Seanad debates

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Order of Business is No. 1, Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, to be brought to a conclusion at 3.30 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, Houses of the Oireachtas Commission (Amendment) Bill 2021 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.15 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes, all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, motion regarding the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2021, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.30 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed six minutes, all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 88, motion 2, motion regarding the Antarctic Treaty, to be taken at 7 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I second the Order of Business as proposed by Senator Chambers. I wish to bring up a few issues today. Under the Order of Business last week, I brought up the lack of gardaí on the streets of Newbridge. Making our streets safe and secure is a huge issue around the country. When comparing three towns within the midlands; I mentioned that Portlaoise and Tullamore have 160 and 73 members of the Garda, respectively, while Newbridge has 44 gardaí, of whom ten are in a regional unit and so effectively only has 34. That is simply not good enough. Twice I have tried to put this in as a Commencement matter, and I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling that it cannot be put in for the Minister for Justice. However, I attended a joint policing committee, JPC, meeting on Monday evening at which Garda Commissioner Drew Harris was present and while I put in that question twice, I did not get a response. My point is we must have some type of forum where we can discuss and bring up issues around Garda numbers. If we believe the people we are representing are not adequately served in terms of Garda numbers, we must have that facility. We might possibly have the Minister here to have a debate about the general issue of keeping our streets safe and secure. We talk about it quite a bit in terms of incidents that happen and violence on our streets. If we do not have our streets lit by our local authorities, and Kildare County Council is at fault in Newbridge because some of the lighting is substandard, and if we do not have enough gardaí on the beat, there is a serious problem.

I also raise the serious lack of testing capacity at Punchestown Racecourse, which covers both north and south Kildare. For example, a parent of a child who had symptoms of Covid contacted me. She was not comfortable returning her child to school until a negative PCR test was received, which is very responsible parenting and shows thinking of everybody within the community. The parent monitored the website for a few days, waiting for an appointment, and nothing. Portlaoise was also booked up. The closest available appointment was quite a distance away, in Tullamore, a journey of more than an hour. That is a long way to bring a sick child, but also is very difficult if somebody does not have private transport. I have also heard reports of people being left queuing in the freezing cold with young children. At the end of last week, County Kildare's 14-day Covid-19 incidence rate was above the national average. The HSE needs to intervene and adequately resource our testing facilities, or possibly set up another testing facility in Newbridge in south Kildare, which is what it did before. Our testing capacity needs to be increased. We need to ensure that people who need a PCR test get one as quickly as possible.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

On that Commencement matter, I regret that I had to rule it out of order. The matter you raise is valid and might also be something for the justice committee.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is very good news that the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, has signed off on 480,000 primary school children between the ages of five and 11 being vaccinated. This is extremely important because the key to this lies in vaccination. While most of these children would not become seriously ill, the problem with them getting Covid is that they bring it home and bring it to vulnerable adults and older relations. In some instances, they themselves would be vulnerable and in danger and of course, this also affects their teachers. It is a very important advance and the key lies in vaccination. It is important that Members welcome it. It is also important that we support all the other measures around hygiene, mask wearing etc. It is in responsible behaviour that we will solve this problem.

It would seem so far that while Storm Barra is doing significant damage, it is not of the awful proportions that might have been anticipated and that is good news. I welcome that yesterday in this Chamber the Tánaiste said that in the case of severe damage, where a business could not be covered by insurance for whatever reason, a good look would be taken at having it compensated. That is a very important piece of comfort and good news for people in that situation, and I welcome it. Talking of Storm Barra, neatly brings me on to the question of climate change. This was a remarkable year in that we set legal limits and targets, and there will be a carbon budget in each Department. This House should have a debate soon on the minutia, the practical solutions. I wish to offer three practical solutions. As with the co-operative model of old, we should have a wind turbine in each community. Communities should be urged to do it as it would provide their own energy supply which could be fed into the grid through which they might even make money for their communities. It would introduce them to the concept of the green agenda, climate change, etc., which is important.

First-time car purchasers should get a significant reduction in VRT if they buy electric. If they start with an electric car, they will buy into the concept and will never leave an electric car. They will also feel ownership of the climate change agenda.

Each farm in the country has a few non-arable acres not in use. That should be planted, as was the case with a little shelter belt which would be a carbon sink. We should incentivise farmers to do that as a priority. I commend those three recommendations to the House and in that context, I call for a debate on the minutia. As we have now set the targets, let us get on with doing it.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The concerns I had that the proposed three-year review of the 2018 abortion legislation would not be impartial have only grown since hearing what the Minister for Health had to say this morning. From the outset he continued to speak of his concern about widening access to abortion. When the official from the Department of Health spoke about the supposedly independent chair this morning, she stressed the need for a candidate with an approach of sexual and reproductive rights. This has been a consistent byword for pro-choice or pro-abortion, whichever one wishes to call it. The use by the official, Ms Luddy in this case, of that term raises concern in me and in many other people about whether there will be any independence at all.

The Government and perhaps this House might not mind being reminded that in 2018 we removed a constitutional right to life for the unborn child, but we did not create a constitutional right to abortion. The Constitution now states that "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy". It follows from that that any independent review of the legislation should hear impartially about whether the law ought to be restricted or extended. Given the major increase in the number of abortions that have taken place since the legislation was introduced, there is a very strong case to be made for modifications of the law, for example, in the direction of precautionary pain relief for late-term abortion situations and indeed promoting alternatives to abortion.

There is no evidence that the Government has any respect for that point of view. From what was said at the committee this morning there is no evidence that it has any interest in having a genuinely independent chair. That is a disgrace and people need to raise their voices about it.

On another human rights matter, the United States and Australia are now calling for a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. I know that our Minister will not be present, but our Government needs to be much stronger in coming out in favour of a full diplomatic boycott. That means no officials from our State turning up. It also means that the Olympic Federation of Ireland should not be represented. I do not want to deny the small number of athletes we have their chance to compete for Olympic glory, but in the circumstances they should not do so under an Irish flag. What is the Government's position? Normally, it is happy to follow the lead of a Democratic Administration in the United States. America is leading the way on this one; will Ireland follow? Along with other Senators I wrote to the chair of the Olympic Federation of Ireland last year expressing our concern. We did not even get a response from the then chair, Sarah Keane. Will the Government show any interest in pursuing the matter further?

The Service Central des Courses et Jeux, which is the branch of the police in France that deals with cheating and abuses in racing and competition, recently arrested several racehorse trainers and vets. Does anything like that ever happen in Ireland? The Cathaoirleach introduced a very interesting initiative to allow the Chairs of committees to appear before this House. I ask that the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine, Deputy Cahill, would appear before us to discuss that committee's recently completed report into horse racing in Ireland. It raises issues about the need for protocols to prevent doping in horse racing but also issues about the governance of the very body responsible for integrity in the sport, the Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board.

I am conscious that I have gone over time and I thank you for allowing me, a Chathaoirligh.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish to clarify for the Senator that the concept is to invite a committee Chair to appear before the House about six months after such a report is published. We would review the recommendations and invite the Chair along with the Minister to see if the recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. We will make that request before the summer to see if those recommendations have been implemented.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I remind Senator Mullen that we already had a referendum on abortion. The people of Ireland have spoken. This is not a rerunning of a referendum which would require having somebody independent sit in the middle of the whole conversation. We are reviewing laws that have already been enacted. That is the difference.

I wish to raise the issue of animal welfare and live exports which have been raised by members of the animal welfare policy group in my own party. Significant concerns were raised this week about the Finola Mvessel which was travelling from Ireland to Libya with livestock on board when it got caught in the middle of Storm Barra. A vessel of this size should not be travelling with livestock onboard in wind speeds greater than 6 knots. The wind speed actually got to 30 knots with waves peaking at 24 ft. with animals on board. This is of major concern. It has now docked. Having done more investigation since these reports were brought to me, I have ascertained that there was no vet on board. Vets are not on board these vessels at the moment due to the pandemic. We need to ensure that these animals have correct veterinary protection at the very least. It is outrageous to have animals on these vessels for ten days or two weeks. We need to re-examine the live exports of animals over long distances if we really value our animal husbandry.

I welcome the decision by the Minister for Education to provide €50 million on high-efficiency particulate absorbing, HEPA, filters. Last week when the Minister was in the House, I said that the report from March had indicated that many schools would benefit from HEPA filters. These filtration systems are well worth the money for the air quality they provide. Quite apart from us being in the middle of a pandemic, they help those with asthma. I welcome that the Minister has taken on board the concerns of teachers and parents about mask wearing. My concern was that a small child does not always make decisions. We need to ensure they are getting access to an education irrespective of whether their parents are for or against mask wearing. We need to convey the message that vaccination and mask wearing are all good things, but let us also ensure that every child gets an education.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I commend and thank the front-line workers in the emergency services and across statutory agencies who have been out during Storm Barra and no doubt will be out again, unfortunately, over the rest of the winter dealing with adverse weather events.While acknowledging and thanking them for their work is important, we might give some thought across the Chamber to how we might do an item of work that would support those on the front line. The past few days have highlighted the issues Senator Craughwell, in particular, has brought to the attention of the Chamber in recent weeks and months concerning our emergency services.

A draft housing supply strategy was announced by the Minister with responsibility for housing in the North, Deirdre Hargey. Under that strategy it is planned to more than 100,000 homes over the next 15 years, of which at least one third will be social homes. It is planned that high-quality social and affordable homes for families and workers will be built in record-breaking numbers. We, as Members of the Seanad, should call for Ministers, North and South, to engage through the North-South Ministerial Council to learn about best practice and how to effectively deal with the housing crisis.

The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, was in Derry last week for a series of engagements on North-South co-operation in the field of further and higher education and third-level education. It is an important area of work that often gets overlooked in terms of its development. It was encouraging to hear that from the Minister and the Government. I would welcome the opportunity early in the new year to have statements on cross-Border co-operation on third-level education with the Minister in attendance in order that he can update the House on that.

I am glad the Deputy Leader is occupying that chair this morning and I am sure she will agree to what I am requesting and will do her best to facilitate it. As we approach the conclusion of the work of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, I would like us to have an opportunity early in the new year, similar to that which we had with respect to the interim report, to engage and have statements on that committee’s work on the report and to have the Minister in attendance. While what will be will be in terms of the committee, we should ensure particular emphasis is given to the issue of Brexit in this Chamber and we keep a watching brief on that issue. The Minister has been very good in facilitating our requests for statements. In the context of everything else that is going on, we should ensure we do not take our eye off the ball on this issue. I know the chair of our committee, the Deputy Leader, will work hard to endeavour to ensure that happens.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Like Senator O’Reilly, I would like to remind Senator Mullen we had a referendum and its outcome very clearly showed the women and people of Ireland wanted people to have access to have safe, legal, local abortion in Ireland. I was disappointed that in the discussion at the Joint Committee on Health today the Minister indicated the policy of the Act would not be reviewed only the operations of the Act. The operations of abortion rights are always contested worldwide. I certainly do not think the women of Ireland will be happy that women are being left behind. We fought for the rights of women in the North and will continue to fight for them and for the women who are travelling and being left behind by the operation of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. People will not be happy that the review will be simply limited to the operations of the Act.

I want to raise with the Deputy Leader the issue of a housing co-operative and housing supply in Dún Laoghaire. Last week, councillors in Dún Laoghaire got word that a contractor has pulled out of a contract to build 42 houses. Under the model of housing co-operatives, eight people were due to buy those houses as well as a housing association, Co-Operative Housing Ireland, which is taking over the other units. It is very disappointing at this late stage when the contractor was meant to be turning sod and to be on-site before Christmas that it has pulled out. This is a problem. It is important to have a debate on housing. Targets are set in Rebuilding Ireland. If we cannot get a contractor to build a simple development of 42 housing units in Dún Laoghaire that has been planned and worked on for three years, I do not know how the housing targets that have been set to address our housing crisis will be met.

I want to raise an local issue. Over the weekend the Dublin Flea Market announced it was closing and ceasing operations. I have known about this for a number of months having worked with those involved in it alongside Councillor Claire Byrne to try to find a place for it operate, but it is still very disappointing. Not only did the flea market have a place for Dubliners to come and pull together, it provided an essential microenterprise space for people to chance their arm and set up a business. Many successful businesses have grown from the flea market. As somebody who comes from Newmarket in Dublin 8 and attended the flea market for many years from when it first started in the depths of the recession, it is very disappointing we could not find a solution and a space for it. The loss of market spaces to the city is great. I particularly want to mention Sharon Greene who was driving force behind it. I express my thanks to Sharon, Aisling, Luca and Dave for all they created in the ten years we have had the Dublin Flea Market.

Photo of Ollie CroweOllie Crowe (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I very much welcome the approval by An Bord Pleanála yesterday for the Galway city outer ring road. This has been long promised for Galway, going back decades at this stage. It is frightening that every other city, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Dublin and smaller areas and towns have developed their road network, yet we have been left in the ha’penny place. Traffic is such an issue in Galway city that when representatives of American and European companies have come to invest in the city they have opted to establish their companies in Limerick or Cork, mainly due to the traffic congestion. That is a fact. The lack of a bypass has damaged the local economy significantly. As a public representative I would have no problem in promoting in public transport and cycling, but Galway city's population will increase to 130,000 by 2040. Our road network is incapable of handling the current volume of traffic not to mention when the population growth will be taken into account. That has shown to be the case during the past 20 years. Galway’s current poor road infrastructure is a disservice to the people of the region, a major threat to the regional economy and it is a considerable risk to the future development of the capital of the west, as the Deputy Leader will know the city. Not alone does it not serve Galway city it does not serve the 40,000 people based in Connemara. The road is part of the programme for Government. I have discussed it with the Taoiseach on numerous occasions. I look forward to the Government advancing the project as soon as possible with urgency.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I, too, welcome the decision of An Bord Pleanála yesterday on the Galway city ring road. It has been a long time in the offing, along with its predecessor, the Galway city outer bypass, on which considerable preparatory work has been done by engineers from the Arup Group, which have been tasked with this project, and all the county council officials, with the council being the lead agency on behalf of both Galway city and county. The ring road is pivotal. I made a submission to the oral hearing at the time. In August 2020, I wrote to An Bord Pleanála asking it to re-establish the oral hearing in order to conclude it, it having been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Thankfully, it did that and the oral hearing was concluded towards the end of 2020. The ring road is vital to the long-term infrastructural needs of the city and county, for proper growth and development of the city and county, for access to Connemara and tourism, and to increase the potential of companies to set up and establish in Galway city . If CEOs of multinationals arrive into Dublin Airport, Shannon Airport or Ireland West Airport Knock, get to the outskirts of Galway city and then spend an hour travelling to the city before they get to parts of Connemara, how can we expect them to establish in the city? This is a momentous decision for Galway as the regional capital of the west. I hope the Government will pursue and conclude this project and bring it to construction. The previous Fine Gael-Independent Government agreed this at Cabinet in October 2018. Some €588 million was committed to it at that stage. I hope and expect this Government will not be found wanting in progressing this plan. The Tánaiste, who is a former Minister for Transport, is fully supportive of this project, as he has indicated to me on numerous occasions. I hope to see good progress on this vital project for the city and county.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I would also like to talk about the health committee and the Minister for Health commencing phase 1 of the review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. I find it slightly ironic that Senator Pauline O'Reilly talked about animal welfare straight after talking about abortion and had no thought for the welfare of the unborn. There are legitimate concerns that the Government's three-year review of the new abortion laws will be a missed opportunity. To date, the Minister for Health has met only with abortion-supporting groups about the process. The public are entitled to better than a pretend public consultation process that has all the appearance of listening to people's concerns but is nothing more than a public relations exercise with a prearranged outcome. The Minister must demonstrate by his actions that he is not listening just to one side of the debate. The three-year review must look at Ireland's spiralling abortion rate as a priority and at other troubling effects of the new law such as the fact that no protocols are in place on how to care for babies who survive late-term abortions. In the first two years of the new law coming into effect in 2019, 13,243 abortions took place. That is a massive 70% increase in the number of abortions in two years. The Government's three-year review is an opportunity to scrutinise what has happened and ask some really hard questions about the new law and the changes that are needed. The recent finding by Amárach Research that 89% of the public support women being offered information about alternatives before proceeding with an abortion is welcome. Another important finding from the recently published Amárach poll is that 77% of the public support an amendment to the abortion law to ensure that babies who survive late-term abortions are given medical and palliative care and not left to die alone. The Government has already acknowledged that it is aware of the UCC study that pointed to the fact that babies have survived the abortion procedure under the new law and have been left to die unaided. One in three people voted for abortion in 2018. The recent Amárach polls show that the overwhelming majority of the public backs proposals to be put forward by the pro-life movement as part of the three-year review. The Government needs to acknowledge this support and invite pro-life representatives into the decision-making process rather than shutting them out, as is currently the case. I hope the chair who will be appointed next year will take pro-life views into consideration.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish to return to an issue on which my colleague, Senator Gallagher, had a Commencement matter this morning, for which the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, was in the House. I compliment the Minister, who has been doing a lot of work on this. I refer to the spiralling cost of fertiliser for farmers. While we all want to promote organic fertilisers and ensure we do all this type of work in a more environmentally friendly way, the fact is that farmers cannot produce food without using some nitrogen. I do not know how many people are aware of this, but most fertilisers farmers use have doubled in price since last year, mainly due to global gas prices, which is outside our control. Two of the fertilisers farmers use a lot are calcium ammonium nitrate, CAN, which contains 27% nitrogen, and urea. Both those fertilisers have doubled in price. It is just not possible for many farmers to purchase fertilisers any more. If you take into consideration the fact that 60% of grass growth occurs before the month of May, you can see that the time span here is very short. There is one thing that can be done. There are tariffs on fertilisers imported from outside the EU. We have been looking - I know the Minister has been looking at this as well - at getting those tariffs reduced if at all possible, even for a short period, in order to bring down the price of fertilisers. If the farmers cannot produce the food, in a very short space of time we could find ourselves having food shortages. It is an urgent issue and I ask that the Deputy Leader again contact the Minister expressing my views. I am sure I will have the support of the House on the matter.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish to raise the issue of the storm that hit west Cork and southern Ireland in particular yesterday. I think it is moving northwards now. It did significant damage in many ways to roads and other infrastructure. The town of Bantry got flooded again. It is the fourth time it has been flooded in the past 18 months. It was a significant flood. Damage to local property was limited because of the good work of Cork County Council. Having the flood relief scheme in Bantry brought forward is a massive issue for the town. You cannot realistically have viable, thriving trade if the town will be flooded continuously. Four floods in 18 months is unbelievable. Having talked to the traders this morning, I understand they have never seen such a prolonged flood in the history of the town. We have a huge issue in making sure that infrastructure and towns such as Bantry will be protected from storms coming in.

A debate is required with the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW about how he hopes to progress these schemes. They are very important. Flood defence schemes in particular need to be progressed. We have seen changes in weather patterns and storms come in regularly. Unless we bring forward and streamline these proposals, towns such as Bantry will still be flooded every time a southwesterly gale comes in with a storm. It was unfair on the entire peninsula and the entire community that one of the major towns, if not the biggest town, of that part of the world was totally closed up yesterday because of a flood. This has a huge impact on the entire business community and on society itself. We therefore need an urgent debate in these Houses about how we can fast-track these projects. We cannot have them held up for decades because of planning issues. A debate with the Minister of State with responsibility for this issue would be very important.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have to raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick once again, regrettably. The number on trolleys in the hospital yesterday was 83; on Monday it was 82. Some 3,500 people have been treated on trolleys in the hospital in the past three months alone. A 96-bed unit is planned. From a meeting on Friday, I gather that a tender for that is still open and that the earliest - it is a very optimistic "earliest" - that that 96-bed unit will be ready is July 2023. What are the people of Limerick expected to do in the meantime? This crisis at University Hospital Limerick has been with us for over a decade. It has got progressively worse year after year. I am calling for an urgent debate and an intervention by the Government. There is something fundamentally wrong when things continue to get worse and worse at this hospital. The morale of staff is at an all-time low. People dread the prospect of having to go into the hospital. The chaos there should be thought of in the context of the Omicron variant, God forbid, because we know that the number of Omicron cases is doubling in Britain every day. How on earth is University Hospital Limerick supposed to cope when it has people crowded in hallways day after day, week after week? This has been an ongoing failure - it is Government failure, let me be clear - for over a decade, and something fundamental has to change. In the previous Seanad I called for a ministerial intervention to see what else could be done because right now nothing is being done for people in Limerick. We have the prospect, God forbid, of a really challenging January. The numbers get worse week on week, month on month, and there is no plan that will work that is in place, which is not good enough. We need to see a step change, and it has to come from the Government, to challenge the ongoing crisis in University Hospital Limerick. The people of Limerick have suffered enough. I will finish with the question I asked earlier. What are the people of Limerick expected to do until 2023? By the way, that 96-bed unit represents only 48 new beds. The others are replacement beds. That is only a quarter of what we need. University Hospital Limerick is 200 beds short. After all this investment, we will still be three quarters short of where we need to be. It is a disgraceful record for this Government and preceding Governments.

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the announcement of the completion of the review of the national childcare scheme by the Minister with responsibility for children. Particularly welcome is the Government's decision to adopt a number of the recommendations, specifically to ensure an additional €270 million in funding is provided for childcare services, which money will be used to control fees which for many families are a second mortgage and a barrier to paid employment for parents; to improve pay and conditions for workers, which is very important because these workers look after our youngest citizens and provide incredible care; and, most important, to provide dedicated funding for children who are in disadvantaged situations and to ensure the universality of childcare. I thank all the NGOs and childcare providers who engaged, especially in my own constituency. I refer to the inner city co-op and the childcare providers from the inner city, the northside and the southside of Dublin who engaged with the Minister and me in that review. I look forward to the details of it being made available.

I welcome the decision by Government to approve the preliminary business case for expansion of the DART+ project. This is a very important project for reaching our carbon neutrality target by 2050 but also for improving people's quality of life in the city. Some €1 billion has been committed to it and it promises to double capacity on the DART network. The first phase of that is the electrification of the Maynooth line, within my own constituency, which runs from Connolly Station. There is a very important facility on that line, the Ashtown stables. I have raised this previously. It is imperative the National Transport Authority, NTA, deal with the Ashtown stables prior to making the railway order. I ask the Leader to write to the NTA and ask it to do that.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I join colleagues in commending our front-line workers who worked so tirelessly yesterday to keep us all safe. I say "míle buíochas" to them. I agree with Senator Lombard that there is a need for the Office of Public Works, OPW, to expedite flood defence schemes across Cork as a matter of urgency. I exhort the OPW and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to get on with the work. Let us make sure we do not have any more conundrums about flooding and fear, in Cork city in particular.

The Deputy Leader and I served on the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I ask that we have a debate in this House on the review of the health Act of 2018. As somebody who is coming from a different vantage point from Senators Keogan and Mullen, I agree there is a need for a fair and balanced debate in the review. It is important we have that debate, recognising that the country has made a democratic decision but that as legislators we also have to uphold our side of the bargain.

I ask for the Minister for Health to come to the House and that we have a debate on our vaccination programme. I do so acknowledging we have a very successful vaccination programme, through which a million people have had their third shot or booster. It is inexcusable and unconscionable that people would not turn up for a vaccine and they should inform HSE personnel as to why they do not come, if they are not coming. There is also a need for members of An Garda Síochána to be prioritised in that vaccination programme. They are front-line workers at the coalface, with high visibility in our high streets and on our roads in advance of Christmas. I ask that we have a debate on the vaccination programme. I am conscious that the national immunisation advisory committee, NIAC, today has made a recommendation on the vaccination programme. We should debate it in this House.

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I refer to the Fórsa campaign. There was a briefing in the past hour. I would say it is hot off the presses but, alas, the campaign is about an ongoing issue. It is the Respect for SNAs campaign, which aims to highlight the value and role of special needs assistants. This is following up on the Department of Education's refusal of a new union claim for a new minimum qualification for SNAs. This has not been altered since the introduction of the childcare assistance scheme in 1979.

The campaign is to gain recognition and respect for the role of SNAs by establishing a qualification for new entrants to the job that reflects the complexities of the role. The Department has not committed to any timescale yet, nor does it accept that a level 6 qualification is desirable, preferring instead to leave the decision to individual schools. This puts Ireland out of step with international standards for the qualifications required from an SNA. I do not even need to go into some of the work SNAs do, such as PEG feeding, hoisting, taking an enormous amount of care, and sometimes facing abuse, aggression or frustration. Sometimes they are just a safety blanket for kids. These points were all read out at the briefing today.

I ask that Members support the Respect for SNAs campaign and take it back to their political parties. It is important we all have awareness of the complex role of SNAs in supporting students and that we encourage people to engage and learn about the work of SNAs. I reiterate my own support for the Respect for SNAs campaign. I will be writing to the Minister, Deputy Foley on this. I would certainly like to see support from this House for the campaign. I encourage Senators to read up on it and learn about it.

Photo of Niall BlaneyNiall Blaney (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish to discuss the railway strategic review which is now under way. It was announced by the Ministers, Nichola Mallon, MLA, and Deputy Eamon Ryan on 29 November. I did not speak on it last week because of the whole mica situation. I did not want to blur the lines. I very much want to emphasise that this review is now taking place. I thank the two Ministers for the input they have had and wish to put on record some of the conditions they have set in respect of the review. The press release states that the strategic review of the rail network on the island of Ireland will examine improving sustainable connectivity to the major cities, enhancing regional accessibility, including the north west, which is very significant for us in the north west, and supporting balanced regional development while considering the potential to increase rail freight. The strategic rail review reflects an Irish Government commitment under the New Decade, New Approach agreement. It also recognises the will and input of the shared island unit and the Taoiseach's desire to have rail connectivity in the north west.

When I say the north west I am talking to those who are involved in that north west city status area of Donegal, Tyrone and Derry. I am asking them to take the time to look up the site for the rail review at Submissions have to be in by 21 January. This is for the first time providing a real opportunity for the people of all the north west to bring back rail connectivity with the potential for speed rail between Derry and Belfast. It is a great opportunity for an area that has lost rail since the middle of the last century. I ask communities, business people and individuals to make their submissions and help get this off the ground.

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the announcement made a few minutes ago by the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, about a €50 million tourism business continuity programme, which is to help tourism businesses throughout 2022. The programme is going to support strategic tourism, transport businesses, Irish-based inbound agents, attractions and activity providers, and tourism accommodation providers. It will build on a five-phase €55 million tourism business continuity scheme that was administered by Fáilte Ireland in 2021 and will be again next year. This is a very significant scheme for all of those businesses that have been impacted by the travel restrictions.

Yesterday when the Tánaiste was in the Chamber, I was contacted by numerous businesses across Tipperary. I brought the suggestion to the floor yesterday when the Tánaiste was here that we should reintroduce this scheme which was very successful in 2021. The businesses in Tipperary I have been speaking to have lost over 90% of their business in 2021. All the calls they are receiving now over recent weeks, since the decisions we have made in terms of travel restrictions, have been about cancellations and tours that are going to be cancelled. The restrictions we have made on hospitality have an end date of 9 January, which we hope will be met. However, I refer to the tourism sector, inbound tourism and operators who work on the basis of that.There is no end date whatsoever. They have no idea when this will end. There was an air of confidence in September and October that next year, 2022, was going to be a good year for tourism, but that is completely gone now. It is very important that the Government acts quickly to help the sector get over 2022. All of the measures, including this €50 million for tourism, are about helping that sector to survive, whether it is small businesses in Cahir or Clonmel, or right across the State.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I wish to raise two issues. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, confirmed after the Cabinet that a €36 million investment will be available to Shannon and Cork airports. A review brought to Cabinet showed that passenger numbers at Shannon Airport were down 1.5 million to just over 300,000. I understand that this money will be for security and sustainability. This is important for the development of the regions. Shannon Airport means so much to the mid-west region, to businesses and to people who want ease of access using flights from Shannon Airport. I welcome that this money is available to regional airports today.

I read with interest a report where front-line workers are being abused by members of the public when they are asked to put on a mask. I understand that people are frustrated, but our front-line workers and those working in the hospitality industry and the retail grocery industry are there to provide a service. People need to have a bit of respect towards workers because they are there to do their job and they must follow the guidelines in front of them. It is incumbent on us to get the message out there that people need to have respect for their fellow citizens. After all, they are there to do their job. This is very important.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank all Members for the contributions on the Order of Business. Senator O'Loughlin kicked off today's Order of Business and raised once again the issue of Garda numbers in Kildare compared with areas of similar population size in the State. I note that the Senator has expressed frustration that she has no forum in which to raise this matter. I understand that the Cathaoirleach has attempted to facilitate that. It is only right and proper that the Senator has a forum to raise those issues, which she said again this morning. Senator O'Loughlin also spoke about testing capacity and in particular PCR testing for the community that she represents.

Senator Joe O'Reilly welcomed the NIAC approval for vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds. The Senator reiterated his belief that vaccines are one of the major tools and the key to fighting this pandemic. The Senator also spoke about climate and made three specific suggestions, which are proposed practical solutions for how we can bring the community on board. The Senator suggested: wind turbines in every local community that would be owned by the community; a reduction in vehicle registration tax for first-time electric vehicle purchasers; and an incentive for farmers to create carbon sinks on their land. The Senator has requested a debate in the Seanad around those types of practical solutions for the climate agenda.

Senator Mullen raised the issue of the review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act, as did Senator Keogan and others. We obviously come from very different places on this issue but I will also always defend the Senators' right, and the right of others, to have their views heard and properly listened to and respected. I do so because we want the same in return on other issues. It is an important part of the democratic process. I am very conscious that it may be decades down the line when we revisit this again in the same way, but things could also turn around. I am very conscious that we should always be respectful. I take on board the Senator's comments on the need for the review to be impartial and objective. I want that too. I want it to be a legitimate review that has credibility, which is very important. I take on board the comments of the Senator about the chair and for that person to be somebody who is respected by all sides. This is such a contentious issue that I do not believe everybody will ever be happy, no matter what way it is done. To have legitimacy and credibility, every effort must be made to ensure that all views are respected and heard. While the Senator may not agree, I believe we tried to do the best we could at the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which at times was contested heavily. The committee held some very strong debates.

Senator Mullen also raised the prospect of a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics and that the United States of America and Australia have already moved to do so. My personal view is that we should do so. I believe that the vast majority of Members of this House would agree with that. Certainly, this is a message we should send from those in agreement in this Chamber, to the powers that be, that this would happen. I note that our Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Chambers, will not be attending, nor will his officials. That is not in any way to cast aspersions on any of the athletes competing. That is separate issue. Of course we want our athletes to have the opportunity to compete at the highest levels.

Senator Mullen also raised the issue of cheating in horse racing. I share the Senator's concerns. It is a huge industry here and we are aware that a lot of money is involved. Because of this, there are many interested stakeholders when it comes to that issue. It is important however, that we ask the tough questions. If certain practices are happening in other countries, we need to make sure they are not happening in Ireland. It is possible, of course, but we just do not know. I do not know the answers to all of that. It is an interesting request to invite the committee chairperson here but as the Cathaoirleach has pointed out, it is not quite in line with our process around inviting chairpersons to the House. It is open to any Member of this House to attend the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine to ask those questions directly to the chairman, Deputy Jackie Cahill. I am sure he would facilitate that.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the issue of live exports and the transportation of livestock to locations that would be considered long distance. She particularly referenced the Finola Mvessel. The Senator painted a harrowing picture. I am not sure what I can offer the Senator in terms of information. It must have been a very distressing journey for those animals to travel those distances in those conditions with no vet on board. Assuming that what the Senator has put on the record of the House is accurate and correct, I would share concerns for those animals and their welfare, and the fact that there was no veterinary support on the vessel. One must ask if the persons involved in that type of transportation, and particularly in that situation, have an appropriate level of concern for the animals? Many people would feel that is not the case. While there is big money in live exports, animal welfare should always be the top priority when we engage in this type of trade. Senator Pauline O'Reilly also welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, of the €50 million for HEPA filters.

Senator Ó Donnghaile spoke on a number of issues. The Senator spoke on the housing supply strategy, which was published in Northern Ireland this morning, and the commitment to build one third of social homes out of 100,000 units. This sounds very ambitious and I wish them well. The Senator also spoke of the need to have better cross-Border engagement through the North-South Ministerial Council on the issue of housing. If we can learn best practice and get advice and tips from each other, then why would we not do that? That is a fair suggestion. Senator Ó Donnghaile also referred to the recent visit to Derry by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris. The Senator asked for a debate on cross-Border education in the space of higher education.

Senator Ó Donnghaile also raised the imminent publication of the final report of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, of which I am the Chairperson. Senator Ó Donnghaile is a member of that committee, as are a number of our Seanad colleagues. We will publish our final report tomorrow. It will be a virtual report and all Members are welcome to attend at 12 noon tomorrow. I thank all of the Senators for their work. I give the Senator a commitment that of course we will have a debate on the report. It will not be possible to do this before the end of this term, because we only have next week. At the earliest opportunity in the new term we will have a debate on the report as published. Six months following publication, as we have decided, we will invite the Minister back to the Chamber to give an update to the House on how the recommendations in the report are being implemented.

Senator Moynihan expressed her view on the review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act and to express her commitment to safe, legal access for all women in the State. The Senator also expressed her disappointment that the review of the Act is simply on the operation of the Act and not the policy within the Act.

Senator Moynihan also spoke about a specific issue regarding Dún Laoghaire and a housing co-operative where the contractor has pulled out. I do not have the full details on that issue but I note the Senator's comments. The Senator also spoke about the Dublin Flea Market, which has not been able to find a home.Senator Moynihan is a Dubliner and I can understand how upsetting it is for people in the locality to lose that. It has been in Dublin for so many years. It is a shame that it was not facilitated in continuing.

Senator Crowe rose to welcome, finally, the approval by An Bord Pleanála of the Galway city outer ring road, as did Senator Kyne. I can say, with first-hand experience, having lived in Galway for many years, how terrible and bad the traffic is there. I would even go as far as saying that it is worse than Cork. The traffic in Galway has gone beyond that; it is terrible. The city is choked and people cannot get or out of it. We know, from dealing with the business community in the western region, of the problems. Business owners, particularly those who are located in the business parks around the edge of Galway city, are telling us that they cannot expand, get staff or take on new contracts. It is having a devastating impact on the city's growth and potential for new jobs and attracting forward inward investment. The approval is really welcome. Getting the planning was the first step; now it has to be built. It is a little way off, but there is funding there to do it. It is a positive day for the city. I recall, even going back ten years, that there was talk of different environmental concerns. The difficulty was that although people agreed with addressing the environmental issues, no progress was made. It has taken far too long to get to this point, but it is a welcome day for people living in Galway and for those who travel to Galway for work, as many in people in Mayo, Roscommon, Clare and the surrounding counties do.

Senator Keogan raised the review of abortion legislation announced by the Minister for Health. The Senator made some comments that I feel are appropriate to address directly. She said that it the review is a pretend public consultation process. I must reject that comment. She said that the outcome is prearranged. Again, I reject that assertion. It is not prearranged. She stated that there have been more than 13,000 abortions in the past two years, representing a 70% increase. She has probably not taken into account the fact that many of those women travelled to undergo abortions. Those abortions happened, but happened in a different jurisdiction, that being the point.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Well said.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Senator also said that a third of people voted for abortion. Actually, more than 66% of our citizens voted to remove the eighth amendment. That is the factual position. That amounts to two thirds of the country. However, I agree with the Senator that the views of people with a pro-life position need to be facilitated, should be given a space to be articulated and should be respected. We must do everything that we can to ensure that the review is done in a respectful and balanced way, and that it is credible and legitimate. I agree with her on that point.

Senator Murphy raised the increased cost of fertilisers for farmers. He put some stark figures on the record of the House regarding a doubling of the price of some of those fertilisers. Farmers have had a very difficult period. They are trying to adjust to the climate agenda and they are doing a good job on that front. They have also been dealing with very volatile weather conditions in the past number of years, which has made things more difficult, and now they are facing this price increase. It is certainly something for the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to take on board. Perhaps it can do more detailed work on the issue on behalf of the farming community.

Senator Lombard referred to planning issues and the fast-tracking of particular projects. In particular, he raised the issue of the flooding scheme for Bantry. There have been four floods in that area in the past 18 months, which is a lot for any community to cope with. I agree with his comments. The Taoiseach has announced a complete overhaul and review of the planning process. He is due to receive a report on it before the end of next year. It is a huge undertaking and has never been done. The idea and the aim of the review is to try to speed up the planning applications and processes to deliver those flooding schemes and other schemes for communities such as those in Bantry.

Senator Gavan once again raised the issue of University Hospital Limerick and the difficult situation that patients face there. The numbers on trolleys are far greater than they should be. We should not have anybody on trolleys. It might happen in the case of one or two people, but anything in excess of 80 or 90 on a daily basis is a huge number. I extend my support and solidarity to the staff working in the hospital, in particular. It must be so difficult for them. I welcome that there has been investment to try to deliver the 96-bed unit and other supports. However, I appreciate that it has not alleviated the issues there at the moment. It is a significant investment. I am not going to comment in great detail on the issue because I am not a public representative for the area. Senator Gavan and others have far more knowledge of the issue. We must consider step-down facilities, home care packages, the fair deal scheme and all the factors that cause people to take up beds in hospitals. If we can get people out sooner, it should help alleviate the problem. I agree that something has to be done urgently. I think 2023 is a long time to ask people to wait for the issue to be resolved.

Senator Fitzpatrick welcomed the national childcare scheme announced by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth yesterday. It was a significant announcement. We have been talking about this for a long time. As I said yesterday, it is a start and a plan. Now we need to deliver it. We need to deliver a reduction in fees for parents, better pay and conditions for the workers and to ensure access is universal. The childcare fees that parents are paying currently are unsustainable. As the Senator pointed out, the fees are a barrier to people, predominantly women, from entering the workplace and getting back to work. They cannot afford to go back to work, which should never be the case. She also welcomed the acceptance of preliminary business case for the DART+ programme to extend greater commuter services in those areas.

Senator Buttimer requested a debate on the review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. I agree with that. We hope to have a debate on the issue in the Chamber at the earliest opportunity. It is unlikely to happen before the end of term because we only have next week. Similarly, I am not sure we can deliver on the Senator's the request to get the Minister in to the House by next week, but we can try. It could be early next year. The vaccination programme will continue well into next year. That will give us an opportunity to see how the winter goes, have that debate with the Minister and get an update for the House. We will certainly have a debate on the review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.

Senator Hoey alerted Members to the Fórsa Respect for SNAs campaign. SNAs are seeking recognition of their qualifications, a minimum qualification standard, a recognition of the work they do and also the level of responsibility attached to the work they do. I agree with her comments on the work SNAs do, the variety of work they do and the responsibility they have to deal with on a daily basis. Every child's needs are so different. We ask a lot of our SNAs. They are not getting the respect that they need and the acknowledgement of the work that they do currently. We previously addressed issues around childcare workers. We now know that the correct term for them is "early years educators". We must carry out a similar campaign for SNAs. We must ensure that they are given the respect that they deserve.

Senator Blaney raised the issue of the railway strategic review announced by the Minister for Transport and the Northern Ireland Minister for Infrastructure in recent days. He highlighted the role that the shared island unit plays in connecting the island and made a call to those in the north west, in particular, in counties Donegal, Tyrone and Derry, to engage with the railway strategic review. Connection on the island is most important. The review will examine other rail connections throughout the country and the western rail corridor will be part of that.

Senator Ahearn welcomed the €15 million in funding announced by the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media for the tourism business continuity programme. The Senator is correct that it is effectively a pre-emptive strike in acknowledgement that 2022 is probably not going to be year that we had hoped it would be for the tourism sector and for all those small businesses that sustain communities throughout the country. I think of my own county of Mayo. Many tourism businesses are finding it difficult and are not feeling as positive about next year. However, domestic tourism has been good in many of those areas. The extra boost, which is a significant sum, will go a long way towards helping those businesses survive next year and ensuring that they are around and can continue to create and maintain employment in those communities.

Senator Malcolm Byrne concluded by welcoming the €36 million in the regional airports funding for Shannon and Cork airports. He placed on the record of the House some stark figures, including a reduction in passenger numbers at Shannon Airport, which I was not aware of, from 1.5 million to 300,000. That is a huge drop in numbers for the airport. Of course, Shannon Airport is hugely important to the strategic development of the mid-west and to all the counties feeding into that. I hope that that money will go a long way towards maintaining the airport for the year ahead, allowing it to keep its staff and grow the passenger numbers back to what they were. The Senator also raised the issue of the abuse of front-line workers when they are asking people to comply with public health guidelines. All Members will join with the Senator in asserting that such abhorrent behaviour is unacceptable. We have a whole new appreciation for our front-line workers after the past year and a half. Any abuse of those workers when they are just trying to do their job to protect the public, is unacceptable.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 12.40 p.m. and resumed at 1 p.m.