Seanad debates

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

2:30 pm

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including the recent report of Amnesty International, to be taken today at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude at 6.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and with the Minister not to be given less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 2, statements on the situation in Ukraine, to be taken today at 7.30 p.m. and to conclude at 9 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed five minutes and the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and with the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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At the outset, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that No. 22 be taken before No. 1. I also join with the Leader's remarks with regard to the late John A. Murphy. I also want to extend our condolences on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group to Senator Paul Daly on the passing of his father, Seán Daly, to the Senator's mum and Seán's wife, Mary, and to the extended family. The funeral took place this morning. On behalf of our grouping, we extend our condolences to Senator Daly and his family.

Today marks the beginning of March, which is endometriosis awareness month. Members will be aware that this is an issue that I have long campaigned on and am very passionate about. It is very important that we have this month of awareness because we are trying to achieve a greater knowledge among young girls and women of what endometriosis is and how it can affect one's menstrual cycle, health and well-being.One of the greatest things we can do for young girls and women is to provide education, which will empower them to ask the questions they need to ask regarding their own healthcare. Endometriosis is one of the top four gynaecological conditions representing 80% of referrals to gynaecology departments. It is a significant issue affecting one in ten women throughout the world and, therefore, 10% of women and girls in Ireland are affected by this chronic condition. I join in supporting the Endometriosis Association of Ireland, which is running a month-long campaign of awareness throughout the country on its social media platforms to raise awareness of that condition.

We will have statements on the situation in Ukraine later. It is posing some very challenging questions for us as a country to consider. There has been a lot of conversation throughout the country about how we can help and stand, in practical terms, in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. As we speak, there are collection points across the country for clothing, food, baby nappies and baby food, but people are asking what is the best way we can help the Ukrainian people. Is it through donations to the Irish Red Cross? Is it working through our Ministers? Is there a proper channel through which to funnel that goodwill? We could do with some direction from the Government on what is the best way to practically help to get equipment and supplies to people on the ground as quickly as possible.

The visa waiver for those Ukrainians entering the country is welcome. It was disappointing it came when the flights out of Ukraine had stopped. That decision could have been made a little quicker. I cannot understand why there was any delay whatsoever. My gut reaction would have told me of course that we would open our doors and let people in. We left that a little too late. Better late than never, but we could have made it a bit easier to get people out of the country and get them here safely.

We will deal with the questions later regarding what the Ukrainian situation means for us as a member of the EU. I stand fully behind the members of the European Parliament whom I believe will unanimously pass a resolution calling for entry of Ukraine into the bloc as a member state. Some officials at European Union level are saying this may take years to happen. We have elected members versus officials. The elected members speak for the people on the ground. The view of most people is that Ukraine should be admitted expediently into the bloc. That would be good for all of us. We will come back to that later.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I would like to speak about Ukraine. I was really struck by the press release from the Auschwitz memorial at the weekend. It gave a great summary of what our disposition should be. It stated:

This act of barbarity will be judged by history, and its perpetrators, it is to be hoped, also by the International Court of Justice. As we stand at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, it is impossible to remain silent while, once again, innocent people are being killed purely because of insane pseudo-imperial megalomania. We express our absolute solidarity with the citizens and residents of free, independent, and sovereign Ukraine and with all Russians who have the courage to oppose this war. At this moment the free and democratic world must show, if it has learned its lessons from its passivity of 1930s. Today, it is clear that any symptom of indifference is a sign of complicity.

I am proud we have expressed ourselves as a nation in support of Ukraine. I am proud of all the actions the EU has taken and that they were taken quickly, and I expect them to be implemented quickly. What was the Russian response? It was to put its deterrent forces on special combat duty. Its response was to shoot a family trying to flee with its children to safety, to shoot dead a beautiful little girl, Polina, and her parents, to strike civilian buildings, to shoot other children and parents and to murder civilians. Its response is to send a military convoy of anything between 27 km and 60 km in length with a mission to murder other innocent families and innocent children.

There is no such thing as neutrality in the face of atrocity. We are not neutral on Ukraine. I am not neutral on Ukraine. Today, Polina is not in her fourth grade class because she has been murdered in the name of an evil lie and evil man supported by his lackeys. Today, Ukrainian children are not at school, in parks or in playgrounds. They are in underground car parks and in basements fearing for their lives. I have seen the photographs of people I can name and know, and know where they are right now. There is no neutrality in the face of such atrocities. Today, children with illnesses and in need of comfort and treatment in hospitals are in basements in the dark, in fear of being killed. They have been carried there by their terrified parents and are being cared for by staff in fear of their lives and those of their families. Today, there are vulnerable Irish citizens, our nation's babies, in Ukraine. We want them home. I find the calls to expel the Russian ambassador impotent and ill-informed, to be perfectly honest. It is not that I would not happily march the man to Dublin Airport myself but our diplomatic links, however distasteful, may be necessary. I do not want the ambassador to be expelled, but I want him to know that we are not neutral on human suffering. We are not neutral on Russia's atrocities. I am calling for a debate on our neutrality. Standing together in the EU may bring the support Ukraine needs. Standing together with the nations of the world that stand against these atrocities may well be the end that is stimulated by the Russian people, many of whom have expressed such courage in the last few days. Standing together, we say that there is no neutrality in the face of atrocity.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom aontú leis na focail atá ráite ag an Leas-Chathaoirleach i dtaobh bás John A. Murphy agus comhbhrón a dhéanamh lena chlann. Tírghráthóir, staraí uasal agus Seanadóir thar barr a bhí ann. Tá brón mór orm go bhfuil sé tar éis bás a fháil. Bhí sé mar chomhshínitheoir mo nomination paper in 2016. Táim an-bhuíoch de as sin.

We are going to make statements on the Ukrainian situation, but we should be adopting a motion. We should be declaring clearly where we stand. Statements are not enough any more. We all know what we would like to state and we all know what we will state in advance, but we must place on the record of this House that we have come to a decision about what has happened and that we are making a declaration, in precise terms, of where we stand on this issue. I am not going to divide the House on the matter but I ask the Leader to consider whether in substitution for statements, we can have a motion that we all agree on and pass, so that the Irish people know where this House stands on the issue.

As Senator Seery Kearney has said, we are dealing with murder on a massive scale. We are dealing with the attempted annihilation of a European democracy. This is happening in our time because we have been blind, in the past, to the emerging Sino-Russian alliance, which has emboldened tyrannies both in Beijing and Moscow to use force and threaten to use force in breach of all international norms. Going back to 1956, I recall Hungarian refugees coming to my house on Leeson Street and selling goods just to survive. I remember the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Members will be glad to know that in 1978, and the other day, I was outside the Russian embassy on Orwell Road, protesting on the tenth anniversary of that event. We must learn one lesson from all of this, which is the following. If the leaders of the Russian people, however that leadership is constituted, want to live in a world where they can do this to other people, they must live in the same world that Brezhnev and others did in 1956 and 1968. They must live in a Cold War world where they have nothing to do with the West, where we cut off all economic ties with them and reduce diplomatic ties to the absolute minimum and where the Russian people bear the brunt of international aggression. We must be ruthless in pursuing that aim. This time, the Russian people must know in their hearts, not what they probably sense in secret, that their leadership has brought them into a barbaric, criminal war and that they must pay the price for that. We must ensure that the people of Ukraine, such of them as will be there in a week's time and so much of Ukraine as a democracy as will exist in a week's time, have not made their sacrifices while the West stood idly by.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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The Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, also conveys its sympathy on the death of former Senator John A. Murphy. He was a towering intellectual. Thousands and thousands of people enjoyed reading his erudite published pieces in Sunday newspapers and elsewhere. I did not always agree with him. Other Senators referred to former Senator Andy O'Brien, who showed that constitutional republicanism is alive and well in Fine Gael. It is the Peter Barry school of republicanism. He was a great friend of John A. Murphy. I was delighted that Senator Joe O'Reilly made that connection between those two great friends.

Today is independence day for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Professor Simms described Ireland's performance at that time as squalid with regard to the carve-up and ethnic cleansing of that country in the 1990s. The phrase "level killing field" was used by some as a misguided reason for reluctance. That was used to justify doing little or nothing, thus isolating the Bosnians to defend themselves and their country. That conflict took place on the doorstep of Europe and it should have taught us the massive price of prevarication and doing too little, too late. As the heavily-armoured Russian convoys edge closer and closer to Kyiv, ready to lay siege to the capital as happened with Sarajevo, let us not be found wanting as an EU community. Let us act with our eyes open this time. Sanctions need to be cripplingly deep. Even if it costs us something, which it no doubt will, let us take that hit, because it will not cost the lives of women and children. Defending democracy is not cost-free.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I second the amendment to the Order of Business from Senator Chambers to take No. 22 before No. 1.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I extend my sympathy to the Murphy family on the passing of John A. Murphy and to Senator Paul Daly and his family on the passing of his father.

I am looking forward to the statements on Ukraine this evening. It is surreal to see what is unfolding across the world at the moment. I hope that we can be constructive in what we can do with sanctions. I put on record my praise for my colleague, Deputy Mairéad Farrell, in the Dáil. She has highlighted again the issue of section 110, and the €118 billion of Russian oligarchs' funding that has flowed through that section for the past 15 years.

At the top of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board's website is a clear statement, written in bold print, "Protecting the Integrity & Reputation of Irish Horseracing". The IHRB, formerly the Turf Club, is the regulatory arm of the sport in this country. It receives €10 million annually to perform this important duty, protecting the reputation and integrity of the so-called sport of kings in Ireland. This is a self-elected club that has been allowed to appoint its own regulatory directors. It receives €10 million each year in taxpayers' funding with little or no accountability. It has also refused for years to publish the salary of its chief executive, who abruptly resigned last year and has since not been replaced. I read, as I am sure many Senators have, the two substantial, apparently well-researched investigative articles written by Paul Kimmage for The Sunday Independent over the past two weekends. There has been plenty of rumour, innuendo and speculation prior to these articles being published about the possible use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in Irish racing. The man who has bravely led the way in this regard is one of our most celebrated and famous horse trainers, a man of impeccable reputation, Jim Bolger.He has been castigated in many quarters for doing so in, from his own training colleagues to the racing press and the man on the street. However, he has also been applauded and supported by many others who know this man is to be trusted when he opens his mouth about such a serious matter. The key suggestion in Mr. Paul Kimmage's article is that the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, IHRB, sought to discredit the trainer, Mr. Stephen Mahon, because of his prior claim as a whistleblower regarding the use of performance enhancing drugs in horseracing. After reading Mr. Kimmage's articles, I believe there are serious questions to be asked about the regulatory board because if any of this is proven to have some truth, there will be serious questions about the treatment of Mr. Mahon and his family. I have to ask the question: who is going to regulate the regulator?

Major concerns are being raised about the office of the governing body, the IHRB, in the Curragh, County Kildare, and the oldest sporting club in the world. It seems to be a closed shop funded by every one of us in this country who pays tax. I request a full independent inquiry into all affairs, activities, practices and appointments relating to the IHRB.

Photo of Eileen FlynnEileen Flynn (Independent)
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Today I want to bring to people's attention that March is anti-racism month, a month that focuses on interculturalism, equality and anti-racism. On 1 March five years ago, Travellers were recognised as an ethic minority group in Irish society. NGOs and Travellers fought for many years to be recognised by the State as an ethnic minority group. Thankfully, we are now recognised by the State, even though we have always existed in Irish society and always played an equal part in our society. This year we mark 100 years of the Seanad, and I am a very proud member of the Traveller community who takes part in negotiations that have an impact on all walks of society. To be able to be part of those larger conversations is critically important.

There can no longer be token recognition. It is not just about recognising Travellers on a piece of paper in this House; it is also about implementing the recommendations that Travellers came up with. We need to work with NGOs to improve the quality of life of Travellers within society. We should have the same outcomes as the general population. It is important that there are no longer just tokenistic gestures for our community.

I want to bring to the attention of the House that in April it will have been a year the Minister for Justice, Deputy Helen McEntee, published the heads of a Bill on hate crime. While that was welcome, we would like to know the current status of the Bill. It would be brilliant if the Minister could come to the House, especially in the month of March, to give us an update on hate crime legislation. I have spoken to the European Network Against Racism, ENAR, which is desperate to get it over the line. We would welcome that legislation.

It has also been a year since the launch of the Government's White Paper on ending direct provision. It would be brilliant if the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, could come to the House and give us an update on ending direct provision.

It is important that the recognition of the Traveller community five years ago be recognised by the House. That, along with hate crime legislation and ending direct provision, are important matters that, in my opinion and that of the Civil Engagement Group, have been pushed aside over the past year. I would love to see further discussion on these matters with the two Ministers I mentioned.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome that, eventually, the long overdue defamation laws seem to be progressing.It is very important and has been called for over a long period by those in the publishing industry and the National Union of Journalists. It is very important as it would allow for proper debate and prevent vexatious complaints. I hope we will eventually see swift action in this regard from the Minister for Justice.

Equally in the sphere of valid criticism, this night last week in the House we were debating the online media Bill. A very important interjection was made at the weekend at the national congress of the GAA when the president, Mr. Larry McCarthy, proposed a protection of volunteers in amateur sports Bill and asked that our committee dealing with media and sport take this up. I spoke to an uachtarán about this and he explained that there was a corrosive assault on civility, affecting players, referees, officials and volunteers in general. The question has been asked in the media over the past couple of days since this address to the national body of the GAA as to why only amateurs should be included. Mr. McCarthy made the point that amateurs return to their place of work and own homes after playing and do not have the protection of professional sports bodies in cocooning from such activity.

This would be a worthy debate and I welcome the interjection by Mr. Larry McCarthy in this respect. I will ask the committee Chairman, Deputy Niamh Smyth, to allow us to examine the matter. It is again an example of the GAA promoting discussion within our country, particularly in this respect with regard to a protection of volunteers in amateur sports Bill. I welcome that interjection made at the weekend.

Photo of John McGahonJohn McGahon (Fine Gael)
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The biggest fear in Russia and Putin's Moscow is a free and democratic Ukraine as then people in Russia might look to Ukraine and ask why they cannot have what Ukraine has when they share so many culturally close ties. I have absolutely no doubt Ukraine will be Putin's legacy but it will not be the legacy he intended. It will be the legacy of a stronger and more united European Union and European Continent than has been known before.

We can ensure Putin's foreign policy ends in total and utter failure. I do not say it lightly but we can do this by ensuring we see the accession of Ukraine into the European Union as soon as possible. The reasons for this are twofold. The European people over a number of years have demonstrated they stand up for European values as we know them and the European Union was devised so no war would again cross the European Continent. It is the reason the European Union came into being in the first instance.

There are 44 million people in eastern Europe looking towards the west, democracy and freedom and they want to be part of that. It would be a terrible sin for European countries to turn around and say they are okay and they do not really want Ukraine in the European Union. The European Union cannot say Ukraine fosters all our values and agrees with its sentiments but it does not want it in the Union. When a sovereign nation has been attacked in the way Ukraine has been by a murderous regime in Putin's Russia, we should look to ensure that if the Ukrainian people and its Government want to join the EU, all efforts are made to see that can happen.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I draw attention to the recent announcement by the United Kingdom Government that the country will end telemedicine abortions by autumn, a decision we should follow. The UK provision was first introduced in March 2020 by the British Government as a temporary Covid-19 response. When our then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, followed suit in early 2020, modelling the system on the UK decisions, we were also told this would be a temporary measure. Covid-19 restrictions are increasingly being lifted and our nearest neighbours have taken steps to end telemedicine abortions. The Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, should now do the same.

On health and safety grounds alone, the case for ending telemedicine abortions is overwhelming. Mounting evidence demonstrates that telemedicine abortions have many risks and dangers. In England, emergency ambulance responses to complications relating to abortions have spiked since telemedicine was introduced. In London specifically, monthly ambulance dispatches dealing with abortion pill-related complications have doubled since telemedicine was introduced. Research released in November 2021 reveals more than 10,000 women had received hospital treatment following an at-home use of abortion pills between April 2020 and September 2021.That is shocking. Unfortunately, we are forced to rely on data from the UK as neither the HSE nor the Department of Health have conducted any research in Ireland on the impact of telemedicine abortions. Instead, they have relied solely on literature from the UK. This was a shocking oversight on their part which has endangered the lives of Irish women. It is sufficient to say that, if these cases can happen in the UK, they can also happen in Ireland.

Telemedicine abortion separates a woman from her doctor and this system is more open to abuse than a system based on face-to-face consultation through, for example, coercion from a partner. Additionally, a woman cannot receive an in-person examination from her doctor, making it impossible to verify her gestational stage, which raises questions of legality under the 2018 Act. There is overwhelming evidence pointing in a clear direction. The Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, needs to address this issue without hesitation and to take immediate steps to end telemedicine abortions here.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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In recent days, a member of An Garda Síochána, Garda Padraig Scott, who lives about 40 km from me at home, was brutally attacked in County Cavan where he was on duty. I will not say much about the case because we do not know a lot about it at the moment. However, I would like the House to wish Garda Scott well today and to utterly and totally condemn another attack on a member of An Garda Síochána.

In the middle of the night, Garda Scott obviously noticed something that was not correct and he has paid a great price for that. I am glad to say that Garda Scott is now out of hospital. He is at home with his family. We wish him a speedy recovery.

We should have a discussion about crime. We tend to let these things go. It is a very serious matter that these attacks are happening. The young men and women entering the force at the moment are heroes. They have a great many issues to deal with and we sometimes let them down. They are also let down by the courts. They are frustrated. It is time that we had a good open debate. Where members of An Garda Síochána do wrong, the law should deal with them, but we have a good force in general. I look at the many young men and women turning out to join An Garda Síochána. There is a campaign urging them to join. We must stand with them. I am sure everybody will join with me in wishing Garda Scott a speedy recovery.

I will also very quickly send my good wishes to Aoife O'Rourke from Castlerea in Roscommon who, along with Kellie Harrington, won a gold medal in boxing in a major international competition in Sofia at the weekend. I wish her and Kellie Harrington the very best of luck. I also congratulate Fiona Tully of the St. Coman's Handball Club in Roscommon who won a major tournament in Missouri in the USA at the weekend. Every weekend, sports stars from Ireland, whether their sport is handball, ladies' soccer, golf or something else, give Ireland a great name across the world. We should always pay tribute to them.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I join with the Senator in his congratulations. Along with all colleagues, I too wish Garda Scott a speedy recovery.

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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This weekend, I was privileged to attend the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. It was my first in-person plenary session. I really got to see the benefits of the informal and formal engagement with members of the Parliaments of Britain, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was really great to be able to talk about the challenges that face us and the difficulties we are going through.

We all know that the bilateral relationship is not as good as we would like it to be but it was a positive weekend for parliamentary engagement. One of our first acts was to pass a resolution on the conflict in Ukraine. It was pointed out that it would be good to see the UK follow Ireland's actions with regard to visa restrictions.

It is hard to talk about everyday issues when such things are happening so close to home but I suppose we are lucky that we can so I am going to talk about another issue that is ongoing in Dublin 15.I want to raise another issue in Dublin 15. The Fine Gael Party is really focusing at the moment on making publicly-funded infrastructure open more for public use, such as schools being used for after-school activities for example. I see it in Dublin 15. A campus in Tyrrelstown has two primary schools, a community centre and a car park. The local community want to use that car park to facilitate activities in the park next door, which includes the cricket club and the park run but because of bureaucratic entanglement we cannot use it. We need to be sensible about these issues. We need to be able to overcome barriers so that we can use resources. Right now there is a group of people who want to build another car park because they cannot get access to one that is there. That to me is madness. A lot of work goes into these things, but sometimes one just has to call for common sense.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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I would like to raise the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report, which is a stark reminder of the failure of successive Governments to heed the call of scientists to act on climate change. I will focus on a few points of the report, one being adaptation. The IPCC report is crystal clear about the global failures to adopt to climate change. Again, those least responsible for the climate crisis will be those least able to adapt. The Climate Change Advisory Council examined the Government's performance on adaptation, and the scorecard is damning. Not a single sector was given the highest score.

The IPCC report is a stark reminder, not only of the dire impact of climate change on biodiversity but also the potentially negative impact of our efforts to solve climate change. In Ireland, we have had too many examples of what the panel yesterday referred to as "maladaptive actions". Examples of this happening in Ireland would include Amazon's wind farm that is leading to bog slides, and Bord the Móna's attempt to build on the site of the mid-Shannon wilderness park, despite the fact that this was a carbon sink. I have repeated over and again in this Chamber that we cannot allow biodiversity to be the sacrificial lamb of climate action.

I will also raise the issue of climate justice. As a wealthy country, Ireland has a key role to play in ensuring the additional funds for climate finance for the poorest regions so that they were able to adapt. It is very clear again that while the poorest have contributed the least globally, the same is true on the national scale where the top 10% of Ireland's earners emit nearly as much as the bottom 50%.

These are just some of the points that came up in the report yesterday. Back in December 2020, we talked about having climate crisis as a standing issue on the Order of Business. I ask the Leader if we could again look at that to have an update on what is happening about that.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I share the sentiments expressed earlier by Senator Currie that it is difficult to concentrate on the day-to-day business, but we are lucky to be able to do it so we need to do that.

I also wish to be associated with the condolences for the family of our colleague, Senator Paul Daly, and the family of Professor John A. Murphy. From reading about Professor Murphy, and indeed when I studied history in college he was one of our eminent history scholars, he had said that if there was one thing he could change in his life it would be the quality and availability of education. The Higher Education Authority is currently working on a new access programme for higher education for 2022 to 2026. This is hugely important because it is really about giving the opportunity to those who would not have the opportunity to go on to further education or third-level education. We are referring to those from vulnerable backgrounds, people from a Traveller background, and people with disabilities who do not have the opportunity to go on to further education. I believe this is one of the most important debates we could have in the House. It would be appropriate given that this plan is at a preparatory stage now. When Professor Murphy was talking about the quality of education he was also talking about our teachers.Support for our teachers is always important.

I will briefly raise another issue, which relates to CHO 7 to which Kildare belongs, and the lack of neurology nurses. Tallaght University Hospital is the main neurology centre for people from Kildare and west Wicklow. It is short of neurology nurse specialists. There are only 2.5 where there should be 20. I ask for this to be taken as a priority. We need 100 extra nurses throughout Ireland, and 20 in Tallaght University Hospital.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I join colleagues in expressing condolences for our colleague, Senator Paul Daly, and also for my colleague, Senator Jerry Buttimer, on the death of his father-in-law. I wish to have those recorded.

Today is national self-harm awareness day. It is important to put it out there in regard to the stigma about self-harm and the fact there are organisations such as Pieta House and the Samaritans out there. It is also national eating disorder week. It started on 28 February and runs until 6 March. They both have a common link and are in many cases associated with mental health.

Once again I want to raise the fact that University Hospital Limerick, UHL, is the most overcrowded hospital in the country. In February it was two people short of 1,500 people on trolleys, waiting for beds. The INMO has come out again today highlighting this problem at University Hospital Limerick. I raised the issue here last week and the Leader's response made the headlines on our local radio station. It was up there on a podcast. Something has to happen. The INMO will come before the Joint Committee on Health next week. Serious questions have to be asked because it is not just about the patients, it is also about the staff and working conditions there. Last weekend UHL actually asked people not to go to the hospital. That is not acceptable. It is not a right message to be sending out. There are people who have minor injuries, and while there is a minor injuries clinic, people need to be able to avail of the services of the hospital in an appropriate manner.

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I offer my sympathies and condolences to the Murphy family and to Senator Paul Daly and his family as well. It is a sad time for them. It is a sad time for our country, for Europe and for the world. Later this evening we will have statements on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I agree with Senator McDowell and wholly endorse his call for us not just to have statements but to have a unanimously agreed motion from this House utterly condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the brutality and inhumanity that Russia is perpetrating on the Ukrainian people and welcoming and endorsing Ukraine's candidacy for membership of the European Union.

In the aftermath of the Second World War visionary leaders, politicians, lawyers and resistance fighters came together to start the European Union. They had shared values of peace and wanted a Europe that was peaceful, prosperous and where solidarity was real. Those are values we all share. Whatever our differences may be at other times I believe that we all share an ambition for a peaceful and sustainable Europe. I hope there can be a unanimous endorsement tonight of a motion from this House welcoming and supporting Ukraine's candidacy.

In the last six days more than 600,000 Ukrainians crossed the borders towards the European Union. This war is so depressing, so last century, outdated, destructive and inhumane.I think of the fathers, sons and brothers remaining. I heard Ukrainian men are travelling from Cork to fly back. They are fighting for their lives, for their land and for freedom. We need to support them and I believe that this House has a duty to pass a motion tonight.

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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I normally ask for a Minister to do something, but I will be different this time. I want to thank a couple of Ministers. Yesterday there was an announcement in County Tipperary of the go-ahead for Fethard primary care centre. Members will be aware I have brought this up a number of times in the Seanad and I tabled this as a Commencement matter. It is a very important primary care centre for Fethard, Killenaule and Mullinahone. I know all the GPs are delighted, as I met them yesterday. The community as a whole is delighted. It is on a campus that is all about health, well-being and support - Fethard Town Park - which we have invested more than €3 million in already and there is a top-class sports facility there. I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, for the work she has done on this.

I also thank the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Madigan, for emergency funding for Donaskeigh National School, just outside Cashel. This funding was badly needed. The children's playground area where they play during lunchtime has been dangerous for a number of years, and this is the school's third time applying for emergency funding. The school staff had almost given up hope of getting it entirely. They are thrilled with the news today. The principal, Mairead Sheehy, and Martin Daly, chairperson of the board of management, are thrilled with the news.

Finally, it is a big day in Tipperary today where a new hotel has opened - the Cashel Palace Hotel. The building been closed since 2014. As most people will be aware, Cashel is a tourist town. We get thousands upon thousands of visitors every year. However, one of the challenges we have always had is that there has not been enough accommodation to keep people in Cashel and in the county. The opening of this hotel gives people the opportunity to stay in Cashel overnight, and there will be a knock-on effect for cafés, restaurants and the wider community in the town. It is a very important day. The community is thrilled with it. I thank everyone and all the workers who have been involved. It has been promised for a long time to be opened on 1 March, but most projects get delayed. However, this one opened up today and everyone is delighted. Everyone is invited to come down and try it out sometime.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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If the Senator is buying dinner, we will all show up.

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I want to offer my sympathies to both Senator Paul Daly and Senator Buttimer on their recent bereavements. I also support the comments of Senator Cassells. One thing about the GAA Congress is that either the uachtarán report or ard stiúrthóir report always makes some thought-provoking proposals. I look forward to working with Senator Cassells and, indeed, the GAA at Oireachtas joint committee level to progress the proposals, which are extremely important.

I also support Senator McDowell's comments. It is important that both Houses of the Oireachtas send out a strong message to support not just the people in Ukraine, but the Ukrainian community in Ireland. We are in the decade of centenaries and we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the men and women from our country who fought for freedom and gave us the freedom we have. Yet, 100 years on, on the European continent, we have the men and women of Ukraine fighting to keep their democracy. It is important that we send out that strong support.

I would like to raise the issue of car parking places. It is something that I believe in. Waterford City and County Council has taken a lead in introducing a pilot scheme for what are called "hidden disabilities". That basically means providing specific spaces for people with autism, chronic pain, learning difficulties, mental health conditions, mobility issues, etc, beside amenities. The lack of such spaces makes simple everyday tasks such as shopping and going to appointments more challenging for people with those disabilities. Just because we cannot see it because it is a hidden disability, it can be difficult for people to understand or even recognise the challenges and respond with empathy or patience. I believe firmly, and I am speaking as a father as well, that we need to generate more awareness of these conditions and encourage acceptance, understanding and inclusion in our society. I call on all local authorities to follow the lead of Waterford City and County Council and provide hidden disability parking places in their county towns.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I join others in paying tribute to the giant, colossus of a man that was iar-Sheanadóir John A. Murphy. I had the pleasure of knowing him and of meeting him on many occasions. I enjoyed many a robust debate with him, in particular around the marriage equality referendum in 2015 on which we disagreed, but we agreed to disagree. In this Chamber, in his teachings and in his writings he was a champion of what was right about Ireland. I urge all Members of this House to read his scholarly writings, in particular on republicanism and on the Irish State. I pay tribute to him and sympathise with his family.

The contribution of Senator McDowell this afternoon is one upon which we should all reflect. I appreciate that the Cathaoirleach has facilitated the making of statements in the House tonight on Ukraine but it is important that we, as the Upper House of the Houses of the Oireachtas, join with Dáil Éireann in passing a joint motion condemning the actions of Russia in Ukraine. I appreciate that we cannot replicate the motion before the Lower House but I am sure we can put together a motion on Ukraine before Thursday. Perhaps it will not be possible to do that today but we do need to send out more than just statements on Ukraine. We need both Houses of the Oireachtas to send out a very strong message internationally. The fact that over 6 million people have watched David McCullagh's interview with the Russian ambassador tells its own story. We must stand, but not just in words, with the people of Ukraine. Both Houses of the Oireachtas should send a strong message to the international community and I hope we can do that before the end of the week.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I join with colleagues in expressing my condolences to Senator Buttimer on the sad loss of his father-in-law.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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I want to briefly mention an issue I have raised in the House previously relating to the Irish Thalidomide Association. I want to put on record my thanks to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, for agreeing to meet the association. While it was somewhat delayed, that meeting took place yesterday. Having spoken to Ms Finola Cassidy this morning, I believe there are the green shoots of a new plan for addressing the terrible unfairness suffered by the survivors of thalidomide, who are decreasing in number. They are now all in their 60s and some have been lost already. This is also important for their parents in particular, many of whom have passed on with the guilt that was attached to having taken the thalidomide drug. The Minister for Health took the time to talk to me this morning and I am grateful for that. He is hopeful that we will find a way to deal with the litigation and other issues on an ongoing basis. The Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, has also been engaged in this process. It is very important that the Government understands that the narrative that has been coming from the Department of Health for the last number of years on this is wrong. The Department has gotten it wrong. The number of survivors is small - fewer than 40 - and they are entitled to justice. The Government failed to withdraw this drug from the market in a timely manner in the 1960s and as a result, we have citizens and residents of this country who have lived with lifelong deformities. It is only fair that they get a resolution.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I wish to speak about the Skillnet funding that has been announced today for businesses in this country. This funding is for SMEs and microenterprises and has been allocated from the Brexit adjustment reserve fund, which totals over €1 billion. That fund, which was channelled through the Department of Foreign Affairs, was designed to support countries impacted by Brexit.

We already have over 73 Skillnet business networks across a lot of sectors and regions in Ireland and the Government has just provided an additional €11 million. In that context, companies and businesses out there should think about setting up their own Skillnet network if there is not one in their own area or sector. Eligible applicants include industry bodies and private sector enterprises of any size, including sole traders. To find out more, people should go to The focus here is on transforming business through talent by upskilling the people in our companies, both employees and managers, in areas like digitalisation, online social networks, customer engagement and preparing for the impact of Brexit by expanding export markets. I wish to highlight that Skillnet Ireland is a wonderful way for businesses to gain free training for their companies. I thank the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, who announced the initiative today.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Iarraim ar Threoraí an Tí freagra a thabhairt ar an Ord Gnó. I call on the Leader to respond on the Order of Business.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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Senator Dolan was right to highlight the welcome business funding that was announced today and the Skillnet expansion, which is welcome and timely.

I thank Senator Ward for bringing to the attention of the House that the Minister for Health met representatives of the Irish Thalidomide Association yesterday. The Senator said it better than I can when he said that this issue has gone on for far too long and I really do hope that there is a speedy resolution.

Senator Buttimer touched on the issue of the Ukraine and I will address the matter when I get to the suggestion made by Senator McDowell.

Senator Carrigy spoke about a pilot scheme on hidden disabilities that is being run in his neck of the woods with regard to car parking. It never ceases to amaze me how indignant people can be when they see somebody parked in a disabled car parking space but a person whom they assume has no disability gets out of the car and that person is berated for parking there. It is inherent upon us all to recognise that a disability is not just physical and there are so many challenges that people have in their lives today that are not entirely visible. The pilot scheme is very welcome. It will be interesting to see how the scheme goes and I wish the people in the Senator's neck of the woods good luck with it.

In an unusual departure, Senator Ahearn expressed his appreciation that moneys and resources have been directed towards Tipperary, which is very good news. I wish the new Cashel Palace Hotel every success. Yesterday, I stopped in Cashel to get a bowl of soup but I could not get one because there was not a single car park space available. That tells everyone how busy Cashel is from a tourism perspective and the development is a very welcome addition to the community.

Senator Seery Kearney spoke Ukraine and paid her respects to our colleague, Senator Paul Daly, on the passing of his daddy.

Senator Maria Byrne spoke again today about University Hospital Limerick. I spoke to the Taoiseach last week after she raised the issue, probably for the tenth time, trying to find out what happened the independent inquiry that was promised, as far as we were concerned, and he was to come back to me. Today, I will put my query in writing to both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health to see if we can speed that up as the issue is highly critical at this stage.

Senator O'Loughlin talked about neurology nurses. She also sought a debate on the quality of education, which is very timely. There was a report on the leaving certificate that was issued only locally in my neck of the woods. It outlined how and why we are failing our children with the way we teach them the leaving certificate and the subjects. I will try to organise a debate in the next couple of weeks.

Senator Boylan asked for a debate on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and biodiversity. It was intended to have a standing item on climate. To be very honest, every week something more important keeps coming up that is more topical. As the Senator and we all know, there is probably nothing as important as the climate debate so I will try to get ourselves back on track again and do that.

Senator Currie talked about the first in-person session of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I know that lots of colleagues attended and enjoyed the interactions over the weekend. It is nice to see them because the relationship, and any face-to-face meetings and interactions that we have, are vitally important to improve what the Senator described as a strained relationship.

Senator Murphy talked about what can only be described as an horrific event for Garda Padraig Scott and his loved ones in the last couple of days. We utterly condemn the attack. It is a bizarre situation and God love the man. I thank the Senator for updating us that Garda Scott is home. The Senator is right that we need a debate on crime. We have seen a number of instances in the last number of weeks, particularly concerning older people in communities, that has literally put the fear of God in them. I mean no disrespect when I say that people's minds are not put at rest by an assistant commissioner telling us that statistics show that the level of crime is down. We need to see gardaí in communities in order to reassure the older members of communities that they are there.

Senator Keogan talked about seeking the end of telemedicine abortions and I will make her views known to the Minister today. As in everything else, I think that any of those emergency measures that were introduced do obviously need to be pulled back.

Senator McGahon talked about Russia's biggest fear and he is probably right. I think that all of us would agree that the open membership into the EU should be fast-tracked and that we should do anything we can to help.

Senator Cassells spoke about the defamation process that was announced by Cabinet this morning and the Minister for Justice, and called for swift action.He also commended the GAA, particularly Larry McCarthy, on its adventures over the weekend, which were very welcome. Time and again the GAA has stoked conversation and debate about its innovations.

Senator Flynn reminded us that today is the fifth anniversary of the Houses' recognition of the ethnic minority status of the Travelling community. I happened to be in the Chamber the day Enda Kenny made that statement. It is a true saying that people never remember what you said but never forget how you made them feel. The joyous atmosphere that was very obviously present that day was really something to behold. Considering how much of an impact the decision has made on the Traveller community, an impact that can even be seen on Senator Flynn's face this morning, one has to wonder why it took so long. It did not take anything from anybody else's life to recognise a particular part of our community and to give them recognition and joy for the heritage and the culture they have enjoyed for years.

In her contribution, Senator Flynn made a call for no more tokenistic gestures. She was referring in some way, I think, to herself being a token of a community in this House. I wish to put it on the record that Senator Flynn is absolutely not a token Member of this House. She is an admirable, intelligent leader for her community and she represents that community so well and so beautifully. I wish to acknowledge that and put it on the record.

Senator Flynn also called for debates on the heads of the Bill on hate crime and on the White Paper on direct provision. I will try to organise those debates as quickly as I can.

In response to Senator Gavan, I have not read the articles to which he referred so I am a little reluctant to comment on them. I will bring his request in respect of the revelations that were made by Paul Kimmage over the weekend about the IHRB to the relevant Minister's attention and see what response we get.

Senator Martin informed us that today is Independence Day in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I wish all their people well and all their citizens residing in Ireland a very happy day.

I absolutely agree with Senator McDowell's comments. It is always a matter of hindsight. Had I had notice of his request last week, maybe this would have been easier. I think Senator Buttimer is right. I cannot facilitate a motion on the matter today, not because I do not think we could put the words together but rather because any motion would have to go through the various processes and then go on the Order Paper, and I am not sure that would be facilitated. May I ask Senator McDowell a favour? We can go ahead and have our statements on the situation in Ukraine today. If the Senator would not mind writing a motion that would be acceptable to us in this House, perhaps we could pass it without debate on Thursday or even, if we could turn it around faster than that, tomorrow. If he would not mind writing something and circulating it to all of us, we will get it on the Order Paper and maybe pass it without debate on Thursday if that-----

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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We probably do not need another debate on the matter. We could just pass the motion.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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I am here and I am free. It is a question of whatever is acceptable. Thursday is probably the earliest day on which we could bring the motion before the House. We will go ahead this evening and have our statements and let people express their views with the intention then to have a joint and, it is to be hoped, a unanimously agreed motion the day after tomorrow.

Senator Seery Kearney is not in the Chamber at present but her contribution was probably one of the most impassioned and personal statements I have heard anybody make in this House or indeed the other House in an awfully long time. I wish to acknowledge that. She requested a debate on neutrality, which is timely. I will ask for that to be scheduled as quickly as we can.

Senator Chambers, our Deputy Leader, opened by talking about endometriosis and the fact it is prevalent and is being spoken about, with people being made aware of the issue through campaigns at present.

Senator Chambers also spoke about visa waivers and Ukraine, which is pertinent. What she said is probably true. We all are somehow seen as either, in my case probably, very nosy or leaders in our communities. People have been asking us what we can do to support the efforts in Ukraine. There are individual Ukrainians in probably all our communities trying to organise things, but it would be very helpful if we had a national response through either a Government agency or a leading charity we could all get behind. One lovely idea that was put to me over the weekend was that we get somebody, in the same way as with Daffodil Day, to manufacture sunflowers and that we all buy and sell sunflowers in every retail outlet and have the money go directly to GOAL, the Irish Red Cross or some other body like that. I will make inquiries and come back to Senator Chambers as soon as I can.

There is a proposed amendment to the Order of Business, which I am very happy to accept.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Chambers has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 22 be taken before No. 1." Senator Pauline O'Reilly has seconded the amendment.The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Amendment agreed to.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.