Wednesday, 15 December 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Health and Criminal Justice (Covid-19) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1 p.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3 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, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2021 - all Stages, to be taken at 3.30 p.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 4.30 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair, which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, the opening contributions of the Minister on Second Stage shall not exceed five minutes, the contribution of group spokespersons shall not exceed five minutes, and the Minister shall be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate, and Committee and Remaining Stages shall be taken immediately thereafter; No. 3, Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2021 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 5.45 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 Private Members' business No. 89, motion 2, regarding the TRIPS waiver to be taken at 6 p.m. with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
I support the Order of Business as outlined.
I want to give a shout out to St. Joseph's in Shankill, which specialises in dementia services. In fact, St. Joseph's is the only dedicated nursing home for people who suffer Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The staff there do an incredible job. They have put together a really exciting project and received Erasmus funding together with the European countries of Portugal, Spain and Greece, and Turkey, which is in the wider European area. The work done by the staff of St. Joseph's is really valuable and we should note same. It is important that we recognise and encourage organisations to come together and look for research funding in terms of dealing with all of the important issues that we have.
St. Joseph's has a project called Putting Project Dementia Right and is a rights-based approach to dementia. A charter of rights will be developed for people with dementia and, importantly, their care givers. They are looking at devising a European professional guide that will help anyone with dementia and their care givers. They will also produce innovative materials as a support. The work that Ms Siobhán Grant and her team are doing in St. Joseph's in Shankill needs to be noted and I wish them well. In early 2022, representatives of the four partner countries will come here and we will get to hear more about the project.
Last week, my colleagues and I met Mr. Mark Keane, president of PDFORRA, to discuss the people who joined post 1994. If they have not been promoted then they are obliged to leave after 20 years of service. If such a situation continues then we will lose approximately 1,400 personnel next year, which would be a ridiculous situation. We all know the pressure on the Defence Forces so it makes no sense to discharge medically fit and physically fit men and women who wish to remain in the force. There have been conversations about this matter with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, and I have spoken to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, on this matter. I hope that a decision will be made to change the situation.
Today is Animal Welfare Awareness Day and funding of almost €4 million has been given to 98 animal welfare organisations around the country, which is welcome. It is important to acknowledge the important role that these organisations and volunteers do day in and day out. It is also important to herald the new animal welfare strategy. As well as giving support, it is important that we send a strong message to anyone who is thinking of getting a pet for Christmas. I urge people to think long and hard about how much care an animal needs and then, if they decide to get an animal, they should go to the welfare organisations. My family has always got their animals from a local shelter. If people are not going to get an animal from a shelter then they should buy from a respected breeder.
It is important that we discuss the current state of the pandemic. It is a crisis that has affected this country for the last 21 months. If Senators listened to the media outlets this morning they will have heard that new regulations are due to come forward, through the Cabinet, in the next few hours. This House should discuss the new regulations. We must discuss whether the regulations will stipulate how many people can socialise together, for example. We must come to grips with the impact these regulations will have on society and on Christmas.
There is a huge issue concerning the booster vaccine and its roll out. In Cork, there were six vaccination centres during the first roll out of vaccines but that number has been cut down to three centres. There is also no vaccination centre at the Munster Technological University campus, Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Clonakilty. It has been a mistake to limit the number of vaccination centres. There have been huge queues, particularly at the weekend, and people have had to wait up to three hours in City Hall. All of that has had a huge impact on people's ability to get the vaccination booster.
Let us consider the change in legislation. I refer to the fact that the period between the second vaccine and receiving a booster vaccine has been reduced from five months to three months. That is a huge issue now. People want to get the vaccine but the restricted number of vaccination centres is becoming an issue. We need to re-engage and bring forward plans to re-open these vaccination centres in the next week or ten days. That must be a key focus in terms of what happens today.
We need vaccination centres. It makes no sense to close the centre in Clonakilty. There is now only one vaccination centre in Bantry to meet the vaccination needs of the entire west Cork area and it only does walk-in appointments on a Sunday. The capacity and geographical issues need to be taken into consideration. There needs to be a rethink so we need to know how many centres exist, who mans them and how long they are open. That information will help us to get the throughput of people through the vaccination centres. We have a significant problem in conveying the vaccination message to the people who want to be vaccinated, need to be vaccinated and have an opportunity to get a vaccine.
It is important that people can be vaccinated at the appropriate time.The step taken in respect of the three-month issue is of considerable importance. We have limited the time between the second and third shots. While we need to start to promote people to come in to get that as soon as we can, if they see three-hour queues, they will not do it. That is becoming an issue for us. Announcements are coming today which will be somewhat restrictive. We need to revisit the capacity issue in order that we can get these booster shots done.
I seek a debate early in the new year on sport. We sometimes take it for granted and I cannot recall much debate in all my time in this House on sport. I say that against the background of a week when the Government announced an €80 million financial boost to sport and that has to be welcomed. I would like to see a more even distribution and certainly some of the lesser-practised sports getting more funding. However, that is another day's work. We have moved a long way from the politicisation of the funding for these clubs. For so many years, it was about who was the Minister or whose constituency was it and I am happy to say we have moved on from that, which is a good thing.
Today on "Morning Ireland" the issue of women and young girls trying to access sport was covered. Under the chairmanship of Deputy Niamh Smyth, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media will meet to discuss the challenges facing women in sport. I would like to see from that discussion is a debate in this House early in the new year to which we invite the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, who, ultimately, has overall responsibility for sport, to come into us and talk about it.
I acknowledge there has been much progress on women and girls in the wider range of sports. I think of Kellie Harrington and Katie Taylor on the global stage, but I also think of ladies' football and hurling and the performances of Irish women on the soccer team that have boosted the profile of ladies' games and given young girls role models to look up to. That is very positive. How and ever, we still have issues. A club told me two weeks ago that women were outside and the changing rooms and pitches were locked. We still have facilities in which women cannot access the same public facilities as men in sport and we see this being raised in the local sports partnerships and other issues. There is a huge debate about equal access to sport and participation. The Government's announcements are a good news story, especially the local sports partnerships.
As I am conscious I will not be here for the Order of Business again this week, I will use this opportunity to thank the Cathaoirleach, the Clerk, his staff and all the staff involved in the running of this House and all the support teams, ushers and all the other staff. I especially want to single out the library and research team who do an amazing job, and the catering people, but especially that group. I thank them for their support to us, which enables us to do our work in this House. I wish all a very happy Christmas.
Even in such challenging Covid times, it has been and remains important for legislators to legislate, which is their primary role, on a wide raft of diverse topics of concern. This morning, I seek leave of the House to take No. 16 ahead of No. 1, thus permitting me to introduce my Bill entitled the Regulation of Air Traffic Over Sporting Events Bill 2021. This Bill, if enacted, would provide certain protections against unfair betting activities in sporting events and for that purpose to regulate the operation of certain aircraft over sporting events, when the organisers of these events seek and obtain the appropriate proposed designation. The Bill also provides, in certain circumstances, for exceptions to some for any area of airspace that may be restricted for the duration of a live sporting event. The Bill is a reasonable and proportionate response to a growing problem, which can distort the experience of people attending sporting events and give some an unfair advantage and undermines the organisation and organisers of such events. There is also a safety consideration.
It is not just about horse racing; it covers all sporting events. It is not just Ireland. There was a debate recently in the House of Lords. However, I am aware at first hand of the problems in three racecourses in the county where I live which impede members of the Garda in carrying out their functions, when there is a lacuna in the law, and the Garda is supportive of any initiative that can alleviate the problem and protect stakeholders adversely affected.
I thank a number of Senators for their support, especially Senators Paul Daly and O'Loughlin, who are aware of this issue. I look forward to it being debated in the fullness of time and legislated upon in the not-too-distant future.
There are reasons people find it so difficult to live at peace with who they are and to whom they are attracted, both physically and emotionally. The criminalisation of homosexuality until 1992 created a dark cloud over our country, enabling the kind of homophobia that existed in the institutions of the State, an Garda Síochána, in these Houses or among people who took it upon themselves to beat or sometimes kill those who did not conform.
More than six years on from marriage equality, almost monthly, there are reports in the LGBT press about homophobic and transphobic attacks. LGBT youth are still bullied in our schools for who they are and what they look like. More than one third of students reported being shoved or pushed because of their sexual orientation. One in ten of them have been punched, kicked or injured because of their sexual orientation. To accept that reality is to invite depression, anxiety, self-harm and attempted suicide. There are chilling statistics on all of this.
Last Tuesday, a Senator here spoke about the INTO LGBT group, BeLong To, Ireland's LGBT organisation for young people and ShoutOut. The Senator said that these groups "have been allowed to bring harmful and inappropriate resources, interventions and programmes into school". These groups do lifesaving work, for which I thank them. I want to work with Senator Keogan because I believe the kind of Ireland I caught a glimpse of in her contribution and articulated in her speech last Tuesday is not the kind of country in which she or any of us here want to live. My intention is not to embarrass anyone, it is more a plea to Senator Keogan to reflect on the power of her words. I also rise to protect the integrity of the work these groups do and highlight its importance in combating the bullying of LGBT youth by creating a safe and inclusive environment in our schools and allowing all children in our schools to be well informed about their family members, friends and schoolmates.
I pay tribute to Senator Warfield. It is often not easy to call something like that out but he is a credit to the community that brought him up and rather than pulling up the ladder behind him, he is leading the way on supporting young LGBT men, women and non-binary people coming up.
It is a bit embarrassing to follow it up because I will be following up with the technical and local issue of DART+ and BusConnects, which are vital public transport projects we will see rolled out in the coming years. DART+ and the expansion of a rail line in Dublin it entails is a welcome development, if we are to reduce the number of people travelling in cars and meet our climate action targets. That said, it is bizarre that we are rolling out these significant public transport projects but leaving certain elements of them unfinished.
One glaring omission in the current DART+ south west proposals is the lack of a station at Kylemore. Originally, we were told a space would be set out for a station to be built in the future and as recently as last week, it was said at the National Transport Authority, NTA's, information session on the greater Dublin area transport strategy that it could be possible for a station at Kylemore to be constructed in parallel to DART+ but that was not happening as part of the project.
This is apparently because including a station at Kylemore as part of DART+ would slow down the whole project. We are not connecting the dots or adding up, when rolling out this vital public transport infrastructure.While the last thing any of us would want to do is slow down the roll-out of a project like that, the slow development of public transport and of stations for areas such as Kylemore, Ballyfermot and Chapelizod is unacceptable. We need to do this right. Part of that is ensuring that the public actually have access to public transport through having stations in dense neighbourhoods. Essential to that is having stations or stops nearby.
As proposed, there will be no Dart+ station between Park West and Heuston Station. This will render the welcome extension of the Dart line inaccessible to so many people who live in the area. The whole city needs proper access to the expanded transport system. I urge the NTA to make spatial provision for future stations in areas such as Kylemore in parallel with the project as it is being rolled out.
I also wish to raise the beginning of the BusConnects roll-out and, specifically, the new C-spine bus route. Again, it is brilliant to see the long-awaited expansion of the system but it will also mean that many children who are going to school from Chapelizod to Lucan and who are getting the C-spine buses every day will have to walk a long way around. There is no footbridge being built to allow these kids to safely access the new bus route. Again, at the NTA session last week, it was stated that it would be part of the Dublin core bus corridor development but it would not be happening for some time yet. Both of these issues speak to the need for a wider approach with regard to the new transport strategy and making it easy and accessible for people to use public transport in this part of west Dublin.
I, too, will not be speaking again on the Order of Business this week so I wish everyone, both Members and Oireachtas staff, a very happy Christmas.
Christmas is a time I really enjoy. I love being at home with my family but it comes sometimes with a huge amount of guilt when I look around at my community and the hardships that people face. I can see the steady flow of loan sharks' cars coming in and out and what it takes for people to actually try to give their children what they want. As a lone parent trying to pay rent and not being in employment, I used loan sharks for many years. I know the loop that a person can get into with that when the credit union loans are building up. It got me thinking when I see that because I feel I am very in tune with my surroundings and with the environment in my community. It made me think of the efforts we go to not be poor but how we are poor.
Poverty now looks very different from what it did in the 1960s and 1970s. My dad used to tell me about bringing jam jars to the cinema to try to swap them for a ticket or about people having to put beer mats in their shoes because there was a hole in the sole. That is not what poverty looks like anymore. Because poverty does not look the way it used to, people do not realise that individuals are living in extreme poverty even when they have a pair of Nike trainers on their feet and a shiny new tracksuit on their back. The have the latter because they are doing everything they can to keep up appearances in order to not stand out and look different. It is hugely competitive out there and parents are trying so hard to be able to give their kids what they want. That comes at a bigger cost in the context of what poverty actually really means, however. No longer is it only poverty of material things; it is poverty of information, access, dialogue, cultural events, social capital and being able to choose what a person does with his or her life. It is poverty of not being able to engage in critical dialogue and analysis of what is going on with vaccines. Poverty seeps into so much of the psyche and impacts on people's health and well-being in such a stark way that it is so hard to get out of that loop.
I would like to have a debate on poverty in Ireland in the new year. I am very familiar with urban poverty, but I know the rural experience can be very different. We need to discuss what poverty looks like in the more general sense in the 21st century. We also really need to discuss the systems that perpetuate poverty in order that we can move beyond making cosmetic change to policies and actually look at real system change that will end poverty in Ireland.
I endorse the remarks of my colleague, Senator Warfield, in response to comments made by Senator Keogan last week. I happen to know the work that BeLonG To, ShoutOut, Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, and the INTO LGBT+ Teachers Group happen to do. They provide confidence to young people when they are often at a particularly vulnerable stage in their lives. Their motivation is not political. Their motivation is purely about giving young people certainty, often at a very vulnerable stage. It is important to acknowledge that work in this House. We have made enormous advances in tackling homophobia. We have probably not gone quite as far in tackling transphobia. There is still much work to do and language does count. For young people, particularly teenagers, it is really important that they feel that they have the support at that stage in their lives. I strongly support Senator Warfield's remarks in that regard.
I wish to raise an issue concerning social media and I am aware that we have the online safety and media regulation Bill in this House in the new year. Mr. John Hand, who is a journalist with the Irish Mirror, wrote a story about the crime boss, Daniel Kinahan, which he then posted on Twitter. An anonymous account reported him to Twitter because he made reference to Daniel Kinahan as a drug baron and crime boss. On foot of that anonymous account, John Hand's Twitter account was frozen. This comes back to one of the regular problems we have seen with Twitter's failure to deal with anonymous accounts. In this case, however, a reputable journalist, who was reporting on a crime boss, had his account frozen. We now need to ensure, as part of the legislation that is coming in the new year, that we take strong action to deal with anonymous accounts. I also expect that in areas such as this we would see more responsibility being taken by social media companies.
I support Senator Warfield as well. I have three requests today, the first of which relates to the vaccination programme. I ask the HSE to reopen the vaccination centres in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the Munster Technological University and Clonakilty in County Cork and to redeploy staff to those centres. It makes no sense that those centres are closed in light of the fact that we are ramping up the programme relating to vaccine booster doses. I ask that the redeployment happen as a matter of urgency. I also that we work with community pharmacists and GPs. In the biggest county in Ireland, it makes no sense to have only two vaccination centres right now. I ask that the Minister for Health address this matter immediately.
My second request is regarding primary schools. I call on the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to close primary schools on Friday. I do so for a number of reasons. One is that Covid-19 is running riot in our primary schools, whether it is through close contacts or actual physical cases. Absenteeism in primary schools is at an all-time high. I know of one instance where from a population of fewer than 700, there are 100 absent from the school. I ask this of the Minister in the interests of public health. We all know there will be intergenerational mixing over Christmas. To stop or limit the spread of Covid-19, I ask the Minister to close primary schools on Friday to allow for a planned reopening in January but also to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Primary schools are probably the one place where we have the most unvaccinated people, young people in particular, gathering at any one time, although they are wearing masks. I appeal to the Minister for Education to close primary schools on Friday next as a public health measure in order to support the good work being done by the Government and the HSE.
We are approaching the season of peace and goodwill. "Pax" is the Latin word for peace. All I want for Christmas is a packet of Paxlovid.
I know that Senators Warfield and Keogan are good people and people of goodwill, and I believe much more unites than divides them. However, this is what I would like to see. Criticisms may perhaps be made regarding what is sometimes now put across in our schools. We can all unite about making our schools cold houses for bullying of any kind and promote the self-esteem and identity of every person while allowing people to have their deeply felt values and convictions, as they do about sexuality, family and all of that, all of which are really important. We need to stop shaming people for their points of view and get into discussion to see what can unite us.
I commend Senator O'Loughlin on reminding us that today is Animal Welfare Awareness Day. One thing I have observed in recent years, which may be a strange twist in our society, is that we are perhaps better at loving other people's animals than we are at loving other people's children.I am an animal lover. Maybe that is to do with the vulnerability of animals but sometimes children are vulnerable and there is no person more vulnerable than the unborn child.
That is why I want to draw the attention of colleagues to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) (Foetal Pain Relief) Bill 2021, which will be discussed on Second Stage in the Dáil today. Growing amounts of scientific literature are revealing the fact that unborn babies have developed sufficiently by 20 weeks' gestation to experience symptoms of pain, with other studies indicating that this capacity to feel pain may manifest even earlier than 20 weeks. In cases of late-term abortion, including dilation and evacuation abortions where an unborn baby is dismembered, it is heart-wrenching to think that an unborn child may suffer such undue pain. Irrespective of whether my colleagues fully subscribe to the findings of the latest scientific research, a precautionary provision of pain relief medicine is surely a minor and just way to ensure that unborn babies do not suffer undue pain in late-term abortions. We must not try to obfuscate or talk about deferring to the doctors; we are here to legislate for the common good. We must not have a conspiratorial eye and dig our heels in on the basis of whether we label ourselves pro-life or pro-choice. I am asking for a reset on this issue to see if we can unite about something basic and decent. I am asking if we can also consider the human animal on this world animal welfare day. That is not a lot to ask.
I second Senator Martin’s proposed amendment to the Order of Business and compliment him on the fantastic Bill he is putting forward, which I have read. It is a vitally important Bill for all sporting events. Since the inception of pay-per-view television, the main source of income of many sporting organisations has been the sale of their media rights. Something needs to be done to eliminate the practice of people illegally broadcasting those rights. It is giving some people an unfair advantage in gambling, which is another day’s debate, with time lapses and so on. I compliment the Senator on his Bill. It is a pleasure to second his proposed amendment.
I raise the EU Covid certificate. Now that we are getting up and running in a serious manner with the booster campaign, it is vital that, hand in hand with that, we give people acknowledgement on their Covid certificates that they have had the booster jab. A number of countries are putting an upper time limit on the duration of vaccination and the Covid certificate. Depending on the country, the Covid certificate can become invalid five or six months after the date of the second vaccination. We could further encourage people who need to travel to these areas to take the booster jab by including it on the Covid certificate. This would elongate the certificate's lifespan and open many doors for people when it comes to travel, entertainment or whatever.
I welcome the good news on the allocation of over €10 million to Shannon Airport and the announcement of 130 jobs for Limerick and the mid-west. On world animal welfare day, the feral cats project in Murroe was awarded €12,000 and Limerick Animal Welfare was awarded over €76,000. This is great news from the Government for Limerick and the mid-west and I welcome it.
I bring to the attention of the Acting Leader, Senator Kyne, that I am friendly with somebody who does private tours and encourages people to come to visit Ireland. In March 2022, the company had 15 group bookings. It now has none and February is similar. This person brought it to my attention that previously people would cancel and rebook for a later date. There is a fear factor and people are not booking. There will be empty buses in February and March, the time of the year when the weather is improving and they tourists are expected to visit the country. We will have to look at supporting these businesses.
I am here this morning because I gave a commitment to the families of those who died in the Stardust fire that I would never stop advocating for them and fighting on their behalf. I am back again to raise the Stardust inquest. On 22 February 2022, the arrangement between the Department of Justice and the RDS for the location of the inquest will expire. While assurances have been given by the Department of Justice that it is working on a venue, it is only fair to say that the State’s track record on the Stardust fire has been one of systemic abuse of the families. The families are, therefore, rightly anxious. The Minister for Justice must give them certainty ahead of Christmas. They have always argued for a centrally located and appropriate venue for the inquest, which will be the largest in the history of the State. The families are travelling from many different parts of the country and some have mobility issues, so it is only right that the venue for the inquest should cater to their needs.
In the past year and a half, I had to come into this House to ensure all families have access to legal aid in the inquest. I had to come back again to seek a solution to the situation whereby everyone was getting paid except the families' lawyers. Here I am, back again. I ask the Acting Leader if he will seek a firm commitment from the Minister for Justice to find an alternative venue or extend the current arrangement by the end of this year in order that the families do not have to face into the new year not knowing where the inquest will be held and if there will be delays as a result. They at least deserve that certainty ahead of the Christmas holidays. I appeal to the Acting Leader to write to the Minister for Justice and seek that clarity for the families.
Further to Senator Warfield’s contribution, I acknowledge the concerns that have been raised. Our priority is children’s health and well-being and it is about inclusion for all. The Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has recently done a report on bullying, including cyberbullying, which affects one in three children. That is shocking and we have to do our utmost to reduce it. I know a consultative approach is being taken and I acknowledge that the Department of Education will do a final round of consultations on a number of the reviews throughout 2022.
I welcome the funding for Ireland West Airport Knock. Just yesterday, we heard incredible remarks from a Deputy in the Dáil on the Galway city ring road. This was a week after the deadline for the connecting Ireland rural mobility plan. I campaigned in Galway and Roscommon to highlight that we do not have bus connections to our towns and cities and that some of the public services in the area are atrocious. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is putting in place a plan to support connections which we desperately need. To where will these buses travel and on what roads will they travel? I am curious about that. Is there a cloud function available for buses? I do not think so.
People in Galway are at their wits' end. I travelled to and worked in National University of Ireland Galway. I commuted for up to six or seven months before I made the decision that trying to commute from Ballinasloe to Galway was pretty much impossible. I would arrive late and I never knew at what time I would arrive. It took 25 minutes to get from Ballinasloe to Galway hospital, which was perfect, but the time it took to travel about 3 km across the city changed from day to day depending on the time of arrival, if I got up early enough, got out of the house at 6.30 a.m. or hit the city at 7.30 a.m. A ring road is crucial infrastructure, which we do not have. Look at the other cities in the world that have this infrastructure. How on earth will we get investment in the west of Galway city and the likes of Moycullen, Clifden and Spiddal?
I was not due to speak this morning but I was in my office and I listened intently to Senator Warfield’s contribution. I have never come into this House without doing research on subjects I have spoken about. When I speak about something I speak with knowledge of the subject I am talking about. With subjects like this, I always come from a place of love, compassion and a wish to protect children.That is all I come from. If anybody wants me to brand me as anything else, I would say that the three things I always bring into this Chamber are love, compassion and protection when it comes to the safeguarding of our children. We may have different views on things. When it comes to subjects like that or the education of our children-----
Sorry, through the Chair. My door and heart are always open to talk about issues. When it comes to the education of our children, it is important that we have these conversations and that the correct policy is there to educate our children, from primary through to secondary level. I certainly want children to grow up in a happy environment and to be the people who they are.
Friday is the deadline for the greater Dublin area draft transport strategy for 2022 to 2042. Within that is the revised greater Dublin area cycle network. The last strategy was in 2013. I am not sure that people are aware that the new cycle network is in the plans, so I would like to bring people's attention to that. On close inspection, it seems that the concept of a Liffey Valley greenway has been dropped in those plans, which is disappointing. The Liffey Valley is thankfully protected under a special area amenity order. It needs more protections from an environmental point of view. There is potential for a greenway between St. Catherine's Park, Strawberry Beds, St. Edmundsbury, Waterstown Park, Farmleigh Park and the memorial gardens in Islandbridge. Being able to cross the Liffey at different points, as people used to use the Liffey a long time ago, would connect the villages of Leixlip, Lucan, Clonsilla, Castleknock, Chapelizod and Palmerstown. It is an exceptional, outstanding area of beauty and biodiversity. It is an ecological corridor of cultural and heritage value. By providing a sustainable route, it could be a world-class sustainable tourism trail. I am asking for the Liffey Valley greenway to be reinstated into the greater Dublin area cycle network by the National Transport Authority. I am seeking better environmental protections. We need to open it up responsibly to the public and protect it from development.
I would like to address Senator Buttimer's remarks about closing schools early. The coming period is a wonderful time for our children in primary schools. It is important that they stay in school until the end for many reasons. I know there will be public health advice if a school needs to close due to its own specific circumstances. I think that, in general, schools should remain open until the end of the school term.
I welcome the UK Supreme Court judgment that the PSNI decision not to investigate the so-called Hooded Men incident was wrong. This is another example of how the British state structure systematically failed, time and time again, to uphold any decency or rule of law. It colluded with both sides of that war.
Absolutely. This type of injustice and the intergenerational pain and trauma go on without answers. These families are suffering time and time again. They do not know where their family members are. We come in here repeatedly and we ask the so-called best Opposition in the country where the bodies are. Where is Columba McVeigh? Who killed Jean McConville on the beach that I played as a wee girl? Who killed her and left her there to rot? Who killed Tom Oliver? None of these answers are ever given. There is no hierarchy of justice. These people and families are suffering and we need answers from every quarter, including the British and the terrorists.
Yesterday, 14 December, was International Sign Language Day. We should always celebrate that day because this House, under the Cathaoirleach's leadership, was responsible for the Irish Sign Language Act, which was signed into law on 24 December 2017. During the pandemic, we saw, front and centre, how important signers are. I offer a shout-out to the people who work in sign language, train our signers and use the service.
I previously raised the situation where people in rural Ireland pay more for their train and bus fares than people living in suburban Dublin and the suburbs of other cities. It is unacceptable that people travelling from Ennis to a college in Galway pay 40% more for their rail fare than people living in Maynooth and going to college in Dublin. It is the same with buses. Somebody living in Ennis who is studying in the University of Limerick pays more to travel by bus, with Bus Éireann, than somebody living in Leixlip who is studying in UCD. We are either serious about public transport or we are not. If we are serious, we would create a level, equitable playing pitch for everybody, irrespective of what part of Ireland they are from. We are providing €100 per household for electricity bills, which will cost €200 million, yet we are crucifying young people who want to live at home, use public transport and go to college. I do not see the logic in not dealing with this. I commend two people who have campaigned on this for a long time, Councillors Joe Fox and Sharon Tolan. They regularly point out the stupidity of the fare structure in this country. In January, I would like a specific, focused debate on public transport charges in rural areas compared with urban areas.
Over the weekend, there was speculation in the Irish Independentafter an interview with the Minister for Finance that the Government wanted to introduce tax cuts of up to €600 over the next three years. I welcome that. I firmly believe that it is better for individuals to have money in their pockets to decide how they should spend it and ultimately inject it back into the local economy. I welcome the premise of the idea. I ask that the Government and Minister consider a marginally different approach whereby, instead of an incremental tax cut which the individual gets over 12 months, it might be better to look at a single tax rebate that could be delivered at the end of the year or in January. That is the toughest time financially for many people. If we are going to go ahead with tax cuts, absolutely, let us do so. Let us be radical about it.
I make a point of not interrupting other Members when I speak in this House. I would appreciate if Senator Warfield gave the same courtesy to me.
I will return to my point from before I was interrupted. This would be a good idea and we should look at it. It benefits ordinary workers. Let us cap it for higher earners too. We should do this. If we are going to do it anyway, let us do it with a single rebate. It is used regularly in most European countries and other states around the world. I would appreciate a debate in the new year about our tax brackets and what we intend to do with tax over the next two to three years.
The Dean Maxwell home in Roscrea is a residence for long-term residents. There is real concern within the community and the area about a deadline for long-term residents of 1 January 2022. There has been much confusion and many promises made. There is real concern within the Roscrea Community Development Council.In fairness, Mr. Steve Crofton sent a letter to Deputies outlining the concerns of the council about the matter with a request that the deadline of 1 January 2022 be extended. Promises were made in Tipperary that the national development plan review would have a statement in it about the funding of the Dean Maxwell facility. There was no such statement in the national development plan review, which means there is no funding there at the moment to keep the facility going.
The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, in fairness, has visited the facility but we are now in a situation where the senior Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, needs to give clarity to people in the Roscrea community. It is not right or proper that they are being led down different paths by what is being said to them with no clear indication from the Department of Health or the Minister, in particular. A letter was sent a couple of months ago to the effect that the facility was going to close on 1 January 2020. That caused absolute outrage at the time. There is still no clarity on the matter and we are only three weeks away from 1 January.
Staff at the Dean Maxwell facility are wonderful people who give a fantastic service for the community of Roscrea and the surrounding areas. It would be helpful if the Minister gave some clarity and made a statement to reassure the community and the Roscrea community development council before the Christmas period.
I want to talk about cyberbullying and, in particular, gender-based cyberattacks that are taking place against people across this country and continent. We have made a lot of progress recently in terms of legislative initiatives and making it clear that certain online activity must be illegal and cannot be tolerated. It is important we set down those markers to recognise the damage this kind of activity does to individuals, particularly women, who seem to be much more often the target of that activity, and to society as a whole. In that regard, we need to move into spheres that are less legislative and more campaign based, to inform people about their obligations and the risks involved in posting abusive posts, trolling, posting images that are illegal and that kind of thing.
I acknowledge the work of Ms Maria Walsh, MEP, in the European Parliament in that regard. Ms Walsh and Ms Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi, a Greek MEP, both members of the European People's Party, have called for a campaign from the European Commission to tackle gender-based cyber-violence against people. That is the kind of measure I would like to see us adopt here. There is room for us to have a debate on this issue and to bring the Minister for Justice before the Seanad to discuss what measures the Department of Justice can put in place to mount a campaign in this jurisdiction specifically targeted at the people who are involved in this kind of activity, to make it clear to them just how much damage they do, just how unacceptable it is and just how criminal it is so that if people are going to engage in this kind of activity, they know the risks involved, that it is illegal and there will be criminal consequences at the end of it.
I thank all Senators for their contributions on a wide variety of topics, starting with Senator O'Loughlin. She talked about the work of the St. Joseph's centre in Shankill regarding dementia. I compliment her, as chair of the all-party committee on dementia, on her work in highlighting the issue and engaging with experts in the whole area of dementia. It is important work because we never know who in our family or among our loved ones will be impacted by dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Senator O'Loughlin also raised the issue of PDFORRA and the 1,000 soldiers who will retire next year after 21 years of service. I will talk to the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, about that. She also raised the welcome €4 million funding for animal welfare charities, as did Senator Maria Byrne. I concur, as I am sure we all do, with the Senators' statements about the valuable work animal welfare charities do up and down the country.
Senators Lombard and Buttimer raised the issue of Covid-19 and the booster vaccination programme, and called for the reopening of centres in Cork. Decisions are being considered in respect of, for example, the 15-minute waiting period. Consideration is also being given to the three-month and five-month period between second jabs and a booster jab. All of that will be taken into account and I am sure we will see increased resources being put into the provision of the best possible booster campaign. I will certainly ask the Minister for Health to look at the number of centres in Cork. We will also see an enhanced role for pharmacists and GPs in the provision of the booster campaign.
Senator Boyhan talked of the importance of sport to women and girls. Access to sport is important and I will ask for a debate on that matter in the new year. If I remember correctly, it has been some time since we had a debate on sport in the House. I will ask for that.
Senators Martin and Paul Daly talked about legislation. I have not seen the Bill and I am not entirely familiar with what will be initiated or what is planned. However, I am sure it will come before us on some future date and we will give it every consideration at that point. I commend the Senators on the work they have done on the issue of betting and their intention to provide better protections around fair betting.
Senator Warfield, supported by Senators Buttimer and Maria Byrne, and responded to by Senator Keogan, talked about LGBT issues and comments made recently by Senator Keogan. I do not know what to say. It is a matter of live and let live and walk a mile in my shoes or her shoes. Everybody is different. Everybody goes through their own situations. Everyone has their own issues. For young people, in particular, growing up with issues around their sexuality or gender, nobody other than themselves can understand what they are going through. It is difficult to judge anybody based on one's own experiences. Everyone is an individual. Everyone has the right to live, to be loved, to love, to be respected and cherished, and not to be bullied, stigmatised or anything like that. It is important that we give everyone, and particularly young people, the chance to live their best lives. There are enough pressures and stresses on life in this world without being bullied for who you are or who you are trying to be. Live and let live. Let everyone experience their life to the best of their abilities.
Senators Moynihan and Currie talked about transport issues, the DART+ expansion and BusConnects. I am not entirely familiar with the projects they raised. Perhaps some of them might be better suited to a Commencement debate in the new year. I know that for any of these strategies, there are public consultation periods and I am sure the Senators will participate in those.
Senator Conway spoke about the fare structure. There are areas without adequate public transport and areas with public transport that is so expensive it is prohibitive. There is a need for a root-and-branch approach. I know the National Transport Authority is doing work to increase the level of public transport. The Government made a decision in the most recent budget to reduce the cost of transport for those aged under 23. Consultation is certainly needed. Senator Currie also talked about the greenway at Liffey Valley. Those initiatives are all part of the consultation process and people and communities need to be engaged with and listened to.
Senator Ruane talked about loan sharks and poverty. I will request a debate on poverty. It is an important topic. Not everyone experiences it but we all know that it happens in certain communities. It happens even in some of the communities that are perceived as better off. People do not know what others go through behind closed doors, their problems and costs, what members of their families are going through, or what issues they are facing, whether because of gambling, drug addiction or the cost of living, which we have all seen rise. The Government is doing its best to respond to that rise. I will ask for a wider debate on that issue.
Senator Malcolm Byrne talked about the suspension of the Twitter account of a Mr. John Hand. Perhaps we need to look at the regulation of Facebook and its workings again in the new year.
Senators Buttimer and McGreehan had a difference of opinion about primary schools. In case anybody feels that will result in a decision being made quickly, any decisions in this regard will be made by the Government on the advice of public health officials and the Minister for Education and not in response to any individual calls for closures. I respect the different views of the Senators.However, as it is, the Government and the Minister will make the decisions and announce if there are to be any changes.
Senator Mullen commented on the season of goodwill, and so say all of us, and on the need to stop shaming people. He referred also to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) (Foetal Pain Relief) Bill 2021 on the unborn. It is being debated in the Dáil today and it will be voted on. Again, I am sure we are all receiving much correspondence on this very difficult issue. Obviously, it is an issue that deserves fuller debate. Members of the health committee will review the working of the legislation which will be initiated in the new year. Areas such as this that were not part of the original Bill should be at least looked at and investigated to see whether there is an important role as should the science behind this. I am sure there will be a fuller debate in the Dáil. If it passes in the Dáil, it will reach us at a later date.
Senator Daly talked about the EU digital Covid certificates. Again, they are being updated in different countries with different approaches. In France, the third dose is required to be regarded as having a Covid certificate or a Covid passport. The question is, where is it all going to end? Will there be a fourth shot in early summer? Will there be another shot again next winter? Will it be something that we will have with us permanently? One of the Senators requested a debate on changes in regulations. I am not sure what changes in regulations have been planned for today but if there are any changes they will be announced. If it is possible to have an update before the close of term, I would agree with that.
Senator Boylan talked about the Stardust inquest and requested that we write to the Minister for Justice. I will arrange for that to happen and I will talk to her about it. Certainly, having peace of mind for Christmas or by the end of the year would certainly be beneficial to all families involved.
Senator Dolan talked about the Galway city ring road. I thought it was only me who talked about that in these Houses. Certainly, I very much concur with her commentary on that. It is an often expressed view in Galway that we have been left behind in terms of infrastructure compared to Limerick, Cork and Dublin. It is largely because projects and programmes have been delayed by objections, not because of the will of the Government or anything like that. We have been brought to every court in the land and, indeed, the EU and this has resulted in projects not going ahead. The Senator does not need to convince me of the value of the Galway city ring road. Others will have different opinions, but An Board Pleanála has made its decision and I hope that we can progress that project.
Senator McGreehan talked about the verdict in the hooded men case. In my other role, I remember answering a Topical Issue on behalf of the Minister for Justice on this matter a number of years ago. Again, the UK Supreme Court has ruled that the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, was wrong not to investigate allegations of torture used against the hooded men 50 years ago. It said the decision has been based on the seriously flawed report and ought to be quashed. That is obviously welcome because justice is important, as is justice for the victims of terrorism, as the Senator pointed out.
Senator McGahon asked for a debate on tax. I have often said in these Houses that if you never change the tax bands, everybody will end up paying the higher rate of tax at some stage because they have to move with inflation and in line with earnings. On his question on to tax rebates, I am sure he will take that up directly with the Minister for Finance. Perhaps his suggestions can be raised in a Commencement matter debate as well in the new year.
Senator Ahearn talked about a particular project. It is too late in the year to advise him to put a Commencement matter because he is looking for clarity before 1 January. I advise him to make direct contact with the Minister on that very important topic. There appears to be a threat of closure from January. The Senator said the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, visited the centre in the past, so I am sure she is fully aware of the issue. Therefore, I would advise him to take it up directly with the Ministers involved in advance of January.
Senator Ward talked requested a debate with the Minister for Justice on cyberbullying and abusive posts. It goes back to comments regarding Facebook and the suspension of accounts Senator Byrne talked about. Again, I will request the Minister for Justice to come in the new year to talk on this very important issue.
Senator Vincent P. Martin has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: “That No. 16 be taken before No. 1.” The Acting Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.