Tuesday, 17 May 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of the Planning and Development (Street Furniture Fees) Regulations 2022, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, Private Members' business, Regulation of Display of Electoral and Polling Posters and Other Advertisements Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; No. 3, statements on childcare provision, to be taken at 7 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8.30 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 8.30 p.m.
I thank Senator Buttimer for outlining the Order of Business. Before I call the first speaker, I welcome to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery Representative Fran Hurley from Chicago. She is a founding member and one of the national co-chairs of the American Irish State Legislators Caucus, which has more than 1,100 members and representatives in all 50 states. I welcome Representative Hurley and wish her the best of luck. I am sorry about the weather but there is nothing we can do about that.However, there is nothing we can do about that. I thank her for coming all the way from Chicago and all her work in the American Irish State Legislators Caucus.
I concur with the Order of Business as outlined by the Acting Leader. I acknowledge the decision by Cabinet today to proceed with the new national maternity hospital. It has been a difficult couple of weeks in terms of there being strong views on both sides. However, it is my strong belief it is the right decision to proceed without any further delay, given we have had nine years of delay already. I hope developments over the past couple of weeks, given the Minister has been at the Committee on Health and we have had various medical professionals from the current National Maternity Hospital, from Dr. Rhona Mahony to Professor Mary Higgins to Ms Mary Brosnan, and many other clinicians and midwives come out to voice their support, have allayed at least some, if not all, of the concerns of many of those who were on the other side of this argument. Ultimately, it is the intention of Government to provide a world-class healthcare facility for women and babies at the new site at Elm Park. Even by getting the go-ahead today and proceeding to the next phase, it will still take us a number of years to deliver this project. It is expected the hospital will open its doors in 2030. One can understand the urgency to try to get this matter progressed.
The issue of Brexit remains high on the agenda. We have seen confirmation from the British Government and Liz Truss that they intend to proceed to table legislation to take unilateral action on the protocol. It is very disappointing, to put it mildly, that the UK Government would take such a move. To disapply the protocol unilaterally, even some elements of it, is in breach of an international treaty, which I think we are all blue in the face from repeating time and again to the British Government. I would welcome a debate in this House at the earliest opportunity with the Minister for Foreign Affairs to discuss where we go from here, what the next steps are and to hear from the Minister what the European Commission intends to do in terms of its reaction to this. I note the comments of the European Commissioner, Maroš Šefovi, saying the EU will take action, but we do not know what that actually looks like. Ultimately, we need to ensure Ireland’s interests are protected and we protect our citizens and businesses as best we can, although we have ultimately no control over what the UK Government does. We are asking that it would act in good faith, but certainly the comments from Ms Truss appear to be to the contrary.
I acknowledge the fantastic work done by a local school in my town of Castlebar, namely, Breaffy National School. It has seen its numbers treble in recent weeks, with so many new children attending the school who have fled from Ukraine. Many of them are being housed in the hotel across the road, Breaffy House Resort, which is one of the largest hotels in the county. It is the area where we are accommodating most of our new visitors. The school across the road is a small rural school. It is a big school in the area, but it is still a rural school. It has seen a huge increase in numbers. As the weeks and months progress, we will need to provide further assistance to these schools to help them work with the additional numbers that they are now seeing. I commend the school, teachers and school community on putting the shoulder to the wheel and making sure these children have felt welcome.
Last week the European Parliament established a special committee on the Covid-19 pandemic. The committee includes in its title, "lessons learned and recommendations for the future". While many times we might be well served by keeping an eye on the EU, in this case, we best take a leaf from its book. The Covid pandemic was the most impactful global health crisis of our time. Are we just going to move on as if nothing happened? Are we not going to seize this opportunity to look back, assess and critically examine our national response to Covid? Are we not going to examine our own lessons learned and establish research and data-led recommendations for the future? It is unthinkable that we now do anything less than go through every aspect of our Covid response with a fine-tooth comb and investigate whether every facet of it was up to scratch. How responsive were we to changing circumstances and new data? How accurate were our predictions? Which systems and responses worked out and which ones did not?
Last September, An Taoiseach said that he was wary of an official inquiry hamstringing responses to future emergencies, but is it not the opposite? Would a robust, transparent inquiry not show up any failures or mistakes in our pandemic response and allow us to build on our experience and do better in the future? It was stated in January there would be an evaluation of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.Can we get an update on it? Who is to carry out the evaluation? What powers will they have to carry out their functions? Will it be a rehash of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response? Key figures in the pandemic response refused flat out to appear before it and be accountable, and it was wound up mid-pandemic once the Government figured out that accountability was inconvenient. Alternatively, will the Covid inquiry be a real one that will drill down into and uncover the inconvenient truths, face up to the hard data and equip future generations with dearly paid-for information on how to handle an international pandemic? Anything short of that is an insult to those who lost their lives to Covid.
It is good to see the Deputy Leader back in the hot seat; it suits her.
I want to begin like my colleague Senator Chambers by commenting on the decision by the British Government to legislate to break the law. It is unilaterally legislating to amend aspects of the agreed protocol, a protocol that it negotiated and signed up to and that its Parliament endorsed. We were told that this was an oven-ready deal, that it was about getting Brexit done and that, in fact, Brexit was done. However, it is now increasingly apparent, even to anyone who was not paying attention, that this is actually about giving cover to the DUP, which spurned every compromise and deal put before it, pushes even yet for the hardest and most disastrous form of Brexit and has refused to re-enter the Stormont institutions and adhere to the will of the people in the North, who just two weeks ago expressed very clearly what they want. The people want parties around the Executive table and in the Assembly Chamber working for them to deal with the cost-of-living crisis, the problems in the health service and the issues that matter.
It is encouraging that we have colleagues and friends here from the United States because we need to mobilise international attention on this in the first instance. We have received a lot of solidarity and goodwill, as the Deputy Leader knows, but we are now in quite a serious predicament owing to what the British Government is seeking to do following its announcement today. The announcement from Ms Liz Truss this afternoon on the protocol follows on from the announcement this morning that the British Government is to plough ahead with its introduction of an amnesty for British state forces, who are responsible for countless atrocities here in Ireland, North and South. That should give us cause for deep concern, not least considering that, just a few months ago, this Seanad unanimously rejected the amnesty proposals. It is important, therefore, that we have the opportunity to hear from the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the British Government's announcement today and the measures the Irish Government will take internationally to respond to it, given that it is a breach and a disregarding and walking away from the Stormont House Agreement, which we all signed up to and want to see implemented. Although that agreement is an imperfect measure, it is one that we all agreed could be the beginning of a process to deal with the issues of legacy and victims.
We learned last week about the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqla. The scenes from her funeral, including the attack on that funeral by the Israeli defence forces, are ones that few of us will ever forget. The killing and subsequent behaviour of the Israeli state must be called out and wholly condemned. It was a callous attack on media freedom and the right to mourn. I call for statements in this House condemning the Israeli Government for those actions.
It is the first time in three years that summer festivals will be taking place. That is brilliant and badly needed for the music and arts sector. I want to refer to research recently undertaken by a group called FairPlé, which examined 16 folk and trad festivals dating back to 2018.Only a quarter of the performances at those festivals were by women performers, and that does not even cover those who were working in the background. I appeal to festival organisers and to those attending to really demand and do better with regard to gender balance. We know there are fantastic performers out there but they need to be given the opportunity.
Tomorrow, hundreds of medical scientists will be forced to go out on strike because of absolute frustration and a sense of burnout with regard to their working conditions. We know that 20% of posts for medical scientists across Irish hospitals remain unfilled, we know there are massive recruitment difficulties and we know there was a botched pay parity process over 20 years ago that has yet to be fixed. I know some of the medical scientists who will be out tomorrow and I can tell the House that the last place on this planet they want to be tomorrow is outside their hospitals with a placard. They want to be inside, doing their job, but they feel they have been so shamefully treated by the HSE and the Department of Health that they have been left with no option. I ask the Government representatives in the House to intervene and speak to the Minister for Health to ensure a deal can be done. Not an awful lot is needed to fix this issue but, to date, the HSE and the Department of Health have done little or nothing to resolve it, with the result that there will be hundreds on strike tomorrow, bringing vital services in Irish hospitals to a halt.
It is great to see Senator Buttimer in the hot seat.
Like my colleague, I want to highlight the horrendous killing of Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by an Israeli sniper last Wednesday. She was killed while covering an Israeli military incursion into Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. It is a territory administered by the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo peace agreement that has been invaded by the Israeli Defence Forces, IDF, once again. She was a household name in Palestine and across the Middle East, known for her courageous reporting on the issues facing the Palestinian people.
The agony of her murder was amplified by the brutal and incomprehensible scenes of Israeli forces attacking Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral procession. I can only imagine the pain and confusion the pall bearers felt as they struggled to keep the coffin aloft while the truncheon blows rained down on them. They protected the dignity of this remarkable woman and they had to endure the most horrendous abuse to do that.
These actions are the result of a society poisoned by its own racism and militarism. The Desmond Tutu trust, among others, has drawn attention to the clear parallels to the attacks on the funerals of activists during the apartheid era in South Africa. The killing of Shireen is a tragedy and an absolute outrage. It fits into a pattern of Israeli institutions and agents trying to silence and repress those who expose their cruelty to the world. According to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Israel has killed more than 50 Palestinian journalists since 2001.
These killings are connected to Israel's attempts to outlaw Palestinian human rights organisations, like Al-Haq, by smearing them as terrorists. They are connected to the brutal beating of Hani Nassar, a researcher for Defense of Children International, a Palestinian NGO, who was violently attacked a few days ago, first by Israeli settlers and then by IDF soldiers near the illegal Israeli settlement of Homesh, south of Jenin. This is a concerted attempt to use violence, intimidation and repressive legislation to silence dissenting voices and to impede the documentation of Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Coveney’s strong condemnation of the attack on Shireen’s funeral. However, I must ask what has our condemnation ever achieved. What is stopping us from taking tangible, material action? The people of Palestine are asking us. How can we look the Palestinian people in the eye and tell them we recognise the crimes being committed against them but that we still will not act? What are we going to do? How are we going to change this? I ask the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to brief the House on the State’s advocacy for the rights and safety of the Palestinian people, particularly human rights defenders, at the EU and UN level.
I join others who have condemned in the strongest terms the approach of the Israeli Defence Forces and the police force in their actions during the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh. It was a disgraceful attack on not just the Palestinian people, who are mourning one of their own, but also on a fundamental tenet of the democracy of any state, namely that of journalism. We all recognise the important role journalists play in protecting the fundamental freedoms of others and holding various different institutions to account. To see the behaviour of the Israeli forces during the funeral was disgusting and appalling, and should be condemned in every parliament around the world. Regardless of anyone's position on international issues, there is a fundamental recognition of the role of the media in the preservation and protection of democracy, and we need to abide by that.
The Acting Leader and I, along with others in the House, had an opportunity to visit Shannon Airport yesterday, where we heard very directly from the chairman of the board, the chief executive and others about the importance of a change in legislation to address the important role regional airports play in the balanced growth of our country. It is important that the Government moves without delay to put in place a national aviation policy, something which has not been in place for a long time. We have seen the growth of Dublin Airport. I have no problem in principle with having a main airport where the capital city is because that is something that happens in every country. However, it cannot be at a cost to other areas. A relatively small number of additional passengers would take Shannon Airport to a critical mass whereby it could attract flights on a more regular basis to key destinations in Europe. I ask the Acting Leader to have the Minister for Transport come before the House so that we can have a proper and open debate on the importance of regional development, and the growth and necessary input to airports such as Shannon to ensure they can thrive, grow and meet the needs of a balanced country and approach to the dispersal of our population.
The Acting Leader will be aware that today is International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. We have made enormous progress in tackling homophobia. It was particularly welcome to hear overnight of Blackpool's Jake Daniels becoming the first professional football player in England to come out in 32 years. It was a very brave move, given the context. He is a young man who should be saluted for his bravery and honesty. At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media last week, we heard about the work being done by national governing bodies and the Federation of Irish Sport to tackle discrimination, homophobia and racism within sport. Unfortunately, we know, in particular in the online space, a hell of a lot more needs to be done. On this day, it is important that the Houses and Ireland, as a republic, continue to stress the importance of solidarity with all of our citizens and insist that everybody in the State be treated equally.
I also wish to raise the question of the regulation of jet skis. Those who, like me, come from coastal areas will understand that as we come into the summer this continues to be a problem. There can be by-laws, but the difficulty is often with enforcement. Last year, five key bodies - Water Safety Ireland, Irish Sailing, Waterways Ireland, the RNLI and the Coast Guard - came together and made an appeal to get jet ski users to try to be responsible and not go into swimming areas in order to avoid potential incidents, something we see every summer.This issue has been raised with me by some organisations based locally in the Wexford area. Councillor Joe Sullivan also regularly raises this issue as a matter of concern. We must examine how the existing regulations can be enforced. There is no point in having bylaws. The Acting Leader is close enough to the coast to know the importance of addressing this problem. Therefore, I ask that we examine ways of ensuring that our beaches and coastal communities are safe and that if we have regulations and bylaws, that mechanisms are put in place to ensure they are enforced.
Cathal Brugha Barracks is 100 years old today. A parade is being held in the barracks to celebrate. It is rather distressing to me that the bourgeois Green Party of the middle class wants to see Cathal Brugha Barracks bulldozed to the ground to provide a site for property for the well-heeled in south County Dublin. Cathal Brugha barracks is a vital part of Dublin's infrastructure and of the Defence Forces. I wish them well, and I hope they will be there for another 100 years.
To the barracks, of course.
I do not often agree with my colleague Senator Ó Donnghaile, but Sinn Féin had a tremendous win in the Northern election. In my lifetime, we now have a situation where a nationalist group should be in control in the North of Ireland. Due to the Good Friday Agreement, which is respected by all, there is a shared responsibility. In that context, it is extremely distressing to see the undemocratic actions of the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP. This is not just the case for me, but for people who are contacting me from the nationalist and unionist sides of society in Northern Ireland because they are deeply upset by the actions of the DUP. The party has turned out now to be the tail that wags the dog, and not just in Northern Ireland but right across the UK.
It is simply not good enough that a minority group is able to stifle democracy in Northern Ireland. People there are waiting on key payments and various other things that must be issued. It is simply not good enough that this is the situation. I cannot disagree with one word my colleague said today, including about the amnesties. I do not agree with any of what is going on in this regard. The bottom line here is that we have a Prime Minister in the UK who is playing fast and loose not only with democracy but with the damage that could be done to the Good Friday Agreement. I call on our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, to immediately contact the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in the UK and tell its representatives that we are not up for this.
I belatedly congratulate my Sinn Féin colleagues on their amazing success in the North. I was up there in the 1970s a few times and this outcome was never envisaged. Therefore, I wish them well in this regard.
Turning to the issue of the new national maternity hospital, I am delighted it is getting the green light. There has been procrastination in this area for almost a decade. It is about time we got off our backsides and got this hospital built for the women of Ireland, particularly those of childbearing years, and for the midwives and all the experts in this area.
My main request today is that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, come to the House soon. I was recently contacted by a young couple who have saved approximately €60,000. They were trying to buy a property and needed to borrow about €185,000. They eventually went to their local authority for that money, but they were refused because the local authority said the most it could give was €150,000. There should be more flexibility in this area. If this situation is allowed to continue, this young couple and their three children will go on the housing list, which will create further problems down the road. Greater flexibility should be exercised, particularly by local authorities, in the context of young people trying to get on the property ladder. What has happened to this young couple is a disgrace. The husband has a trade, is working full-time and is earning reasonably good money. His wife has decided to stay at home with their three or four young children and rear the family because of the cost of childcare. She will probably go back to work when the children reach school age.This issue should be looked at. Flexibility is the word I would use in this regard.
I begin by agreeing with others on the death and the horrific circumstances around the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh in Palestine, which I also raised last Thursday. The key ask is that we recognise and understand that we should not be treating Israel as a normal state. We should recognise and state what the whole world knows to be true, namely, that Israel is an apartheid state. We need to hear Government Ministers recognise and state that fact. In all honesty, that is the only way to go from this point onwards. We cannot keep pretending that somehow Israel is a normal state. It is anything but and we have seen that with our own eyes in recent days.
It will not surprise the Acting Leader to hear me raise University Hospital Limerick, UHL, again. My colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, through a reply to a parliamentary question, discovered that last year 9,000 patients had to wait more than 12 hours for treatment at the hospital. The exact figure was 8,720. To give the House an idea of where this is going, in 2013 the figure was 4,000-odd, so it has doubled in less than ten years. The really terrifying part of this is that a report by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Britain noted that, on average, there is one excess death for every 67 patients who stay in an emergency department for between eight and 12 hours. Based on the figures from last year, we had 130 additional deaths of patients in our hospital in Limerick. That is 130 families grieving over people who should not have died but did because of the ongoing chaos and impossible conditions that staff and patients alike are having to put up with. This has been the case for a decade at this stage and it has got worse, year in, year out and month in, month out. The promise of additional beds is not enough. The figure of 92 new beds equates to just 48 new beds. In reality, we have been waiting at least 18 months for those. I just cannot understand the lack of action by successive Governments. The latest news is that the Minister has declared that a specialist team will be deployed to UHL but we do not have any details of the team's remit and its make-up remains very vague.
At the weekend, I stood with colleagues in Limerick city centre and people were queueing for well over an hour to sign a petition calling for a health emergency to be declared in Limerick. When will the Government listen? I am asking once again for an urgent debate specifically on University Hospital Limerick.
Today in Clanbrassil Street in Dundalk, I attended a wonderful event, the opening of Creative Spark's downtown hub. In a nutshell, this means that between 40 and 50 remote working spaces in the centre of Dundalk town will be open to people to come and use. I raise this issue because funding for the hub came from the Border enterprise development fund. One of the stipulations is that the funding must be used to target vacant or derelict buildings in an urban centre.
Retail is not what it was 20 or 30 years ago. It has now moved online and there are so many different ways to do it. We have to reimagine the main streets in our urban centres across the country. We can do this by getting footfall back on to main streets through developments such as the one I visited today. Every day, between 40 and 50 people will come to the main street in Dundalk where they will buy breakfast, lunch or meat on their way home. This is about getting footfall back on the streets. The way in which retail has moved to online purchase means that it may no longer be able to do this. While funding is available through the Department of Rural and Community Development for villages and rural areas to turn these spaces into remote working hubs, there is still no clear line of funding to do this in our urban centres. Dundalk, where I come from, was lucky because it is in a Border area but what about urban centres in the midlands, the west or further down the country? This is an incredible way to transform our main streets, breathe life back into them and get people back on to them. It is should be commended and looked at on a much wider scale.
I pay particular tribute to Sarah Daly and Ciara Breen in Dundalk who have put so much effort into getting this hub over the line. It is directly across from my constituency office so I have had the joy of spending the past two years watching it come to fruition. It is open today and people will be working in it tomorrow. This is the key to revitalising our main streets and urban centres right across this country.
I strongly support the comments of Senator Black, my party colleague, Senator Dooley, and Senator Gavan on the appalling killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and the carry-on of the Israeli police at her funeral. It galled me. The police alleged they had an arrangement with the mourners that the remains would be transferred from the hospital to the church without the coffin being carried but the fact people felt so strongly and carried the coffin meant it should have been allowed. The brutality of the police who forcefully took the remains into the church, allowed the service to go ahead and then interfered again to take the remains to the cemetery should, as somebody said, be condemned by every proper democracy in the world. It is shocking behaviour. Well done to the Members who brought up the issue today.
The National Famine Commemoration took place in my home town of Strokestown on Sunday. It is a town the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows well. The Taoiseach and the Minister of State and Chief Whip, Deputy Chambers, were there. We went on a tour of the new Famine museum. It is amazing and extraordinary and I encourage everybody to visit because the story of the Strokestown area is highly significant to what happened in the Famine. I would like a cross-party group to visit the museum. It is important that we do so and that we never forget that there is always famine in the world. I think particularly of the people of Yemen who are suffering such hardship, deprivation and hunger. We do not hear much about that at the moment. Maybe it is a matter the Acting Leader can raise with the Leader. The Cathaoirleach also attended on Sunday. It would be nice if a group visited the museum as part of our work. There is so much to be taken in there. We must never forget what people in this country went through in the Famine.
I share the sentiments expressed by Senator Black and others on the utterly horrific and brutal behaviour of Israeli forces. It was unbelievable to see the footage. The lack of coverage of the incident was also shocking.
On International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, I congratulate Jake Daniels of Blackpool Football Club who recently came out.
It takes no small amount of bravery to come out in an industry with thousands of players, some of whom may still be in the closet and fear how they will be treated by supporters, teammates and opponents. He is the first active male professional footballer in England to come out since Justin Fashanu did so 30 years ago. Justin's tragic death has cast a long shadow over professional football. Ireland is a country of sports lovers and football plays a huge role in that so it is beyond time for us to grab the thorny issue of homophobia in sport and call it out. The players who represent us in our communities, counties and internationally should feel safe to come out. I wish Jake the best for the future in his career and life. I hope his coming out gives hope and comfort to those still living in fear of coming out as their true, authentic selves. We must show leadership in the House that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia will not be tolerated.
Students face the ongoing issue of Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants being affected by pandemic unemployment payments. I ask that the Leader to write to the Minister to get onto this issue. Perhaps the Minister should come into the House to discuss it. It is unacceptable that students directed to take pandemic unemployment payments for work they lost during Covid are now losing out on SUSI. I warned this would happen at the time, yet not much was done. The response from the Minister until now has been that students should just appeal to SUSI, which is not acceptable. I do not think the Minister and his Department officials have any appreciation of how difficult it is for students to have the rug pulled out from under them like this. It is not fair to penalise people for taking pandemic unemployment payments and then expect them to go through a complex appeals process. I would like the Leader to write to the Minister on this as a matter of urgency.
It is great to see Senator Buttimer back in the Leader's chair. It suits him. He looks great. There has been huge reaction in the Chamber today and throughout the sporting pages in respect of the fact that 17-year-old Jake Daniels has come out as the first professional gay football player since Justin Fashanu and only the second in the world. As a 17-year-old he is to be commended. He signed professional papers and made his debut in the past month. It is a very brave thing to do.
Where are we in our country in this debate? I think of my fellow countyman, David Gough, the top GAA intercounty referee in Ireland and the first referee in Ireland to come out as openly gay. In the past year he has done a significant amount of promotional work throughout Ireland. He came out in 2015. He said it has been disappointing that nobody has found the courage to come out since then. He has gone on to referee all-Ireland finals and it has had no impact on his career. He has expressed disappointment that the Pride flag has yet to be flown over Croke Park, the home of Gaelic games. He said the GAA will ultimately regret not making this gesture sooner.
There are 1,900 male senior intercounty players in the country and the same number of intercounty camogie and ladies football players. This is a total of almost 4,000 players. Are we seriously saying that none of the 4,000 people who play top-level football and hurling in this country are gay? We need leadership in our pillar sports. I back David Gough's call for the flying of the Pride flag over Páirc an Chrócaigh. I urge our leading sporting organisation, Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, and other pillar sporting organisations to consider this. The plaudits for Jake Daniels and Blackpool will mean very little in the sporting world if we are not prepared to show leadership at home.
I did not come into the Chamber to speak about the Middle East but in terms of balance it is important to point out that the most recent bout of violence in Israel started when 11 innocent Israeli citizens were slaughtered by Palestinian terrorists. I did not hear too many shouting about it. It has become an everyday occurrence in Israel for innocent men, women and children to be stabbed at random by Palestinians. I do not hear anyone shouting about that. Certainly the funeral scenes were appalling and shocking. They are the worst I have seen apart from when the two British agents were trapped at a funeral in the North and were savaged and torn to bits before the provos killed them.
I want to speak about something very positive and uplifting. I was delighted to see that this year the organisers of the Béal na Bláth annual ceremony have chosen to invite the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to do the oration jointly. It is fantastic. It is uplifting for someone from my background who was brought up in Civil War politics and all the rest of it. It is a way forward and I hope people might learn from it. It will be a great occasion and there will be a huge turnout for it.
The Civil War fractured the unity of a wonderful band of people who had stood together against British tyranny from 1916 until the treaty. Unfortunately, they split for reasons I will not go into here. It is also important to remember that yesterday was the 96th anniversary of the founding of my party. The first Fianna Fáil meeting was held in the La Scala Theatre in Dublin. We did not wait too long after the Civil War to condemn and move away from futile violence. We turned our backs on violence and played our part to try to keep the gun out of Irish politics. Some people did not learn as fast as we did and kept it going for another 60 years. Thankfully with the Good Friday Agreement it is virtually over and I hope it stays that way.
I welcome the decision by the Government to go ahead with the national maternity hospital. As someone who worked very strongly for the repeal of the eighth amendment I had certain concerns at the outset. I have listened closely to all of the debates.In particular, I listened to Kieran Mulvey on my way up to the Dublin the other day. Now I have no worries about the ownership, management and ethos whatsoever. There is no question, in my view. Those who study it properly will realise that.
I thank Senator Murphy for his very kind invitation to visit the National Famine Museum in Strokestown. It is a phenomenal facility. We got a chance to view it on Sunday. For anyone who is visiting and travelling around as part of their summer holidays, I suggest that they take time to stop off at Strokestown, to explore and to learn what our history means. As the Taoiseach has said, it is incredible to note that there has been no recorded famine in any democracy in the world. That makes one realise the importance of having a democracy.
I wish to refer to another lovely event, which was the presentation of Roscommon passports. It is a wonderful initiative by the Roscommon local authority. Mr. Joe Murphy, who is the cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council and brother of Senator Eugene Murphy, was in attendance to present leaving certificate students from across the county of Roscommon with a passport and tribute to say that they will always belong no matter what path they take after the leaving certificate, and that Roscommon is their home. The event did not take place for the last two years but students will be now be brought together. It felt incredible to be in a hall with hundreds of leaving certificate students from all of the secondary school colleges in County Roscommon.
Lastly, consultation on the Carrick-on-Shannon to Dromod bypass will open this evening. It is very important that we see infrastructural projects moving forward. The project is very important, will bring crucial investment to the west and will create a new crossing on the River Shannon. It will be crucial in bringing investment into our area. We know that we will probably see another project going back to tender. It is important that the Government supports projects and ensures that the likes of the Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge road, which is a €200 million investment, goes forward.
I echo Senator Murphy's words in regard to a visit to Strokestown. As someone whose grandmother came from Strokestown, I would like to be part of the delegation. I have been there many times. Strokestown has one of the widest streets in Ireland and possibly in Europe. A fabulous renovation and restoration job has been done on the museum. I support a cross-party delegation visiting. I put my name down as one of those people who would be entitled to go on the visit.
It is great to see the former Leader back again. It is like the old times. Indeed, Senator Buttimer and I were in Shannon Airport yesterday. As the only Dublin-based person on the trip, I ask those who live in the Shannon area and in the wider catchment area to consider using Shannon Airport. We saw the fantastic facilities. The airport has the most modern screening process in the world. Passengers do not have to remove liquids, laptops and computers or do all of the other bits and pieces one must do ordinarily. It is a fantastic facility. I think we were told that the airport has capacity for up to 7 million passengers - the number is certainly between 4.5 million and 7 million - but the airport has fewer than 1.5 million passengers. We are spending a lot of time upgrading facilities and building more facilities in Dublin Airport when we have Shannon Airport, which has one of the longest runways in Ireland. Between Ireland and the United Kingdom, Shannon Airport has the second longest runway after Heathrow Airport. Shannon Airport has loads of facilities. The time it takes to get through security and everything else is just fantastic. Parking charges are much cheaper. I urge people to use the airport. I do not mean to take away anything from Dublin Airport but I think we can spread the load better.
Finally, I did not hear anyone else comment on the fact that this is Bike Week. Maybe they did as I was walking across. I think it is important to mention it. We all need to consider using a bike. Last night, Senator Cassells promoted Bike Week on Facebook. He is back on the bike after 30 years.
It took me 20 years to get back on my bike. Senator Cassells looks okay after his first trip. With regard to bike promotion, I wish to emphasise that every bike takes a car off the roads.I am a driver as much as a cyclist, but I ask people to think of the bicycle when they are driving. On the way in I encountered five vehicles in cycle lanes. Equally, two people opened their doors in front of me and apologised to me. We just need people to be conscious of people cycling.
I join others in acknowledging Senator Buttimer in the Leader's chair. It is great to see a fellow Corkman there.
If I may talk about something very serious, namely where we are going with our housing issues, we have a real issue when it comes to the Airbnb crisis. Yesterday I was in Kinsale, where I met probably the biggest employer in the town. I met 16 members of staff, all going through issues with rental properties. Either they had got notice to quit or they had been told they would have to leave in the next few weeks or months. There seems to be a campaign in certain locations, particularly scenic coastal locations, to clear out the rental properties and put them on Airbnb. Today there are 150 properties in Kinsale on Airbnb and fewer than two on Daft. It is unsustainable going forward that these coastal towns will be ripped apart because, unfortunately, we will not have the staff for the restaurants, the pubs, the nursing homes or the factories. They will not be able to live locally because our rental property is now being advertised on Airbnb. The knock-on impact on our tourism sector will be counterproductive because we will have hotels with low occupancy rates because visitors are all staying in Airbnb properties.
I have raised this issue on numerous occasions and I am aware that regulations are coming forward in January 2023. I do not think we can wait that long. Those regulations need to be brought forward immediately. Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage need to work in the next few days to bring forward something to this House. Otherwise we will have a summer of Airbnb properties cropping up all over the place, using the rental market to fund that activity, and the knock-on effect on our society will be huge. We should write to the Minister and look for him to come before this House to fast-forward these regulations. Otherwise, towns and villages in scenic locations around Cork and the rest of Ireland will be devastated when it comes to rental property.
I acknowledge National Bike Week. I am from a county where we have two people who have won the green jersey in the Tour de France, Seán Kelly and, recently, Sam Bennett. We have been quite successful. I acknowledge the positive role cycling plays. I cycle quite a lot. I did a cycle around the peninsula of Dingle a couple of weeks ago and was not the better for it for a couple of days because I had not done it in a good while, but it is a great activity. It brings peace of mind. We have wonderful infrastructure now to support cyclists and I encourage people to use it.
I ask the Acting Leader that we have a debate with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science at some point before the summer recess about student accommodation. I am getting call after call from students who are struggling to get accommodation next year in Cork, in the Acting Leader's city, and in Limerick. These are second year and third year students who are at their wits' end at this stage trying to secure some sort of accommodation for college. A number of them now are looking at the possibility of travelling from Tipperary, from Clonmel and Cahir, for the foreseeable future until they get some sort of accommodation. This is even before first-year students get their results in August and start looking for accommodation on the back of that. It is imperative the Minister comes in here and outlines his vision for accommodating these students. Most people are fortunate enough to experience student life, and part of that is living on a campus or in a city or area where the college is, taking in, obviously, the academic side of college but also the enjoyment of being independent for the first time in one's life. That is an important experience to have as well as the academic side. That cannot be experienced by living an hour and a half away at home in Tipperary. It is therefore important the Minister would come in and speak on that subject.This issue will get bigger in the coming months as more people seek accommodation for September.
I concur with the comments of Senator Lombard in respect of Airbnb. It is an issue we have been skirting around for some time and it needs to be dealt with. A large number of hotels will struggle with occupancy levels as a result of the large number of Airbnbs. There is also the knock-on effect on the private rental market. It is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
The issue of the N4 was to the fore earlier in the year when we found out that funding to continue the consultation process was not put in place for 2022. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in particular ensure that funding is put in place for the project for 2023 and that it is actually brought through until planning permission is granted. There is not a significant cost involved in doing so. The significant cost comes when the capital works need to take place and land has to be purchased, etc. I ask that the project, which is vital for the entire north-west and midland regions, be prioritised and the funding guaranteed for 2023. We need to avoid a situation where the tap runs dry. I make that point in the context of the funding that was put in place this year. Funding needs to be put in place for 2023 and 2024 to bring the process through to identifying a route and getting planning permission. If we then have to wait until capital funding becomes available, that is fine. The money needs to be put in place for 2023 and 2024, however.
I rise to raise two matters. First, I thank Senator Horkan for his honourable mention of the mid-west and his visit there yesterday with the transport committee. I had a meeting yesterday with Limerick Chamber of Commerce. The rate of unemployment in Limerick is better than it was prior to Covid. The latest report published indicates that the rate is running at just over 4%. It is very good news for the mid-west that there is so little unemployment in the area. That is down to the collaboration between the council, the enterprise office, the office of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, and IDA Ireland. There has been a big drive in terms of the delivery of companies coming to the region. A significant number of high-end jobs have come to Limerick and the mid-west in recent times. Senator Horkan promoted Shannon Airport. It is certainly great to have the airport, as well as Shannon Foynes Port, on our doorstep and that has helped in the creation of these jobs. It is also down to having three third level institutes in the mid-west, which is really important.
That leads me to my final point, which is that yesterday evening I attended a collaboration between Griffith College and the Vintners Federation of Ireland. The college is running an apprenticeship degree programme for bar staff. I met and listened to some of the apprentices who are participating on the course. There are approximately 35 people in the first cohort, with more due to join the course in September. It is very positive to see a programme such as that being run, but also the collaboration and sponsorship that is coming from industry. I compliment the pubs because they have been through a hard time during Covid. They were one of the hardest hit industries. To see it now reaching out and taking on people is positive.
May I make a brief point of order, with the indulgence of the Leas-Chathaoirleach? I know the Acting Leader will want to be aware of it for the purpose of the record. When I was condemning the amnesty proposals of the British Government at Westminster, I should have made him aware that today is the anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and there was a wreath-laying ceremony on Talbot Street this morning. I am sure all our sympathies and solidarity are with the families and survivors.
I appreciate that. The issue was the subject of a Commencement matter. We all associate ourselves with those remarks. They are particularly poignant in my case as I am from that area. I thank Senator Ó Donnghaile.
I am delighted to see that my friend and colleague Senator Buttimer is present to act in his natural role as Leader.Members should note that I stressed he is a natural Leader of the House. I invite him to speak.
Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I assure Members it is for one day only.
I thank the 21 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. I will begin by remembering the families and victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. They are still looking for justice. Today we remember those families and victims and we stand with them.
Senator Chambers, O'Donovan and O'Sullivan raised the issue of the new national maternity hospital. The decision of Cabinet today, irrespective of one's political view, is to be welcomed. It is proceeding with the project and we congratulate the Government on its decision. We thank all who participated in the debate in recent weeks. It was a strong and important debate in helping us to proceed with this project.
I welcome Representative Fran Hurley from Chicago and Sam Windle, who is in the House on a student placement.
Senator Chambers also made reference to the issue of Brexit and the Northern Ireland protocol, as did Senators Ó Donnghaile, Craughwell and O'Donovan. We all stand united in our condemnation of what the British Government is doing and has intimated it will do on foot of the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss’s remarks in the House of Commons today. It is important the Minister, Deputy Coveney, comes to the House and that we have an update from the European Commission on what is to happen next. Again, we have a sense of Groundhog Day with this in that we are back here again dealing with Brexit. As has been said, the majority of MLAs elected to the new Stormont Assembly are in favour of the status quo, the protocol. Everybody should stand and recognise that. It is important we take cognisance of this. I advise Senator Ó Donnghaile that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has made very strong remarks regarding the amnesty, which reflects the Government’s position regarding that. I would be happy to ask the Minister to come to the House on that matter. Senator Craughwell was right in what he said. Responsibility should be adopted by those elected with a mandate.
Senator Chambers also paid tribute to the Breaffy National School on the welcoming of Ukrainian students to its student cohort.
Senator Keogan made reference to the European Parliament in terms of Covid. The Government, through the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, has committed to our own review of Covid, which will happen. The Senator was right in saying is important we learn lessons from Covid and that we put what worked well into a proper structure but that we also learn from what did not work well. It is important we learn from what was the worst pandemic across the world in modern history.
Senators Black, Sherlock, Dooley, Gavin, Murphy, Hoey and O'Sullivan all condemned the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. All of us in the House stand united in solidarity in condemning the killing of that journalist. As Senator Dooley said, as a person, she should never have been killed, but as a journalist, her killing, which was an attack on independent journalism, is also fundamentally wrong. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has made it quite clear there should be a probe into her killing and into the events of the funeral last weekend. All of us condemn it. What happened last weekend was wrong on every count, regardless of one's political viewpoint. It is important we listen, engage and talk in order that the conflict and the dispute is stopped once and for all.
Senators Dooley, Craughwell and I visited Shannon Airport yesterday.
And Senator Horkan, gabh mo leithscéal. We had a very positive meeting in Shannon Airport and with the Irish Aviation Authority. This afternoon Senator Maria Byrne also made comments about Shannon. It is clear there is a need for the Government to examine the legislation covering our aviation policy and for it also to examine the regional airport development programme with a view to ensuring Shannon and Cork are included in it in the future. I look forward to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, coming to the House as matter of importance. Our aviation policy needs to be updated and reviewed as a matter of fundamental importance given we are coming out of Covid and there are challenges in our aviation sector in terms of energy, the war in Ukraine and how we can attract people to come to visit our country.
Senators Malcolm Byrne, Hoey and Cassells in their contributions all praised the coming out of Jake Daniels, the first professional soccer player in a generation in England to do so. It is to be welcomed. I congratulate him as an openly out gay man myself on his courage and bravery in a very masculine sport that does not embrace equality or diversity in the way it should.Senator Cassells made a fundamentally important point that in the world of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael of which the Senator is a member, as is Senator Carrigy, David Gough as an out referee has been a champion of diversity, as has Dónal Óg Cusack, to be fair to him. We need more role models in the world of sport no matter what sport it is but particularly in Cumann Lúthchleas Gael given that it is our native sport and the one that is probably played in every parish in every urban and rural setting.
I join with Senator Cassells in calling on Cumann Lúthchleas Gael to raise the rainbow flag over Croke Park in June. Dublin Pride is the third or fourth Saturday of the month. It would be a fitting step on the road to equality. I am not telling the GAA what to do but in the same way that the Ceann Comhairle at the invitation of some of us allowed for and facilitated the rainbow flag to fly here in the Oireachtas, the people's house, Cumann Lúthchleas Gael is our national sporting organisation so it would be an extraordinary act on its part to take up the suggestion of Senator Cassells.
I hope this House will join in supporting the Pride flag adorning Croke Park not as a political gesture but as a gesture of solidarity and equality with all of us in this country - a republic where we cherish all of our children equally. I commend Senator Cassells for his contribution but, more importantly, as Senator Malcolm Byrne said, today is International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. In Cork we had International LGBT Awareness Week. We need such weeks, as we do Pride, and I commend Senator Malcolm Byrne for his leadership and the way in which he has been a very strong champion of diversity and equality not just in this House but in his personal and public life and I thank him for coming in here today.
I also thank Senator Hoey for her courage because it is important that we stand up to any type of bullying and violence and not just today but every day we stand in solidarity with people and ensure we tackle discrimination. Senator Malcolm Byrne is right. The online space needs to be addressed as well but today is an important day. It is important because all of us should congratulate Jake Daniels for what he has done and the role model he can and hopefully will become.
Senator Malcolm Byrne also raised the regulation of jet skis. I agree with him on that. It is critical that our beaches and coastal communities are kept safe and I thank the Senator for raising that issue. I will ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss that matter.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of Cathal Brugha Barracks. I would be happy for the Minister for Defence to come to the House for a debate on the future of the barracks. Senator O'Donovan spoke about the need for a debate on housing. Like Senator Maria Byrne, Senator Gavan raised the issue of University Hospital Limerick. As somebody who is not from the region but who was a former Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, I recognise that there has been investment by Government, including investment in staffing. A specialist team has come down to the hospital. We have had an extension to the hospital and infrastructure development. There is something fundamentally wrong that needs to be eliminated. The Minister for Health has not been shy in going to the hospital but it is important that the HSE and the Department sit down and take action if there needs to be accountability from the top to the bottom in the hospital itself. As a layperson, I would say there is something fundamentally wrong in terms of the structure. I may be wrong but both Senators Gavan and Maria Byrne have come in here repeatedly and raised the issue. There is something fundamentally wrong in this regard. I hope something will happen sooner rather than later.
Senator McGahon spoke very highly about the Creative Spark downtown hub in Dundalk and commended the two people involved in remote working hubs. He is right. There is a need for investment in urban infrastructure to create these hubs. I will ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development and possibly the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss this issue.
Senators Murphy, Horkan and Dolan raised the commemoration of the Famine and the new museum in Strokestown.We should all take up Senator Murphy's suggestion and invitation. It is important that we acknowledge the tremendous investment in the Famine museum in Strokestown. It is also important that we continue to remember the events of the Famine. As Senator Dolan said, no democracy has ever had a famine. We remember the people of Yemen today as well.
Senator Hoey raised the issue of SUSI grants. I would be happy for the Minister, Deputy Harris, to come to the House with regard to this important matter. The Senator raises a very pertinent point regarding people who received Covid payments being penalised.
Senator O'Sullivan raised the issue of Béal na Bláth and the foundation of Fianna Fáil. We congratulate the Fianna Fáil Members on their birthday yesterday. As regards the anniversary of Michael Collins this year, the decision of the Béal na Bláth committee is a recognition of our maturity as a nation. There is critical division but the fact that we are coming together in a decade of commemoration shows the maturity of the members of the Béal na Bláth committee who invited the Taoiseach and also the leader of Fine Gael, an Tánaiste, to the commemoration. I look forward to being there to hear both men speak on the tremendous legacy that Michael Collins has left his country and on the need for all of us to reconcile, north, south, east and west, to build an Ireland in which we can all be free to be who we are.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of the Roscommon passport and the Rossies of whom Senator Murphy is one. We should all remember that for two years, the leaving certificate class about which she spoke could not celebrate and the right of passage is beginning for it again. We wish the class well. We will have the Minister come to the House to discuss the Carrick-on-Shannon bypass and the need for infrastructure development.
Senator Horkan also raised the issue of bike week. I know he was participating in an event outside Leinster House today. He has been a strong proponent of cycling and an active cyclist. The Senator raised safety for cyclists and I hope the Minister will come to the House to have a debate on this issue in the coming weeks.
Senators Lombard and Carrigy raised the issue of Airbnb. Senator Lombard has been a very strong advocate for reforming the Airbnb sector. He left us with a very interesting statistic. In the coastal seaside tourist town of Kinsale, there are 150 Airbnbs and two advertisements on daft.ie. That paints a picture. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House on the matter.
Senator Ahearn also raised the issue of bike week. He rightly referred to the extraordinary sportsmen, Seán Kelly and Sam Bennett. He also raised student accommodation, which is a huge issue that needs to be addressed at local level by local government and at national level by the Government. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State with responsibility for local government, Deputy Burke, come to the House. The Senator is right that it is about the student experience. It is unacceptable that students are having to travel from the University of Limerick to Tipperary or from Tipperary to University College Cork or Munster Technological University. We should not tolerate or countenance this. The struggle for accommodation is a real one and I thank the Senator for raising the matter.
Senator Carrigy also raised the important matter of the need for investment in the N4. He is right. It is about rural regeneration and investment in rural Ireland. He is right to raise the issue and ask that the Government continue to fund the N4 project. I am happy to request that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, come to the House.
Senator Maria Byrne raised the 4% unemployment rate in Limerick, which is an extraordinary figure. She is right about collaboration. I also commend the vintners and Griffith College on an extraordinary development yesterday when an apprenticeship and third level degree programme was announced for those in the bar trade and hospitality sector.
I know Michael O'Donovan was there because I heard him this morning on local radio. We should look at how we can propel that throughout the country because the hospitality sector is an important one and it is under pressure. Tá sé faoi bhrú. I thank Senators. I can assure them I am Acting Leader for one day only. I have not been as adversarial as normal towards Senator Gavan.