Traynor Road. That is very welcome.
Senator Keogan spoke about violence against women and the 34 minors who were trafficked in Ireland in the last number of years. The most shocking thing about that for me, if it was not shocking enough in itself, was the fact that it was two women who were trafficking those young girls in Ireland. For the life of me I could not get my head around how a woman would use a young girl or woman in that industry. However, the Senator asked for that debate and I will certainly organise it. It will probably be in the new year, but I will do it as quickly as I can.
Senator Joe O'Reilly had specific questions about the gambling control Bill and the CAMHS waiting lists. I do not have an answer for the Senator, but I will make the request for the information today and refer back to him.
Senator McGreehan spoke about the Ombudsman's report and referred to the provision of primary medical certificates. She talked about valuable members of our community. We all have them where we live. There is a saying, if I do not get the words wrong, that the measure of any state is how it treats the most vulnerable. We have left a lot to be desired, but we have an opportunity to raise this, supported by the Ombudsman's report, and to say that the time has come to stop talking. We all acknowledge that it will cost money, but everything costs money. It is about our choices, as Senator Gavan has said previously. I thank the Senator for raising that.
In response to what Senator Sherlock said, I cannot even fathom it. First, I do not believe a woman should have to tell the Passport Office that she is breastfeeding just so she can get a passport to bring her small baby with her back to her country. All of us have reflected in the last couple of months on the difficulties there have been in the Passport Office. To be honest, it is infuriating to deal with it at present, and that is not to say that the officials are not trying their best. They are lovely and helpful.It is dysfunctional at the moment. The Senator has highlighted how dysfunctional, which is a real shame.
Senator Boylan talked about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul appeal that is being launched today, something it does every year. We reflect on the fact that it is kind of sad that as a State we need to have these appeals every year. We as a nation have hundreds of charities that do enormous and incredible work for different sections of society and different people who, at different times in their lives, need a little bit of a helping hand, although not necessarily consistently. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is one of the most loved and much lauded charitable organisations in the country. I wish it success this year because it has extra families to help due to a number of reasons.
I want to correct something that Senator Boylan said, namely that Sinn Féin had asked for discretionary funds to be made available for people. They are already available, and have been available for probably 30 or 40 years, through the Department of Social Protection They are called exceptional needs payments. For the past number of years, the availability of those payments have become freer. Some €24 billion of taxpayers' money is now being spent through the Department.
Senator Garvey mentioned an event the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney is going to, which she thinks it is inappropriate. If it is okay with the Leas Cathaoirleach, I will get more details of the event because if, as alluded to, I would think it is probably not appropriate. I do not have all the details so I will come back to the Senator.
Senator Boyhan spoke about the peat Bill, and I want to thank him and welcome his positive contribution. He mentioned the fact that planning for 853 homes had been passed yesterday evening.
Senator Conway expressed his concerns and wishes around expanding Covid certificates to other services.
Senator Fiona O'Loughlin, along with the Leas-Chathaoirleach, wished Christy Moore continued success. He has entertained all of us. I do not think we think we own him just because we are from Kildare. We all think we own a little bit of him because he is such a legend and a fabulous musician.
On a more serious note, Senator O'Loughlin mentioned that her cross-party committee on dementia had a significant presentation from Professor Sean Kennelly. The advances that are being made are wonderful, in particular for dementia and Alzheimer's patients. We can now know about it years before it is diagnosed. It is to be hoped that in a lot of cases, people are diagnosed before it is too late and the advent or onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease is slowed down.
Nobody referred to Amanda Brown, so I would like to mention her. She was on RTÉ radio this morning. I do not know if anybody knows who she is. She is the stepdaughter of the late David Tweed. I want to put on the record that her bravery, courage and, in particular, her dignity this morning was humbling. She is a powerful woman and the testimony she gave and the fight she has had over a number of years is genuinely humbling to observe. She deserves and requires the support and respect of people who have made inappropriate comments on the passing of David Tweed over the past couple of months. I want to put on the record of the House that I thought she was powerful.
Judging by the reaction, that has the endorsement of Senators across the Chamber.
Senator McGreehan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 22 be taken before No. 1." The seconder was Senator Paddy Burke. The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.