Tuesday, 8 March 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Data Protection Act 2018 (Access Modification) (Health) Regulations 2022, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the Technological Universities Act 2018 (Section 36) (Appointed Day) (No. 2) Order 2022, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, the Sea-Fisheries (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 6.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 5, Redundancy Payments (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.
I have come to the House today to say a few words in memory of my old friend and colleague, the late Senator John A. Murphy, who died at the astonishing age of 95. John was always so youthful intellectually that it was difficult to believe he had achieved the age of 95. He was an awkward bugger. I remember when I once had a motion down - I cannot remember what it was about - and I was giving two minutes and two minutes to different people to speak. John came up to me and said, "Can I have two minutes to speak on your motion?" I told him, "Of course you can, I welcome anybody speaking in favour of my motion".He said, " Oh I'm not speaking in favour I'm speaking against it." That was him. He was an absolute contrarian.
John A. Murphy was in the Seanad from 1977 to 1992 and he was a remarkable contributor. John was named Cork person of the year. I have just come back from Cork. It is a remarkable place and to be made a Cork person of the year is some accolade. John was also a fantastic singer. I remember him singing in Áras an Uachtaráin. I cannot recall the song but it was some quite ordinary song which he sang in six or seven different languages. John was quite a polymath. He was also quite a distinguished author. He wrote a history of University College Cork, The College: The History of Queens' University College Cork. John was a native of Macroom, and was very proud to be a Macrumpian. He also wrote a very important book called Ireland in the Twentieth Century.
John could be awkward and he had particular ideas about the Proclamation. I shared his ideas about the Proclamation, and particularly where they talk about "our gallant allies". The gallant ally was the Kaiser. People forget that. People were pledging allegiance to the Kaiser in the middle of the First World War, but there we are.
John was, I think and I hope, unforgettable. I was proud to have him as a friend and colleague in this House. We do miss him. As we say as Gaeilge, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Go raibh maith agat. I thank Senator Norris, father of the House. It is a very fitting tribute from someone who worked alongside Mr. Murphy. The Senator will be happy to know that we have held one minute's silence for Mr. Murphy, and that we have had some tributes also. We have also written to the family. I know that Senator Norris would want to be aware of that.
I support the Order of Business. How lovely to hear the words from Senator Norris. On Sunday I met with the O'Connors from Clondrohid just outside Macroom. We had a great conversation about John A. Murphy and how proud he was of Macroom. I absolutely echo Senator Norris's sentiments.
Today is International Women's Day. I wish a very happy International Women's Day to all of the female parliamentarians in this House and in Dáil Éireann, and all of the women who work here in Leinster House. We stand in solidarity with all of the women in Ukraine, and all of those women who are elected to represent them. I am looking forward to meeting some of them who will make the journey to Strasbourg next week for the emergency Council of Europe plenary session.
I started off this morning by going to a local community group of women in the Newbridge Family Resource Centre.On International Women's Day, we tend to think of those who are breaking the glass ceiling. For me, the day is about the women in the community who, day in and day out, work to support their families, neighbours and communities. Those are the people I want to honour today.
I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Dooley, who I saw coming into the Chamber.
I did not know when I was going to see him next. To see Senator Dooley and former Deputy and current MEP Billy Kelleher being courageous in travelling to see for themselves the situation in Ukraine was inspirational. I have no doubt it was a dangerous journey. I am looking forward to having a discussion and listening to the Senator's experiences.
I salute the wonderful work that communities in Kildare and right around the country are doing to support Ukrainians. Collections of money and goods, cake sales and coffee mornings are being run by sporting clubs, communities and local businesses. They are incredible. People are gathering to take Ukrainians into their homes.
In 2003, I worked with the best group of people I could ever imagine when setting up the host town programme for that year's world games. The people in 180 towns right around the island of Ireland opened their homes and hearts to people from all over the world. I am seeing that happen again now. People are opening their homes to Ukrainians. I and the group of people with whom I worked 19 years ago spent all weekend gathering all the papers and information we had and bringing it all up to date to summarise how a community should prepare for a delegation. We are making that information available to the Irish Red Cross and any organisation that wants it to support those delegations.
Like some who have already spoken and, I have no doubt, others who are going to speak, I acknowledge that today is International Women's Day. We men have a role to play in trying to achieve the type of equality that women deserve. I am talking about real equality in sport, culture, arts, business, education and politics. The inequality women have experienced over many decades has largely been a result of the negligence of men. Therefore, the men in our society must step up to the plate now to embrace, promote and demand the type of equality we have ourselves and that we should want to see for women in this society.
One of the great women of these Houses was a lady named Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins. She will be celebrating her 90th birthday next Thursday. She was elected as a female Deputy at the age of 24 in 1957. She is the only surviving Member of the Sixteenth Dáil or, indeed, any of the preceding Dáileanna. On International Women's Day, it is fitting to pay tribute to Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins, who charted a crusade in 1957 when it was not popular or easy to get elected to Dáil Éireann.
Like other colleagues, I wish to speak again about Ukraine. Like others, I was at the embassy today where we listened to a number of Ukrainian people. The Leas-Chathaoirleach was also there. Heart-wrenching stories about young children going hungry in Ukraine were shared with us by the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland, a very brave and courageous lady. We need to do everything we can. I do not believe we are doing enough as a country and I do not believe the international community is doing enough.I do not believe the sanctions that are place now are working. We need stronger sanctions. We need sanctions like we have never seen before in this world because what is happening in our modern age and society is appalling. It cannot be said or expressed often enough. The graphic images, descriptions, photographs, video footage, and social media postings of what has been happening in Ukraine, on International Women's Day and during the past two weeks, and no doubt they will continue going forward, are dreadful. We are not doing enough and we need to do more.
I should have pointed out that in addition to following the rota provided, I am following the normal party rota. I wish to explain this as Senator Conway was later coming in than others and there could be a misunderstanding around that. We are following a party rota as well. As per the party rota, the next speaker is Senator Craughwell, on behalf of the Independent Group.
In recent days, I have written to all Members of the House considering the issue of neutrality and the discussion on neutrality that has raged in this House for as long as I have been a Member. I have never accepted that Ireland is a neutral country and, although there is never a good time to have this discussion, we must have it now.
For the moment, we decided to provide assistance to one of the belligerents involved in the current engagement. By the way, I am 100% supportive of what has been done for Ukraine and I am sorry we did not do more. We have armaments we could send to Ukraine and I really wish we would send them to Ukraine. People need to be able to defend themselves, and anybody who has been watching television images will have seen the horrific bombardment of cities that has been taking place. I fully support the position taken by the Government and I wish it would go much further.
The time has come to settle the discussion on neutrality once and for all. Our Defence Forces is closely aligned with NATO and whether or not we become a member of NATO is another topic entirely, but to be militarily non-aligned is not to be neutral. It is to mean that we can choose a position at any given time we want. We were at the Russian Embassy this morning and we met the Ukrainian ambassador. The images we are seeing are horrific. Tomorrow morning, thanks to my colleague, Senator Keogan, we will have ambassadors from all over the world in Leinster House to support Ukraine. I call on all Members of the House to support Senator Keogan who has put this together, about which I am sure she will have plenty to say.
A few days ago, when I spoke about this, people said "he is off his head". At the end of the day, we have to realise that we could be facing up to 150,000 refugees coming to this country. As of today, we are obliged to take up to 40,000. There are now more than 2 million refugees in Poland. The figure of 150,000 is if only 7 million people cross the border, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
We need to have the discussion on our position in foreign affairs soon. I would appreciate if the Acting Leader would request that we have a debate on the issue of neutrality. Let us kick it out into the open. I have been asking for this for eight years. Now is the time to have that discussion and let us see where it leads us.
I now call Senator Pauline O'Reilly, on behalf of the Green Party, and I take this opportunity to join with colleagues in acknowledging today being International Women's Day, which is a very important day and merits absolute recognition and a proactive response in terms of women's rights. All that has been said by colleagues in that regard is true. A great exemplar of a woman politician is Senator Pauline O'Reilly, hence my recognition of International Women's Day now.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and I am sure he would also say the same in respect of all our colleagues here. It is important that the House recognises this very important day, International Women's Day. First, with regard to the Order of Business, I am disappointed to see that the fur farming Bill is not on the Order Paper today but I am hopeful it will come back soon because there is an urgency around it, as I am sure we all appreciate.
In regard to Ukraine, it has come to my attention that there are some housing bodies that are not allowing their tenants to apply through the Red Cross portal to offer spare rooms in their houses. This is something we need to follow up on. We are living in unprecedented times and every available space must be used, particularly when people are generous enough to open up their own homes. For those who have not looked at the portal, when I looked at it last night, it was down for some substantial time, which goes to show that the Irish people and people living in Ireland really want to be part of offering our solidarity within our own homes and within our own country.
We have had more than 2,000 people arrive in Ireland already. The majority have gone to their families and the rest have been put up in hotel accommodation for the moment. Looking at the faces of the children who are fleeing their native land, as I am sure we have all seen, they all have an expectation of being at home, being with their friends and being in their schools very soon, as I am sure our children would too, but we really do not know how long this will be. This really is an effort from every single person. Wartime is a long-distant memory for many of us, or not a memory at all, but I think we will see that it will call on every part of ourselves and our resources to be able to do something, and that means doing something across social protection, education and fuel. It will really mean a huge effort.
I would like to point to the announcement today of a temporary school for the next two years for the Galway Educate Together secondary school. Senators Seán Kyne and Ollie Crowe came with me last week to a meeting with the school. I am delighted that it now has some certainty to allow the school to grow and to flourish, which will give a lot of confidence to the students and also to the parents of those who will be coming in this September.
I want to join with colleagues in noting that today is International Women's Day. We have a very proud record in the Seanad, not just of having very fine and capable current female Members of the Seanad but in the past as well. The Seanad also has a proud record, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach will know, of progressing important legislation that impacts on women's lives and, hopefully, makes a difference. We saw the passage through this House recently of the stalking Bill and in the last term we worked very well on the domestic violence Bill, which saw coercive control deemed a criminal offence. At this point in time, given events in Ukraine and globally, we know that issues like war, ecological destruction, increased energy prices and the cost of living, poverty, conflict and, in our own experience, the legacy of conflict all disproportionately impact upon women. While it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the women in our lives, whether they are indigenous women, women of colour, women with disabilities or trans women, and it is right that we celebrate and acknowledge them, it is also important to remember there is a sentiment and a purpose behind International Women's Day, and that is to ensure, as Senator Conway said, equality and justice for all women, no matter where they are.
It would be timely if we could have a discussion on UN Resolution 1325, which I know this State adopted. It would be good to hear from the relevant Minister about how the resolution is being implemented in practice.In speaking about the issues of refugees, which other colleagues have obviously mentioned, the news today is that 2 million people have fled Ukraine. I know the Acting Leader will appreciate that in the part of Ireland I am from, the current policy approach to refugees by the British Government is anathema to what we are about in terms of welcoming and supporting people and in respect of international solidarity. Other Members are entitled to call for whatever debate they so choose. I would appreciate the opportunity to have statements from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, however, about how we will use our position at the UN Security Council to co-ordinate aid relief, support for refugees, humanitarian efforts and hear how this State will work in practical ways in ensuring that we can assist refugees, be they from Ukraine or any other part of the world torn apart by conflict not of their making.
Guím Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan faoi mhaise ar gach duine. Is lá é le smaoineamh ar an dul chun cinn atá déanta, agus atá fós le déanamh, ag mná na hÉireann. I want to briefly talk about International Women's Day in Ukraine. It could be argued that war is one of the most gendered of experiences. While men in the main depart their homes to fight at the front lines, women and their children in general are left with few options - stand to protect their homes, organise resistance movements or flee. War visits particular suffering on women with the loss of their partners, homes, jobs, fathers, brothers, children and autonomy.
I read the United Nations Population Fund report on women's experience of war in Ukraine, which stated:
In the days since Russia launched a military offensive in Ukraine, the world has seen the photographs of women giving birth in underground metro stations and newborns hastily being moved to makeshift bomb shelters as health facilities become inaccessible or too damaged to function. An estimated 80,000 women will give birth in the next three months in Ukraine – many of them without access to critical maternal health care. For some, childbirth will be a life-threatening rather than a life-changing experience.
I was following the news earlier when the Ukrainian President reported that a child has allegedly died of dehydration in Mariupol, Ukraine. Today, I stand in solidarity with the women of Ukraine and all women who are affected by war in all nations. We, as a neutral nation, will have our role to play in this conflict. I ask Government Members today to fight to place the needs of women in the conflicts at the heart of that response. Perhaps it could be worth convening a discussion on that response in this House in the coming weeks. On International Women's Day, I say to Ukrainian women, and people living in Ireland and abroad, that we offer them our deepest solidarnist.
The second issue I wish to raise with regard to International Women's Day is that of Traveller and Roma women across the world. As Senator Flynn has put it to us, we must all stand up in this House as allies. I will read out some of the statistics on Traveller women, which are a real stain on our country. Traveller women die 11 and a half years younger, suicide rates are six times higher, only 1% of Travellers reach third level education and more than 80% are rearing children without water or toilets in their homes. In the words of Traveller activist Rosemary Maughan, whose handle on Twitter is @Minceirbeoir, this is "cultural genocide". On International Women's Day, therefore, we should and must be allies to all women. Our feminism must be intersectional and we need to tear those patriarchal structures down and karate-chop them back into the past, exactly where they belong.
On behalf of the Civil Engagement Group, I wish all women in civil society a happy International Women's Day. Our thoughts and prayers today are with the women of Ukraine, as well as Syrian and Yemeni women and children and all those who are living in war and violence.
I want to talk a little bit today about the National Traveller Women's Forum, which is a Traveller women's organisation. I am on a career break from the forum, having worked for it for almost three years before I came to this House. The National Traveller Women's Forum acknowledges that Travellers were recognised as an ethnic minority group five years ago.However, the National Traveller Women’s Forum is putting the question to this House today: has enough been done in the past five years? The answer is clearly not. For instance, homelessness levels have increased. We saw the Ombudsman for Children’s report last year that let children tell us in their own words how their right to safe and secure accommodation has been violated.
The National Traveller Women’s Forum and all Traveller women have been fighting for decades for a higher standard of Traveller accommodation, better outcomes for our children and for ourselves in education, better employment opportunities and better access to health services, including targeted mental health supports and a strategy to address the Traveller mental health crisis, when we know that Traveller women are six times more likely to die by suicide than women in the general population. The fight continues and so does the struggle for wider gender equality and recognition. Traveller women’s views are rarely looked for when wider gender policy is developed by Government. At the same time, we know that Traveller women are making important contributions to Irish society in many different professions.
The phrase “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” is important but often thrown around. Many Traveller women see it but while we have the ability and the desire to be it, unfortunately the opportunities are not always there for us and for our community. What we want, and what the National Traveller Women's Forum wants, is a better and brighter future for our children, our grandchildren and for the next generation.
The National Traveller Women’s Forum in standing in solidarity with all ethnic minority women today and women in Ireland who experience systemic racism and sexism. We stand with women who are working towards equality within our own communities as well as with the majority population.
Finally our thoughts and prayers are with all in Ukraine and refugees from Ukraine.
On International Women's Day, it is a sad state of affairs that 22 million women on the Continent of Europe are fleeing for their lives and those of their children at the behest of a brutal dictator. At the weekend I had the privilege of being invited to Ukraine by President Zelensky's party. I travelled with Billy Kelleher MEP to Lviv. We had an invitation to see at first hand the crisis on the other side of the border. It would be an understatement to say that the scenes there are heart wrenching. For miles, there are people queuing to cross the border on foot and there are probably up to 20 km of cars with people there for days. It really is a testament to the strength of their character that they have kept it together. I have heard other world leaders suggest that it will not remain like that. I would not be surprised. It is a stretch to expect people to remain calm in these very difficult circumstances.
What needs to happen? Europe needs to put in more effort on both sides of the border. The Polish Government is working well once people get across the border. It has the appropriate infrastructure in place to process and move people on to various locations to which they might want to go or be housed. However, on the Ukrainian side, it is devastating. The temperatures are still very low. It is -5 °C at night. Thankfully it was not snowing on Sunday and Monday but you cannot expect women and children to stand for a day and a half in -5 °C. I do not think it is something that anyone here would ever want to contemplate. It is not just women and children. It is aged men and women as well. Probably the most heart wrenching thing is to see elderly mothers pushing clearly physically disabled children in wheelchairs for days. There is a requirement on us to act. I would ask the Leas Cathaoirleach to bear with me for a second. The governor of Lviv oblast and the mayor of Lviv were anxious that we would communicate that they are grateful but that they want continued support, not just short-term support. They want more direct support and financial aid to purchase humanitarian equipment that is needed, including baby food of all sorts. They recognise Ireland's neutrality so they know we will not provide lethal aid but they want non-lethal aid like helmets, life vests and other non-lethal equipment. There is a recognition that all countries bordering Ukraine have done well in assisting but that more can be done. It is devastating that we left to hear that the evacuation corridor from Mariupol, which had been expected to give some semblance of relief to people there, was mined and bombed by the Russians. That gives one to understand what devastation is happening.
We are on the cusp of St. Patrick's week. The latter gives us, as a nation, an opportunity to have the focus of the world on us and on our diaspora. Ours is a history of emigration, in some cases forced, and of having to leave our homeland in Ireland to travel to Sydney Harbour, Ellis Island or the UK.
Senator Dooley spoke very eloquently. We stand with the people of Ukraine today and we associate with their: fear; trauma; isolation; the language barrier; the lack of money; and the lack of a secure future. It behoves all of us in the international community, not just to stand in solidarity, but for all governments of Europe to work to ensure this war comes to an end. I had the pleasure of being in Kyiv three years ago to carry out election monitoring. I was struck by the rush to vote on behalf of ordinary men and women who cherished their democracy and who voted for change on that occasion but who were proud of their sovereignty. I ask our Ministers and those who travel around the world next week to ensure that the Irish céad míle fáilte, the hundred thousand welcomes are extended and that it is made clear that we are welcoming our Ukrainian friends to this country. I know the Government has opened a portal today with the Irish Red Cross in order to register Ukrainian refugees. It is important that all of us, collectively and collaboratively, stand with the people of Ukraine and ensure that every effort is made to make our Ukrainian friends welcome here.
I commend the Deputy Leader on the motion he has tabled for the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting tomorrow to the effect that we would have a debate in this House on fuel and the cost of same before we rise for the St. Patrick’s Day break. It is important that we have a real and honest debate about the rise of the price of fuel and what this Government can do. I hope that debate can be held on Thursday before we leave for the St. Patrick’s Day break.
I want to start by wishing women everywhere well on International Women’s Day, which, oddly, we will be making statements on tomorrow in this House. It is a great shame that our slot was put back until tomorrow.
I wonder if we can we have a debate in the House on public liability insurance for businesses and community groups? The cost of insurance has been inflating for years and the public liability insurance premiums continue to rise, despite a significant fall in the size of injury awards. A report late last year found that the awards had fallen by an average of 40% since the problem of disproportionate payouts was addressed by the Government and the Judiciary, which is to be welcomed. The insurance companies identified the cost of claims as the key driver of insurance costs and we have done our side of the deal in bringing those more into line with international levels. Insurance companies must act in good faith in return and pass on this reduction in costs to the insurer, rather than maintaining current premium growth rates and simply pocketing the profits.
Much attention was paid to small shops and community businesses during the pandemic, and rightly so. These enterprises facilitated a sense of community and neighbourhood and they deserve our support but we cannot confine that support to Covid times only.Many businesses that survived Covid restrictions may yet be put under by soaring insurance premiums. Aside from businesses, volunteer community groups throughout the country are having their activities severely curtailed or cancelled altogether by insurance requirements accompanied by premiums that are simply unpayable. Whether it is beach clean-ups, graveyard maintenance, work with refugees or sports camps, community initiatives that enable people to give back to their communities and build them up in the process should enjoy every possible support we can give them. That is why consideration should be given to allowing community groups to access insurance through the public participation network, via their local council, and be insured at a lower rate through Irish public bodies. That would seem to deal with much of the issue and would be a step in the right direction in supporting community initiatives. Perhaps we can have a debate on this in the House.
Before I finish, I will tell everybody that there will be a coffee morning in Leinster House tomorrow morning. Some 35 ambassadors from all over the world will join us here tomorrow to show their solidarity with the Ukrainian cause. I ask Members to please join us tomorrow morning if they can.
I will also speak about International Women's Day. I believe it should be a time of review and reflection. Typically, it fills me with hope and renewed commitment to the cause of equality. This year's theme, break the bias, certainly hammers that home. I am also using this week to reflect on lessons learned from some of the amazing women from the midlands I have had the privilege to meet in my roles as Minister of State, Senator and a member of my community. They include women who have overcome personal tragedy to lead their family farms and businesses, Traveller women who, despite facing bias and discrimination, are working hard to help others, women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, sport and politics, and women who lead in activism to protect this beautiful planet we call home. These are women who inspire us all each and every day.
Mná 100 celebrates the women of 1916, many of whom have been forgotten over this past century. These include women such as Áine Ní Riain who was living in Offaly when she took part in the 1916 Rising. As a member of Tullamore's Cumann na mBan, she served at Reis's Chambers, the Hibernian Bank and the GPO garrison until 28 April which, as she later recounted, she only left by order of P.H. Pearse. They also include women such as 23-year-old nurse Mary McDonald from Abbeyleix, who was training as a midwife at the Rotunda Lying-in Hospital during Easter 1916. When the British military occupied the hospital, Mary and the staff were given orders to get on with their work, not to go out of doors and to keep away from the windows. Mary later recalled that "Shots and explosions were then the order of the day, we did our work, ate our short ration."
This is but a snapshot of some of the wonderful women of the midlands, past and present. As the phrase "nothing about me without me" goes, today we celebrate and thank those women for inspiring us to break the bias and move us ever closer to an equal Ireland for every woman.
Like my colleagues, I wish everybody a very happy International Women's Day.
I too will raise issues around the crisis in Ukraine. One thing we have seen in recent weeks is the great community spirit on the part of citizens and residents throughout the country who are volunteering to help out. We need to recognise their contribution. It is astounding to see those who are looking to help registering with the Red Cross. I also suggest we look at those who have holiday homes throughout the country. Such homes may be made available for the six- to 12-month period when we will need to house some of those who will come here.A considerable number will come. If we see up to 100,000 refugees, we have to welcome them. If those holiday homes can be made available, that would certainly help.
I welcome the fact that the Government has made its message on St. Patrick's Day very clear. Messages around Ukraine will be to the centre of it and no representative of either Russia or Belarus will be officially invited to any St. Patrick's Day event. We need, as colleagues have said, to show solidarity with our EU neighbours. Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have shown extraordinary generosity, as indeed has Moldova. We need to express our solidarity with those countries and provide them with the necessary support.
Schuman, one of the founders of the European Union as it is now, when he started speaking about the future of Europe, said that much of Europe would be forged out of crisis. We have gone from Brexit, through Covid, to the current crisis in Ukraine. I ask for a debate around the future of Europe. We need to see closer co-operation. Its merits are very plain to see now in terms of how we addressed all those crises, especially the current crisis.
It would be appropriate, at some stage, to invite President Zelenskiy to address this House or to address both the Dáil and the Seanad. He has shown wonderful leadership over the past period. Extending that invitation as a sign of the solidarity of the people of Ireland with the people of Ukraine would be welcome.
I second Senator Malcolm Byrne's motion to invite President Zelenskiy to address this House and the Lower House. It would be a very useful exercise. I wish everyone a very happy International Women's Day. Last year, as colleagues might remember, we were in the Dáil Chamber and I had an opportunity to read an extract from a book published last year that had a speech my mother gave in the Dáil. I read it with great pride.
This year, when we talk about women and International Women's Day, I cannot help but think about the women in Ukraine who are leaving their country, partners and families to bring their kids to freedom and safety. When we talk about women in this country and around the world, it just shows immense courage and bravery that those decisions to split up families are made so quickly to just look for safety. It takes immense bravery to be able to do that and recognise that.
I was on a roll last week to compliment Ministers, as opposed to calling for or giving out about something. I will keep going on this roll. I thank the Minister for Transport. I have brought up the issue of the N24, almost on a weekly basis, for the past couple of months because it was taken off the list of priorities. In fairness to the Minister, he has listened to the concerns that I and colleagues have raised over the past number of months, especially councillors.
I commend Councillor Marie Murphy in Tipperary and the cathaoirleach, Councillor Pat Dunphy, in Kilkenny and a range of councillors who have all come together as part of our first citizens' forum in the south east. They have used this issue, together, to fight to get it back on the list. I thank the Minister for listening to all of us make that case. It was stopping housing projects, as well. The one thing the Minister understood was that we did not want to do so while this project was going ahead.
I wish everybody a very happy International Women's Day. The reason I wish to speak about it is I have been working with many female carers, many of whom are agency workers. With the war going on and the increasing cost of fuel, they find the cost involved in driving from A to B is not making it very effective for them to work.The costs involved in driving from A to B is making working untenable for them and by the time they pay tax and so on, they are saying they would be far better off on social welfare. However, they do not want to claim social welfare but want to go out to work. It is time for a debate on carers and how we can help them. I have written to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler to highlight this issue. I ask for a debate to be scheduled as soon as possible on carers.
I agree with Senator Ahearn that the Minister for Transport is to be complimented on letting money be provided for the road from Limerick to Waterford through Cahir. It is most welcome. I also compliment all of the councillors from Limerick down to Waterford who took a unified approach to the issue. I congratulate all involved and thank the Minister for announcing this most welcome funding. It will be beneficial to a lot of businesses and will greatly assist in the development of the region.
I want to raise the Electricity Costs (Domestic Electricity Accounts) Emergency Measures Bill which the President signed into the law at the weekend. I have no doubt that the money off electricity bills will be welcomed by many people across the country who are struggling with their energy costs. However, during the Committee Stage debate on the Bill I flagged my concern that the Government was planning to use funds allocated for energy poverty retrofits for the electricity credit. Today at the Oireachtas Select Committee on Environment and Climate Action, it emerged that the Better Energy Communities, BEC, scheme's budget is being slashed by €19 million, a 30% cut, in order to pay for the €200 electricity credit. It is deeply frustrating that €19 million is being taken from energy poverty retrofits when as much as €26 million is funding electricity credits for holiday homes and vacant properties.
I tabled very practical amendments to the Electricity Costs (Domestic Electricity Accounts) Emergency Measures Bill that would have prevented energy poverty alleviation funds from being misused like this but they were defeated. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications was categorical in his response when he said that funding for the credit would not come out of energy poverty measures but it now appears that the Minister misled the Seanad. I would like to invite him back to correct the record.
More needs to be done to get a handle on the crisis but it has to be done in a progressive way. The Minister is plundering the budgets of schemes that are designed to help the most vulnerable while energy companies are recording record profits. I would prefer to see the Government taxing the windfall profits of energy companies and reinvesting the revenue in measures that would help people in energy poverty with renovations and develop renewable electricity. I call on the Leader to write to the Minister to ask him to correct the statement in which he categorically denied that a cut was going to be made to the energy poverty retrofit scheme.
Today I want to talk about problems facing community centres in Dublin West although I imagine there are community centres all over the country that are facing the same problems. I am referring to centres that are not owned by local authorities but are owned by the community and which need work done on them. Such work can include fire safety works, as is the case in Huntstown and Hartstown community centres. This work must be undertaken because both centres are home to childcare facilities and pre-schools but the money is not there to do it. We are talking here about six figure sums for the work that is needed but it is not realistic to expect the community centres to rely entirely on the local community to pay for that work.
The programme for Government, I am glad to say, references small-scale funding for community centres but I urge the Government not to underestimate the size of the fund required, the scale of the works that are required and the number of community centres that need funding.If I am talking about two in my area, and a third community centre that is owned by the community, then let us multiply that by however many to get to where we need to be. These are community centres and I have a list of services here for Huntstown, including The Daughters of Charity, the Afterschool Academy, football, Beavers, Foróige, the Garda youth diversion project, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Dyslexia Dublin 15 support group for parents, the Fingal integration women's forum, and Siel Bleu. This is the essence of community. Whether or not the local authorities own them, we need to make sure that they are invested in and the money is there to bring them up to standard.
I agree with Senator Malcolm Byrne's call for an invitation to be given to President Zelenskiy to come here to speak to us. That would be an important move of solidarity and in accordance with everything we have said about the crisis, war and invasion to date.
Today, I wish to raise water sports and the importance of the State granting supports to it. In Dún Laoghaire we are very lucky to have excellent facilities. We also have an elite training unit for Olympic athletes. Sailing is a sport that is very often practised by only a small number of people, despite the fact that it should be readily available to much larger groups within society. It is also a sport where men and women can participate as part of a team. That is appropriate today in particular given that it is International Women's Day. Sailing provides an opportunity to bring people together. It is a sport that is very healthy but is also very environmentally friendly. More importantly, it is a sport that should be practised more in our island community. The fact is that none of us live very far away from the sea, even people in the midlands. Sailing is done on lakes as well as by the coasts throughout the country.
The time has come for the Government to invest in water sports centres around the country. I know of a project that is going on in Dún Laoghaire to repurpose the ferry terminal that was abandoned by Stena almost seven years ago. This is a model that can be recreated throughout the country. It behoves the Government to invest in exactly this kind of healthy sporting opportunity for communities at every level, age, ability and gender. The time has come for the Government to put in place a particular programme to support not just sailing but all water sports through targeted investment in water-adjacent communities, be they near lakes, rivers or coastal areas. I would like us to have a debate on that to see if there is something the Government can do to properly foster a water sports tradition in this country.
I thank all Senators for their contribution. Two themes stand out, the first being International Women's Day. I wish all women across the country and the world a happy International Women's Day. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women but of course not everyone is going to enjoy this day in the same way as others. The second theme that emerged as a major issue was Ukraine. Clearly, there are millions of women and children in Ukraine that are having a very pitiful, worrying and sorrowful International Women's Day and our thoughts and prayers go to all of them. I commend Senator Dooley and Billy Kelleher, MEP, on their trip to Ukraine at the weekend. It was an important initiative to hear and see at first hand from those in authority and to see in real life what we see on the screens. Senator Dooley talked about what is needed in terms of equipment. Senator O'Loughlin commented on support for Ukrainians and her work in the past in opening homes for the Special Olympics.Following the establishment of the portal yesterday, so many Irish people are offering to open their homes to Ukrainians. Certainly there will be some issues there in terms of vetting and child protection issues that will have to be sorted but certainly the spirit of generosity is there. Senator Pauline O'Reilly talked about approved housing bodies not allowing some of their homes to be made available or rooms within their homes to be made available. I certainly hope that the committee within Cabinet that is dealing with Ukraine can examine that and see the rationale as to why that is happening. It really should not be happening.
Senator Malcolm Byrne talked about an invitation to President Zelenskiy. We can certainly take that up with the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight. Perhaps the Leas-Cathaoirleach will raise it with the Cathaoirleach in his absence and with the Ceann-Comhairle to see about a joint sitting to invite President Zelenskiy. I will ask the Leas-Cathaoirleach to take the matter up with the Cathaoirleach.
Arising out the issues in Ukraine, Senator Malcolm Byrne also talked of a debate on the future of Europe. I will certainly ask for that.
Senator Craughwell touched on the issue of neutrality. Many of the issues that have come to the fore over the last period of time have always been there. We have a situation whereby as a neutral country we will not support the purchase of a tank for example, but we will support the purchase of fuel to run the tank. There is a slight anomaly there in my view; it is an Irish solution to an Irish problem. There is a serious debate needed in respect of this matter. Some would say that Ukraine was attacked because it was becoming closer to NATO, but it is not a member of NATO. The question is whether if it was a member of NATO, would it have been attacked. That question is extremely important. That is not to say that I believe we should join NATO, but there are serious questions here regarding our role and our security. If we cannot defend our nation, who are we going to get to defend us should something happen? People will say who is going to invade us? In 20 or 30 years' time, who knows who might invade or what sort of madmen will be out there.
Senator Norris opened the proceedings with a tribute to the former Senator, the late John A. Murphy. I know the Leas-Cathaoirleach will have that arranged to be sent together with other contributions as well last week, during the minute's silence and tributes to the family.
Senator Conway talked about International Women's Day in the context of Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins, the former Deputy who represented East Galway and who will celebrate her 90th birthday on Thursday. She was first elected to the 16th Dáil in 1957. We remember her and her contribution at a time when women in politics were very rare.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly talked of her disappointment regarding the fur farming Bill. There was an issue with section 7 of that Bill in terms of the engagement with the fur farmers. We are talking about only three farmers, but they have rights. They employ a significant number of workers. Discussions need to take place and be concluded with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Obviously, not wanting to prejudice those discussions, there was some concern expressed in the House regarding accepting section 7 of the Bill in advance of concrete information on what is happening in regard to compensation. That was the reason the Bill was pulled for today. If there are more concrete developments in the next few days, I hope that the debate on the Bill can proceed later in the week.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly also talked about the great news in regard to the temporary school building for Galway Educate Together. The school has been operating in temporary accommodation that is no longer fit for purpose. The Department has come up with school buildings in Newtownsmith in the heart of Galway city. That is a positive development.
Senator Ó Donngaile talked about International Women's Day. He is right of course, women are very often the most impacted by poverty, war, cost of living, and unfortunately we see women and children leaving in their droves from Ukraine. There will be millions of people displaced depending on how long this war lasts. Will it last a year? Will it last five years? We do not know. We hope it will be finished tomorrow. We wish it never started, but it did. This country, the European Union and the international community have to assist by doing all that they can.Senators Hoey and Flynn also referenced International Women's Day, as well as the issues surrounding Travellers and the Traveller movement, such as their lower life expectancy and higher rates of suicide. Senator Flynn spoke of the National Travellers Women's Forum and how they want a brighter future for their children. Of course, we all want brighter futures for all of our children here in this country and across the world as well. Senator Flynn referenced accommodation. The budget for the past two years has been spent in our local authorities, according to the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, which is important because it was not being spent.
Senator Dooley talked of his trip.
Senator Buttimer talked again of Ukraine and standing in solidarity and the céad míle fáilte that will no doubt be shown to Ukrainians, some of whom already have arrived, as well as those who will arrive in the future. I imagine that the St. Patrick's Day parades across the country will reference support for Ukrainian citizens. I can imagine the flags will be flying in our St. Patrick's Day parades as an act of solidarity and no doubt that will happen organically. Senator Buttimer also talked about the rise in fuel costs, which is something that is very much a concern. Some of it is relating to the international instability over the past number of weeks but it is something that is becoming more of an issue. I will certainly ask for a debate on that.
Senator Keogan first expressed the hope that we can all support the coffee morning tomorrow morning in the Members' private dining room at 10 a.m. We will do our best to be there. It is held in support of the situation in Ukraine and there will be ambassadors from around the world attending. She asked for a debate on public liability and certainly that was the view, namely, that we were going to have a fall in premiums if the amount of payouts fell. That certainly is what we were being told, that if the payouts are reduced, the premiums will fall. Where that is not happening, it should be the case. Therefore, we will ask for a follow-up with the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, on that. IPB Insurance, the Irish public bodies mutual insurers, does a tremendous job in relation to our local authorities and if it can expand its cover, it would certainly be beneficial to community groups. I can certainly suggest that to it and I urge the Senator to contact them as well with the representative from her native county and any other county.
Senator Hackett talked of International Women's Day as well and noted women in the midlands.
Senators Ahearn and Maria Byrne talked of the N24 road, among a number of other things. I would like to again compliment the Minster, Deputy Eamon Ryan on agreeing that where there was, if you like, sterilisation of land, because a number of routes were chosen for roads, for example, in the N24 and the Mullingar-Longford area as well, that they would be allowed to continue the process to get to preferred route stage. That would reduce the level of land sterilisation and from there, one can go to the next stage of planning and design. Therefore, it is important those steps are continually taken. I would like to welcome that announcement from the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan and compliment Senator Ahearn, in particular, on his advocacy on that. He also mentioned Councillor Marie Murphy in Tipperary, the cathaoirleach of the first citizens forum in the region.
Senator Maria Byrne also asked for a discussion on agency staff and the costs for carers. Clearly, carers do much travelling and driving. They have to be able to drive to be able to get from Mrs. Murphy's house to Mrs. Keener's house or whatever and they are driving up byroads going up beside those places. They cannot be expected to rely on public transport in rural areas . Therefore, it is required that you drive your car. Where that is costing money because of increased fuel prices, there needs to be recognition of that.
Senator Boylan talked of the €200 energy rebate, which is due to be taken off people's bills. She talked of the issues in relation to the committee. I will ask that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan be contacted. He will have to decide whether the record needs to be corrected or not. I am not aware of what he said in particular. However, I know the reason there was a universal scheme was to ensure that there was speedy enactment and provision of funds. If we had to go through a more prolonged period of legislation to determine who was eligible or not and how that would be enforced and the administration of that, it would take longer and would be possibly more costly.I welcome that the credit has been issued. I will contact him on where that funding is coming from.
Senator Currie spoke about an issue that is very close to my heart, namely, community centres. I have long advocated that as things stand, there is no community centre fund to which people wishing to construct a new community centre can apply. As the Senator will know, €5 million was allocated in last year's budget for the maintenance or upgrade of existing community centres but I am not aware that any scheme in that regard has been launched. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, will be able to provide information in terms of her plans to roll out that scheme. The Senator mentioned that that scheme should be open not only to local authorities but community centres in the ownership of the church and other groups. The latter would have to be eligible because if there are fire safety or other issues, they need to be rectified. I would advise the Senator to engage on the matter with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, by way of Commencement matter.
In my view, there is an absolute necessity for a community centre fund for growing and newly-established communities. The cost of building a community centre from scratch are astronomical. It costs up to €7 million to build one to specification, depending on size, with new modern day standards, building regulations and so on. There needs to be a dedicated fund for growing communities throughout the country.
Senator Ward raised the issue of water sports and sailing. Again, the Senator might consider raising a Commencement matter on the issue because it is quite specific or he might request a meeting directly with the Minister. There are a number of sports in which we could encourage more participation subject to funding, equipment and volunteers. I have no doubt there are greater possibilities within sailing. I encourage Senator Ward to engage with the Minister and the Department to see what additional opportunities might be made available to encourage sailing across the country.
I reaffirm my support for International Women's Day, which was the main focus of contribution today, and solidarity to all those who are fleeing the atrocities in Ukraine.