Thursday, 19 May 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday 24 May, 2022, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 97(1), Private Members' business, motion on carbon policy, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to adjourn after two hours if not previously concluded.
The first issue I raise is that tomorrow Ireland will be taking the presidency of the Council of Europe for the first time in 24 years. It is an important time. Ireland was of course one of the ten founding members of the council. When we think about how the world and indeed Europe have changed over the past 24 years, we see that the commitment and values of the Council of Europe to the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are more vital than ever. It is important to wish our Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of State with responsibility for EU affairs well. I will lead the parliamentary delegation, which includes the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Members of the House and also Members of the Dáil. We will have a very busy six months ahead. I hope it will be an exciting time. Ireland will be pursuing three clear and complementary priorities. The first will be affirming our founding freedoms, that is, refocusing on human rights protection for civilians right across Europe, especially through the European Court of Human Rights. Second, we will be promoting participatory democracy and engagement with young people through Hear our Voices! by drawing on our experiences with citizens' assemblies that many countries want to learn about. Third, we will be working to foster a Europe of welcome, inclusion and diversity. It would be worthwhile during the six months to have a two-hour debate here, possibly with some of the guests we will have coming from the Council of Europe.
I raise also the July provision. While it is wonderful that very significant funding is being made available for the programme, and that is really important, we all know the importance of consistency and routine for those who are availing of special education. However, a real problem for so many parents of children with special needs is that they cannot get a July provision place and this is especially the case for children who attend special schools. It must be looked at and examined again. One of the very significant issues is the low rate of pay that special needs assistants, SNAs, receive for providing July provision. Last year this was not paid until January. We must look at that again.
I raise the recent evaluation of the World Meteorological Organization, which claims that alarming new records for sea level rise, ocean heating and acidification, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were set in 2021. We have seen a distinct change in climate policy and that is really good. However, we should have a debate in the House on the efforts that are being made to look at incredibly innovative solutions by companies such as Green Generation in Kildare. Senator McGreehan has been working with EnergyCloud. We need to look at how we can support such endeavours.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. In recent times capital projects have been questioned. People ask how the national children's hospital went from €600 million to possibly €2 billion, or more. It is no secret that I have had a huge interest in search and rescue. I have been spending a considerable amount of my time and that of the House trying to get to the bottom of what goes on in that area. I had been pursuing the business case that led to the pre-qualification questionnaire being delivered. At that time I was not aware that a 415-page document was the submission put forward by the Air Corps to take its one base out of the system. There are 415 pages of detailed work on how they would meet the criteria for search and rescue. That document was sent to be evaluated by an independent evaluator. I am holding the independent evaluator's report. It is three pages. There is not one statistical, technological or empirical reason given for the recommendation that the Air Corps submission be rejected - nothing. The Leader will have the report in her mailbox later on today. The Air Corps was asked to submit a rebuttal. It produced 18 pages of detailed analysis of the consultant's report.
In 1998, PricewaterhouseCoopers spoke about the search and rescue contracts. It made the point in paragraph 136 of the Air Corps presentation that, "SAR contracts on the West and East coasts would continue on a contract basis on a recurring contract equivalent, at a cost of €4.5 m per annum, with no asset transfer to the State over the contract period". It goes on to price the cost per hour of flying search and rescue using the contractor. On the west coast, when a helicopter takes off in a search and rescue role, it is costing taxpayers €81,000 per hour. On the east coast, when a helicopter takes off on a search and rescue mission, it is costing €145,000 per hour. Based on questions to the Minister, the cost per hour of flying for the Air Corps is €4,000; that is €141,000 cheaper than the private contractor. More importantly, the consultant condemns the Leonardo AgustaWestland 139 helicopter as not being suitable for search and rescue.That helicopter is in use in 14 countries in Europe, including Italy, Spain and Portugal, all of which have coastal areas. I am asking today, by way of a letter to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, that this process be stopped right now until we establish exactly what has led to the Air Corps being removed. The Air Corps could have saved the economy several million euro over the lifetime of this contract. This is outrageous. When one talks about getting access to the business case, if one cannot see who was eliminated from the business case then one has no idea what took place. This has to be stopped now. I do not want to see this country spending €1.5 billion to €2 billion on something when we will have nothing to show for it at the end.
I want to follow up on a comment made by Deputy Richmond yesterday about the concept of a special Oireachtas committee on Irish unity. It is an excellent idea and one that the Government should strongly consider and implement, for a number of reasons. I am a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which is a really excellent committee but its focus is very wide. It deals with a really wide variety of issues both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland.
In contrast, a special committee on Irish unity would have a laser-like focus on Irish unity and could really home in on some of the key issues that need to be discussed. The Good Friday Agreement committee is a useful vehicle for making sure that the agreement is upheld and implemented and that is its main focus. Deputy Richmond has called for a special committee to deal specifically with the issue of Irish unity, which is a call that I support. It is a really good idea. The special committee on Brexit in the previous Seanad worked quite well. A committee like that, with a very specific focus, that can bring in a wide variety of stakeholders is very important because it is a conversation that is happening right across this island.
I do not believe a border poll at this point in time would be useful because it would not be won, to be frank, and the results in the recent Northern Ireland Assembly elections bear that out. However, there is no reason we should not be having that conversation, preparing for it and talking about the likely pros and cons of a united Ireland. It would be useful to tease out what those cons could be and to offer reassurance to people in both the nationalist and unionist communities that this is a good thing to do and that we are all working together. This is a level of responsibility that the Government should be taking on.
Deputy Richmond said yesterday that "Brexit has shown us what happens when you ask a question with no clear outline of what the answer looks like". The important thing about the proposed committee is that it would provide very clear answers. It will enable us to avoid a situation where a border poll is held, the result goes one way or the other and then we spend six or seven years trying to cobble together a response. It would give us a clear outline of what a united Ireland could look like and what the benefits might be. It is something the Government should strongly consider. I totally support Deputy Richmond's call for such a committee and believe the Government should consider establishing it this year.
Inné, bhailíomar taobh amuigh de gheataí Theach Laighean chun tacú le feachtas An Dream Dearg ar son Acht na Gaeilge ó Thuaidh. Beidh lá dearg i mBéal Feirste ar an Satharn beag seo ar 1 p.m. agus tá súil agam go mbeidh comhghleacaithe ón Oireachtas ar fad in ann a bheith i láthair linn ar an mórshiúl bríomhar dearfach agus dearg le fearg sin.
Yesterday we gathered outside the gates of Leinster House to support An Dream Dearg and Conradh na Gaeilge's call for an Irish language Act to be implemented in the North. This is a long-standing demand and one that the Irish Government has supported steadfastly since 2006 when it was first committed to by the British Government during the St. Andrews negotiations. On Saturday, thousands of Gaels will descend on Belfast and I hope colleagues from right across the Oireachtas can join us on what will no doubt be a very colourful and vibrant but also very demanding and focused parade and campaign. It is time that an Irish language Act was delivered in the North.
Like Senator McGahon, I note the remarks of Deputy Richmond in Westminster last night. It says something when the Palace at Westminster can host a discussion about Ireland's future and preparing for constitutional change without any great rancour or controversy. In the first instance, in supporting the call for the establishment of such a committee on preparing for constitutional change, it would be healthy if we too could create the space for civic voices and varying political voices who do not have a permanent presence in this institution to come in and take part. That is something I will engage colleagues on and I am sure it will be well received.
In terms of the committee itself, Senator McGahon makes a very important point. The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement has a very wide remit of work. It deals with a huge breadth of issues and, unfortunately, it still has a lot of work to do in terms of seeing the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, in terms of things like Acht na Gaeilge, human rights and equality and a whole range of other issues. It would probably be a bit short-sighted to locate that kind of discussion on Irish unity in that committee because it would take away from the rest of its work. As Senator McGahon said, it needs that focused discussion. It is a very responsible call and is one I have made previously, on occasion. In the context of preparation and planning, it is the right thing to do and the leaderly thing to do. It is also the responsible thing to do in terms of party political and constitutional obligations and fulfilling those. I hope we can see the establishment of that committee and that we will all bring positivity, determination and focus to it going forward.
I want to raise the issue of the unequal allocation of cycling resources within Dublin city on National Bike Week. Dublin City Council has drawn down funding for active travel measures. We all know that in order to facilitate a move away from the car towards active travel methods such as cycling and walking, we must invest in these measures but my constituency has received 13 times less funding than the neighbouring constituency of Dublin Bay South, which is the Minister for Transport's own constituency. To put that in context, Dublin South-Central gets 1% of the active travel measures while Dublin Bay South gets 15%. It is a very unfair allocation of resources.
Dublin South-Central has an enormous problem with bad roads and poor cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. We have, for example, been pushing for pedestrian infrastructure along Herberton Road to allow school children to cross the road safely but are constantly told that it would be subject to funding from the National Transport Authority, NTA, for the Grand Canal cycle route. As soon as one crosses the constituency boundary, one notes that the Grand Canal cycle route is very pleasant but, unfortunately, on my side of the canal, cyclists are squeezed, forced to compete with traffic and do not have the same cycling infrastructure at all. During National Bike Week we must make sure that poorer and more disadvantaged constituencies such as mine get an equal allocation of cycling infrastructure.
We know that 59% of journeys are less than 2 km but we have to make it safe for people to cycle. I cycled in to Leinster House today and in a bus lane I was squeezed by many, many cars. I had to point out that they should not have been in the bus lane until much further up. That is a daily occurrence and is difficult to deal with every day. I say that as a long-term cyclist who has cycled to school since the age of six. I would like to see equal allocation of active travel measures within the Dublin South-Central area.
I also want to flag and raise an issue that is going to become bigger over the summer months, that is, the report of the Construction Defects Alliance, which is due to be published in November. I am afraid that the clock will be allowed to tick down on this when the report is handed over to the Minister. There are many people living in apartment complexes in my area who are dealing with huge individual bills for fire defects that were caused through no fault of their own.While we have a redress scheme for mica, what seems to be emerging for construction defects are low-cost loans. That unequal treatment of people who live in urban centres and apartments is unacceptable. I ask that we keep an eye on this and, when the report is published, provision be immediately made for redress for potentially up to 100,000 apartment owners throughout the State, not just in Dublin, who will face huge bills. It should not be a low-cost loan, a loan or a tax rebate but exactly the same redress as that for the mica families, which is full redress for the construction defects that happened through no fault of their own.
I join my colleague, Senator O'Loughlin, in calling for a debate on the World Meteorological Organization's annual report on the state of the climate. Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to read elements of the report. In many ways, it does not tell us anything new other than clearly emphasising the seriousness of the threats we continue to face. It is important that in these Houses we are prepared to face up to some of the challenges and to talk about the serious impacts they have on our communities. Where I live, in a coastal community, one of the particular challenges we face is around flooding and coastal erosion. It is particularly important we look at what will be the long-term implications for insurance, housing and the other costs we all have.
I am proud to be part of a Government that is taking this issue seriously but, frankly, it is also important to start to call out parties and Independents who speak out of both sides of their mouths on the climate issue. We are either serious about tackling climate change, and taking some of the tough measures, or we are only paying lip service to it. That is why a full, frank and honest debate around those issues will be important.
I am perfectly open to all energy opportunities, including hydrogen and fusion. Let us explore whatever is coming down the line, but it should be an open debate.
One of those coastal communities I will mention is Courtown-Riverchapel. I pay tribute to the local Riverchapel Community Complex group. It has worked very hard, its chair Mr. Craig Lang in particular, and in the context of responding to some of the challenges for our coastal communities, has now opened a new community complex. If we are talking about vibrant coastal communities, we need to recognise what is already being done.
One of the best value-for-money examples the State has is the roll-out of the disabled person's grant and housing adaptation grants, which are administered through local authorities. There are mobility aid grants of up to €6,000, housing aid for the elderly grants of up to €8,000 and housing adaptation grants of up to €30,000. There are discrepancies, however, between what can be allocated to local authority-owned stock and privately-owned stock. In light of inflation, we need to increase the funding envelope available for schemes for council-owned properties and privately-owned properties. It is probably now time those grant levels were reviewed because what is happening, and I have examples from my constituents, is people are approved for low-cost grants of up to €6,000 in order to get a wet room in their house for somebody who is getting older and frailer, and €6,000 is just not stretching to cover the cost of the works, even if they can get a contractor to price them.
It is now an opportune time to have a debate on the overall scheme. Are there changes we need to make to the local authority funding stream for this area? Is there merit in increasing the grant levels? Do we need to include other elements that are not already included in the schemes? I would appreciate it if the Leader could arrange for a debate on this topic, and perhaps a wider topic, in the coming weeks because this is now a pinch point for families who want to keep people in their own homes, which is, ultimately, a saving for the State. They need to be supported in doing so by having those grants available to them.
When one looks at debates in Britain on Brexit and the protocol, and the behaviour of the British Government around those things, or the behaviour of leading politicians during lockdown and the ongoing craziness in the United States around many issues, we in Ireland might be tempted to think that somehow we have a more objective way of doing politics and looking at issues of public controversy, but I do not think that is true at all. If we look at the debate on the national maternity hospital, the amount of fake news to which we have been subjected for so long now is hard to believe. It has been clear to me for a long time, and it is the only sane read of the situation, that the Sisters of Charity lost any power to influence future events at the hospital a long time ago. The Government will get its abortions and these will happen in an institution called after St. Vincent. That is a scandalous and painful situation not just for Christians but other people who saw and valued the tradition of church-run hospitals as places that provided high-quality, ethical healthcare that protected everybody equally.
I do not understand why there has been no scrutiny of how and why it was allowed to happen that the nuns gave away or lost their capacity to protect their ethos. I do not understand why there is no debate about the lack of ethical diversity now planned for our maternity hospital system. If somebody wants to have a baby in a hospital that does not deliberately end unborn children's lives, why should that not be available to that person? A third of the voting population voted for healthcare that protects mothers and babies equally. Are they entitled to no representation or presence in our system? Why is there no scrutiny of the arguments coming from critics of the Government's arrangements?
I wondered in these days whether it suited people to foment controversy about the contribution of religious institutions and personnel to Irish social life. It is too easy to cover that conflict without asking any hard questions about abortion and the lack of mandated pain relief during late-term abortions and so on. I wonder why it is okay to trash faith-based hospitals, given their impressive record compared with other institutions, all things considered. The disaster of a wrongly diagnosed unborn child being aborted at Holles Street would not have happened in a Catholic hospital. People should reflect on that. We need ethical diversity at the very least. A referendum does not change that.
I will raise one simple issue. As the weather gets a little finer and our lands dry up, each year we seem to have a increasing cases of wildfires and forest fires. I would like the relevant Department to start an early awareness campaign on this. I warmly welcome the statement from the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Noonan, in which he knocked the fact that Irish farmers are often hammered online for being the cause of these fires. While I do not want to get into the blame game, farmers are the big losers through the loss of acres of forestry, animals and biodiversity. In addition, in the year following a fire, if it is proved their land has been burned, even by a fire they did not start, farmers will lose payments from their schemes. While I am not getting into a blame game, this is important.
Our firefighters and first responders are the people who will be most at risk. It is the first year in three where Irish people will get out to enjoy their countryside, and have their barbecues, parties and so on, but we need awareness and people need to be very conscious of the situation. Without getting into a debate about climate change, we seem to have a drier, harsher wind blowing. Ground conditions are much drier at present and fires will start much more easily. As I said, the big losers are not only farmers but the people putting their lives at risk when such fires start. We are losing an enormous amount of biodiversity every year, including forestry and animals. Accidents will happen but awareness can prevent many of them. It is vitally important the campaign starts early and people are made aware that while they are welcome in rural Ireland, and we hope they can enjoy a good summer from a climate point of view, they should be careful and please try to avoid the dangers that go with fires that are started inadvertently.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an gCeannaire. Bhí an Príomh-Aoire agus an tAire Stáit ar a bhfuil freagracht as an nGaeltacht, an Teachta Chambers, ar cuairt go Corr na Móna i gConamara le déanaí agus é ag seoladh plean teanga do cheantar Dhúiche Sheoigheach agus Tuar Mhic Éadaigh. Ba ócáid álainn é agus bhí oíche álainn againn san ionad pobail i gCorr na Móna. Chuaigh an Teachta ar cuairt go dtí seid na bhfear i gCorr na Móna. Chas sé leis an muintir áitiúil a thagann le chéile gach seachtain, agus, uaireanta, níos minice ná sin, chun tacú lena chéile agus chun obair le chéile go háitiúil. Is rud deas é sin. The men's sheds are a very important social outlet for men of many ages. Although predominantly used by elderly and retired men, they are open to all men who have in interest in taking part. It is important that men of all ages take part if we are to ensure the future of the sheds. There are 360 men's sheds across the country. Like many voluntary and small community groups, they always struggle for funding.
Last week, I met with representatives of the men's sheds and I also met the group in Corr na Móna when the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, visited last week. They are looking for sustainable funding. I ask that the Leader write to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to see what can be done in the upcoming budget. They have talked about an annual shed sustainability grant of €2,500 per shed and support for start-up sheds of up to €10,000. With regard to other supports, shed maintenance grants could be placed at the disposal of sheds nationwide.
It is clear that there is a need for a sustainable level of funding for men's sheds across the country. They are very important for mental health, coming together and social gathering. They have great potential not just for men in rural areas, but for men in urban areas as well. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister regarding the possibility of sustained funding for the sheds.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I must apologise that I did not provide advance notice. I seek leave to introduce No. 17 on the Order Paper, the National Minimum Wage (Payment of Interns) Bill 2022. I propose that this be taken before No. 1, if at all possible. Our Bill is effectively to ensure that all work is paid and that there is a level playing field for all workers, and young workers in particular, regardless of their background at the start of their working lives. In quite a number of sectors, it is now nearly impossible to get employment unless one takes on an unpaid internship. That reinforces privilege and the lack of diversity that exists in certain sectors. We believe this Bill is very important.
The main call I will make today is for a debate with the Minister for Health on the national women and infants health programme. This is a very good programme, of course, although it has yet to be fully implemented. It involves a great deal of ambition but we are still a long way from seeing its full implementation. Yesterday, we saw the launch of the national standards for infant feeding, which are very much to be welcomed. It is interesting that, on the same day, I raised a Commencement matter with the Minister of State at the Department of Health who confirmed that, of the 24 lactation posts announced last year, none have yet been filled. Of the 10.5 posts announced in 2020, just over eight have been filled. The result is that, across the whole country, we only have 8.3 publicly funded lactation consultant posts to work within communities. I ask that we have a debate with the Minister for Health on this issue and the very many issues associated with women's health in this country.
I welcome two good news stories for Limerick and the mid-west. One relates to the €10 million investment by Ryanair in hangar 5 at the airport, where 200 high-end jobs are to be created. This investment relates to servicing Ryanair's aircraft. By 2026, the airline will have many more aircraft in the air so there will be a significant increase in the number of jobs created, these being based at Shannon.
The other good news story relates to yesterday's announcement by the Minister, Deputy Foley, of a €19 million school project for Limerick Educate Together Secondary School. This school will be based in Castletroy. I welcome that and wish the principal, the staff, the students and the families associated with the school all the best because I know they have been waiting for a while. I hope they will be entering their new school in 2023.
I ask for the Leader's intervention with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in respect of a group of Ukrainians. Recently, 15 Ukrainians were moved from the Castle Oaks House Hotel in Castleconnell, Limerick, with one day's notice. Four of these had taken up employment locally, two had jobs pending and a number of them had children enrolled or started in local schools. They had settled into the community well. A number of the residents, including Emer O'Donnell, had been co-ordinating with them and helping them to settle into the community. They were given a day's notice that they were leaving and are now living in four cramped apartments in Temple Bar. It is fine to be moved from Castleconnell to Dublin but some of these people are now sleeping on couches when they had a bed where they were.
I understand the hotel was willing to keep them so I really do not know what has happened. Contact was made with the Department, which says that it cannot comment on individual cases. It just does not seem right that they were moved so quickly and moved away from fine accommodation and a settled community. They are now really at sea and, as it will take a couple of weeks for their social welfare payments to be transferred to Dublin, they will have to continue to come to Limerick to collect their payments.
As are you, Senator Buttimer. I second Senator Sherlock's amendment to the Order of Business. As the Leader of the Seanad will know, the Joint Committee on Gender Equality met this morning to discuss the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality relating to norms and stereotypes and education.
The Minister, Deputy Foley, addressed the committee and, while her opening remarks painted a very positive picture and while she spoke about catering for all learners and about relationships and sexuality education being a right, as the Minister knows, the reality is that one in three students have not received any form of relationships and sexuality education at senior cycle. That statistic comes from a recently published Irish Second-Level Students' Union, ISSU, survey. As ever, I commend the union's work.
As everyone here will know, people have been crying out for action and change in this area for many years. People, including me, have grown tired of asking. It is particularly upsetting to know that whether gender-diverse students or students with same-sex attraction get the education they need about health relationships is a lottery, although it is important to note that this very much applies to all students.
As the ISSU says, the curriculum focuses more on biology than on consent. The Minister referenced the reviews taking place and those that are in the pipeline and committed to writing to the committee to detail them. We need clear dates for the reviews and for their implementation. However, as I have pointed out, all the reform in the world may still not be enough to ensure equality of opportunity across the board for students. I welcome the fact that the Minister is prepared to use the programme for Government commitment to legislate for inclusive sex education down the line, if necessary. I hope it will not be necessary and that we can do this without legislation.
I ask that we have a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister for Transport on our ports policy regarding the designation of ports for the importation of non-EU fresh produce. I ask this in the context of Cork Port, which should be designated as one of those ports that allows for the importation of non-EU fresh produce. Second, I ask that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine extend the provision of clearance personnel for fresh produce to Cork Port. Currently, they are only provided to Dublin and Rosslare ports. I will give an example. Senator Boyhan, as an agriculturalist and horticulturist, and Senator Lombard from Cork will be aware of this. Israeli carrots come into Cork Port and are brought up to Dublin Port. They are then brought back down the road again in a lorry, adding cost and doing nothing for the environment and climate action. There is a need for real reform in our ports, which fall under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Transport. I ask that Cork Port be classified as a designated port for the importation of non-EU fresh produce. It is coming into the country already. It is leaving Cork, going to Dublin and coming back down again. It makes no sense whatsoever from an economic, climate change or sustainability point of view. I ask that we have this debate. I requested a Commencement debate on this matter this morning. Unfortunately it was not selected, which is fair enough because I got one already this week but I will submit it again next week. We need a holistic debate on our ports policy because it makes no sense that Cork Port is not a designated port for the importation of non-EU fresh produce.
Yesterday, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform launched an update of Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan. It was really an update of the tracker with the interactive maps and profiles of the various projects across the country. I would recommend that everyone look at it. They can click on a town, local authority area or a region. It is very impressive. I acknowledge the work of the Government on Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan. It is very beneficial for all of us, as national, local or European politicians, to know what is going on in our areas. It is a great tool and I acknowledge that it was yet again updated yesterday and formally launched by the Minister.
This has been a recurring theme here but I am concerned about the rising cost of construction and how that will impact on the national development plan. Issues around procurement are becoming more and more challenging and there are now huge costs involved. The Minister has already flagged that there may be some impact on the national development plan because of these matters. It is important that we have an update on it in the House because Members are interested in this issue. I liked the Minister's statement that he has now established an external assurance process, EAP, which will provide independent scrutiny of major public capital projects that cost in excess of €100 million. That is the sort of scale we are talking about. It is an enormous plan and represents enormous ambition, which is great. I particularly like this EAP scheme the Minister has talked about because €100 million is a lot of money. I would have thought it would apply to projects of a lot less. The nature of this is that it is a multi-billion euro programme and it is a bigger vision to 2040. At an appropriate time when there is a slot available, not necessarily in the next few weeks, it would be very interesting to have statements and an update on these plans.
We need to have a real and comprehensive debate with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage about his vision for what local government will be. We are just over 100 weeks away from local elections and there are huge issues around what powers members of local authorities have. There has been an erosion of those powers over the last decade.
This evening I am going to a meeting in the GAA complex in Minane Bridge, where we will be discussing a road traffic issue. A section 38 application was made by the local authority. Some 98% of the public were against it but because of the way section 38 procedures work, the management executive has full control and is now proceeding with the works. The democratic process has been washed away by the executive function of the local authority. Every member of the community is against this one-way system but the management of Cork County Council wants it to happen.
Next Sunday at 3 p.m. I am going to a protest in Kinsale. Over 2,000 people have signed a petition regarding the relocation of Piper's caravan from the scenic area where it has been since 1932. It is an issue of huge concern for the people of Kinsale but again, the council management has made a decision and decided it is going to happen.
We have to have a real debate about what powers to give our local democracy and local councillors. In many ways, the executive is walking all over them. We have to blame ourselves because over the last two decades Ministers with responsibility for local government have continuously given powers to the executives of local authorities and undermined the functions of the members. Unless we change that, nobody is going to run for local government. Nobody is going to get involved in politics because there will not be any local governments but dictatorships by the executives. That is what we have at the moment. We need the Minister to come to this Chamber and give us his vision of how he believes the system can be changed. In two years, nobody will be putting their hand up to run for local government. What is the point of getting involved if they have no say and no powers and the executive controls everything?
I rise today to concur with the comments of Senator Malcolm Byrne yesterday on the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA. We need an independent review into that organisation. This issue has been brought to this floor on numerous occasions and has been spoken about at committees. A review was conducted by the same person who did the previous review a number of years ago. It was asked for at short notice by the IABA because it was being brought before the Oireachtas joint committee to query its governance. Despite the organisation telling us there was nothing wrong with what it was doing, none of the 64 recommendations in that review was referred to the organisation itself or the management. We need a new review, or, as has happened in other organisations, we need to put a new management structure in place in the organisation and those who are there should be removed. We have had issues with insurance, sports equipment, grass and procurement. Nearly 30 people with hundreds of years of service were suspended by this organisation and had to go to Sport Dispute Solutions Ireland to defend themselves, at a cost of tens of thousands of euro. They won that case but all the costs were awarded against them because it came into the public domain that they had won. I do not think that is the right way for anyone to appeal anything. The people who suspended them in the first place have no costs because they are being paid out of the coffers of the IABA. That is not acceptable. This organisation has been constantly in the headlines over the last 20 years for the way it is being run, yet the same people seem to be there. I am very disappointed in the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, and his comments when the review came out. Within 24 hours he was on the national airwaves basically threatening funding to clubs if they did not accept the recommendations. Recommendations should only be taken on board if they are made independently and that is what needs to be done.
This week, the Minister of State at the Department of Education, Deputy Madigan, made an announcement about the importance of ensuring children with special needs have access to school places.We are now seeing mainstreaming and our schools are embracing that. We are seeing the special needs educational teachers who are being rolled out. There are over 19,000 SNAs, which is a huge number. However, in my area I am getting many schools that are still crying out for more supports in order to have more special classes. It is crucial boards of management within our schools are looking at what the need is from families within their catchment areas. That must be reflected. In my own area around Athlone there are students in the Westmeath and Roscommon areas who are in challenging circumstances. Senator Carrigy also raised this last week as a Commencement matter. We have a wonderful new school in Roscommon, Coláiste Chiaráin, that already has special classes. However, again it is the case that within our catchment areas our schools really must acknowledge and recognise the need within those areas and the Department of Education must also fund and support those schools to be able to offer that service.
I highlight the summer schools programme is again being rolled out. This covers over one in four schools. We have 4,000 schools. Over 1,000 schools and nearly 245,000 students now have access to Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, funding. It is so crucial the summer schools programme is being rolled out in these schools so these children can access that support, and that it is available to those DEIS schools.
Senator Dolan raised the announcement during the week by the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, who has responsibility for special education and inclusion, on her intention to impose or invoke certain schools to take on special classes. It probably pained her to have to do that because it is a terrible indictment of the relationship between schools and the Department. Both say they want the same things yet they use certain circumstances to their own advantage. We should all be more attuned to the needs of children and their families. As the Senator said, it is a wider societal issue with regard to services and I thank her for raising it.
Senator Carrigy looked for an independent review into the IABA. The announcement this week might bring everything to a head. I acknowledge the Senator's concerns the Senator. A new structure, as we have with sports, may similarly be required.
Senator Lombard looked for a debate on the powers we perceive and intend to give our local authorities in the future. We had the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, in last week talking about local government but it is probably something we could talk a lot more about, so I will certainly make the request.
Senator Boyhan talked about the new NDP tracker announced by the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, this week. Just so the Senator knows, there is a standing request in with the Minister to come in and discuss the NDP with us. A number of other colleagues have raised this over the last number of weeks. Perhaps this good news event might encourage him to come and have a conversation with us but I will resubmit the request today. It is something we would all value. I also acknowledge the Senator's commending the EAP. It goes to show how seriously the Minister takes his responsibilities and the usage of public funds.
Senator Buttimer looked for a debate on ports with the Minister for both Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister for Transport. I will try to arrange that as soon as I can.
Senator Warfield talked about the frustration at the pace of change in education. He is right we all share the frustration, especially given we all know what needs to done there that will have an impact on society years later. The shocking reports that one in three students who have gone through secondary school have no formal education on relationships and civil engagement is absolutely an indictment of the provision of quality education around this issue that has an impact on changing society.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about the 15 Ukrainians who have been moved from Limerick to Dublin. I will certainly make inquiries with the Minister's office and come back to her. The Senator also spoke about two significant local investments in Limerick that she is obviously very proud of.
I am happy to accept Senator Sherlock's amendment and wish her good luck with her Bill. She is also looking for a debate on the national women's health programme and I will ask the Minister for a date as soon as I possibly can.
Senator Kyne asked me to write a letter to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on the need for sustainable funding for our men's sheds. I will certainly do that and send him a copy.
Senator Paul Daly asked for an awareness campaign, earlier rather than later, around wildfires. I absolutely agree with him. The campaign would detail how people unfortunately contribute to them and teach us how we might avoid doing so. He is right it is sometimes far too easy to blame one particular cohort. We seem to blame them for everything, which is really unfortunate, but they are ultimately the biggest losers, notwithstanding the first responders who must deal with the fires. I will make contact with the Minister today.
Senator Mullen gave us his views of the recent debate around the national maternity hospital, so they are now on record.
Senator Cummins asked for a debate around the disability housing grants and the proposed changes he feels need to reflect increasing costs and who can access them, because it makes far more financial sense for the State to ensure people can stay in their homes for longer rather than engaging with nursing homes.
Senator Malcolm Byrne asked for a debate on climate, especially the World Meteorological Organization annual report. We will organise that as quickly as we can.
Senator Moynihan spoke about the difficulties that exist regarding cycling. She also wants a report on construction defects published sooner rather than later and for us to have a debate on it once it is published.
Senator Ó Donnghaile spoke about the Irish language Act protest that took place yesterday morning and the parade that will take place on Saturday. He also supported Senator McGahon's supporting of Deputy Richmond's call yesterday for a special Oireachtas joint committee on Irish unity so we can prepare for a border poll he feels will happen sooner rather than later. Failure to prepare is preparing for failure is, I think, what he said yesterday.
Senator Craughwell spoke about another event in the long-running saga and inquiries he has been talking about for many moons concerning search and rescue services. The 415-page report the Air Corps submitted, the three-page report the consultant submitted in response and the 18-page rebuttal certainly do need a little more scrutiny. I look forward to a response from the Minister and the Oireachtas committee to his letter requesting a debate and further scrutiny.
Senator O'Loughlin opened by congratulating Ireland on taking over the presidency of the Council of Europe next Monday. She is looking for a debate on July provision, which I will organise sooner rather than later, given July is looming. Like Senator Malcolm Byrne, she is also looking for a debate on the stark climate statistics announced yesterday in the World Meteorological Organization report. We can try to arrange that for the week after next.
Senator Sherlock has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 17 be taken before No. 1." It is seconded by Senator Warfield. The Leader has indicated she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.