Tuesday, 14 December 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding appointment of an ordinary member to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, to be taken in conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the appointment of the Ombudsman and Information Commissioner, back from committee, to be conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3 motion regarding the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, to be taken on conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, motion regarding the appointment of one new member and chairperson of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3, without debate; No. 5, Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 5 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; and No. 6, Finance Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 5.30 p.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9.30 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to recommendations, include only those set down or accepted by the Government.
I wish to acknowledge that today is National Irish Sign Language day. Members know, of course, that our Cathaoirleach is a big supporter. Equally, it is very important that the message is on the floor of the House that we are very strong supporters of the Irish Sign Language Act. However, this Act needs to be more than just legislation; it is about how it is enforced and that the Department of Education takes this issue seriously. It should never be a case that parents of deaf children have to fight to secure rights for their children, in the way that some, including for instance, Mr. Andrew Geary has had to fight for the rights of his son Calum. I have mentioned in this House before that a young Wexford woman, Úna Walsh, has been very active. She has promoted the idea of Irish Sign Language as a second level subject. I have raised this with the Minister but it might be appropriate at some stage for us to have a full debate on sign language and the contribution that the deaf community makes in Irish society.
There are reports in today's newspapers on issues around women's rugby. I do not want to comment specifically on some of that. However, the Oireachtas sports committee will be addressing the question of women in sport tomorrow. My colleague, Senator Cassells, has been quite active about looking at ways that we can promote the participation of women in sport.However, it is of concern that while the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, has indicated that she will intervene in the row around women's rugby, there is an ongoing row in boxing where there have been a number of calls for a mediator to be appointed to resolve some of the difficulty but action has not happened. This is having a serious impact. I am not worried about the politics of boxing. What I am worried about is that for the young people on the ground, the splits in boxing are particularly serious so I ask the Acting Leader to express our concern to the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers.
I am very proud to come from a family that has a lot of public servants who have worked in nursing and for local authorities. During this pandemic, a lot of people have given great public service. I am even thinking of those who processed the pandemic unemployment payments in a very short period of time. I would like to disassociate myself from the outburst from Deputy Ring in the other Chamber last week. His attack on the public service was completely unfair. There are many really hard-working people in the public sector and they need to be acknowledged. Those of us in this House should stand up and defend them.
I welcome some funding Tipperary received from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, over the weekend for Christmas lights. As most people in politics know, one of those questions we all get asked over this period is whether towns and villages across our counties can get more Christmas lights. Tipperary has been lucky. It is getting €35,000, €16,000 of which will go towards Clonmel with the remainder going to Cahir, Cashel and Tipperary town. It goes a long way to supporting those communities in terms of making them more attractive places to visit during the winter, particularly Christmas. When one speaks to businesses in small rural towns, where I am from, having a setting like that makes a big difference and encourages people to visit towns to shop locally and spend money. It is more important than ever this year. It is a small amount of money but as that sort of money goes a long way and is felt by communities in the towns and villages that receive it, I thank the Minister of State for that.
The Cahir town centre public realm scheme has been on public display in Tipperary County Council offices in Clonmel, Nenagh and Tipperary town since 10 November. Submissions can be made by the public until 23 December. This is a new design of Cahir town centre, particularly in terms of the square. It is about redeveloping the entire town centre. With applications like this, communication between the county council, businesses and local residents is really important and this is happening. I got the Minister of State, Deputy English, to visit Cahir a number of months ago to look at the proposals and how they will support tourism, businesses and the community. Tipperary County Council will make an application to the rural regeneration development fund in the Department of Rural and Community Development on the back of this design. I really support this application. Cahir is a beautiful town with a lovely castle that gets a lot of tourists. Most people outside Tipperary talk about Cashel being a tourist destination, which it is, but Cahir also has significant qualities and can attract a lot of people. I support this application and thank the chairperson of Tipperary County Council, Marie Murphy, who is from that district and is very supportive of this application. We will work hard to make sure this becomes a reality in the new year.
I welcome the fact that the long battle of the Miami Showband came to a conclusion yesterday.I listened to an interview this morning on "The Pat Kenny Show" with one of the members of the band. In many ways, I am sorry that the case did not go to a full hearing to allow us to get to the bottom of exactly what was involved. There is no doubt that most of us who work a uniform on either side of the Border were decent, hard-working people who wanted nothing other than security, to protect vital installations and to stop terrorists in their tracks. However, we must also accept that there was collusion. On both sides of the Border there were people involved, in the uniform of whichever country they served, who were not working for the good of mankind but were working for terrorists in the background. We need to ensure that mess is cleaned up. All of those who were responsible for some of the most horrendous deeds must be brought to justice.
I fully appreciate that in offering €100 to families to cover part of their electricity bill, means-testing the payment would make it almost impossible to roll out. However, I object to giving out money we are borrowing and will have to pay back. I ask people who are sufficiently well off that they do not need this €100 to please contribute it to a charity. Please give it to people who really need it rather than taking €100 they do not particularly need. There are people in this country to whom €1,000 would mean nothing. I am asking that people make a contribution to the less well off in society because there are people who are seriously hurting. I would rather have seen this money spent on installing filtration systems in schools but that is another day's work. We are where we are on that one.
At the weekend, I listened to "Saturday with Katie Hannon" and I was rather disappointed to find that the Women of Honour had to express again their concern with the way in which the Department of Defence is treating their issues. I do not propose to get into the rights or wrongs of the matter, other than to make a request to Senator Kyne, who is a member of the same party as the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney. I ask Senator Kyne to request that the Minister engage with the Women of Honour again. I know the Department, Minister and Chief of Staff, Seán Clancy, want to get it right. PDFORRA and RACO want the matter cleaned up once and for all.
It is interesting that the number of allegations has been steadily declining. There has been a learning period within the Defence Forces and people are realising what is unacceptable in society today. I hope this becomes a zero-sum game at the end of all of this. I know the Minister wants to do the right thing. We should get behind these women again and give them support. Nobody should have to beg for what they are looking for.
I remind people of the importance of supporting local businesses and urge them to try to keep it green and local this Christmas. We are in a climate and biodiversity emergency. We have an emergency with people's jobs and livelihoods because of the pandemic. It has never been more important for all of us to make a huge effort to spend locally and support local businesses, producers, craftworkers and local musicians if they have albums. Every bit counts, helps these people to keep going and gives them hope. When people shop this Christmas I ask them to keep it as local and green as possible because it will make such a difference. The multimillionaires and big corporations will not jump for joy if someone spends €30 on a handcrafted gift but it will mean so much to the person who has gone to the effort of making it.
Plastic is a huge issue. After Christmas, we will see piles of rubbish that will have been thrown away. I ask people to think about packaging. Being green is not just a trend. It is mandatory now that we consider what we buy and bring in. Everybody is tempted to buy more toys and stuff for children, whether it is for their own kids or for nephews, nieces or godchildren. We have to move away from plastic because all of it comes from crude oil.It is fossil fuel and it is madness that we spend so much of our money on plastics so we need to consider that this Christmas. There are plenty of alternatives out there, including beautiful wooden kitchens, toys and cars. We need to look at how much plastic we bring into our homes and what will happen with it. It is going to be here forever. It is not a by-product of fossil fuels, it is directly made from oil and that is madness. Children love things that are naturally made as well. They are much more in tune with their senses than adults are. They relate to the sound, touch and smell of things so it is good to be aware of that and to try to avoid toxic paints and plastics. It is a good step for kids because it is their planet that we are trying to take care of.
We can try to be greener this Christmas and if one shops locally one is automatically being greener as well. We need to look at the distance that food and other things have to travel to get to us. If they are sought out it is easy to find growers and local food producers, including local meat and milk. There are lots of Christmas stalls and fairs happening and if we all spent an extra €10 at those it would be monumental for the SME area of our community. SMEs keep communities together so I urge everybody to try to buy local and support small businesses. It is not possible to get a mobile phone except off a mobile phone company but there are lots of other things we buy and we can put some effort into supporting some local person or business we know. I said the same thing last year but it is worth repeating so I ask everyone to consider that. Keep it green and local this Christmas.
I want to join in the remarks expressed by Senator Craughwell on the Miami Showband and the case in Belfast yesterday. I want to take a moment to elaborate on that. The survivors and families of those murdered in that atrocity have been awarded damages of about £1.5 million, as well as significant legal costs. The British Ministry of Defence and the PSNI settled the case, which alleged collusion. We know the fake checkpoint where the Miami Showband met its untimely and unfortunate demise was a joint endeavour between the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Regiment, an all too common experience in collusion. Given the severity of this issue and given that this House recently and unanimously passed a motion condemning the British Government’s attempts to introduce an amnesty for its state forces, it is important that we take the opportunity, as Senator Craughwell rightly did earlier, to reflect on that. It is quite telling that there is hardly a word about this settlement in the mainstream British media. God forbid that someone alleged to have committed atrocities here in Ireland would be pursued by families or survivors through the legal process. That would receive plenty of column inches.
This morning I raised the Nationality and Borders Bill in the Commencement debate. The Bill has passed through the House of Commons at Westminster and will proceed to the House of Lords. I welcome the response of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, to this Bill but this is an issue that we need to be alert to and that will impact the neighbours of Members of this House. This is a regressive and worrying step that the British Government has taken. While I find the broader intent behind the Nationality and Borders Bill quite repugnant, we need to be alert to the fact that this will have direct consequences on the island of Ireland. A core component of the withdrawal agreement was to ensure there would be no return to a hard border. This is a return to a hard border for non-Irish, EU and non-EU citizens. We need to be alert to that fact and we need to work to ensure that citizens are protected and that there is no hierarchy of citizenship in this island.
I again want to join with Senator Craughwell in asking for the Minister for Defence to make statements on the Women of Honour.We had what I thought were some very assertive reassurances and statements made to us in this House. I do not for one second suggest there is a recoil from that but given what we heard over the weekend, it warrants the Minister coming back early in the new year to deliver a message to this House and, more importantly, to the women impacted.
I welcome the long overdue announcement yesterday of the site for a new secondary school in south Kildare, which will be located on the former Magee Barracks. It also raises a number of questions, however, foremost among which is what the students who do not have a place for next year will do. We have a meeting this evening with the Minister for Education at which I hope some answers will be forthcoming. It also raises questions about the Educate Together model announced in 2018 for the school and whether that will still be the model.
It is regrettable that the site is not located in or near the Curragh. It is in Kildare town. I and colleagues in the House have spoken previously about the dereliction in the Curragh. I hope investment will be forthcoming for the Curragh. The Minister spoke previously of such investment but I now believe that because this secondary school is being taken from the Curragh, we need to concentrate our efforts on developing and investing in the Curragh.
I raised previously in the House the totally unfair and unacceptable difference in rail prices in County Kildare. The National Transport Authority, NTA, is engaged in a public consultation on the greater Dublin transport strategy, which will remain open until this coming Friday, 17 December. I encourage all those who use rail transport in south Kildare to get involved because we need a single pricing structure for the area rather than the various prices that are currently in place.
In the greater Dublin area, the number of daily rail commuters has increased from 31,000 to 150,000 in 2019 in pre-Covid times. However, the difference in price for a one-way ticket can be as much as €10 if one compares the €3.80 Leap fare from Sallins in County Kildare to Dublin with the €13.55 fare from Newbridge. The journey between those two stations is just 13 km. That difference is totally unacceptable. Four stations in Kildare, namely, Athy, Monasterevin, Kildare town and Newbridge, are included in this strategy but do not fall under the short hop zone pricing of the other stations in the county.
Last week, the Central Statistics Office, CSO, confirmed that transport is one of the biggest drivers of the increased cost of living. A person living in Kildare South can experience this daily, yet even the increased fuel prices will not stop hard-pressed commuters from saving anything up to €200 per month by driving their car to Sallins station and bypassing the four stations in south Kildare.
If the Government is serious about tackling the climate crisis and promoting public transport, we must create a fair single pricing fare for those living in this area, rather than having the roads approaching the capital turning into ever bigger car parks. There are a number of important rural transport issues. I ask for a debate on them early in the new year.
Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I might not even take up the two minutes.
I will refer again to the entertainment industry. I have heard Senator Kyne and others speak about the seriousness of the situation. I fully appreciate and acknowledge Government support for the sector. There was also the announcement last week of €50 million for certain sectors but - this is a big "but" - approximately 3,000 musicians have virtually lost all their gigs for Christmas. They cannot get back on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. I know many of these people personally because I was involved in that business for a while and some of them are facing massive hardship.
I ask Senator Kyne to use his good wisdom and authority and write the Minister a letter, although I know she is coming to the Chamber tomorrow, to explain the seriousness of this situation. I know people will say musicians can go down to the social welfare officer but some people will not do that out of pride. There is money in the sector that could be targeted to help those people.I accept it is not a simple matter to get around the issue but I ask the Government to do something, to put something in place for just a few months to get these people out of the difficult situation they are in.
This morning, I had a Commencement debate about the provision of electric vehicle charging points to people who do not have access to a private dwelling. Let nobody doubt the importance of the Seanad because a few minutes after I finished speaking, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, announced the very thing I was asking for. That shows clearly that Ministers pay attention to what is said in this august Chamber. Do not let anybody tell you otherwise. I will not use the words "coincidence" or "fluke" when referring to the acceptance of my request. I warmly welcome this measure. The announcement addressed many of the things I raised. The Department is going to provide financial support to pay 80% of the cost of installing the necessary electric cables in existing apartment blocks. The new measures will mean that people who live in an apartment block or have off-street parking will be able to avail of the €600 grant to be put towards providing electric vehicles. That will help many of the 204,000 people in this country who own apartments.
I would like to expand on the measures announced by the Minister. I would also like to ask the Minister to come to the Chamber in the future. I earlier raised a concept that is being operated in Germany. People with electric vehicles in Germany can pull up beside a public light and charge their vehicles from that light. That is the type of outside-the-box thinking we need between now and 2030 if we are to hit our target of 1 million electric vehicles.
I warmly welcome the Minister's announcement. I would like to think it was a natural result of my Commencement debate but I do not have the ego to suggest that.
As we prepare for Christmas, I must once again voice my serious concerns about the division we have created in our country in the past year. Perhaps one of the scariest things is that it almost seems normal now. We have already become used to being told we can do this and we cannot do that. Seeing the online discussions in the UK, which is planning its own Covid pass, and the legitimate disquiet, disappointment and hurt being expressed by individuals has brought it back up for me.
I am sure many of us read about the condition of Mr. Anthony O'Connor in yesterday's edition of The Irish Times. He is a family man from Louth who has battled a rare and chronic neurological disorder for his entire life. He spent seven weeks in hospital at the age of four after receiving the polio vaccine. He needs to go to the gym four times a week, as recommended by his occupational therapy team, to keep his strength up and now he cannot go at all because the Department of Health and the HSE have not developed a system to allow for a medically exempt vaccine pass. The NHS was able to develop and implement such a system alongside the normal one. Why have we been unable to do the same?
As we come into the Christmas season, a time for togetherness, family and friends, I cannot help but think of the lines we have drawn between the people of this country. Even as we mourn the mistakes of Ireland past, I fear that in years to come we too may find ourselves judged by what we did in the name of the greater societal good.
Older people in Ireland may have no choice but to move out of their own homes because they cannot access the care and support services they need to live independently. That is a big statement but it is definitely true. I am receiving calls on a daily basis from families who have been approved for home care support hours but for whom the HSE has been unable to provide staff to carry out the care. The sheer volume of people telling me about their hardship in securing the basic amount of home support hours for their loved ones is enormous. There are people in Longford who must remain in hospitals or nursing homes because of the lack of resources. Simply put, the care hours are there but there are not enough carers to fill those hours, regardless of whether they are hired by a private operator or through the HSE. There has also been an increase in the number of people who have taken on the role of caring for their loved ones. On the other hand, however, some people may need to give up caring for their parents and seek employment because they are unable to access the carer's allowance. I have been dealing with a case where a family member is caring for her elderly parents in the home and has been refused the carer's allowance on two occasions. Her application is being appealed at the moment. If it is refused again, she will have no option other than to seek employment. Who will look after her parents then? There is no chance of getting extra home care support hours in her county.
We know it costs less to look after a person at home than in an acute hospital setting. Why are we not doing everything in our power to promote it? One in ten people provide care for a loved one in the home. By 2030, as a result of our ageing population and the increasing number of people with disabilities or chronic conditions, it is predicted that one in five people will need to take on a caring role. We need to take urgent action to support carers. Families will be unwilling to take on this role if something is not done to improve the system.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the new road safety strategy 2021-2030, which the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton is bringing to Cabinet today, in the new year. This is an important strategy with an overarching aim to reduce road deaths, which we will all support. It is worth noting for the information of Senators and road users that since the first road safety strategy was introduced in 1998, there has been a 70% decline in the number of road deaths. That is something we all welcome. The new strategy aims to eliminate all road deaths but quantifies it that it seeks to reduce the number of road deaths from 144 to 72 - with one death being one too many - and the number of serious injuries from 1,259 to 630. Ireland has signed up to Vision Zero, which involves eliminating all road deaths on our roads.
It is important that we have debate on the new strategy. I welcome many of the measures in the new road safety strategy but there is one that we will need to tease out further. We had a consultative process before the strategy was published. The measure I am concerned about is the possible opening up of an online portal for uploading footage of road traffic offences. I would be worried about that for a number of reasons. It is important that we all work to reduce the number of deaths on our roads and improve road safety. In that context, we should have a debate on the new strategy as a matter of urgency in the new year. Our roads are getting busy again and it is important that we have a new national road safety.
Christmas is a special time of year, with family and friends coming together to celebrate during the festive period. Sadly, however, it will not be a happy occasion for everyone, with empty seats at the family table, including my own. However, whatever pain I might feel does not compare with the pain and sorrow felt by those who for decades have mourned the loss of family members murdered as a consequence of the Troubles. In some cases, they have never found the bodies of their loved ones. Those families have been denied closure in the context of their pain.
Back in October, this House came together to pass an all-party cross-community motion to protect all victims and survivors of the Troubles from the denial of truth and justice. One Sinn Féin Senator said: “Generally speaking, the British Government defended the actions of its forces at the time of the killings and continues to do so weekly ... blocking relatives who are trying to get truth and justice." That same Senator, on Twitter two days ago, defended Gerry Adams who taunted victims of the IRA in a Christmas video which said: "They haven't not gone away you know".
Last week, Sinn Féin had the opportunity to show decency and compassion to the families of the disappeared. The current Sinn Féin leadership could so easily use the power and influence it has to actively seek out information on the disappeared across every part of its organisation, but it chooses not to do so. Those who defend Gerry Adams's actions this week have no right to lecture anyone about truth and justice or about building a new shared or reconciled Ireland.I will take Senator Ó Donnghaile's quote from eight weeks ago and I will fix it for him now. Generally speaking, Sinn Féin also defended the actions of its forces at the time of the killings and it continues to do so weekly in blocking relatives who are trying to get truth and justice.
There is a debate going on in one of our national papers about two of our MEPs who have adopted certain positions in respect of a range of issues. They have been called a national embarrassment by Kathy Sheridan. In today's paper, there is a letter defending their position from Clare Daly, MEP, and Mick Wallace, MEP.
It is not for me to say who is or is not a national embarrassment or what is embarrassing. It is not for me to say that about any particular MEP. As part of the MEP engagement in this Chamber, Clare Daly was here but, unfortunately, we did not have the time to properly go into these issues. In the letter reported today Clare Daly and Mick Wallace state that they think that Kathy Sheridan is embarrassed by their stance on the importance of a peaceful world order based on respect for international law, co-operation and diplomacy and the United Nations Charter. I take issue with that.
As I said, it is not for me to say what stance is embarrassing but at the same time we are talking about people who have described the Uighurs genocide in China as being a fabrication of the United States. That is embarrassing. There is not a single credible source in the world that does not believe that is happening. We are talking about people who have said that Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition leader in Belarus, is a pawn of the west. That is embarrassing. There is not a single credible source that suggests that. When you look at the hundreds of people who are still detained in Belarus as political prisoners, all of the evidence counteracts that.
When we look at these people, they are also part of a tiny minority who voted against a European Parliament motion to build closer unity with Taiwan. That is an embarrassment. While they talk about the rules of the international community and international rules based order they are flying in the face of that when they say that Taiwan is not entitled to be self-determination. That is an embarrassment. The next time that we have that MEP engagement we, as Senators, must put these points to both of those MEPs to give them an opportunity to explain their inexplicable stance in respect of important international law issues like that.
Last weekend, so many communities came together to celebrate Christmas in a safe way. For example, in Mountbellew we had a themed forest walk through the gorgeous forest there which was organised by the local community. They were very innovative in terms how they used their funding and in terms of design. They used the frames of two hanging basket to create a globe which was carried throughout the forest. At the end of it, children could meet with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. They even got to see Santa Claus's famous Christmas socks hanging on his washing line. In Aughrim, they had a sparkly tractor run, local craft stalls and, again, a visit to Santa Claus. Similarly, in Roscommon town there was an event held over two days on Saturday and Sunday in the new civic square, a €9 million investment under the urban regeneration and development fund. These groups are making these events accessible for families. It costs €20 for a family ticket, which is so reasonable. These communities are doing this for their local areas and they are making it accessible for families to be able to enjoy Christmas. They are doing this in their own local areas, which is phenomenal.
I want to acknowledge the mitigating against educational disadvantage fund which is being allocated through the educational and training boards. The fund is providing funding to so many groups, be they active retirement or local community groups, men's sheds or women's sheds. All across the region these groups are stepping up to provide laptops by way of device loans or loans for furniture such as seating in our community halls. More than €20,000 was allocated to Moore, which is just outside Ballinasloe. It is phenomenal that Moore will be able to provide that resource to people to access training and education. We need ensure that those who have been left behind by the digital divide have access to laptops and other devices such that can learn even basic computer skills so that they are able to engage in the world today.
I wish to raise in the House and bring to the attention of the Acting Leader a point that has been made by Members of both Houses in the last while but which now needs emphasis. We are going into the Christmas period. We are facing uncertainty over Covid and how it is developing. Most people would be of the view that we must be cautious. However, one thing that has not gone away you know is the necessity for Oireachtas accountability. I ask the Acting Leader to speak to the Cabinet about reinstating the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response. It was chaired by Deputy McNamara and did a good job in difficult circumstances for a period of time. I will take the booster vaccination programme as an example, and I wrote about this. I did so chiefly because I became eligible for a booster jab myself but nobody contacted me to say so. I took the initiative, went to my GP and got it. What struck me was there was a data bank that was in a position to send me a text before and could have done so again. I do not want to carp about the chaos we have seen with long queues and all the rest of it. However, I want some degree of Oireachtas supervision and accountability from the HSE as to how the booster programme, which is of vital importance, is being managed. The right way to do it is to have a specialist committee to which the HSE would be answerable on a weekly basis to explain what is happening.
On 30 November I stood in the House and called for all the resources of the State to be deployed to deliver the third vaccine dose, also known as the booster. I looked for pharmacies, especially those in rural areas, to be facilitated to open late, for the Defence Forces to be used where appropriate and for any possible resources needed in order to get booster jabs into people as quickly as possible. This happened in Israel and that country has a completely different narrative in terms of a third or fourth wave when compared to what we have. Of course, we are now talking about doing it but it is two to three weeks later. What concerns me is whether the Government listens at all to what is being said in the Seanad. I thought the proposal I made, which was supported by colleagues across the House, was very sensible. Had it been acted on then the talking would now be over and people would be getting more vaccines. We are now in a situation where the authorities are coming out with a plan this week but it will be Christmas week before it will be scaled up to the level it should have been scaled up to two weeks ago. I do not blame the people in the HSE and I certainly do not blame the people on the front line who are doing their level best to inoculate people and give them their third dose. However, there must be some accountability from the Minister and departmental officials for the foot-dragging.
I wonder also what has changed in a day or two with NIAC, in that suddenly the dose interval has gone from five months to three months even though this has happened internationally already. Why are we always behind the curve? Why are we not front and centre? Surely to God, at this stage of the pandemic when we are nearly two years in we have learned, or we should have, that what happens in England will happen in Ireland two or three weeks later because we are inextricably tied to the Border with Northern Ireland and because there is such free movement between our two islands. What happens in England and in Northern Ireland happens in the south of Ireland. There might be a delay of a couple of weeks but it happens.It is time we got in front of the curve rather than being constantly behind it. We must be ambitious and liberal in what we do to fight the pandemic, not careful and conservative.
I thank all Senators for their contributions. Senator Malcolm Byrne talked about it being National Irish Sign Language Day. It is important that we recognise this day. I admit that I do not know any sign language, but the Houses of the Oireachtas have done much work in recent years to promote sign language. It is great to see that debates on Oireachtas TV are signed. There has been an amount of work, but we could always do more. I will raise the matter again at a higher level.
Senator Byrne also mentioned the rather extraordinary letter from the 62 former and current players from the world of women's rugby. They referred to the "substandard commitment from the union, inequitable and untrustworthy leadership, a lack of transparency in the governance and operation of the women's game...and an overall lack of ambition about what it could achieve". The IRFU disputes that. The Senator referred to the committee and I have no doubt the Senator will raise such issues with it. The two Ministers have been contacted. I expect that the issues raised in this letter will be pursued with full vigour. There are a number of reviews going on at present regarding the game and what happened in terms of not reaching the tournament in Parma. It is important that the two reviews are independently assessed. I am sure the Ministers will do that.
The Senator also referred to my colleague, Deputy Ring, and to his outburst. I have seen some footage of it. I am sure it was born out of frustration with the system of governance in this country. It was not disparaging of the public service in its totality. Like any profession, those in the public service are mostly hard-working, diligent, trustworthy and everything else, but as in every profession - politics included - there are a few people who could and should do better. I know that from his time as a Minister, the Deputy would tell a few stories about some of the people he came across with whom he had issues. I do not think he was disparaging of all public servants. We all have public servants within our families – I certainly do. It is good to see Deputy Ring has fight in him again and is expressing his views within the Chamber in Parliament.
Senator Ahearn referred to funding for Christmas lights, which is very welcome. It is administered through the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, and the Local Government Fund. It will assist in reimbursing some of the spend in communities around the country. At this time of year, it is always great to see beautiful lights in towns and villages. In a lot of cases that is due to the hard work and effort of volunteers to fundraise in local communities, so any assistance from the local authorities or, in this case, the Local Government Fund, is welcome. The Senator also referred to the Cahir town centre public realm scheme. I wish it success in its rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF, application.
Senators Craughwell and Ó Donnghaile talked about the Miami Showband case. It is an atrocious reality that collusion took place. In this case, it was between the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers. Settlement and legal costs were arrived at with the UK Ministry of Defence and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Collusion is unbelievable, but it is not: it is reality. It is the reality of what happened in certain locations and this has now been accepted. Reference was made to collusion on both sides of the Border. I am not aware of anything on this side, but there may be evidence of which I am not aware. There are cases. It is despicable that there was such a misplacement of trust by those who are there to protect us and that it should be so abused.Senator Craughwell also touched on the Women of Honour. I will again talk to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, regarding it. I know all involved want to get this sorted for the sake of morale and the sake of the people affected. The Senator also talked about the offering of €100 credit towards electricity bills. The Cabinet will discuss electricity costs today. As the Senator knows, if means testing is started with any scheme there is major bureaucracy, so that is not practicable. I am sure the Cabinet will arrive at a decision today. The Senator also mentioned that if the €100 is not needed, it could be contributed to charity. I presume when the Senator said "charity" he did not mean Fianna Fáil, which is its new role now, but a more appropriate charity of choice for those who can afford it. Realistically and importantly, there are people for whom €100 would be very beneficial. They will not receive it before Christmas but they will know in February, once we get legislation through the Houses, that it will be available.
We all agree with Senator Garvey on supporting local green businesses in the run-up to Christmas, in addition to green initiatives, naturally made products and Christmas stalls, which is all pure common sense. It is something we need to put in place in all our local communities.
Senator Ó Donnghaile talked about the Nationality and Borders Bill. It is a very worrying Bill. Clearly, the UK has a right to defend its borders but, to go back to the whole Brexit debate, we are an island and we share a border with the UK, so it has a particular impact on us and on many non-Irish EU citizens. It is something we will have to watch. I did not hear the response of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but I know that he is fully aware and cognisant of the impact of this Bill.
Senator Wall spoke about a local school project. I understand there will be a meeting with the relevant Minister this evening, which I hope will be fruitful. It is always important for Ministers to engage, where they can, with local representatives on particular projects. The Senator also spoke about rail ticket pricing in Kildare. Equitable and fair rail fares are very important. Where public transport services are available, it is important that fares are equitable and that we maximise their use. If price is inhibiting use, that has to be looked at. There was a welcome initiative in the budget on reduced fares for younger people aged under 23, but it is important that we expedite use of rail and public transport where we can. I will ask that we have a debate on that issue in the new year.
Senator Murphy talked about the entertainment industry, about which I know he is very passionate. We will have a debate on Thursday on that matter. As he knows, a range of supports has been announced by the Minister. I am sure the Senator will get an opportunity on Thursday to engage with the Minister on their roll-out. There are particular issues with the live performance sector. It is a very frustrating time of year. The present restrictions are impacting so much on certain sectors. The Government has to step in to ensure that support is provided.
Senator McGahon spoke about the financial supports for charging points in apartment complexes. As we continue to see investment in renewable technologies, such as electric and hybrid vehicles, it is important that we have charging points. Anything we can learn from the Continent, in this case Germany, such as the use of light fixtures, needs to be looked at. The rolling out of additional technologies in communities will be very important. I saw the investment announcement today, but I welcome any and all investment that will make it easier to charge electric cars.
Senator Keogan spoke about medical exemptions from Covid passports at Christmas. I agree that if somebody, and this was always the case, has a medical reason for not wearing a mask or receiving a vaccine that needs to be accounted for. The Senator mentioned that the scary part is that we are accepting all of this. Unfortunately, the scary part is that there are still people getting seriously ill and dying from Covid. We have to continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. It goes back to the point about the efficient roll-out of the booster vaccine regime, which was raised by a number of Senators.
Senator Carrigy spoke about home supports. It is a pressing issue. Historically, we very often had issues with funding for carers and ensuring that we had enough money to support them.The problem now is that we have the funding but there are not enough carers available. It is a worthy and important profession and will become increasingly important. As families get smaller and people live longer, we will need more carers. The profession needs to be more valued than it is. We need to encourage people into the profession. That is important. I will ask for a debate on the matter.
Senator Buttimer talked about road deaths and road safety strategy. In general, there has been a decline of 70% since the first road safety strategy. Part of that involves the basics of ensuring that we have good tyres on our vehicles, that safety belts are used and that we combat drink- and drug-driving. That is all important, as well as the safety initiatives taking place in relation to realignment of roads, new road projects and motorways. They are all safer, which sometimes gets lost in the debate about new road projects. They are inherently safer than old, substandard roads, as we have seen with motorways. I will ask for a debate on that in the new year.
Senator Currie made an important contribution regarding Christmas, victims and the antics of Gerry Adams on video over the weekend where, it could be argued, he was trolling victims. I thought it was a disgrace. Some have defended him and some have chastised or not defended him. It was despicable to laugh and joke about "They haven't gone away, you know", "Tiocfaidh ár lá" and that sort of stuff. It is not right or proper. There are still people who were disappeared and whose remains have not been found. Loved ones deserve to get finality.
Senator Ward talked about two of our MEPs and their views on Taiwan and the Uyghur peoples. I concur with all he has said. Clare Daly was here during the recent debate with MEPS. There will be an opportunity in February for the Munster MEPS to address the House. Perhaps Mick Wallace will appear at that point. Ultimately, like all practising politicians, they stand before the electorate, are judged by it and what happens happens.
Senator Dolan talked about communities. We know the power of communities coming together to celebrate Christmas. It is wonderful to hear about the initiatives to which she referred. The funding for training of education and bridging the digital divide that was announced in recent weeks has been welcomed and there has been additional funding for DEIS schools compared with other schools. That is extremely important.
Senators McDowell and Conway talked about the booster campaign. It is going slower than one would have imagined. Unlike the start of the first campaign when the problem was clearly supply of vaccines, we are now told supply is not the issue. It is just about ramping up delivery. On one hand, it is not right that people are queueing for long periods; on the other, it is good to see the huge level of interest in getting the third dose of vaccine. The Senators are right that it could be rolled out more efficiently.
Regarding the committee, that would have to be considered. I will bring it to higher levels of Government. The original special committee was established before this House was fully constituted in the interregnum between the election and the formation of the Government, and before the Oireachtas committees were up and running. There was an all-party committee chaired by Deputy McNamara, who did a tremendous job, putting in a lot of work over summer 2020 during the initial response to Covid. Whether there is an appetite to go back to that or not is uncertain. The argument for disbanding the committee was, first, that it had done much work and possibly had fulfilled its role and, second, that the sectoral committees would fill the vacuum.