Tuesday, 26 April 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I welcome everybody back. I am looking forward to a productive number of months ahead. I will move a motion for the expression of sympathy by the House at the end of the Order of Business.
Today's Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the Data Protection Act 2018 (Section 60(6)) (Office of the Ombudsman) Regulations 2022, back from committee, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, motion re the proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of a proposal for the regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on automated data exchange for police co-operation, Prüm II, to be taken at 7.30 p.m., to conclude after 45 minutes, if not previously concluded, with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed five minutes, all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply.
I support the Order of Business as outlined by the Leader. I will raise a number of issues. I alert everybody in the House that Saturday, 30 April is the annual Mayo Day celebration. I invite my colleagues to attend if they would like to visit Mayo. It is a festival we started a number of years ago and we were the first county in the country to do so. That is not a surprise because we like to shout about our Mayoness. This year's theme is home to where the heart is and home to Mayo. It is about getting people back to the county and getting all our diaspora back to visit. There are many events on for the day, including in the fields of music, culture, art and food. There will be a lot happening across the county.People can link in online as well. I look forward to welcoming anybody who would like to visit; I ask them to give me a shout.
Everyone is welcome. The Senator knows we are the most welcoming county in the country.
I also welcome the recent announcement of the Brexit adjustment local authority fund, where we had approval for seven projects throughout the county, including Ballina Quay, Rosmoney Pier and Killala Harbour to name but a few. We are a large coastal county so money like this is very important. We are trying at present to update our marine strategy and our marine policy, and encourage local fishing communities to survive and thrive in what is a very important part of our local economy. I wish those projects well.
I would like to raise an issue which, I suggest, we might put on the agenda at some point for discussion in the Chamber, namely, the ongoing cost of childcare and access to childcare places. My little boy started in crèche yesterday. Thankfully, we were very lucky to get a place in a brilliant local facility. I feel fortunate to have that place for him but many families are struggling to get childcare places and when they do, not so much in rural areas but particularly in our cities and other urban areas, the cost is astronomical. A show on RTÉ last night highlighted how much this cost is crippling families and, in particular, how it is making it more difficult for women to return to the workplace. That is half our population and if we do not allow women to return to work when and if they want to, we are doing our country a disservice.
The cost of childcare is something we should debate more openly in this House. We have a new programme or policy in place with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, whereby there will be core funding specifically for childcare facilities. The Minister has yet to publish guidelines as to how this money will be allocated so I would welcome a debate with him. It is my view that we should ultimately move to a public system of childcare, publicly funded and publicly run, to complement the private sector that is there. Currently, all we have are private facilities. As a country, we need to acknowledge that we have the third most expensive childcare in Europe with no sign whatsoever of those costs reducing. It is an important issue for a significant cohort of the population.
I will draw attention and invite all Members to the women's health policy conference I am hosting in Smock Alley Theatre. It is taking place this Thursday, kicking off at 9.50 a.m. and running until 2.30 p.m. We will cover issues such as menopause, menstrual health, fertility - including IVF and surrogacy - mental health and eating disorders, in addition to a look to the future of healthcare in Ireland. Everybody is most welcome to attend. It is a very good and positive event because it will be a full day dedicated to addressing the deficiencies in women's healthcare as well as a positive outlook on what we can do to fill those gaps in service and provision of care to women in Ireland.
I draw the Leader's attention to the fact that today is the 36th anniversary of the explosion at Chernobyl. It was the darkest day in the history of humanity because of its everlasting consequences. In 2016, Ms Adi Roche was invited to speak before the UN General Assembly on the fact that we need a day of remembrance, that Chernobyl is something which can never be consigned to history and that it is very important we remember the ongoing suffering from generation to generation. I had the honour of chairing the press conference held by Adi Roche this morning to mark the 36th anniversary. Ms Raisa Miknovitch Carolan spoke during it. She is a now a fine young woman with a master's degree in criminology, but she spoke of her experience in an orphanage with the disabilities that flowed from being a child living with the consequences of Chernobyl. She spoke very nobly about how she has overcome that. She was one of the Chernobyl children who visited Ireland and was eventually adopted by her Irish family. She gave strong testimony of her current support of children with disabilities in Ukraine, of their experiences in Ukraine and of supporting them in coming to Ireland. As the Leader knows, I have been involved with organisations in Ireland in supporting them to bring children with disabilities here.
This morning, Adi Roche spoke with the passion with which she inspires me about up-to-date reports from the Chernobyl exclusion zone and the additional harm done there by the Russian takeover of the plant.They have now left but while there, they set fires, dug up areas and exposed the area again to radiation. Five coachloads of Russian soldiers were taken away very ill as a consequence of radiation poisoning. The people in the community are again being harmed. This morning's press conference highlighted the ongoing threat from the Russians around Chernobyl who are weaponising it against the global community. There are also 15 other nuclear facilities in Ukraine and the potential threat of them to be used as a weapon of war. The call this morning was for the UN to come out and state that these are no-war zones and that they cannot possibly become a threat and be weaponised in the manner implicit in some of the statements from the Russian leadership. I wanted to put this on the record here and to recognise that we will never forget the people of Chernobyl and the generations that continue to be impacted by it.
I find myself wanting to agree with most of what Senator Chambers just said. We need a debate here on childcare. There is not a family, particularly in cities, which is not finding it extremely difficult. I compliment her on the conference on women's health. Maybe some of my younger male colleagues might do something similar for men. I am a bit over the hill myself. The bit about Mayo I can just about stomach but we will get over that.
We are coming to a time when the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, will have to deal with public service pay. My former colleagues in the Defence Forces in PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, have both balloted their members and both want to be allowed to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is imperative that the Minister for Defence engages with both organisations immediately. Let us put this thing to bed for once and for all. It has been going on for far too long.
There are a couple of issues that need to be addressed urgently in respect of refugees arriving from Ukraine. The initial support for refugees coming from Ukraine is beginning to find cracks coming into the system. While the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is doing a tremendous job and all the other Cabinet members are rolling in behind that to get the job done, there is resentment building up in respect of two areas on which I am being contacted. One concerns those coming from other countries where there is war such as Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria, who are not being treated in the same way. It has been suggested to me that there is a form of racism now finding its way into our system. This is something of which we must be very careful. The other is the young people in Ireland who cannot get into housing. They are now beginning to ask why this can happen for those people but not for themselves? We need much more explanation and people need to be made aware of what exactly is going on. Sympathy wanes very quickly in this world. We all know that. I have been on the border there and my colleague, Senator Dooley, has been there. By God, if you have been out there the sympathy would not wane but that is not the point.
Today, I also heard that we are bringing military barracks back into service. I do not know how many of them we have left. I think we flogged off most of them and the ones that we did not flog off we let go to rack and ruin. Mullingar is a prime example of a place that is available and should be used. I do not know what the situation is in Castlebar barracks. I do not know if it is gone but it was in poor repair anyway. I believe the barracks in Longford belonged to Longford County Council. We need to explain to people and we need to prepare any barracks we have around the country. Sadly, there is a lesson we can never forget, which is that we need to rethink the selling off of assets that we may need in the future.
On behalf of the Green Party-Comhaontas Glas, I note we would like to associate ourselves closely with the thoughtful remarks of condolence to the family and friends of the late Michael O'Kennedy, SC.He had a decorated career in politics and wore it so lightly. I had the privilege of sitting close to him in the Law Library, which was in and of itself a collegiate hotbed. The late Brian Lenihan sat close by, as did Henry Abbott, Willie Penrose and others. He was such a reserved gentleman and a committed European.
I remember once we had a VIP visitor in Coláiste na Rinne i gcontae Phort Láirge. I assume the best china was put out for Michael O'Kennedy, whose son was in the Gaeltacht. He was so accessible to young children. It was at a time when we only had a few channels on television and it was a real red-letter day to have of senior politician visit the college.
I would also like to make a suggestion, if it is appropriate, although maybe it is for another day. We can table a separate motion. Another former Member of the Seanad has passed from this mortal coil and that is the late Jimmy Leonard. Although he had short service in the Seanad, he was a former county councillor and Deputy. The late Jimmy Leonard was a man of deep principle and conviction, and I know that is probably a phrase that has become so well-worn that it loses its effect. We do not see as many conviction politicians as perhaps we did in yesteryear.
I think history will be very kind to him on his stance in leadership battles within his party, which were democratic and fair, and on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, when there was resistance from within his party when it was in opposition. I would like to sympathise with that family. Indeed, his daughter, Ann Leonard, went on to become a Member of this House. His stay in this House was short-lived. Members may recall it was at the time of the election of two people who supported the hunger strikes. I refer to the tragic loss of Kieran Doherty in Cavan-Monaghan and Paddy Agnew, which may have cost Charles Haughey a term in government. Jimmy Leonard was resilient, however. He got back up on the horse and won the next time. From my recollection, Fine Gael had the privilege to appoint the Ceann Comhairle, which reduced that constituency from five to four seats. This would make it much more difficult for Fianna Fáil to hold on but it won three out of four. That was due in no small measure to Jimmy Leonard, although he could not withstand pressure from the republican movement when a hunger striker was elected. He became unstuck on that occasion. He was resilient and an utter gentleman to his fingertips, like Michael O'Kennedy, SC. I would like to convey our sympathies to the families of both of those wonderful people.
I join with my colleague, Senator Craughwell, in the call for the Minister for Defence to come before us once again and to allow both PDFORRA and the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. It is a call a number of us have made in this House. I raised it with the Minister recently when he was in here. As the Leader will know, he is due to come back and speak to us on the Commission on the Defence Forces and hopefully that can happen very quickly.
It was very heartening to see 85% of RACO members recently vote to allow the affiliation of that particular organisation with ICTU and, obviously, to join with PDFORRA. I would ask the Minister to consider that. With pay talks in the air at the moment, it is very important that both PDFORRA and RACO take their rightful place at ICTU and at the negotiation table.
I also want to raise with the Leader the recently announced regional aid maps. The press release from the Department states:
Regional Aid is a form of state aid funded by the Irish exchequer that can be given to enterprises to encourage investment and job creation in economically relatively disadvantaged areas. The Regional Aid Map identifies the areas within Ireland where Regional Aid is allowed under EU rules, as set out in the Commission’s Regional Aid Guidelines.
[ ... ]
On foot of these guidelines, in recognition of the strength and improvement in Ireland’s economy since 2014, the European Commission reduced the overall size of the population area of Ireland that could be covered by ... [the] Regional Aid [maps]. This was part of a European wide review. Originally the maximum allowable coverage for Ireland was proposed [according to the statement] to be 25.64%, but following intensive negotiations with the Commission, it ... [was raised to] 35.9%.
Importantly, the reason I am raising this today is that the press release states: "While there is a reduction in overall coverage, some or all of each county included in the previous map is included in the new map approved today by the Commission."
The Athy municipal district, MD, which is the area in which I live, had been part of the map from 2014 to 2022.However, in the recently-announced map, the Athy municipal district has been removed and no other part of County Kildare has been included. The Athy MD was included for very specific reasons in the previous map and, unfortunately, to the greatest extent, many of those reasons have not changed in recent years. Enterprise has not been located in the Athy municipal district to provide much-needed employment, so the municipal district's removal is worrying, to say the least. We have seen progress on the new road in Athy and a number of other tourism-related projects, making Athy an attractive place to move to and raise a family. What we need now is enterprise to provide employment. The Athy municipal district, including the towns of Athy and Castledermot and the wonderful villages of Nurney, Ballitore, Calverstown, Narraghmore and Kilberry, needs an additional stimulus to attract enterprise and employment, and its removal from the regional aid maps needs to be explained by the Minister, who might come before the House. I have written to him today seeking an explanation as to why the Athy municipal district has been removed from the regional aid maps.
While many homeowners and electricity consumers will receive the €200 discount as compensation towards the spiralling cost of energy over the coming days, a number of others, unfortunately, will not. In certain multiple-apartment blocks, there is a single meter point reference number, MPRN, and the residents in the various apartments are facilitated through a pay-as-you-go system. Unfortunately, however, the electricity suppliers are providing the €200 rebate to only one MPRN in each block. We need to look into that and perhaps it could be taken up with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. I am aware of at least one apartment block in County Clare, comprising nine apartments, whose residents prepay for their electricity per unit on one meter. Because the complex is served by only one meter, the refund of €200 will be returned for the entire block, which is expected to be split between the nine apartments. That is not fair, given each individual unit will have its own costs, and it needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for raising the sad passing of Michael O’Kennedy and sympathise with his wife, Breda, and family. I got to know the late former Minister in his retirement. He was a gentleman and was always encouraging to me despite any political differences we might have had. I also wish to be associated with the remarks regarding Jimmy Leonard and extend my sympathies to his family.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs to come before the House? This week, a district court in St. Petersburg disbanded and banned the largest LGBTQ+ organisation in Russia. This, again, shows the ongoing disregard the Russian authorities have for human rights and minorities, not least the LGBTQ+ community. I ask for a debate to take place on the issue as a matter of urgency. It is an issue born of ideology and nothing else, and we need to call it out. Anybody who supports this type of regime or activity needs to question himself or herself. I hope the Minister will come before the House as a matter of urgency.
Second, I call for a debate with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, on technological university reform. He has been proactive in the area of the apprenticeship and skills shortages and in addressing and tackling that issue, and I commend him on that. It is in line with both his wider ethos and that of his Department regarding better access and a clearer pathway to higher education.
Finally, I propose we invite in the Ministers for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Social Protection. Anecdotally, I have heard that Ukrainian people who, having come to this country, are offered work and want to take up full-time work have been told they can work no more than 20 hours or they will lose all their social welfare benefits. At a time when employers are calling out for people to work and when there are staff shortages in many areas, can we have a debate on this issue and more? To be fair, the people in question wanted to work for the full 40-plus hours and we need a debate on work as a matter of priority in this House.
On two occasions in the past two months, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has taken it upon himself to voice Ireland's support for the international pandemic treaty put forward by the World Health Organization, WHO. This is a legally and politically binding convention that would dictate signatories' response to future pandemics. While we are all eager for the lessons learned over the past two years to be consolidated and critically examined, it does not behove the Minister to speak for the people of Ireland in this manner. This would amount to a piecemeal signing away of sovereignty.
I do not want to have a row on the Order of Business today but I would just make this point to Senator Keogan. The Minister for Health is not signing away sovereignty. He is not doing any of that, as the Cathaoirleach knows. This is important. Words matter.
I am sorry but I want to make this point, with respect. I am good man for the heckling and I am a good man for raising the political gallop, but our words in this Chamber, and in these Houses of the Oireachtas, matter. The Cathaoirleach, as the presiding officer, has a duty not just to us, as Members, but to the people watching with regard to the false information being given by certain Members. I am making this point deliberately about false information. The Minister for Health is not signing away our sovereignty. He is not.
To be fair to everybody, this is a debating Chamber. People are entitled to their points of view. They know the Standing Orders. If someone is in breach of the Standing Orders, I will deal with them. We can interpret the Standing Orders. I would like people to be fair-----
People have made statements and have given their opinions in this Chamber. They are entitled to do so under Standing Orders and they have done so in relation to successive referendums, debates and all sorts of legislation. They are entitled to do that. That is what this democracy is about. I ask Senator Keogan to continue with her contribution.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I appreciate it. The Irish citizen has no say in the governance of the WHO and so any handing over of power and responsibility to this body by our own directly-elected representatives must be thoroughly scrutinised. The treaty is built on the premise that while the technical expertise on how to govern and end a pandemic exists, the political will to do so is missing. Once again an incorrect assertion is being made that the science is settled and that it must be enforced absolutely. This would leave no room for tailor-made pandemic responses suited to individual countries in light of the myriad factors that affect such strategies, namely, population spread, density and age, public health infrastructure, transport systems and topography.
While the full details of the convention will not be finalised until 2023, there is already cause for concern. One such area of concern is that of finance, because an increase in compulsory funding of the WHO by member states would naturally follow in order to allow for the administration of the scheme. Financing resources could be used to encourage compliance with a pandemic treaty. An unknown amount of taxpayers' money could be funnelled into a pooled insurance mechanism, only for Ireland to be cut off from access to such funds if it does not follow the WHO's plan to the letter, making future governments of Ireland and future generations of Irish people further beholden to unelected bureaucrats.Any such sacrifice of sovereignty must be in accordance with the wishes of the people. It is inappropriate for any senior Government official, or any official, to throw his or her weight behind it before a full referendum of the Irish people is held. These shifts of confidence further and further away from the voter contribute to the ever-increasing democratic decay of our society and must be questioned.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his patience.
I join in the comments about Michael O'Kennedy and Jimmy Leonard. Michael O'Kennedy had an unbelievable career, one that many of us would be envious of achieving. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Breda, and the rest of his family.
I wish to discuss the serious concerns raised in an article by Ms Elaine Loughlin in the Irish Examineryesterday. It set out the challenges that the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte, was facing in trying to meet nine disability service managers around the country, with the HSE refusing to facilitate the meetings. There should be no reason for the HSE not to want to engage fully with the Minister of State to ensure she is aware of the serious challenges facing many families of people with disabilities. She came to Crumlin last week and listened for hours to parents and grandparents about the pain and hardship with which their families were struggling. They are not getting therapies or services. We listened to some parents of children now in their 30s and 40s who have never received any intervention from the HSE. Other parents looked on, thinking that that would be them in 30 years' time. Their children might be two years of age now and need occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, but they might be in the exact same position as those other parents in 30 years' time, with their children having no services. Some of the parents said that they were 70, their child was 35 and they were his best friends. He had no friends and never received services. They were still waiting for occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and physiotherapy.
That is what the Minister of State listened to. She understands the families' plight, but for some reason, the HSE is working against her. The refusal by the HSE to attend the meetings with the Minister of State is another blow to families. They cannot understand why the HSE is not attending the meetings when the Minister of State is. This comes at the same time as the High Court has struck down the assessment of needs, AON, process over its incompatibility with the Disability Act. Now, the HSE has to deal with 10,000 AONs properly. This is just taking away more therapy hours from children. I want to know why the HSE is not working with the Minister of State. Please, something needs to be done to help these families. The Minister of State is doing her best but she seems to be up against it.
The comments on childcare by Fianna Fáil's leader in the Seanad were important. As all of us have stated, this House needs to be pushing for public childcare because it is not working in the private system. In this context, we must not forget children with disabilities. There are no proper early intervention programmes for preschool children with disabilities. This matter needs to be pushed with the same gravity as we are pushing for childcare for children who do not have disabilities.
We are seeking an update on the summer provision programme. The Department of Education has not given us any information. We are in May now and the programme is meant to run in July, yet we have no update for parents on what will happen. Parents and children are in limbo.
Today, the National Transport Authority, NTA, launched a report on transport infrastructure in Limerick and Shannon. The report is going out to public consultation. The northern distributor road is a key road, linking Moyross to the University of Limerick and on to the main Dublin road. This road has been debated high up and low down for three years, but it has suddenly disappeared from the report. I understand that this has happened at the intervention of the Minister. That is not acceptable. This issue was highlighted by many people during today's public consultation meeting. The people of Limerick want the northern distributor road included.I would like the support of the Leader in that regard. The links with Shannon have also been highlighted in the report. I congratulate Shannon Airport for being one of 200 airports to reduce their emissions and for being recognised Europe-wide. Although there has been the debacle of the four-hour waiting time in Dublin Airport, there are no queues in Shannon Airport. It is time we used our regional airports. Shannon Airport has a new baggage scanner. It is not even necessary to take one's laptop out of one's bag in Shannon Airport. Somebody on the radio recently said it was a dream to go through that airport. It is time we encouraged people to disperse and to use our regional airports because as a Government we have invested in regional airports and I thank the Government for these investments. It is time that we, the public, used our regional airports and did not concentrate all our eggs in one basket.
I stand here as a member of the LGBTQIA community to express my condolences and sadness at the murders of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee that happened during the Easter recess. I am thinking of all of us in our own community and the community of Sligo as we process these senseless acts of violence. These increased acts of violence against LGBTQIA people have not happened in a vacuum. Homophobia, transphobia and biphobia are scourges. Some things the Government can do now to improve LGBTQIA people's lives are to ban conversion therapy, fund trans healthcare, establish legal recognition for non-binary people, support LGBTQIA NGOs and initiate inclusive sex education in schools. While the call for hate crime laws is coming from a well-meaning place, I do not believe these laws will necessarily stop attacks. We need to tackle homophobia at source and create a society where there is no room for hatred.
The second issue I raise is the return to fully in-person learning in our further and higher education institutions. Higher education institutions are sending out their schedules for the 2022-23 academic year at the moment. It is noticeable to see a plan to return to the ableist attendance policies over ensuring full accessibility. Nobody is claiming that recorded lecturers are replacing the quality of in-person teaching. Rather, recorded lectures and other such things are a tool in the education institutions' arsenal for improving accessibility. Recording attendance at lectures for all lectures is just a lazy way of ticking boxes for key performance indicators, KPIs, and is not a metric that accounts for any quality in learning. By returning to fully in-person learning with no options for access outside of just literally showing up, institutions are ignoring the voices of disabled students, students with long-term or chronic illnesses, parents, carers, students for whom English is not their first language and neurodivergent students in order to maintain the status quo, which is silly because we know we can do better. We just do not want to. It has been so disappointing over the past few days to see that some institutions have not learned anything from the Covid-19 pandemic and we are now seeing a move back to the ableism of attendance policies.
We have a Minister dedicated to further and higher education and yet we see this ableism continue under his watch. Removing accessibility options for students is ableist and is not good enough.
We have all been out in our communities in hubs that have been provided for our Ukrainian refugees and we have seen the incredible volunteerism in the country. Part of that is the great role the community employment, CE, schemes are beginning to play to provide services in community settings. Community employment scheme and volunteering cannot be sustained at the levels we are asking in the medium and long terms. I have been told by a number of CE managers - the Leader will know this from her previous brief - that there is a huge skills shortage, never mind looking for somebody to go on a CE scheme, which it is even harder. The issue the CE scheme managers raised with me is that the Ukrainian refugee has to be in the country for a year before he or she can qualify for a CE scheme. The people and the families I have met want to be part of the solution and to solve the problems they are facing, and they are willing to partake in community employment schemes that are providing these services.
We are looking at more community settings in which to place refugees which will place further demand on communities to provide these services. From her previous role, the Leader will understand this. I also raised it with the Taoiseach last Thursday and he said he would raise it. However, I have been asked me to raise it in the House today with the Leader because she would have a full understanding.They just want to be part of the solution. Why are we asking them to wait a year to go onto a community employment scheme?
A debate that has taken place in other parliaments around the world, most notably in the United Kingdom in the Scottish Parliament and in the French Parliament, is the concept of and debates around long Covid. That is what I would like to ask for today. At some stage in the next couple of months it would be very useful to have the Minister for Health in here for a debate on long Covid. It is a totally new entity that we do and do not know much about. I would like to hear what the Government has to say using the best knowledge, the best science and best data that is available to the top health professionals in this country on what type of a strategy it should implement and what our views around long Covid are. It is difficult to define it and I am not asking for that. However, I would like to know what we are putting in place to deal with cases of long Covid. I know we can all come in here and give anecdotal evidence and different bits and pieces, but I would love to know the actual data in the HSE and our hospital systems in terms of long Covid, as well as what plans and what we are trying to put in place as a Government and as a country to deal with long Covid as it continues on. That would just be a very useful debate to have.
We have had so many good debates over the past two years about the whole aspect of Covid, and this is the next stage of the pandemic and of the world that we find ourselves in. We are very much back to normal as a country, and that is great. This is what living what Covid is and it is exactly what it should be. However, I would love to have a greater insight and a greater debate as to what long Covid looks like and what the Government and HSE view long Covid as. If we could schedule that at some time in the near future, it would be a useful debate for all of us.
I would like to ask, and I know others have, for a debate on the Ukrainian refugee crisis. I use the term "refugee crisis" rather than "migrants". There is a very clear difference between a refugee and a migrant. That is clearly understood by many in terms of international best practice and the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and other organisations that work in this area.
We had a briefing today at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage by the Minister’s officials who set out very clearly his desire to do something. I think everyone across these Houses is fully committed to it. The Minister's officials emphasised the importance that any response regarding the refugee crisis was over and above the expectations in terms of Rebuilding Ireland, which is important. It is also important that we state that many people coming from Ukraine will wish to stay here, which is great. Not all, but many of them will want to stay in our communities. Therefore, it is important that we start integration and communications policies. We need to address their critical and acute needs. These people have suffered terrible trauma. We recognise their desire to continue to learn their native language. We should put in place the supports around their education, psychological welfare and health welfare. There are many facets to this very difficult and complex issue.
I fully welcome the idea that they are coming here. I support the Taoiseach and the Government in their unequivocal support for bringing people here. As the Taoiseach said, their home is our home. I actually believe that, and there are great opportunities. In any crisis, and I do not like using the word in this particular situation, but there are always opportunities. There are new people, new ideas, new ways of doing business, different cultures and different traditions. Let us welcome them.
However, we need to put in place policies. I caution one thing. Let us be very careful about how we protect young people and families that are vulnerable. We should have learned that many years ago. This will happen if we do not carefully monitor and support them and recognise that vulnerable people get taken advantage of. We, as policymakers, must put in place the necessary policies to protect these vulnerable people. Again, let us welcome them with open arms and support them.
I want to stand to support my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, in her Department. We have to be very clear. It is a very sad state of affairs when a Minister of State requests a meeting with employees under her remit and that access is denied. We need to be very serious about these things. The independent republic of the HSE will have to come into the reality of our democracy and should be answerable to the Minister and accountable to all of us as politicians and citizens of the country.On a positive note, I wish to highlight an incredible event that happened last Sunday at my local athletic club, Glenmore Athletic Club, and congratulate those involved. The club organised an event in conjunction with the Louth-Meath branch of Down Syndrome Ireland. We had a "come try" athletics day and children from all around the country attended the club in the Cooley Peninsula. They used our track to try out athletics and many volunteers were involved. The children in our club attended. One member of our club with Down's syndrome, Mr. David O'Hare, has represented Ireland on an international level. We are proud of him. We wanted to open up our club to everybody and to become more inclusive. The children involved tried the long jump, sprints and javelin. It was a powerful and empowering day. My children got a lot out of it. They told me that the other children were very supportive of one another while still being competitive. I highlight that as an initiative other athletics clubs can copy. The event benefited everybody in our community.
I request that the Leader arranges for the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to attend the House, engage in a debate and talk about how we are going to make all our sports mainstream and inclusive. Just because people have disabilities does not mean they should not take part in the same competitions, clubs and everything else as other people, whether they are our neighbours, friends or cousins. I welcome that initiative from Glenmore Athletic Club.
In the centre of Dún Laoghaire, there is a beautiful old fire station that operated for many years as an enterprise centre. In recent years, a decision was made for that building to become the new site of the Educate Together school that is due to be based in Dún Laoghaire. Since that decision was made a number of years ago, nothing has happened. I understand the building is now in the ownership of the Department of Education but nothing has happened to progress the siting of the school at that location to the enormous frustration of the people involved in the school community and the people who live in the area and are looking at this de facto derelict building. I gather the roof is full of pigeons. It is not doing the building any good as time goes on. It is enormously frustrating when these decisions are made, flagged and progressed up to a point but no further action appears to take place. The council cannot help with the issue because it no longer owns the building and the Department seems either unwilling or unable to act and progress the project. This is repeated in many other places. We should be examining these issues in the Chamber and making sure that when such commitments are made, there is a way in which we can ensure action is taken and communities are not left standing around and waiting for what they know is going to happen to actually happen. That drives people insane and it is easy to understand why.
We were fortunate to welcome the Ukrainian ambassador, H.E. Ms Larysa Gerasko, to Gorey yesterday. It was an emotional day during which she met local families who have been supported by schools in the community and by voluntary activity. There is a drop-in centre at Gorey Youth Needs Group where people come to provide information. Active groups have sprung up around the county, including in Riverchapel and Kilmuckridge, where Councillor Mary Farrell is actively involved. Support groups have also sprung up in Rosslare and in communities around the country. While others have spoken about this issue, we must acknowledge all the voluntary groups who are opening their doors and hearts to try to provide support. Many of the Ukrainian families arriving here have questions they need answered and it is important that we put structures in place to do that. One of those questions is around Ukrainian teachers and whether their teaching qualifications will be recognised. We have shortages in particular subject areas and the matter needs to be addressed quickly with the Teaching Council. I ask the Leader to raise that matter with the Minister for Education.
I join with Senator Hoey. Since the Seanad last sat, we have seen the terrible killings of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee. We also saw the attack on Evan Somers in Dublin city centre. All of the signs point to the fact that the only reason these people were attacked was because they were gay men.There is much to celebrate in this country, we have come a long way and it is a much more open and tolerant country than it was in the past. However, this shows that we still have a long way to go. Words count and language matters and the words and language we use in these Houses, whether somebody is part of a minority or is a refugee, is something that counts. I am conscious of Senator Buttimer's remarks and it would be appropriate that coming up to the anniversary of the marriage equality referendum we would consider having a debate on the rights of LGBT+ people in this country. We should celebrate how far we have come and discuss how far we need to go.
A number of months ago we had the great announcement of sports capital grants for about 1,900 successful applicants across the country and some €140 million was invested into sports clubs, which has been hugely welcomed by those clubs. It is the largest sports capital investment that has been given to clubs since the measure was reintroduced by a Fine Gael Government a number of years ago.
An appeals process is taking place and €6 million in funding has been put aside for same. A GAA club in Tipperary, Clerihan GAA, was unsuccessful on the first round. It has made some changes to its application and has put in an appeal. Paddy Flannery, John O'Rourke and the committee have put an awful lot of work into this application because they spent an awful lot of money to do some work in the hope that, like the 1,900 clubs that were successful, they would be successful too.
One of the requests is to find out when a decision will be made and if that club would be successful. My colleague, Councillor John Fitzgerald, has worked with the club on this issue for the last number of weeks to try to make it successful. He has written to the Minister to stress the importance of this town and village, which is a satellite village of Clonmel that has increased in size in recent years because of high employment across Clonmel. The club needs to benefit on the back of that too and I ask the Leader to support Councillor Fitzgerald and me on this application and on any other applications that are put in. When so many clubs are successful more clubs want that funding as well. This is an important application for that area.
I acknowledge that the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, visited Roscommon last week, which was phenomenal. She was there to pay tribute to the Horses for Hope equine centre, which is the first of its kind in Europe and has been opened at Castlerea Prison. It offers people the opportunity to work with animals. We saw many of the prisoners there go on a course over a number of months and they come out with qualifications and have the opportunity to work in these roles once they leave Castlerea. It is wonderful and it has been well funded. It is innovative and empathetic in an area where that would not normally be seen.
The Minister also paid a visit to Donamon Fáilte Centre, which is taking in people from Ukraine. We had young mums with small babies who had travelled thousands of miles to reach a sanctuary in the middle of Roscommon. As has been mentioned, I will be speaking on the supports that will be coming with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, in terms of a one-stop shop that will be in the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. That will support third level students who are arriving here from Ukraine to continue their studies so they are not left behind in achieving their goals and potential, which is crucial. They have received a welcome and the people we met said they will never forget what Ireland has done for them. I sometimes think we are fortunate and lucky to have people who are coming to Ireland to show us what they can give us. We had young doctors, paediatricians and software engineers in Donamon, all young people who are waiting to contribute to our communities. There were also so many who are looking forward to being able to return home at some point in the future.
A number of different topics were raised. I want to acknowledge Senator Dolan's mention of the official launch by the Minister for Justice of Horses for Hope in Roscommon last week. It is part of a wider initiative and conversation we need to have in how we rehabilitate people who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in prison, which Senator Ruane often talks about here.As part of a wider conversation, we need to discuss how we rehabilitate people who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in prison because there is somewhat of a view that they should nearly be put into a black hole and left there as punishment. The whole purpose of the judicial system is to rehabilitate people and make them function in order that they can return to society and behave in a manner that is fruitful for themselves.
A lovely man called Mr. Paddy Richardson runs an organisation called the Irish Association for Social Inclusion Opportunities, IASIO. To my mind, the organisation does not get a fraction of the money that it should get from both the Department of Justice and the Department of Social Protection. IASIO takes people who have come out of prison and make sure that they do not repeat the cycles of the past because, unfortunately, 70% of the people who leave prison find themselves back inside within 12 months. Therefore, we should do anything that we can to prevent that situation. The Horses for Hope programme is a shining example of thinking outside of the box and what we should do to help ex-prisoners.
In response to Senator Ahearn, although I am not in a position to support the appeal application, I will find out from the Minister when it is expected that the appeal will be adjudicated upon in order that the people who are waiting to get their hands on the €6 million, as the other 1,000-plus clubs did, will have a timeline.
Senator Malcolm Byrne talked about the visit yesterday by the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland to Gorey, as did Senator Dolan. We are absolutely steeped in Ireland that we have such a large heart for people who are in crisis and need our help. The Irish Red Cross has managed to raise €30 million due to the generosity of Irish people. That is pure cash and does not include all of the reception centres and the giving that people have done locally, which we are all well aware of and been to see them. Long may that generosity continue because this particular refugee crisis, as Senator Boyhan mentioned, will not be over in a short time and I think that it will be with us for much longer.
There are some idiosyncrasies in the system that people now appreciate. Last week, the Minister was kind enough to sort out the driving licence issue. However, in terms of access to community employment schemes and access to social welfare while working, the reason we have speedily taken in refugees and have treated them as though they equate to European citizens is because we relied on the legislation that was enabled in every single European Union member state. Those conditions are the same for every Irish person as they are for every European person who comes here. To make special conditions would require every European state to do the same thing. It is certainly not something that is beyond us, particularly if our new Irish citizens, albeit that they hope to only be here temporarily, can work if they so wish. I will convey messages to the Minister today and I reassure Senator Boyhan that I will organise a debate in the next couple of weeks.
Senators Hoey and Malcolm Byrne referred to the week of the tragic murders of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee, as well as the assaults on Evan Somers and another young gentleman, whose name is not in the public domain, from Sligo. I thought that there would have been a much bigger outcry than there was. I came into town on the Friday evening to attend the vigil outside those premises and it was one of the most moving, poignant and sad events that I have ever attended. The choir that evening sang so beautifully and the event was striking. I remembered that people on that day asked why our reaction was not the same as when young Ashling Murphy was horribly murdered in January. I believe it is because every single person in Ireland could either relate to her or knew that she could be your sister, daughter, mother or friend. I do not think that people feel or think the same way about the LGBT community as we did about Ashling, which I think is wrong. Every single one of us could have a brother, sister, friend or relative in exactly the same way but I do not think that we think about it in the same way. I believe that we think about the LGBT community as being something separate and distinctly different as opposed to being part of all of us and it is part of all of us. On the night of the last vigil, I was minded that everybody should be an LGBT ally and be proud to say it and talk about it all of the time, as opposed to just when we see tragedies, disenfranchisement or discrimination. I now realise that something as shocking as happened that week happens week in and week out, but we just do not get told about it and the victims of random discrimination, right up to horrific violence, just suck it up and accept that it is part of what their life is like and that is not acceptable by any one of us or any member of society.We need to start a national campaign of being LGBT allies to make sure that everybody recognises that they are all of us and we are all of them and that we are one community. I pay tribute to the people who organised the beautiful vigils all over Ireland that evening, which were poignant.
Senator Ward spoke about progress. I am not sure what to say to him other than maybe we will organise a meeting for his committee with the forward planning team to try to find out its status. The frustration that he described exists in every county. They do not have the reputation of being as progressive as we would like them to be. I can certainly organise a meeting and try to get people sitting around the same table so at least they can get an update.
Senator McGreehan spoke with such passion. She must really have had a good day, as did everybody else who joined Glenmore Athletic Club that day. She made a valid point that we need to have more inclusivity in sport and I will try to arrange a debate with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
Senator Boyhan asked for a debate on Ukrainian refugees on an ongoing basis. We have one with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and I will try to tackle all aspects of what is required for the integration of the people who will be with us for weeks and months, or maybe as the Senator suggested, we might be lucky enough that some of them might stay. A welcome development this week was the establishment of a Cabinet subcommittee to make sure that we have co-ordination across all of our services to look after new people and new residents.
Senator McGahon is looking for a debate on long Covid and our strategy and plans. I can certainly organise that.
Senator Casey talked about the idiosyncrasies with community employment. As he probably knows, people on community employment schemes cannot go from the live register immediately to community employment because we want to try to get them back to work before we put them into retraining. We will raise it with the Minister and I will come back to the Senator about it.
Senator Maria Byrne talked about utilising our regional airports. In recent weeks, we have all witnessed the horrific stories of people having to wait for hours in Dublin Airport. I was in and out of Dublin Airport on Monday and Friday in the week before last. It did a super job, so it is a case of horses for courses. We certainly should use our regional airports, and not only Shannon, but also Cork and the other regional airports.
Senator Ardagh spoke about the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, as did another Senator. Bravo to Deputy Rabbitte. She is getting close to the rub of the issue, which is why she is being pushed back against. Senator Ardagh knows her much better than I do but if I know anything about her, it is that she will not be stopped. A democratically elected Minister of State is being held back by an arrogant cabal of people who do nothing but breach the rights of children and adults who have disabilities and need access to services. What they would be far more mindful in doing would be having a quarterly audit of all the provisions of speech, language, physiotherapy, psychology and occupational therapy services in order that we could see the massive deficits in respect of all the people who do not get what they are supposed to be getting. That is one thing that we do not have at the moment. While we have anecdotal and emotive evidence when we have meetings or large-scale organised events to get parents around the table to support one another, we do not have a list of the people who are waiting or how long they are waiting for. It is not good enough. Bravo to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. We should make sure she continues to get our support to push back. Being barred from meeting people who are at the coalface is just beyond belief.
Senator Keogan shared her opinions on the World Health Organization convention on dealing with future pandemics. I contend that there is much more debate to be had before the final details are ratified. The Senator is right that we should have input into it and that it should not be decided for us by other people.
Senator Buttimer sought a debate on LGBTQ rights and I will certainly look at that. He also referred to the debate that we need with the Minister, Deputy Harris, on developing our technological universities. I will organise that as soon as I can.
Senator Dooley raised the single meter point reference number, where there would be multiple family homes or dwellings in a single block. I will raise that with the Minister.
Senators Wall and Craughwell raised the public service pay agreements and the wish of PDFORRA and RACO to affiliate with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions before any negotiations start.
Senator Seery Kearney talked about how we would require a day of remembrance on the 36th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
Senator Chambers opened proceedings by asking for a debate on the cost of childcare, which I will certainly organise. She welcomed the Brexit adjustment funds that were announced this week for our marine, ports and harbour development. She talked about the annual Mayo Day, which is next week and which I am sure Senators will all support, both online and in person.Most importantly, I pay tribute to the Senator for the amount of work she and her team have put into the women's health conference she has organised for next Thursday. Many of us do a lot of work that does not get noticed. Senator Chambers's work has, thankfully, been noticed in recent weeks, maybe for the wrong reasons but there is no such thing as bad publicity. I wish her every success on Thursday and congratulate her on doing something that all political parties probably should have done long before now, but it takes a woman to highlight these issues. Well done.