Seanad debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

10:30 am

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann:
acknowledges that:

- the invasion by Russia of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, and the attack on its people, is an outrageous and immoral breach of the most fundamental and basic principles of international law;

- the United Nations (UN) Charter requires all countries to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state;

- the use of brute force by Russia in pursuit of a warped perception of national interest is a serious affront and presents Europe with the gravest security situation it has faced in decades, with repercussions for global security and for the world’s economy;

- the Ukrainian people are being subjected to constant bombardment, atrocities and war crimes which are being committed throughout the country, but most particularly in Mariupol;

notes that:

- the Russian war against Ukraine is inflicting incalculable suffering on the Ukrainian people, with continued targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure by the Russian forces;

- the Irish Government, along with the international community, remains resolute in its solidarity and support for Ukraine, and reiterates the call on Russia to cease all hostilities immediately and to withdraw from Ukraine unconditionally;

- Ireland has acted decisively in terms of its diplomatic actions, urging and advocating for strong sanctions packages against Russia and the interests of its Oligarchs, and calling early for the removal of Russian Banks from SWIFT;

- Ireland has been to the forefront of efforts at a UN level calling for humanitarian access corridors and supporting the Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly;

- Ireland has supported the expedited EU membership applicant status for Ukraine, including demonstrating leadership in inviting the European Commission to swiftly submit its opinion on Ukraine’s application to become a member, thereby deepening the partnership between the EU and Ukraine;

- Ireland was at the forefront of supporting the application of the Temporary Protection Directive to Ukraine, thereby ensuring the maximum of cooperation and support to Ukrainian citizens fleeing the war, and travelling to Ireland;

- Ireland has supported the EU financial aid package of €500m for Ukraine, contributing €11m of non-lethal elements;

- Ireland has provided €20m in humanitarian aid to Ukraine which is supporting the UN and the Red Cross to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and in neighbouring countries;

- the HSE has provided medical supplies through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism and the Department of Foreign Affairs Rapid Response Register has been activated, making skilled humanitarians available at short notice to the UN system;

- the Irish Government is coordinating a whole-of-Government approach under the leadership of the Department of the Taoiseach and that every Government Department is mobilising to respond to the needs of Ukrainians, both within Ukraine and those who are refugees coming to Ireland and throughout the EU;

- the Irish Government has established reception supports at our airports and ports to assist Ukrainian refugees, staffed by officials from the Departments of Justice, Social Protection, Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and other State Departments and Agencies;

- the Irish Government is committed to the seamless continuation of education, especially early child education for children and young people from Ukraine at primary and post-primary levels, and that the Government will make language provision available for all Ukrainians a priority, as well as access to third-level education to ensure a continuation of studies;

- the Irish people have demonstrated enormous generosity in their response to the humanitarian crisis caused by this unprovoked war in terms of:
- donations to the Red Cross of over €20m from the Irish public and business community;

- pledges of accommodation and supports that exceed 20,000 pledges to date;

- Irish NGOs and local community groups have donated goods and services, with many travelling to Poland to provide supports to fleeing Ukrainians;
- Ireland has exhibited a very generous spirit in terms of supporting Ukrainian refugees and that this must be demonstrated in the practical support of the mainly women and children arriving in Ireland over the past month and in the coming months;


- the open position which Ireland has taken in collaboration with our EU partners to welcome Ukrainian refugees into our country without restriction;

- the great lengths the Ukrainian President is going to in addressing both Houses of the Oireachtas;

calls for:
Trauma Support:

- in acknowledgement of the trauma experienced by those arriving from Ukraine, noting that war crimes are being committed and that this is likely to have impacted more particularly on the women, and the ongoing trauma that will be experienced as they fear for the lives of those left behind in Ukraine, that counselling supports, both individual and group supports are provided free of charge around the country;

- Safe Ireland, Women’s Aid, the Rape Crisis Centres and other such services to be provided with additional supports to enable them to enlarge their services;


- the provision of an incentive scheme to secure accommodation in vacant and holiday homes for use by Ukrainian refugees as a more appropriate and cost-effective way to provide accommodation when compared to hotel accommodation;

Education and Work:

- the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to ensure the system of recognition of the skills and qualifications of Ukrainians is expedited to support those Ukrainians who want to access the workplace;

- every endeavour to be made to ensure that services are expanded with qualified Ukrainian personnel to ease the access to services with competent fluent Ukrainian and Russian speakers;

- the provision of technological supports to assist in hybrid education and remote working;

- support for the expansion of the Erasmus programme, the EU Programme for Education, Training, Youth and Sport, to fund a dedicated European Scholarship Scheme, which will remove any financial and regulatory barriers for students and researchers wishing to continue with their studies;

- support for adjustments to the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) programme to ensure Ukrainian students are supported to attend third-level education;

- support for the expansion of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses along with online options for Age 18+, including the necessary budget supports for Education Training Boards (ETBs);

- support for the role of County Liaison Committees, for cross-departmental supports based on ETBs, to accelerate teaching supports/additional accommodation for primary and post-primary schools at maximum capacity, using the National Inventory of School Capacity, to ensure education provision for Ukrainian children;

- increased allocation of English as an Additional Language (EAS) support posts and National Educational Psychologists (NEPS) services to support Ukrainian children at primary and post-primary levels;

- the Department of Rural and Community Development to work with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to ensure that public buildings, business hubs and community centres can be made available for the provision of healthcare and psychosocial supports, of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (DSGBV) supports, of supports for the elderly and people with a disability, and childcare and child minding supports, along with the provision of language and interpretation supports to ensure services can be accessed;


- the immediate recognition of Ukrainian driving licenses;


- in relation to education/social welfare/health information, the provision of a one-stop-shop website in the relevant languages of Ukrainian refuges to ensure the availability of all information;

- the Government to provide funding to hire local liaison personnel and translators;

- support for the roll-out of a national volunteer effort to support families and children from the Ukraine, co-ordinated through the community call structure which worked so successfully during the Covid-19 pandemic in mobilising and coordinating community and voluntary efforts at local level.

It is a real honour for me to propose this motion today on behalf of the Fine Gael group. This motion is our collective view. It passionately reflects the united commitment of my colleagues to ensure that the words "I stand with Ukraine" have real meaning in the lives of those who are fleeing this murder. I thank the Minister for taking this today. I have been in Normandy on 6 June. I have watched the commemorations of the lives lost in the Second World War, the front rows filled with the yearly dwindling numbers of veterans who stand shoulder to shoulder in honour, remembering that they fought for freedom in the face of a man who believed that whole nations did not deserve to exist. They saw some horrific atrocities and the genocide of the Holocaust and they conquered.

I have stood in Ypres at the Menin Gate during the sounding of the last post at 8 p.m. which has been done every night since 1928 with the exception of the Second World War years, remembering those who died for freedom and independence in the so-called war to end all wars, and I have stood reading the names of the Irish men who made the ultimate sacrifice. We have a medal at home from the Great War, given to my husband's grandfather, who left an impoverished Dublin, unable to find work in the fallout from the 1913 Lock-out. He joined the British army as a means to feed his family. He never once spoke of what he saw or experienced, not just because it was culturally impermissible in post-1916 Ireland, but because the trauma of it was unimaginable.

The United Nations and the European Union were both born from a desire to ensure that there would never be war on such a scale again. The European Union in particular was founded on the principle of ensuring peace in Europe. It is therefore unthinkable that for the first time in seven decades, Europe again faces a war where one person and his regime have decided that a democratic nation does not have a right to exist.

Ukraine is a noble nation that chose a democratic pathway towards its free and independent nationhood, that aspired to build relationships with and take its place in Europe in wanting to join the European Union. It voted, it decided, so the idea that some other nation would deny its legitimacy is outrageous and immoral. It is a barbaric assault on democracy. Putin has launched an assault on Ukraine because he is afraid of democracy, afraid of Ukraine's freedom to democratically choose its government and the possibility that Russia itself would so chose. We have seen the most egregious atrocities, we have heard the stories of horrific war crimes told to us by the familiar faces of journalists we know and trust. We have seen the images of bloodied civilians, of bodies in the street. I shudder to think every day of what might be happening to the women in Mariupol. In recent days we have heard reports that more than 6,000 residents of Mariupol have been forcibly deported and taken to Russia. This evokes a painful memory and echoes of history for Ukrainians of the trauma of mass deportations inflicted by Soviet Union between 1936 and 1952, when more than 60,000 Ukrainians and Poles were forcibly deported to Siberia.

Putin's threat regarding "consequences greater than any of you have faced in history" is not just a threat to Ukraine. Indeed it is a threat to the West and to the whole world. It is extraordinary that we watch, live, as Russia shuts down information to its own people as their president sells them lies. We watch with horror from our free democracy the stories from our history books incredibly springing to life, stories of mass oppression and of murder happening live before our eyes.I looked up Tripadvisor to see what it would say about the restaurants in Mariupol. It has very impressive photographs of beautiful restaurants with four-star recommendations but they are a grim reminder of a life that is no more and a city pummelled to the ground. Even if there is a cessation of the murder tomorrow, Ukraine will already have lost so much. This is to say nothing of the thousands who will never see their loved ones alive again. Therefore, it is absolutely right that we embrace those fleeing Ukraine with open arms, think about the women and children arriving on our shores and cherish them and catch them as they, in the safety of Ireland, come to realise the shock of what has happened and await news of what is to come. We stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they mourn their lives as they knew them and come to terms with the trauma that has befallen them. It is absolutely right that we embrace them.

I am so proud of the Irish people’s openness and generosity. This war will not be without a cost to us as a people; it will not be without pain to us. We have to brace ourselves for what may lie ahead and is yet unknown. I am so proud of what has been done in the name of the Irish people by our Government, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, who led the charge in Europe and the UN in ensuring action against Russia. I am also proud of the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, who stepped forward very early to break down the barriers associated with documentation that may have delayed women and children in coming to Ireland, and of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, who made personal public service, PPS, numbers available at the point of arrival and ensured financial supports would be provided. Each Department has played an extraordinary role. I am really pleased with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, which continues to be instrumental in providing accommodation, supports and care, including childcare. These Departments have been followed by the Departments of Education and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Instrumental decisions have been made by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on supports for farmers in Ireland as we brace ourselves for the impact.

Our Government has really stepped up and has been decisive in its support of our fellow nation and citizens. I am very proud of my Fine Gael party colleagues and their decisive leadership. I am also proud of the decisions made in private without any publicity and that have put life, care and support first. I am proud that having a harp on one’s passport really means something. It means that those affected by the changes and horror in Ukraine are supported by this State and its Government.

It is really important that we do not look away. We must not dilute our resolve. We must remember our Ukrainian brothers and sisters at all times. Our initial reaction of embrace must be maintained, and we must support each other as a nation to ensure we continue to stand with Ukraine. We must not get used to what we are seeing on television. We must not soften in our horror over the annihilation of a nation and its people. When we look back at this time, what will we think of ourselves and our actions? Will we have done all we could possibly have done?

Now is not the time to debate neutrality; no objective discussion could take place in the face of the atrocities we are seeing. Now is the time to stand strong and be biased in favour of a people and the humanitarian care they require. These people have chosen democracy, especially while we cherish our own. Now is the time when we must step up our efforts, ensuring the women and children coming among us in trauma and mourning will not want for anything. Hence, we have set out this motion and all its needs and asks. Yes, that means sharing resources that are already stretched. It means sharing our spaces, even our private spaces, with strangers who will become friends. When we stand with Ukraine, we stand for democracy. We are standing against a bully and for our own way of life.

When I first spoke about Ukraine in this House, I quoted the press release from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. It is particularly poignant. It states Auschwitz has seen atrocities and also blue skies. With the indulgence of the House, I will end with a Jewish poem of remembrance because it fits this occasion:

At the rising of the sun and at its going down

We remember them.

At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter

We remember them.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring

We remember them.

At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer

We remember them.

At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn

We remember them.

At the beginning of the year and when it ends

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live;

For they are now a part of us

As we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength

We remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart

We remember them.

When we have joy we crave to share

We remember them.

When we have decisions that are difficult to make

We remember them.

When we have achievements that are based on theirs

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live;

For they are now a part of us

As we remember them.

I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I second the motion. I thank Senator Seery Kearney for proposing this motion and her very moving contribution. From the Government support and, I hope, the cross-party support in the Seanad and the rest of the Oireachtas, it is very clear that Ireland condemns the war in Ukraine. I very much want to pay tribute to President Zelenskiy and his country and Government for defending a democracy. I hope the peace talks will come to a resolution. They have to.

It falls to Ireland to support a country in crisis. As my colleague has said, the Government is acting on all fronts, which is excellent to see. As Fine Gael spokesperson on education, further and higher education, research, innovation and science, I confirm the Government’s commitment to access to education for people from Ukraine. Close to 15,000 people have now arrived in Ireland. One third of them are children and young people under 18. We expect to see 20,000 by the end of the month, which will be in another few days, and a rise to perhaps 40,000 by the end of next month, and then even more.

Towns across Ireland have come together to organise collections and make financial donations. It has been incredible. We have seen people really pulling together. What kept us strong during the lockdown is coming to the fore again, that is, the sense of community spirit and the empathy of Irish people. Generations before us knew what it was like to face this type of devastation and starvation. We know about it from our history. Forty percent of the buildings in Mariupol are destroyed. The people from there are fleeing devastation, death and starvation. They may never be able to return to Ukraine.

In speaking about this motion, I am speaking specifically about support for children at primary, post-primary and third levels. We have to ensure routine and normality for these children because these are so important. The children are leaving a war, so we need to ensure that we have supports in place to minimise disruption to their education when they arrive. We must also ensure that well-being and counselling supports are available. We must provide teachers with the resources to support the children during such trauma.

In towns across Ireland, there are major capacity issues. Primary schools are at their maximum enrolment levels. This story is replicated in certain areas in towns, making things very difficult. We need classrooms and prefabricated structures. The latter will be required in urgent circumstances. We need teaching supports and assistants teaching English as an additional language, EAL, in all our schools. We welcome the liaison groups that are to be set up through education and training boards across the country and call on the Department of Education to provide accelerated teaching supports and additional accommodation for primary and post-primary schools, using the national inventory of school capacity. That will be a great way for us to identify schools that have the capacity, and also support those that do not right now but that could, to ensure we can provide for Ukrainian children. It has to be co-ordinated through the education and training boards and county liaison committees. We must increase the number of posts, including those of national educational psychologists, in schools at primary and post-primary levels.

At third level, we must examine supports for students across a number of areas. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, under his Department, has highlighted the opportunity to use the Erasmus programme to fund scholarships at European level. We must also consider maintenance supports in addition to expanding the availability of English-language courses within our education and training boards. In Fine Gael, we are calling for the expansion of the Erasmus programme and the removal of financial and regulatory barriers for students and researchers who wish to continue with their studies. We are supporting adjustments to the SUSI programme to ensure Ukrainian students are supported to attend at third level. Again, we must see the expansion of courses in English for speakers of other languages, ESOL, in all our education and training boards, which are in every town across the country. This is something we can achieve. We need to ensure qualifications are recognised in Ireland and that people can start working as per the temporary protection directive.

During the pandemic, including the lockdowns, we saw a huge community call. I am sure the Minister of State witnessed this in his area, including GAA and other sports clubs. People pulled together. Again, we need to see a huge national volunteer effort. I am aware that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, is working on this. So many are willing to help. Part of the objective of our motion is to mobilise and co-ordinate voluntary efforts at local level. The people of our country are working together and supporting Government initiatives to help families to build new lives in Ireland. These families may not be able to return to their beloved Ukraine in the interim. This is about helping them to restart and continue their lives in the aftermath of this tragedy, be that in education or in a work setting, and to achieve what they wish to achieve in the context of qualifications.

I thank Senators Seery Kearney and Cummins, all my colleagues in this House and in the Lower House and all our Government Ministers. This is a cross-departmental effort. I also thank communities in my region, because, like all my colleagues, I have seen volunteers coming forward. They have renovated school buildings and community centres, while families have also come forward to offer rooms to refugees in their homes. This is an incredible response. Let us help those out there pushing so hard right now.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I thank the Fine Gael Senators for moving this motion. It gives us a valuable opportunity to recognise and applaud the work being done and to identify where more work needs to be done and where the gaps in our system lie. The sheer volume of aid raised through donations of money and supplies and the time and effort spent volunteering to help refugees, along with the hospitality and generosity of people opening their homes, is a true testament to Irish people putting their hearts into helping their neighbours. Everyone who has helped should be immensely proud.

As we look forward to the weeks and months to come, I strongly believe that the people of Ukraine who find themselves in Ireland will be best served by a centralised response from the Government that plans for the long term. The goodwill of our communities can do so much, but it will never operate efficiently without centralised oversight, and responsibility for that lies with the Government. We need a National Public Health Emergency Team-style task force to be assembled to co-ordinate the response and for there to be one figurehead with ultimate responsibility for managing, processing and housing Ukrainian refugees. We have reception supports at our ports of entry, staffed by departmental officials, to help to process incoming refugees. These have been operating on the basis of opening and closing hours, and that is ridiculous. They need to be operating 24-7, as people are coming into the country and walking past closed offices and missing out on information and supports.

We also need fast-tracked Garda vetting for all individuals seeking to volunteer to work with refugees. The Red Cross has raised this issue as well regarding the pledges which have been made to house refugees. We need long-term supports and resources in the context of housing. What checks are being carried out on those buildings being used to house refugees? Are the hotels in which they are being lodged certified for fire safety? These questions must be answered, and the questions cannot be bounced from Department to Department. A task force must order these inquiries.

Anyone processing refugees will say that the biggest problem with the system relates to opening bank accounts. While refugees are being given personal public service numbers they have no public services cards. To get one of those, it is necessary for refugees to have a letter from a statutory body, which they do not have. With no public services card, refugees cannot open a bank account and without a bank account, refugees cannot work. In 2022, the application process for a public services card still relies on face-to-face meetings, which must be booked by appointment. In the face of this humanitarian crisis, this is ludicrous. The process must be streamlined and made accessible to refugees. Equally, what long-term supports are being put in place for schools? I refer to teaching English as a foreign language classes, translators, and temporary infrastructure. Who will make this happen? The buck cannot be passed on to the local communities and volunteers. They lack the resources and ability to institute the changes necessary to facilitate refugees.

Regarding accommodation, the 2016 census found that there were 62,000 holiday homes and just short of 250,000 vacant properties here. I am all in favour of an incentive scheme to make use of these buildings. After all, it is for a good cause. I must wonder, however, if all the homeless people in Ireland are not also a good cause. Are those already in direct provision in this country not a good cause too? Are refugees from conflicts in other parts of the world also not a good cause? Such a scheme to make use of housing would be an excellent idea and it would have my full support, but the question must be asked about why we are only thinking of doing this now. That is food for thought.

Our local authorities must play a central role in accommodating refugees. They must be given accurate and up-to-date figures on the number of refugees relocating into their areas and their current housing locations to allow follow-up and follow-on for proper planning and processing. Each council must have a liaison officer who will deal directly with Ukrainians, and who must be fluent in Ukrainian or be accompanied by a translator, and who must remain aware of all the supports available to refugees to enable those families to best avail of them. We need a robust authentication system for qualifications issued by Ukrainian education and professional institutions, which strikes a fair balance between workability and thoroughness. We must also examine what needs to be done to facilitate the moving of students into third level education so they can finish their degrees. In addition, we must help Irish students who were studying in Ukraine. How are they being facilitated to continue their degree courses at home?

We also need trauma counselling in every school that will be taking in Ukrainian students. Recognition of Ukrainian driver licences must extend to other vehicle categories, such as heavy goods vehicles, where applicable. Again, this is to facilitate people working.

The final point is that, as unpopular as it may be, some form of screening must be put in place eventually. This is not to prevent legitimate refugees from entering the country, but to ensure instead that our resources go to legitimate refugees, rather than to non-Ukrainian residents in possession of a Ukrainian passport who may seek to take advantage of our emergency entry requirements. The bottom line is that the response to this crisis must be centralised and the lines of communication down the chain of command must be robust. Only then, will we be able to do the right thing by the people who need our help now.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleagues in Fine Gael for bringing forward this motion and giving us an opportunity to discuss the crisis in Ukraine and all the matters relating to it. Many Senators, this week and last week, have outlined the horrific things we have been seeing. It feels very close to home because it is very close to home. There are other conflict zones around the world, but this war has, for different reasons for different people, grabbed the hearts and minds of Irish people. The outpouring of love, support and generosity from the public has been phenomenal.

The situation in Ukraine is appalling. It is a cruel and barbaric invasion of a western democratic country, where people's freedom of choice and liberty are being undermined and threatened by a dictator, Vladimir Putin. The Ukrainian people will feel the impact for decades to come. Many of them have fled their homes and businesses. I discussed this issue with friends recently. The experience these refugees have gone through would be like us here having to pack our bags, leave behind the houses we saved for, the cars we bought and all our belongings, and try to fit our entire lives into one bag or suitcase. We might then be stopped at the border and have to leave our husbands and fathers behind while we continue the journey onward alone. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must feel like to go through such an experience, then to land in a country about which people know little - perhaps nothing - to try and start a new life and protect their children. If the same were to happen in reverse, if any of us here had to pack our lives into one bag, bring our children with us and move to Ukraine, with no date to return home, how would we cope with and handle that situation? It is unbearable to think about, but that is what Ukrainian people are dealing with now.

I refer to the situation at border areas. Poland in particular is dealing with huge numbers of people. All the countries bordering Ukraine are trying to deal with a humanitarian crisis whose scale is many times greater than the situation we are dealing with.While it is difficult here, it is much more difficult in those countries. I commend our colleagues in those neighbouring countries. Poland jumps to mind because I know it has taken the largest number of refugees. It is doing everything it can to facilitate, by housing, feeding and providing education, medical assistance and mental health supports to so many people. It is an incredible response from those countries and we are following their steps in trying to do the same thing for the refugees. I think some 600 are arriving here every day and a total of 15,000 or 16,000 have already arrived. We believe it will be about 30,000 by the end of April. The numbers are enormous for a small country like Ireland. We will manage and we will deal with this. It will be difficult; there is no point saying otherwise.

The Government's response has been very good. We really need to make decisions as we go. We are dealing with issues as they happen and we are resolving them along the way. There has been no time to plan and prepare for this. Credit is due to all Departments and Ministers who are dealing with the areas of education, housing, health, justice and social protection. Every Minister across all Departments has been on this issue and is doing a fantastic job.

I also pay credit to our local authorities. I recently spoke to one of our directors of services. In Mayo we have welcomed a number of refugees already but the local authorities in Cork and Dublin have faced the initial wave. They are effectively putting together lists of community halls, hotel rooms, guest houses, and bed and breakfasts that are not operational and can be brought back into use. It really brings home the scale of the challenge presented to all our local authorities. They are looking to put in place contingency beds, which are effectively camp beds. Today we have been talking in this Chamber about the tented village to be set up close to Dublin.

It is an immense task for the country to try to deal with. We need to be very cautious if we are putting people into such emergency accommodation. We have been used to referring to emergency accommodation as being hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest houses. However, that is still not a permanent home. Now we are talking about tents, which really cannot be a permanent fixture. This must be an initial place where refugees come for maybe a week or so.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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One night.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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We need to move people on to more permanent accommodation and not leave people in tents. We need to understand the scale of this and we do not know where we are going. In six months' time, how many will we be dealing with? A colossal number of refugees will be seeking our help.

I commend those who have pledged their own accommodation. I believe we have received about 25,000 pledges of accommodation, including spare rooms as well as entire apartments or houses. People are accommodating families in their homes. That level of generosity is overwhelming and profound. It is incredible for people to welcome somebody into their home for 12, 18 or 24 months or perhaps even longer. It is incredible to see that number of people offering space in their homes to people in need and they should be commended on it. It will go a long way towards helping the Government to deal with the housing situation for those refugees coming in.

The task ahead of us, as a people, a country and a government, is enormous. It is really important that we, as public representatives of all parties and none, stick together and work together. We need to refrain from populism and from commentary that would somehow suggests this is an easy thing to deal with. It is not easy and it will not be easy. It will push our country. We will do the right thing because we would expect the same in return if it happened to us. It is about looking at this in a humanitarian way and looking after the immediate needs of those fleeing a warzone; that is essentially what is happening.

I offer céad míle fáilte to all those Ukrainians coming to our country, predominantly women and children. They are welcome here and we will do our best to look after them and provide them with everything they need in terms of getting their children into school, proper housing, health supports and everything else that goes with that. Our country will be a better for having these lovely people come to live here with us. For however long that may be, we will manage this.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, to the Chamber. It is always good to have a Minister of State in the Chamber. Especially when that Minister of State is from Kildare, I have to make sure I warmly welcome him here.

I commend Fine Gael Members on their very considered wording of this motion. I commend Senators Seery Kearney and Dolan on their eloquent opening contributions. They are a credit to democracy and to their party.

I wish to make three points in the short time I have. I would like to address the issues of renewables, accommodation and what I hope is a seismic shift in the value system of the free world in how we respond to such barbaric atrocities. It is important for us to start to talk about what we need to do here in welcoming refugees from Ukraine. We need to be clear on what is required to help and support people fleeing war. The considered wording of this motion lays out fairly directly what the State needs to do, particularly in education, trauma support and work. Using the structure of the community call that we developed during the Covid pandemic has been beneficial. We need to ensure that the local authorities and volunteers are supported in this.

We need to be clear that renewables offer us a way out of this crisis. Increasing our reliance on gas and other fossil fuels only sets us up for failure again. Renewables are forces of peace. Buying fossil fuels from Russia, indirectly or directly, is the same as sponsoring Russian tanks and guns. Europe is funnelling billions of euro into Russia which has helped it fund the invasion. Renewables can provide a triple win of lower costs, greater security and zero emissions, while also defunding Putin's regime. Wind energy alone provided 53% of Ireland's electricity last month. EirGrid recently informed an Oireachtas committee that offshore wind alone could power 3.75 million homes by 2030. It is really exciting to think that we could be producing this.

I want to highlight the work that has been done to fast-track this. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has announced that he will issue maritime area consents to renewable energy deployers with the first consents likely to be issued later this year. Ireland's maritime area is seven times the size of its land mass. We have one of the windiest countries in the world. There is no barrier to us and in fact it is a no-brainer to bring this home. We are the equivalent of Saudi Arabia in the league of wind energy. To harness that wind will be greatly empowering. It has the potential to deliver 30 GW of electricity which is ten times the current needs of the country. We should consider where we were in the mid-1930s and where we will be by the mid-2030s, 100 years later. Not only will we be energy sufficient, but we will be exporting our excess energy. That will solve many issues for us. There will be an enormous export boom for Ireland and we need to expedite this as much as possible.

I wish to highlight something that the motion deals with regarding accommodation. The existing challenge of both building enough housing and retrofitting our homes has now become even more demanding with the additional need to house refugees from Ukraine, which is clearly the right thing to do and is our duty. Our response to this will become a defining moment in the history of our country. It is one that we can be very proud of. The response of the Irish people has been exemplary. More than 20,000 people have pledged accommodation through the Irish Red Cross. The Government has identified State-owned and local authority-owned buildings that could be used as accommodation for the refugees as well as working with religious communities.

This is not an either-or situation. We are ramping up the numbers of apprenticeships so that we will have enough construction workers to do all this. I know the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has been identifying vacant homes that could be used. I note that approximately a quarter of the private accommodation pledges that people have made are for vacant homes. We need to be serious about tackling vacancy and dereliction if we want to properly house and accommodate the refugees. My colleague, Deputy Matthews, has introduced the Vacancy, Dereliction and Regeneration Bill which experts believe would deliver 11,000 homes per year by introducing a vacancy tax to be administered by the Revenue Commissioners.Finally, in respect of the seismic shift, President Biden, quoted a former Member of this House, William Butler Yeats, when he said, "A terrible beauty is born". Everything has changed, changed utterly. There was a similar moment in Ireland, not at the start of the Easter Rising, when some were pelted with mud as they were apprehended. The barbaric nature of the British response changed something in Ireland and there was a landslide general election victory for Sinn Féin. I hope and believe something has changed regarding the value system in the free world. Boris Johnson, of all people, said recently that there can be no going back. We really have to stand our ground and say "Never again". We should have done this in 2014 during the annexation of Crimea, but we did not. Now as a free world we have to be steadfast, not take things for granted, repeatedly reaffirm ourselves, vow never to go back and have zero tolerance for barbaric dictators.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, roimh an rún seo agus roimh an díospóireacht a bheidh againn anocht. Gabhaim mo leithscéal le moltóirí an rúin as tús na díospóireachta a chailleadh. Bhí mé ag cruinniú de Chomhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus Phobal Labhartha na Gaeilge.

I welcome the motion and this important discussion. I apologise to Senator Seery Kearney for missing her initial remarks as I was at the Joint Committee on the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking Community. People have been clear, steadfast and supportive of the Ukrainian people and their struggles.

Hope is important. I welcome the news that the Governments of Russia and Ukraine are involved in peace talks in Istanbul. While there are sceptical responses to these talks from some quarters, which is understandable, we know from the conflict here and our own experience, and experiences elsewhere, that all wars and conflicts are ultimately settled through peace negotiations. The end of the war in Ukraine will emerge from peace talks, whether it is these talks or another set of talks. All of us in the Chamber should encourage, and be encouraged by, developments in recent days.

Until there is an agreed peace and approach to demilitarisation of the situation in Ukraine by the withdrawal of Russian forces, international pressure must be maintained on Russia to end its aggression and withdraw its troops from Ukraine. That pressure needs to include further sanctions, where necessary, from the international community. I want to acknowledge the courage and heroism of the people of Ukraine, in particular the bravery of those Ukrainian nationals here who have returned home to defend their country.

The actions of Russia are illegal and unjust. I want to repeat the call made by my party leader, Deputy McDonald, a few days ago for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador. This growing call comes amidst the Government's expulsion of four Russian diplomats earlier this week.

The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine demands ongoing action from the EU and international community to ensure the pressure on Russia to end its aggression is relentlessly pursued. As part of that international pressure, the Government should use its privileged position as a respected non-aligned nation with a long and distinguished history of peacekeeping missions with a seat on the UN Security Council to assist the search for an end to the war in Ukraine.

We need to see the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, as endorsed by the Security Council in UN Security Council Resolution 2205. We also have an important role in the humanitarian effort that is under way to respond to the refugee crisis and the displacement of millions of people from Ukraine. In that regard, I would like to thank the Irish diplomatic staff and NGO personnel involved in humanitarian aid in Ukraine. As has been acknowledged by colleagues across the debate so far, communities throughout the State and in the North are supporting refugees fleeing Ukraine.

The invasion of Ukraine is rightly seen around the world as an appalling act of aggression against the people there. It is also seen as a fundamental breach of the international order and how disputes are settled through diplomatic efforts. The Russian Government should immediately call a permanent halt to its aggression and withdraw its troops. In such a climate, the prospects of a permanent peace and solution will be found.

I support the moves by the Government to assist refugees fleeing Ukraine, some of which were listed by Senator Seery Kearney in her contribution. I want us to take the same proactive humanitarian approach of solidarity to all of those fleeing the horrors of war and occupation, no matter where they come from. I look forward to hearing next week from President Zelenskiy in his address to this House and the Dáil.

I also look forward to hearing the response of the Minister of State in terms of outlining how the Government will deal with the very necessary need to support those fleeing Ukraine. I would like to hear how that can be managed in a practical sense and in a way that assists them, gives them the utmost protection and support, and does not compromise the needs of communities, something with which we are all too familiar. I support the motion and commend my colleagues in the Fine Gael Party for bringing it before us.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Senator Martin is right. We can never have enough Kildare people in the one room at the same time. I thank my Fine Gael colleagues for placing this very important Private Members' motion before us today. It is an important issue and it is welcome that we get the chance to discuss it and ask some questions of the Minister of State and his Government colleagues.

I stand here today in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. What is happening in their country is barbaric, wrong and inhumane. The unjustifiable invasion of a sovereign country by a neighbour must be called out and the aggressor, in this case President Putin, must be isolated and targeted economically within the international community. I also want to support the calls from others and, in particular, my party leader, Deputy Bacik, for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador. As Deputy Bacik said yesterday, the time for this has come when we see the horrors being rained down on the people of Mariupol and elsewhere in Ukraine. It is now incumbent on us to do this.

There has been a lot of talk over the past number of weeks about the number of refugees that Ireland will take in from Ukraine. Whatever the final number, what is now most important is that we do our very best for those who, for whatever reason, have chosen our country as a temporary home having fled the horrors of war. Like many in the House, through my office and at meetings I have met and tried to assist a number of Ukrainian families who are in Ireland. The one constant from all of these meetings is the need for answers. There should be a one-stop shop, where we, as public representatives, could get answers to their questions, some of which I will pose to the Minister of State later. It would also allow those most in need to concentrate on enjoying, as has been said during the debate, the welcome from the people of this country as much as they can. I am sure that welcome will continue to be provided, despite the language barrier that means some refugees do not know where to go at this time.

As I said in a public meeting yesterday, there is a time to show what we do best in Irish politics, that is, working together on a cross-party basis to help those who need it most. This is a time for the Government and Opposition to work together, leaving all of the footballs on the other pitch. I want to put on the record and acknowledge the considerable response of the Government to date.

However, in working together each Department must ensure that it provides the answers that will allow all of us to be one-stop shops. That information needs to flow to all of us so that we can provide the answers that so many unfortunate citizens of Ukraine need at this time. We can all appreciate and accept that this is an evolving situation that is changing almost day by day and that the Government response is a developing one, but a one-stop shop is needed and may require one Department and Minister to take overall control of the response of our Government and country.

One of the public meetings I referred to was organised in Athy College, which the Minister of State knows very well. A number of local representatives met the Ukrainian community in Athy and a large number of refugees who have come to the town. I want to thank the principal of the college, Richard Daly, for arranging the meeting. The questions at the meeting were similar to those I have received in my clinic and have been mentioned by many people during this debate, that is, accommodation and where people can go. There were questions about rent allowance. A community welfare officer with whom I have been in contact is still waiting for answers from the rent allowance section. Many of us are seeking clarification on rent allowance.

The second issue highlighted at the meeting was work. As mentioned by colleagues, a lot of refugees want to work and are needed in this country. Doctors and dentists were mentioned at this meeting, and we know there is a shortage of both in all of our communities.Some of them have gone to the immigration service, which is telling them it still does not know what stamp they require, whether it is a stamp 4 or whether they need a stamp to work at all. That is the clarity that so many of us are looking for.

Last night, and over the past couple of days, there was much talk about transport. Many of these families are staying in rural locations in south Kildare, which the Minister of State and other colleagues will be familiar with. Local Link may have an opportunity to play a part in this. That is something, again, that was asked last night. How will these people get their young children to school and themselves to work, should that opportunity arise? Those are some of the questions that were asked last night.

Education was another serious issue asked about last night. I am currently dealing with three university students who are looking to continue their education. I have contacted the Minister of State’s colleague, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, about this. We are looking for clarity in that regard. Two of the three young people are in their final year and they would like to continue that education here if at all possible.

Driving licences have been mentioned. There was a query last night about driving licences and how Ukrainian driving licences would work in Ireland. There has been talk about insurance over the last period of time and how Irish insurance companies will deal with that.

Simple questions about medical cards were asked last night. My office has been asked how medical cards will work, as I am sure the Minister of State's office has been. We are hearing from the great work done to the Department of Social Protection and the Department of Health that every avenue will be open to the refugees who come here. However, what form they should they fill in for a medical card and how they should do so is a question that came up last night and has come up at my clinics and in office over the past couple of weeks. That is the clarity many are looking for, that is, that one-stop shop.

I congratulate my Fine Gael colleagues on this important motion. I ask Government to respond to those numerous questions, if at all possible.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I thank the Fine Gael group for putting forward this motion and framing it very carefully in terms of international law. When we talk of sides and approaches, the key thing is that Ireland has been unequivocal in condemning Russia’s aggression and invasion of Ukraine because it is a breach of international law and the UN Charter, which calls on and requires countries to refrain from the use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of another state. That is very important. To place that frame at the beginning of the motion is crucial.

Much of Ireland’s power internationally comes from the fact we are seen as champions of international law and we come with a political record of having championed non-engagement in issues. The non-aligned and active neutrality we have had is not about passivity or not doing things; it is about Ireland operating on a politics of principle, on international multilateral principles, on being known to be consistent and strong in how seriously we take them and being willing to criticise wherever the breach might happen and on the fact that we do not operate simply in the politics of kind of big powers or client states or a kind of a simple version of allies and interests. The idea that we engage on principles rather than interests is fundamental to Ireland’s credibility and its power in the world. That is why, for example, Ireland was able to negotiate the ban on cluster munitions. Unfortunately, Russia was one of three or four countries in the world that did not sign up for it and has shamefully used them in its atrocious attacks on Ukraine. Again, Ireland has contributed and been powerful in that way.

Another part of this motion refers to Ireland being to the forefront at United Nations level and in the General Assembly because we know the blocks that are happening at the Security Council. In fact, by being able to engage with the hundreds of countries in the General Assembly that go beyond just the EU countries, Ireland is a crucial bridge in building international-wide support and condemnation of Russia’s breaches of human rights and international law.

Sanctions are a legitimate part of hard diplomacy, and I have always argued that this is part of diplomacy, including in relation to situations such as Israel’s occupation of Palestine. I am glad Ireland has been to the forefront in applying sanctions. I have literally just come from the finance committee where we discussed how we ensure we do not just look to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, SWIFT, issue, but that we make sure that assets of some of the named and listed oligarchs who act as support for Mr. Putin internally are genuinely tracked down throughout our financial services sector. That is very important.

Crucially, where Ireland has been incredibly important is in terms of humanitarian leadership, including in the argument for humanitarian access corridors, in emergency supplies and in terms of ensuring we help get people to safety. I commend those points, arguments, suggestions and pragmatic ideas in the motion on how we make that humanitarian support real and practical.

The temporary protection directive is a very good thing. This is something that allows Ukrainian refugees to come to any part of the EU. It is a pity this was not used in respect of Syria. The European Parliament had asked that the same directive be used in respect of the Syrian refugees in 2015. Again, there were refugees and hospitals in Syria were bombed by Russian bombs. It was an early signal of inappropriate action. We should have been addressing the same humanitarian action and intensive diplomatic response at that time.

In respect of the refugee issues, there are a couple of issues I want to slightly highlight. One of the lines in the motion talks of mainly women and children arriving in Ireland. It is very important to sound a cautionary note here and that we do not create a dynamic where we create a stigma if there are, for example, refugees who are men from Ukraine. Albert Einstein was a refugee and his contribution was pretty immense in terms of setting up the International Rescue Committee. I am not suggesting that is the intention at all, but it is a phrase that is being used in the media a lot. In fact, it is very important, in that LGBTQ and environmental activists, for example, would be particularly vulnerable at this time. We should recognise that there will be many different kinds of people who will need to seek refuge. What I like about this motion is that it looks not just to give people safety, but to ensure they still have opportunities to contribute, continue with their education or employment and to contribute to society in that way.

Lastly, I note again, in a note of hope in a difficult time, that there is much study of how wars start, but less attention is often paid to how wars end. As one of the other speakers said, it comes through very difficult negotiation. I hope that we will have some progress and success in the current negotiations. I wish President Zelenskiy and others well in those negotiations. I know that, for example, being a neutral state is perhaps one of the outcomes that may come. I hope Ukraine is able to be a neutral state within the European Union. I hope that option to be a member state of the European Union is available to it. That will be important. We all hope for the best in that.

I support and comment the motion. I thank all of those across this House who have consistently worked together on issues of human rights. That is something the Seanad can be very proud of.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I thank my Fine Gael colleagues for their work on this Seanad Private Members’ motion, which we hope is as broad and encompassing as possible in condemning the unacceptable aggression by Russia on Ukraine’s sovereign territory. There is no question that this invasion is an unprovoked attack on Ukraine's people and an outrageous and immoral breach of the most fundamental and basic principles of international law. The atrocities that we have seen throughout Ukraine, not least in Mariupol, are undeniably war crimes.I wholeheartedly hope we will have full cross-party support for this broad motion which endorses the open position Ireland has taken in collaboration with our EU partners to welcome Ukrainian refugees into our country without restriction, and endorses the sanctions taken against Russia to date, while also addressing many other areas of challenge and concern.

I reference the need for cross-party support because it is important to put on the record of the House that while it is a popular thing today to support Ukraine and its people, as recently as December when Russia was amassing hundreds of thousands of troops on Ukraine's border, a certain Opposition party was not forthcoming in support for Ukraine. That party was very much on the side of Russia when it failed to support a European Parliament resolution which condemned the large Russian military build-up, demanded that the Government in Moscow immediately withdrew forces and stopped threatening its neighbouring country and called for increased EU sanctions. Only 69 MEPs out of 705 from across the European Union voted against that resolution. Shamefully, four of those MEPs were Irish, including Sinn Féin's sole MEP, Chris MacManus. While that party today demands the popular thing of removing the Russian ambassador, in 2018 its leader, Deputy McDonald, following the vicious nerve agent attack on a former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury in England, described the move by the then Fine Gael-led Government to expel the diplomat believed to have been in involved in the attack as demonstrating "a flagrant disregard for Irish neutrality". I say this not to score political points but to put on record the shifting position - albeit I welcome the shift - of the main Opposition party on this vital issue.

There is no question that Ireland has always exhibited a generous spirit in terms of supporting refugees and it is no different when it comes to this crisis. I am sure that generosity of spirit will continue in the months ahead. Donations of goods and services, financial donations to NGOs and community response organisations and more than 20,000 pledges of accommodation to date exemplify what we already know, that the Irish people are never found wanting when it comes to supporting people in their hour of need.

It is important that we level and be honest with people and acknowledge the huge challenges the State faces in meeting the accommodation needs of refugees who seek sanctuary therein. These challenges pale into insignificance when compared with the suffering of the Ukrainian people but up to yesterday, nearly 15,000 refugees from Ukraine had entered Ireland and over 8,000 of those had sought accommodation. We have been doing our best to address that need. All preparations are being ramped up to increase the provision of accommodation through hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation. Pledges of accommodation by the public are being assessed for suitability, as are State-owned or private properties which may be suitable for short-term accommodation, religious properties and local authority community facilities. The unfortunate reality is that may not be enough. Many hotels are, thankfully, booked out from Easter onwards as a result of our improving Covid circumstances and improvements in our tourism prospects. The State will have to call on everyone who can play a part to do so. To circle that square, there has to be an incentivisation scheme to get as many second-hand and holiday homes into use for Ukrainian refugees as possible. It would be a more cost-effective and appropriate response than dormitory-style accommodation or hotels.

I reiterate what my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, said to the effect that the scenes we are watching on the TV should never become normalised. We should never become desensitised to what we are seeing or the horrors being inflicted on the Ukrainian people. We all hope progress will be made in the peace talks.

I welcome every Ukrainian refugee to Ireland. I believe they will add significantly to our State and I assure them that the Government and the Irish people will do everything in our power to assist them in their hour of need.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I commend my Fine Gael colleagues for a well-considered motion. As it was being proposed by Senator Seery Kearney, I agree with her words. It is a comprehensive motion and reflects in many ways the concerns of the Irish people and our desire as a nation as to how the world should function. I am happy that President Zelenskiy has received and accepted an invitation to address the joint Houses. I made the suggestion a number of weeks ago. I thank the Clerk, Martin Groves, for his assistance and work in that regard.

It is important that the House puts on record our thanks to ambassador Larysa Gerasko and her team at the Ukrainian Embassy for her courage and her engagement with Members of the Oireachtas and communities around the country. While she and her team perform their diplomatic duties, they have family in Ukraine. For them, it is personal as well as diplomatic. I know how difficult it is and want her and her team to understand that we know and our solidarity is with them.

We have seen extraordinary generosity on the part of the Irish people in recent weeks. I agree with Senator Cummins and others that we must ensure that continues and that, as a State, we are doing the right thing. We need to set out clearly that we support Ukraine's passage to EU membership. In our fight for independence, it was our right as an independent, sovereign, democratic State to determine which international organisations we chose to join. It is similarly right for Ukraine and other countries in central and eastern Europe as independent sovereign states to determine which international organisations they wish to join. They cannot be bullied by a bigger neighbour. We know that from our history. It is one of the many reasons we need to show solidarity with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters.

This is Europe's 9/11 moment and will change the face of Europe, our relationship with Russia and how the European Union responds. I believe we should remain as a non-aligned country in military terms but we need to co-operate more closely with other non-aligned EU countries, such as Finland, Sweden and Austria, learn from their experiences and work together to ensure a safer and more peaceful Europe.

I agree strongly with Senator Higgins that we should have been more awake to what was happening with Russia. We saw in 2007 a cyberattack on Estonia. We saw the attack on Georgia in 2008 and we saw Crimea in 2014. The Senator is right about the Russia-sponsored attacks that happened in Syria. I agree with Senator Cummins that there were politicians in this House and the European Parliament who denied that Russia was involved. I found it amusing that, when the Taoiseach made reference to Sinn Féin being soft on Russia prior to Christmas, he was criticised for it. However, that was the case and many of us warned of the dangers of Russia. We would do well to listen to the Baltic states and Poland, because they have experience of what is happening.

This leads to the point around cybersecurity. I mentioned the cyberattacks experienced by Estonia.We need to remember that the biggest cyberattack ever on a health service anywhere in the world took place on our health service in the middle of a pandemic and that it emanated from Russia. I am not saying it was state-sponsored, but the Russian Government took very little action, even though we knew that the attack emanated from Russia. Let us be clear that a lot of the battles of the future that will be fought in cyberspace will be state-sponsored, by Russia, China, North Korea and other countries, and that we in Europe need to be particularly careful. I have said in this House before that our cybersecurity is not strong enough. We have not invested in it sufficiently. We need to co-operate more closely through the permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, and at a European level with our European neighbours to be able to repel some of the potential cyberthreats.

Colleagues have talked about the issue of food security. That is vital. I have spoken in this House regularly about the need for a commercial flour mill to be established in Ireland.

As for energy security, if ever there was a case to advance the importance of wind energy, which Senator Martin spoke eloquently about, it is now. We should start to look at Europe's energy coming from Irish wind rather than being dependent on Russian oil and gas. If ever there was a need to fast-track some of our provisions on the use of wind energy and marine energy, it is now.

I am conscious that this debate is on Ukraine, but we should not forget about Belarus or about how the dictator Lukashenko is oppressing the people there. Belarus has been dragged into this war by Lukashenko. We need to continue our support for the people and the opposition in Belarus.

It is important that, out of all this, we leave with a message of hope and that there is hope for the people of Ukraine, that we stand in solidarity with them, that we know they will prevail and that justice, the rule of law and international order will prevail at the end.

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State is very welcome. I fully support the motion. What we see unfolding on our television screens every night is something to behold. When, please God, all this is over, we will see that worse atrocities were carried out than those we are seeing on our television screens.

In my county, Longford, we are willing to play our part in the national effort. A significant number of households have made their homes available. Last week I met a group of 40 people from Ukraine in the Longford Arms Hotel. The whole community has got in behind them. That includes the sporting organisations. Longford Sports Partnership was out on the Royal Canal recently and has taken part in rugby, hurling and GAA matches. The full supports are there from all the organisations in the county.

It is important, however, that while we support those who come here, we also support those in our country who are affected by what is happening in Ukraine. Both Ukraine and Russia are an integral part of the global agriculture and food commodity trade. The war, coupled with the introduction of retaliatory economic sanctions, both directly and indirectly, is seriously affecting the agrifood trade, in particular the cost of production, fertiliser and, ultimately, global food availability. I know that the Minister of State is working very closely on that and making sure that supports are in place, but it is important we keep working on that. The key concern is further input and commodity price rises on top of the already elevated prices which are weakening on-farm margins to unsustainable levels across a number of farm systems. Fertiliser prices are already high. The Central Statistics Office has stated that prices have increased by 86.9% in the 12 months between the end of 2020 and last year and that we could see a jump of another 40%, with some grain prices even doubling. The Russian attack against Ukraine represents a major concern for the global agricultural and food industries because of the likely effect on oil, fertiliser, wheat and maize markets. For Irish farmers, the major impact might stem from the effect on the market for natural gas, the main raw material in the manufacture of nitrogen fertilisers. The war has already greatly disrupted grain markets and farmers have already seen animal feed prices rise significantly through 2021. Ukraine is estimated to contribute 12% of global wheat exports. The war arises at a time when global vegetable oil markets are already very tight.

I ask, therefore, that further supports are given for those in our country who are affected by the war. As I said, I know that a tillage scheme was introduced to get more farmers to engage in tillage in order that there is not a knock-on effect on our own industry, but I ask that more supports be put in place. We met the big industry farmers just outside here yesterday. They have serious concerns. I emphasise that we should look after our own as well and make sure that those financial supports are there for them.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House discuss this all-important issue. I pay tribute to my colleagues, led by Senator Seery Kearney, for putting together the motion. I welcome all the Ukrainians who have come to our shores and the many who will come in the near future. So many people are arriving daily.

As for the motion, significant stress has been put on education, and it is really important that there is continuity in that regard. I pay tribute to the ETBs and the various schools bringing people into their classrooms. Some schools are already under pressure but are opening their doors. People have been generous with financial supports and the donation of necessary goods. Only today I saw one of our councillors put up in her community a message that a number of Ukrainians had moved into the area and that they are looking for supplies of toiletries and so on. Obviously, people have arrived here having left Ukraine quickly and were very limited in what they could bring with them. As a result, goods are still needed. I pay tribute to bodies such as the Red Cross, which has provided a very valuable service. It is co-operating with others and co-ordinating residential supplies. While more than 20,000 people have pledged accommodation at this stage, more will be needed as the number of people arriving increases. The other day I met somebody who met some of the refugees as they arrived. An eight-year-old had travelled on their own. It is heartbreaking to hear that an eight-year-old child was sent over alone. For that child it must be a very traumatic experience. I have met with many Ukrainians in Limerick who are bringing in some of their family members. I have been working with them to try to help them with the provision of translation and other services. Another part of our motion refers to driver licences.

I lend my support to Ukraine's accession to the European Union. While I know we as a country are collectively doing everything we can within Europe, Ukraine's accession needs to be fast-tracked. These people are going through horrific circumstances. We need only look at our news every evening to see the harrowing pictures, which tell their own story.

I support the motion and thank the Minister of State for his time.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for being here to take this really important motion. I commend my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, on putting it together. It is incredibly worthwhile. While we have had the opportunity to speak about the situation in Ukraine, it is important that meat is put on the bones in respect of the response, so I thank Senator Seery Kearney and her colleagues for that.

Much has been said in this House, in the Lower House, in council chambers and right around the country about the horrific situation that has unfolded over the past five weeks in Ukraine. While we saw before Christmas an evolving situation in which Russia was really pushing at the borders, I think there was a feeling of hope that this would not happen. Yet on 24 February we all woke up to realise that war in our time was happening and that the population of Ukraine was being subjected to shocking bombings.Two weeks ago, 61 schools and 13 hospitals had been bombed. I do not doubt that this figure has increased. We have seen through the power of media and social media shocking images that the world had not seen in many decades and certainly not this close to Europe for the past 80 years.

The work the Government, led by the Taoiseach, has done is commendable. Ireland was one of the first countries to open its borders in a humanitarian way in response to the horrific situation Ukrainians have found themselves in. This is in marked contrast to our nearest neighbour. There is no doubt that there is very strong political will to support the Ukrainians who have found their way here. Undoubtedly, many more will come to Ireland.

The community response we have seen has been excellent. My colleague, Senator Wall, spoke about schools bringing communities together to respond. We have Mr. Richard Daly in Kildare. Families throughout County Kildare and other counties are opening their homes. My neighbour three doors down has taken in a family of seven and is an incredible example to all of us. I have registered with the Red Cross to take in Ukrainians because that is the right thing to do. My sister-in-law, Siobhán, drove to the Polish border and returned on Monday with five women, one baby, two dogs and a cat. She was able to offer sanctuary and transport.

United for Ukraine is a political organisation founded by Lithuanian MEP and former Prime Minister, Mr. Andrius Kubilius. I have become a member of the organisation. It is open to all parliamentarians throughout Europe to join. Yesterday there was a meeting on humanitarian aid. It is important to put this in context. At present, Ukraine needs 15,000 tonnes of food every day. It needs 10,000 tonnes of fuel, including for transport. It needs water, medicines and other supports. Currently, it is only receiving 5,000 tonnes of food per day. This is one third of what it needs. We bore witness to families, particularly in Mariupol, not having food and water. It is important that parliamentarians throughout Europe play their part in ensuring that humanitarian aid for those in Ukraine continues in the way it has for the first weeks.

In the context of what is happening at a local level, substantial work is taking place throughout Government in terms of providing accommodation. The community centre in Rathangan will be a reception centre. We certainly welcome this. With regard to supports for those who have arrived, there is nothing more important than access to school places and early education places. I know of one family in Monasterevin with two boys and two girls. Three have received a school place but one has not. We cannot have this situation. That is why I welcome the education and training boards playing a co-ordinating role. We also need clarity in terms of driving licences for Ukrainians. The Department of Education and that Teaching Council have said they will actively promote teachers from Ukraine in order that they can be registered with the Teaching Council, but it is happening too slowly. It has not happened yet. It needs to take place.

Those in the agricultural industry have been impacted most by what is happening in the war regarding the cost of fertiliser. There have to be subsidies for fertiliser. This should be done on tonnage as opposed to on hectares. There are many elements to this very difficult situation. We have to do our best for the Ukrainians who have stayed in their country. We have to do our best for the Ukrainians who have come to our shores. We have to do our best to try to alleviate the impact on those most impacted by the war.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I commend my colleague and friend Senator Seery Kearney on tabling this important Private Members' motion. I welcome the opportunity to speak on it. It is critical that we facilitate the full integration of Ukrainian families into our communities.

I want to address the issue of transport with regard to driving licences and the inability of Ukrainian licence holders to be able to drive here. We do not have a licence exchange agreement with Ukraine. It is important that Europe not only acts on this, it must expedite it as a matter of urgency. The immediate recognition by the European Union of Ukrainian driving licences must be addressed. Europe needs to recognise their driving licences. Driving cannot happen with the emergency relocation and it is critical that Europe acts collectively. This is not just an Irish matter, it is a European problem. I support the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, her approach at European level to ensure that there is recognition of Ukrainian driving licences. The immediate recognition of Ukrainian driving licences must be addressed by Europe. Ireland has raised the possibility in the European Union of recognition. I hope it can happen immediately. It is important that we as a country put pressure on Europe to recognise the importance of Ukrainian driving licences in Ireland. This is an anomaly because we have no agreement. Under the temporary protection directive people cannot drive here. It is important that Europe acts on this. It is important we have full integration. I commend the motion to the House and I thank Senator Seery Kearney for her work on it.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I support the motion and I am delighted that Fine Gael has brought it forward.

With regard to the support we are offering Ukraine, I have to say I am tremendously proud of the response of Ireland and the Government and of our communities and people throughout the country. We have had the generosity and céad míle fáilte for which we are famous. Unfortunately we do not always live up to it. It has been very much evident in the response to this crisis. It is lovely to see. I hope it is much more reflective of who we are than anything else. The manner in which Irish people have welcomed Ukrainians here is appropriate and laudable.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of Pierre Zakrzewski. I did not know him personally but he attended the same school as I did. He was from my area. The breadth of feeling for his loss, given all of his experience and the wonderful life he led, was palpable yesterday. It is still only a fraction of what so many Ukrainian families are going through. All of his family wore Ukrainian colours and they were given out to people in the church. They certainly feel the loss that so many Ukrainian families feel in Ukraine and throughout the world.

Some of what has been said in the course of the debate has hit home. We see what is happening and it is deplorable. It is unlawful. In many respects what we are seeing are war crimes. Mention has already been made in the House on other occasions to the International Criminal Court. I have welcomed the fact that the prosecutor in the International Criminal Court, Mr. Karim Khan, has opened a file on this subject with a view to a possible future prosecution of Vladimir Putin, Russia and the people perpetrating these offences. This is also to be welcomed.As counsel before the International Criminal Court - and there are not many Irish people in that boat - I look forward to that happening. It is difficult to see how this is going to end. I do not really understand the rationale behind this conflict. Even if Vladimir Putin triumphs, which he is finding a great deal more difficult than his generals appear to have told him it would be, I do not understand how a country like Ukraine could be occupied when there are tens of millions of people there who will not accept his rule or occupation and who will continue to resist. We have seen the pride evident among Ukrainians here and throughout the world. I do not understand how Vladimir Putin could have calculated this action as coming to a conclusion that is in any way favourable to Russia. There is extraordinary unity across the world against Russia. We saw the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations passing with only four or five countries opposing. One of the remarkable elements of this conflict is how it has brought the whole world together. Countries that do not agree with each other most of the time are now in wholehearted agreement in condemning this action. I do not see how Vladimir Putin or Russia can exit this with anything that could be deemed to be success from their perspective or anything that is any way dignified. They have thrown away their credibility, dignity and any international respect they had, respect that had already waned over recent years. It is a really unfortunate position.

To move on to one of things that we in Ireland and across Europe can do, we have now imposed a freeze on Russian assets here, in other European countries and throughout the world. I refer not only to state assets, but also personal assets. Those assets have been frozen and there is a de facto sanction in place. What is going to happen to those assets? Whatever about personal assets, can Russian state assets in Ireland that have been frozen be somehow channelled into the reconstruction of Ukraine or used for the benefit of the Ukrainian people, who have been irredeemably injured by this conflict? That is something we could look at doing in the future, when we are nearing the end of this conflict. How are we going to punish Russia in that way? Is it within our power to do so? I would like to see Ireland taking a lead on that front and saying that we will seize those Russian state assets and give them to Ukraine in some way or other to support its reconstruction.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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Before I call on Senator Mullen to speak, I acknowledge and welcome to the Visitors Gallery Jarlath Fitzsimons, whose grandfather, the former Senator, Pat Fitzsimons, was a long-standing Member of this House.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Last Friday evening, I was in the town of Ballgar, near to my home place, taking part in a table quiz in support of a journey that was going to be made from Ballygar to bring important food, medical and other supplies to Ukraine. The following evening, I was cycling through Ballygar on my bike. I had previously had an idea in my head that this was to be a fairly small van making its way across Europe but then I saw this massive truck with "Ballygar to Ukraine" and the Irish and Ukrainian flags emblazoned on it. It made me very proud that this small community, the parish of Ballygar, Newbridge and Tohergar, next door to my own, which has a relatively small number of people, was showing this fantastic generosity, organisational ability and solidarity with others far away. I give credit to Gearoid Kelly, whom I remember from my school days, and to G. Kelly Ballygar Transport. This did not start today nor yesterday. This outreach from that community has been going on for years in the context of various crises. It is the best of Ireland and it makes me especially proud to see small communities doing big things.

In light of our economic dependency on Russian gas and oil for energy - I am speaking about Europe, the West and countries like Germany in particular - and our economic dependency on China for so many things including money, finance, goods and services, it is time we thought about the impact of globalisation on our ability to stand up for human rights and to put up the strongest fight possible against any abuses of human rights. It is beyond doubt that our economic dependency on regimes that do not respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law is, on occasion, crippling our ability to take all of the measures we need to take when moral and political outrages such as we are seeing in Ukraine at the moment take place. Of course, there is great solidarity from the West. People are in lockstep and in agreement. However, we still wonder whether we are in a position to do everything we could do if we were not financially and economically entangled with countries that do not respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Our world, and the western world in particular, needs to think about how to get out of these entanglements so that we can defend the democratic order in the future.

What has been done and what is being done by the Russians in Ukraine is profoundly evil. Many adjectives have been used. The Russian invasion and prosecution of this war is medieval and shows an absolute disregard for human rights. It is scary and depressing to contemplate. It is very hard to see how one can have any kind of normal diplomatic relationships with a Russia under Putin in the future. It will not be for the people of this House to decide what happens in the future but we must insist on getting to a place where it is sought to prosecute, in every possible way, those who perpetrate human rights abuses, regardless of who or how powerful those perpetrators are.

As I have said, what the Russians have done is profoundly evil but, having said that, there is a difference between the information one gets from the mainstream media about this and the information one can find when one does a wider search on the issues. There is a debate to be had about the promises the West held out to Ukraine with regard to NATO membership and the way it undermined the democratically elected Yanukovych regime. The Russians are the cause of this evil and nothing can take away from that but it may well be the case that the West contributed massively to what happened through bad statecraft and excessive interference. As I have said here in the past, we want to get to a situation where Ukraine can be independent, neutral and prosperous. I hope that will be possible.

I will mention two things in conclusion. The first is that we need to have a discussion about our neutrality and what it means. I support our neutrality but we have to contribute to the defence of our way of life and we have to think about what that means in these weeks and months and in the time ahead in light of what has happened. Two weeks ago, I raised the plight of Ukrainian women who have acted as surrogates for Irish couples. Senator Moynihan also raised the issue. I think of those women, who are the mothers of Irish citizens, and the moral duty we owe to them. I have raised the possibility of considering how we might develop legal rights in Ireland for women who have given birth to Irish citizens. In particular, we need to consider and have a debate about giving them options in terms of residency rights, basic social protection assistance, healthcare and, perhaps, a route to Irish citizenship. That is one of many issues we have to think about these days. It is the beginning of the discussion. I raise that issue with the Minister of State today and I would be interested in hearing what the Government thinks in due course.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, to the House and commend my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, for preparing and leading on this motion, which is extremely important. I also acknowledge the work she has done for surrogate mothers and for Irish citizens born in Ukraine and their mothers. A lot has been done but a lot more can, and should, be done. This motion is very timely and very important. In Clare, we have not far off 2,000 Ukrainian residents. Of the 13,500 who are in the country, nearly 2,000 are in Clare. Of those 2,000, not far off 1,000 are living in north Clare between Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughan, Lahinch and Liscannor and down along the coast in Kilkee. They have all come from very difficult backgrounds, having had to flee their homes and country.I have engaged extensively with them over the past ten days and I held a clinic at the hotels in Lisdoonvarna last Monday week. I learned at first hand the many challenges that are there and what the State needs to do to address them. Clearly, the most important challenge, which so far we have been able to accommodate, is to give them somewhere to sleep, a roof over their head, and food. That is very welcome.

I commend the Red Cross on the work it is doing in assisting the State with offers of accommodation. I am advising Ukrainian people to accept accommodation through the Red Cross because at least the State has an involvement in that regard. There is Garda vetting and vulnerable adults will be put in a place which will be safe. Some Ukrainian people are staying with family and friends they know but others have been offered accommodation by people on the street and through social media. While most people are very well-intentioned, there is a risk when the State is not involved.

I encourage all colleagues to meet the Ukrainian citizens who live among us and engage with, listen to and reassure them, as I have been doing. It is a good thing to do and they benefit from the reassurance that they are welcome, they can stay as long as they need to stay and we will support them in every way we can.

When it comes to support, there are a number of things we need to do. The Department of Education has a big body of work to do because there are many Ukrainian children here and they need to go to school. This Department needs to appoint an on-the-ground liaison officer in each county and that officer needs to have broad discretionary powers to allocate children to schools and to engage with transport providers to sort out transport. In Kilshanny in County Clare, a bus operator provided a bus for a couple of days but that is not sustainable. The Department of Education needs to have boots on the ground to deal with the education requirements, including the requirement of schools to have Ukrainian teachers who can do translation work. All of those types of issues would be expedited and addressed more efficiently if officials were on the ground, on-site and engaging with people. All Ukrainian children need to go to school and they need the normality that going to school presents.

Transport is a big problem. Many of the Ukrainians here have Ukrainian driving licences but these are not recognised in this country. We were told by Ministers last week that this requires a European response through the Commissioner for Transport, discussions were ongoing and so on. Other European countries have sidestepped that process and are recognising Ukrainian driving licences. I want the Government to do the same and recognise these driving licences. Many of these people living in hotels in small rural villages. They come from cities and need to be able to go out and about and do their business.

Public transport in rural Ireland is an issue I raised long before the Ukrainian crisis. To travel by bus from Ballyvaughan to Galway city costs €28 return. That is not acceptable or sustainable for a family of Ukrainians who wish to go to Galway to do a day’s shopping. An urgent Government response is needed to make public transport affordable for the Ukrainian community. We also need to address this matter in the long term. Why should a young person have to pay that type of money to go from Ballyvaughan to Galway city when one can travel from Maynooth into Dublin for a fraction of that cost. There is an inequality and inequity there that needs to be addressed but we need an urgent response for the Ukrainian people now.

In respect of agencies, the local authority needs to be leading the multi-agency response at a local level with very defined roles. A reporting structure also needs to be built as a matter of urgency. Large numbers of Ukrainian interpreters are needed and must be hired. There are people in the Ukrainian community who speak very good English and would be well able to interpret for their fellow citizens at medical appointments, in school and so on. There are many practical steps we can take to get quick wins. Some of the long-term issues, such as education, recognising qualifications and facilitating people to continue their third level studies, are more complicated and will take more time. As a Government and a nation, can we get the easy wins done now? Can the driver licences be sorted out as quickly as possible? Can we get boots from the Department of Education on the ground in schools? We can and should do these things in days.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I apologise for interrupting Senator Conway. The Minister of State has graciously agreed to concede some time to Senator Lombard so I want to him an opportunity to speak for two or three minutes.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. If I thank the Minister of State, my time will nearly be over already. This is a very important debate and I welcome the opportunity to contribute to it.

For the past decade, we have had 250 Ukrainians living in Bandon in west Cork, where I come from. They are very much involved in the community and many work in two major food plants in the area. For this reason, people are coming automatically to Bandon. The services in the one-stop shop as regards where they stay and how they will be educated need to be looked at. Last weekend, 34 Ukrainians arrived in Bandon and they do not know whether or for how long they will stay. We need to start discussing these basic matters.

The issue of food and energy security is very important. I am very much aware that the Minister of State’s Department is tied in with how we will deal with this in the future. Unfortunately, we in this country, and in the European Continent generally, need to look again at food policy. Under our food policies for the past 20 years, we forgot about producing food and we now need to go back to start talking about that. Ukraine is the food basket of Europe and produces large amounts of grain. We also have a fuel issue. We need to start talking about how the EU will become self-sufficient and that will require a change in policy.

This unfortunate war, a major land war in Europe that none of us ever thought we would have in our lifetime, has frightened us. We have not seen the likes of it. The response of the Government has been very positive. We have opened the doors and have shown up other European countries in how welcoming we are. That has to be acknowledged. We now need to join up the dots to ensure the welcome for which we are famous can be carried through to ensure we provide services and job and educational opportunities, so that the poor people who have to come here because of what is happening in their towns and villages at home in Ukraine can have a safe stay here and an opportunity to prosper.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Lombard for speaking so succinctly in the few minutes he had. That is the mastery of the material he has. People who have such a mastery can say everything in a minute or two. It is my pleasure to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon. While I was not in a position to go and listen to him when he was near my home the other night, it will be a pleasure to hear him now. I ask him to complete his response by around 6 p.m. in order that Senator Seery Kearney can respond to the entire debate.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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It is a great honour for me to be in the Seanad and to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I thank my colleagues in Fine Gael, in particular Senators Seery Kearney and Dolan, for the work and effort that went into this motion. I also acknowledge the contributions from all parties and none across the House. The contributions I have listened to over the past number of hours have clearly demonstrated that the views of this House are very much representative of the reaction of the Irish people. That has been evident in the specific and detailed questions asked and the individual points raised on what is impacting the lives of the Ukrainian people. This tells me that many Members of this House are working hard to ensure a smooth transition for the people who are with us now.

We are all horrified at the outrageous attack on the people of Ukraine. I will now outline the Government's response and address some of the key points raised by Senators.In response to some of the points that were raised, Senator Higgins highlighted the risk of referencing only Ukrainian women and children and having a risk of stigma around male refugees. I am acutely aware that we have some male refugees here who are lone parents and that some of their children have disabilities. It is a point well made. We have to be very careful that we do not get a certain image in our head. There are many different victims and the impact of this conflict has very different consequences for so many people. Our role in the Government and the role of the Irish people is to support everyone as far as we can in all those elements.

In response to Senator Malcolm Byrne, the Government stands fully behind Ukraine's application for EU membership. We all look forward to President Zelenskiy's address to both Houses of the Oireachtas next week. Senator Carrigy commented on support for Irish farms and food producers impacted by the conflict. It is important to put on record that we do not have a food security or feed security crisis here. The Government wants to support our food production sector and farmers to ensure that we do not have one into the future either. We are acutely aware of the impact of the cost of living on Irish people, which has been made worse as a result of this conflict. That has impacted on our businesses and farmers. That is why we have targeted supports from the Government for our tillage sector and our pig farmers who are really struggling at present. Discussions continue about further potential interventions to support that sector through very difficult times.

Since the outbreak of the war and the arrival in Ireland of the first Ukrainians fleeing it, the scale of the response to the crisis has been unprecedented. Ireland has received 15,294 arrivals from Ukraine as of 29 March. We have established dedicated teams at our airports and ports that meet new arrivals from Ukraine with teams from several Departments including the Departments of Social Protection, Health, Justice and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Officials from these Departments are ensuring that every person arriving is met and given support as soon as possible.

The International Protection Accommodation Service, IPAS, of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has temporarily taken responsibility for providing accommodation to Ukrainian refugees. Officials are continuously working to source further accommodation and supports for Ukrainian arrivals to Ireland through hotel accommodation and various other accommodation options and solutions. The Irish Red Cross, the Defence Forces and estate agents and valuers have started to evaluate pledges placed through the national pledge mechanism operated by the Irish Red Cross, and to inspect the properties with a view to making them available quickly to refugees.

It is a priority for the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to ensure the system of recognition of the skills and qualifications of Ukrainians is expedited to support those Ukrainians who want to access the workplace. This will enable Ukrainian people coming to Ireland to work and use their skills within the Irish economy. The Minister, Deputy Harris, and his Department are working intensively with the European Commission to ensure that the qualification recognition process aligns across the EU.

For those Ukrainians arriving in Ireland seeking to continue or start their education, the Department is determined to ensure the provision of these services and their accessibility. We are working to ensure the information we provide is in a language which is easily understood by those we are working to assist. On supports for accessing further education, such as the SUSI grant, the Department is examining options to ensure incoming Ukrainian students would be eligible for student supports. Statutory and administrative options are being considered, and legal advice has been sought as to what actions can be taken in order for incoming Ukrainians to be eligible for some assistance. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will be bringing forward proposals shortly.

The 16 education and training boards offer English-language skills courses for adults. When the temporary directive was activated, spare capacity was identified in the system to meet the needs of Ukrainian people coming to Ireland. Ukrainians wishing to learn English or improve their English can contact their local ETB for an assessment of their English language competency across the four core skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The Government is working to ensure that local capacity, resources and knowledge are brought to bear on the humanitarian response to people fleeing Ukraine and seeking protection in Ireland. Ireland has a well-developed volunteer infrastructure in place and the capacity, willingness and expertise exist at local level to co-ordinate responses, signpost services, and link voluntary and statutory efforts. The response to Covid-19 has shown us the positive impact we can have by working together at local and national level. Massive efforts were made by volunteers during the pandemic, and dedicated volunteers across the country are already working again to help people from Ukraine arriving in Ireland.

As the new arrivals begin to settle in, each local authority is establishing a community response forum to provide a focal point for the community response in their area. The community response fora will enable all those involved to work together under the stewardship of the local authority. This will ensure effective co-ordination in providing supports to the new Ukrainian communities. The community volunteers pilot programme is also providing a way for local communities to offer support to those in need. The programme is funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development, co-ordinated by Volunteer Ireland and volunteer centres, and supported by the local authority in each area. The programme is initially running in counties Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Louth, Meath and Wicklow, and roll-out is due this year in ten further counties.

The Department of Health and the HSE have put in place a streamlined medical card application process for Ukrainian refugees. A lag in applications is apparent and was expected as refugees are settling into their accommodation. Senator Wall raised specific points about that application process. I can confirm that as of 28 March, medical cards had been issued to 605 Ukrainians with 224 applications pending. The medical card section on the HSE website is replicated in Russian and Ukrainian. Ukrainian and Russian versions of the medical card form are also available.

The HSE in consultation with the Irish Medical Organisation has prepared a range of bespoke options for the provision of general practitioner services to those in IPAS accommodation. The model for each site varies depending on numbers and geographical distribution, however all have access to GP out-of-hours services.

Operational processes for urgent referrals or medical evacuees are in place as Ireland is supporting emergency patient care through medical evacuation where we can. I am pleased to confirm that with assistance from a number of Departments, the HSE and the Air Corps, two paediatric patients were transported from Poland for treatment at Irish hospitals. Although our medical evacuation capacity is limited, we will continue to review patient cases and support this co-ordinated EU effort where we can.

The Irish health system is also providing medical humanitarian assistance. Over the past month, Ireland has been providing donations of medical supplies and equipment to Ukraine in response to the requests for assistance from the Ukrainian authorities and neighbouring countries. Further instalments of this donation are expected to be dispatched later this week and once complete, the total consignment of medical equipment will include over 4,500 items of equipment from hospitals and other sources.

The Department of Education continues to work intensively to make education available to Ukrainian children. This includes supporting the well-being and social and emotional needs of these young people. The Department is already providing supports to schools and is advancing further arrangements to address the short-term educational needs of primary and secondary school age children. The regional education and language teams, REALT, have been established to support the needs of Ukrainian children arriving in Ireland. These teams will be hosted by the 16 regional education and training boards and will be staffed by existing regionally-based personnel working to ensure co-ordination and alignment of supports for Ukrainian children. The primary role of the REALT will be to assist children in finding school places and to support schools to meet the needs of these children.

Capacity is a forefront challenge for the Department, both in terms of physical school buildings in which to accommodate additional pupils, as well as the human resources, teachers, special needs assistants, SNAs, and others with the skills to address their educational needs. Work is under way to identify capacity within existing schools across the country to address the immediate educational needs of arriving Ukrainian refugees, with the location of the accommodation provided for Ukrainian people relevant in identifying appropriate school capacity to meet their education needs. Language plays a vital role in helping students to clarify and interpret experiences, explore ideas and emotions, and deepen their understanding of the world around them. The allocation of specialist resources to schools takes account of the needs of pupils in the school, including, where appropriate, English as an additional language, EAL, needs. The Department is considering in close consultation with other relevant bodies and Departments how best to support intensive English language learning for post-primary age children who may have low levels of English proficiency.

The issue of driver's licences was raised by a number of Senators. It is not in the notes I have for this address but I will bring the matter back to the relevant Minister and highlight the level of concern expressed about it in today's debate. The scale of this humanitarian response is unprecedented for this State, but it is a task we undertake knowing that by doing so, we are saving lives. I ask Senators to continue to work with communities, as they are doing on a daily basis, to welcome those who have arrived already and to prepare for the arrival of those yet to come.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, for that comprehensive and empathic response to an important debate. I call Senator Seery Kearney and congratulate her on the hard work she has put in to preparing for this motion.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Minister of State. It was a really comprehensive reply.The cross-government response has been extraordinary, as has been the support of all the people of Ireland who have stepped forward and done extraordinary things. There was a report yesterday on the news about the WALK organisation in my constituency of Dublin South-Central. The members hopped on a bus and drove over with a load of supplies for families who had children with disabilities, in particular, and people of all ages with disabilities, and they brought four families home. The discussion with them about all they had experienced was quite extraordinary. We are coming forward as a people. Today, I confirmed with Mr. Harry Crosbie that he is providing a space that he calls a loading bay. It is a massive warehouse of 8,000 sq. ft. at Vicar Street. He asked me what we would do with it. It would be good for fund raisers and a good logistical base for anything we need. He is going to pull in celebrities and we will do a heap of things there. It will be extraordinary. People are looking into their souls to see how they can respond.

There is no question that Russia's actions should be utterly condemned. There is no excuse or rationale for the sheer savagery. It is not just the invasion of Ukraine and the annihilation of its cities and people, but also the weaponising of its population and the knowledge that there is very likely to be a famine in north Africa as a consequence of it. The international community has to stand together, and I heard the Minister of State's briefing and his vision on that and the actions that have been taken. However, the consequences here are extraordinary. It is the weaponising of the economic impact of this across all of Europe. When we stand today and give our support, in some respects these days are the easy days. It is going to be hard when it has cost-of-living impacts and a heap of other impacts on us in how we live our daily lives. At that point, we have to be very clear that we stand with Ukraine and that we do not take any populist roles. I have already seen the tacit racism and the whataboutery online.

There are areas where we are challenged, such as with accommodation and services. There is no doubt about that. However, this is an extraordinary circumstance of people fleeing, and I want to look back on this time and know that we did everything we could. My father is of an age that he remembers the Second World War. He was a very young child, but he remembers the aftermath into the 1950s as well and the hardships and people growing their own vegetables and making all the choices they had to make to survive. When it was tough and really hard and it bit home, it was still the right thing to do. It is important that we stand in that solidarity.

I am very grateful to the Government and to the people of Ireland. I am very proud of the people of Ireland for the extraordinary grace, generosity and passion they show. We have shown ourselves to be who we really are. When I meet and talk to the Ukrainian ambassador, she begins her speeches with "Slava Ukraini", and I will end with that.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 6.30 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Déardaoin, an 31 Márta 2022.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 31 March 2022.