Seanad debates

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

10:00 am

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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The ambassador is very welcome. I wish him and all Slovenian citizens, whether living in Ireland or in Slovenia, a very happy national day.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of instruction to committee regarding the Regulation of Providers of Building Works and Building Control (Amendment) Bill 2022, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Defence Forces (Evidence) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude at 2.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 3.20 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall in relation to amendments include only those set down or agreed by the Government; No. 4, statements on the annual transition statements, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to conclude at 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 5, Consumer Credit (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall in relation to amendments include only those set down or agreed by the Government; No. 6, motion regarding the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on combating violence against women and domestic violence, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude at 6.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed five minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 109, motion 2, Private Members' business, motion regarding neurology nurses, to be taken at 6.45 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Like the Cathaoirleach and the Leader, I am glad to welcome the ambassador of Slovenia to the House. His country is one of Europe's hidden tourism gems.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I have had the joy of visiting Ljubljana, Bled, the caves at Postojna and Škocjan and some of the other areas. It really is a beautiful country and I encourage Members to travel there if they get the opportunity. I wish Slovenians a very happy national day.

I raise the proposal by the British Government to introduce a new bill of rights.My concern is that, as the Leader will be aware, as part of the Good Friday Agreement, the British Government incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into the domestic law of Northern Ireland through the Human Rights Act. It would be of serious concern if this proposed new UK Bill of Rights that is being brought forward by Dominic Raab, would seek to in some cases ignore decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and in some ways may undermine the convention. I ask, given that we hold the presidency of the Council of Europe, that this matter that would be treated as a priority. I have serious concerns around some of the elements that we understand are being proposed in this new UK legislation. I ask that the Leader would raise it with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney.

I also understand that the Department of Justice is about to engage in a consultative process around the use of facial recognition technology. In this regard, it is my hope that we will have a national strategy on artificial intelligence, AI. The strategy should be based on an ethical approach to the use of technology and particularly facial recognition technology. I would like assurances. We need to have a debate on the use of AI and facial recognition technology more widely. I know that in the drawing up of the national AI strategy, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment engaged quite widely. The approach has been human rights-based and ethically based. It will be essential that any approach taken by the Department of Justice follows this method. I would like us to have a debate on those issues.

Finally, I want to raise an issue that the Coach Tourism and Transport Council, CTTC, will also raise again today. We have raised this issue previously. Approximately 300 scheduled bus services are operated by private operators. They have not been able to avail of the very welcome 20% reduced fares initiative that public transport offer operators have been able to offer nor have they been able to offer the youth-adult travel card, because agreement has not yet been fully reached. I ask that we work to ensure that customers of private and commercial coach operators are treated in exactly the same way as those who avail of the services of the public service operators.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the announcement that Cabinet made yesterday about increasing the income disregard for students, so that they can earn additional moneys outside of term time without it affecting their student grant. This has now been increased from €4,500 to €6,552 as a result of the decision by the Cabinet. I raised this issue within our own Fine Gael Parliamentary Party several weeks ago. Students and businesses on the ground in my own constituency of Waterford raised this issue with me. It is a perfect example of the Government taking immediate action on a sensible proposal that came from the ground up, through our own parliamentary party. The Cabinet implemented it yesterday. It is good for students and for business. It will mean that students will have more money in their pockets without that affecting their student grant.

We need a wider discussion, and Senator Malcolm Byrne has suggested this previously, on the student contribution charge and on our grants structure. From September, there will be an additional €200 in the grants. I personally would like to see a significant reduction in the student contribution charge. This is because many families are just above the threshold to avail of that student grant. They are being hard pressed as a result of the increases in the cost of living. A reduction in the student contribution charge would assist all of those individuals and families. That is what we as a Government need to look at.

In terms of the coach and tourism sector, and I have not looked into this in any great detail, but I received a representation from a constituent of mine who attends college in Thurles. She informed me that the Expressway services are not included in the reduction of the youth-adult fare. That student leaves Waterford and goes to Limerick Junction. She does not have a reduction in her fare until that point, when travelling on from Limerick Junction to Thurles, she can avail of the 50% fare reduction . This is because the Expressway services are considered to be a private arm of Bus Éireann. That needs to be addressed. I would look for a wider discussion with the Minister for Transport in that regard.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Ambassador of Slovenia to the Chamber. I have visited the country on many occasions. I have attended a number of conferences for the European Liberal Democratic Reform, ELDR, party group in Ljubljana. It is a truly beautiful city in a truly beautiful country. I am delighted the ambassador is here. He is most welcome.

I welcome the Government's announcement yesterday of the ACRES scheme. ACRES stands for the agricultural climate rural environmental scheme. It is a nice name. I presumed the Department decided on ACRES and tied the name into it. It is good. You can cite it quickly. When I initially looked at it yesterday I was pleased. It shows the Government's commitment to focus on climate as it relates to the agricultural and rural environment and how we can reward farmers. We have said across the House, and we all recognise it, that farmers and their representative bodies are absolutely committed to playing their role in environmental protection. They may need some financial assistance. They will need additional skills and training and supports.

This morning, a number of farm representative bodies issued statements saying they were grossly unhappy with the scheme. It appears now that larger commercial farmers are excluded from it. There may be a need for some work to be done on the communication of the scheme. It was only announced yesterday. To be fair to the Minister and to the Department, they are fiercely committed. Yet, major farm organisations came out within a few hours to say that they feel left out and that there was a lack of consultation. They made comparisons with other schemes. This issue may just be around the communication of the scheme. I want to feed that information to the Leader. I know that Members of the Seanad who are involved in agriculture and who are on the agricultural committee will be aware of these statements. I have no doubt that they will come up at various parliamentary party meetings.

I also raise the issue of the general scheme for the remediation of dwellings that are damaged by defective concrete blocks. This is a controversial area. We have had no final decision on the pre-legislative scrutiny on this comprehensive legislation. This may present some possible problems. I do not want to go in too much detail on this, but I will say that we do not have plans for pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. There are some concerns, which I share.

I want to inform the House that there will be six hours of meetings tomorrow at the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage to deal with this issue. The first meetings will be on the remediation of the dwellings. They will be held between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. tomorrow. They will deal with the MICA Action Group from Donegal, the Clare Pyrite Action Group and the Mayo Pyrite Action Group. This will be followed by a meeting from 3.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m., where chartered surveyors will be before committee, as will representatives from Engineers Ireland. The chair of the expert working group will come in after that. If that was not enough to keep us all going, from 6 pm. to 8 p.m. we will have officials from the Department before the committee. These will be an extensive six hours of engagement. It is important for people who represent those communities and for everyone in the country to be aware that this is happening tomorrow. The politicians are always welcome in the committee, but people can go online and see these meetings. It will be a lively and active interface. It might become more obvious during these meetings that there is a real requirement for pre-legislative scrutiny, because this is a huge issue. In fairness to the Government, it is taking on. It is difficult to please everyone, but we have to get this legislation over the line. We have to help people to rebuild their homes, to rebuild lives and to get on. It is a terrible thing to be living in a house that is crumbling in front of you.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I, too, welcome the ambassador to the Gallery this morning.When I was a member of Belfast City Council I had the great privilege of travelling to Ljubljana to look at the fantastic and transformative work undertaken to pedestrianise the city to make it much healthier, better connected and prosperous. There are lessons we in Ireland could well and truly learn for our own cities and towns in this regard.

A shared island has to mean a shared Oireachtas. I was dismayed when I read reports in the Irish Newsthis morning that there looks set to be a vote at the Committee on Standing Orders and Dáil Reform later this afternoon that would block MLAs and MPs from the North sitting on special Oireachtas committees. I do not understand why these issues and this opposition to the proposal were raised at the very last minute. No party on the committee expressed any concern or objection to the proposal during quite a prolonged period of discussion and engagement. It is deeply unfortunate that Government parties look set to vote against the proposal this afternoon. We see the strength of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement as a result of the addition of MPs from the North. It is of great benefit to Irish life. We must learn the lessons from the pandemic and Brexit that Ireland works best when we work together and work as one, when we are harmonised and pulling together and when we have joined-up approaches and joint aspirations. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was established by a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, for very good reason. He also gave the now long-standing promise to give MPs from the North speaking rights in the Dáil.

In making this point I feel I am preaching to the choir. The Leader would have a different approach to her colleagues if she were on the committee. Let us look at what special committees do. Autism is an issue that is very important to many of us in the House and we raise it regularly. It is an issue that affects families throughout Ireland. The all-Ireland autism centre is based in Armagh. For special committees that do not vote on legislation, why would we not have elected representatives from the North and the rest of Ireland come to them to contribute?

If the Cathaoirleach votes against this proposal this afternoon, he will vote against the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and, most important of all, he will vote against Article 2 of the Constitution, which I often cite in the Chamber. It states it is the birthright and entitlement of everyone born on the island of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation. Let us give expression to this article in a most modest way this afternoon. I encourage Government members of the committee not to vote against the proposal. I encourage Government colleagues in the House to speak to the committee members. We in the Seanad know the benefits of having all-Ireland representation. For so long the Seanad has had it and it is a greater Oireachtas when it can be national, inclusive and representative.

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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I welcome the ambassador to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery.

I want to raise the issue of the 206 Irish women who travelled to the UK in 2021 to receive basic healthcare. A total of 50% received it under ground C, which is the 12-week limit, and 50% received it under ground D, which deals with terminations for medical reasons. It is clear that the legislation is failing some people. It is important in the review of the abortion legislation that we bear this in mind and we do not simply focus on narrow issues. We should consider and take into account people who do not count in the Irish statistics. These are the women who travel to the UK to access basic healthcare.

I want to raise the issue of construction defects. The group was meant to report on this last Friday. I understand this deadline has been extended until July. I understand there might be issues to be worked through but this will have an unintended consequence as the budget negotiations are ongoing. Tens of thousands of people are living in apartments throughout this city and elsewhere with fire defects. They are in danger. Unlike mica, it is very difficult for people in this situation to speak out because it will have an effect on properties in urban areas. It is important that provision is made in the budget and it is flagged with the Minister not to drag this on but to provide redress for these people. They are not in the public mindset in the same way as other campaign groups. This is for good reason. They feel afraid and unable to speak out. They are living in fire defective apartments through no fault of their own. It is important that they get 100% redress and not the loans that have been suggested. This should also be retrospective. People need to be able to take action now to make their homes safe. The longer this drags on, the more people will be afraid to take action because they will not be sure whether they will be able to get the money back. It is important that the Minister makes provision in budget negotiations now to have redress for people suffering from construction defects in apartments throughout the country.

Photo of Eileen FlynnEileen Flynn (Independent)
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I do not believe everything I see on social media but this morning I saw something that I want to raise. I follow some of the campaigns on ending direct provision as do many Members. I raised this issue yesterday and the Deputy Leader said we will have a debate in the autumn. A bowl of soup and cheese and ham sandwiches is the food that has been provided for a number of weeks in one direct provision centre. This does not respect equality or the human rights of people. Hotels in rural parts of Ireland are being sold for direct provision centres. Hoteliers are making millions of euro off the backs of people's human rights and equality. People are being treated as though they have done something wrong by fleeing for their lives and seeking asylum in our country. I am against anyone buying these hotels. It feeds into the problem and does not go towards ending the direct provision system, which is provided for in the programme for Government. We are meant to be working on it. Apart from the White Paper published more than a year ago, there has been very little. I understand the effects of the coronavirus and the crisis in Europe with the war in Ukraine. We have to think about these people and the food and services they receive. They face human rights and equality issues every day. It is not acceptable for the well-being of the children or adults involved that Ukrainian refugees are living in hotel bedrooms.

An old man and woman in their 70s lived at No. 8 Labre Park for more than 50 years. They were told that they would get great settled accommodation 1 km away. In one way they were forced, although their arms were not twisted. They moved out of Labre Park after 50 years. Now that house is lying idle and the man and woman are trying to get back into that Traveller-specific accommodation. No work has been done on it. This man and woman want to return to it and give the other accommodation to a homeless family. They are aged over 70 and they should be allowed back into the accommodation.I would appreciate support from everybody in the House in the coming weeks as I try to support that family in trying to get back into the accommodation.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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While I was around the House yesterday, I was not here for the Order of Business. I congratulate Daire Feeley from Roscommon town. He is an amateur rider who won the Rás Tailteann cycling race that ended on Sunday. It is an amazing achievement for the lad. I have not spoken to have him since he won, but he cannot believe what has happened. No more than our boxers in recent times, we are proud of Daire’s achievement and we wish him well for the future.

The agri-climate rural environmental scheme, ACRES, was launched by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, yesterday on behalf of the Government. We also had the fodder support scheme announced before that. I urge all farmers to register online for both schemes. Regarding ACRES, it is a €1.5 billion scheme and it is going to be live over the four years from 2023 to 2027. It will be worth €300 million annually and it will benefit 50,000 farmers. One of the most important points concerning this scheme, however, is that it has been funded from the EU and carbon tax. Some €740 million of the carbon tax, which, I admit, has been a bit controversial, is now being used to fund this scheme. It is important to show the benefits of what can be done. We have been unfortunate with the carbon tax because of what happened with the war in Ukraine. It was difficult for people to accept it, but it is good to see that some of this money will now be used for this scheme. This €740 million is a significant chunk of the carbon tax money. Some of the basic aspects of this scheme include that the maximum payment will be €10,500 and the average payment will be €7,000. The scheme will not suit all farmers. Dairy farmers are not happy. It is, however, a good scheme, with many options. I urge farmers to adapt to it and ensure they are registered for it and the fodder support scheme.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I was at the briefing we had this morning where we met representatives of the Coach Tourism and Transport Council, CTTC. This issue has been raised already. The 20% discount in fares has created inequality. Senator Cummins mentioned the Expressway buses. The private transport operators now find themselves in competition with public transport in some areas. They are losing customers because of the cheaper fares available on public transport. While competition is always healthy, it is not the coach tour operators that would benefit from cheaper fares but the people using the services. The 20% fare discount should apply across the board for all transport users, whether they are using public transport operated by Bus Éireann or the services of private coach operators.

Many places in rural Ireland have services operated by the private coach owners. It is not fair that people elsewhere should be able to avail of the 20% fare reduction. In this House, we have been asking for the 20% fare reduction to be extended beyond the end of this year because it is encouraging people to use shared transport. It also feeds into the Government’s climate agenda in respect of people using transport and sharing services in this regard. This should be done and I would like the support of the Leader in this regard. I support the call made by Senator Cummins for a debate on the 20% fare reduction and public transport in general.

I also welcome that Shannon and Knock airports were acknowledged by the World Health Organization, WHO, last week, at a ceremony attended by the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, as being age-friendly airports. I congratulate both airports on this achievement but especially Shannon Airport, which is in the mid-west region. It is a very safe airport for older people to access. There is great ease of access when entering and exiting the different terminals.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I heard what Senator Moynihan had to say about the latest British abortion statistics and the number of women giving Irish addresses. What she did not mention, of course, is that the vast majority of abortions are now taking place in Ireland and that the figures for abortions taking place have vastly increased since abortion was legalised. Thousands more innocent lives have been lost. This is something we should think about. There are children who would be alive today who are not because we legalised abortion in Ireland.

The other aspect worth mentioning is that, as far as I am aware, of those British statistics concerning the couple of hundred Irish women giving Irish addresses, the biggest single reason in the context of disability was Down's syndrome. This is something that proponents of abortion do not mention and it is something that should make us all think.

The principal issue I raise with the Leader is the recent out-of-court settlement for €70,000 which arose out of a child having had an accident in a playground. It caused an injury, a scar, that Mr. Justice Simons said was just about noticeable. Nobody begrudges anybody a settlement that they manage to get in the context of a personal injuries action. The maximum award under the personal injuries guidelines agreed by the Judicial Council for an accident like this, however, is €30,000. When we think about this, that is €40,000 less of Dublin ratepayers' money that is available for library services, housing, health, road repairs and all the other things the public and councils must fund. It raises the question of liability and the consequences for schools if awards like this keep getting paid out. Will playgrounds have to close?

The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs heard a few years ago that one of the causes of childhood obesity may well be the new conservative approach being taken by schools towards play and playgrounds precisely because of the fear of litigation. Some years ago, I placed the Civil Liability (Schools) Bill 2019 on the Order Paper. It would have given added protection to schools and teachers, particularly in circumstances where school grounds were being adequately supervised, protecting them from large payouts. I ask the Leader whether she agrees with me that in the light of the danger of excessive settlements, which ultimately cost the taxpayers, it is time to consider giving Government time to my Bill and to put it back on the Order Paper in order to afford some greater measure of protection to schools that are supervising play and playgrounds properly, protect them from excessive payouts and thereby facilitate play, which is a very important aspect of children’s lives.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I raise the issue of the crisis in the home care sector. I would welcome if it would be possible for the Leader to arrange a debate on this subject. It is widely accepted that older people live longer and happier lives when they are in their own homes and communities. Home care packages are essential to facilitate this. I understand that more than 5,000 people are waiting on a carer to call to their homes. In my area of Cavan-Monaghan, 60 people are waiting on a carer and more than 300 people are waiting on additional hours. Again, no carers are available to provide those hours.

It must be acknowledged that the Government has increased the number of home care hours allocated and this is only right. This year, for example, more than 23.5 million hours have been approved, an increase of 2 million hours on the previous year. There is, however, a lack of carers, and this is a part of the problem. This comes down to issues such as pay and conditions and these issues must be addressed. I would welcome a debate on this matter. Many people have argued that the solution to this problem is to allocate the moneys or hours provided for a carer to a family member, if one is available, to provide care. In many cases, there are family members available.

We need creative thinking on this vital issue. As I said, older people live longer and more happily in their own homes. Of course, at some point, they may have to go into long-term residential care, but until that happens, we must do everything we can to support older people in their own homes. We need creative thinking in this regard. I understand a working group is examining this issue. I respectfully request that work be expedited. I would also welcome if this House could have an input and Senators could give our thoughts on how we can address this important issue.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for his presence at the most enjoyable and celebratory Equali-TEA and coffee morning in the Members' dining room. I thank all involved in what is an important celebration of Pride month.

Yesterday, Senator Clonan made a powerful contribution on the Order of Business regarding the state of services for children with disabilities and the need for the State to look after them. I supported him in that regard.This morning, the Ombudsman for Children said the State is failing children with educational needs. Those of us who are involved in disability organisations and work with people such as Ciarán Delaney in the world of autism disability will recognise that there is a lacuna that we need to address.

Yesterday on the Order of Business I asked the Cathaoirleach to consider, in his innovative way, how the Upper House can play a role in a discussion on the formulation of and implementation of Government policy in respect of disability. I will formally write to the Cathaoirleach on the matter today but I wish to propose on the Order of Business that we, as a House, set aside a sitting day or days to discuss disability issues. We could take an approach similar to that of the Ceann Comhairle in bringing young people into the Lower House to discuss the very important and pressing matter of climate change. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee did something similar a couple of years ago. As a House, we should put together a series of meetings with organisations and people with disabilities across the whole spectrum so that we can have a strong debate to feed into a narrative to help the Ministers at the Departments of Health, Justice, Education and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to come up with a policy and policy implementations in respect of disability.

I know the House has no role in budgetary matters. I accept that. We in the Upper House have vocational panels and we are at our best when we speak about and represent people. We saw that with the intervention of the Cathaoirleach in the context of Congressman Richie Neal coming here. We saw it in the context of other matters dealt with by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, which had to pause its work due to Covid. In light of the contribution of Senator Clonan yesterday, the work being done by Ciarán Delaney in Cork and elsewhere in Ireland and the contribution of the Ombudsman for Children this morning, I propose that the Seanad set aside time to hold hearings with organisations and people on disability matters.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for that valuable suggestion.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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Every April, we in Duleek are blessed with a sea of purple. It is because, ten years ago next year, a family in Duleek lost their daughter through cystic fibrosis. Ann and Kevin Noone lost their daughter Kelley. We come together every year for a run in Duleek in memory of Kelley and her cousin Cathy, who also lost her life to cystic fibrosis. Both of them were teenagers. This week, I have been contacted by four parents who told me that a new and potentially life-saving medicine for cystic fibrosis has been approved by the European Medicines Agency for use by parents of children between six and 11 years of age. The treatment, Kaftrio, is an oral medicine designed to increase the quality and function of cystic fibrosis proteins at a cellular level, offering physicians a new treatment option for these young patients to help combat their condition as early as possible. There have already been remarkable results for patients who have opted for this new therapy. The manufacturing pharmaceutical company, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, has come to an agreement in respect of the supply of Kaftrio to Ireland for use by Irish children with cystic fibrosis, many of whom will be starting their course of treatment this summer. However, some parents recently learned that their children have been excluded from access to this medicine. Approximately 35 children with cystic fibrosis have been deemed ineligible. Two of them live in my area. Parents of the children have reached out to Vertex to avail of Kaftrio directly but, as it is outside the HSE scheme, such a supply would come at a steep premium. I understand that Cystic Fibrosis Ireland has reached out to both Vertex and the HSE on the issue as a matter of urgency, but if we were to write to the Department of Health and the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on the matter, we might be able to help these 35 children. I would like the Leader to write to the Minister on this issue because he probably would not listen to me. I will send this on to him but her word would probably be a lot stronger than mine. This would be a huge benefit to these parents and children. Children with cystic fibrosis, particularly young girls, are dying younger. If we can save lives - this drug can do that - we should urge the Minister to allow those children to get this drug.

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I support the comments of Senator Buttimer. Drastic action is needed. I have been appointed by the Government as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Autism. We will start our public meetings next week. We will meet with the National Council for Special Education, AsIAm and the Ministers of State, Deputies Madigan and Rabbitte, before the summer recess and we will bring recommendations for policy changes to the Government at the end of March next year. I fully support the comments of my colleague Senator Buttimer. To give an example in my local area, until recently we only had the equivalent of half a speech therapist covering the entire county. I heard in the past 24 hours that the two occupational therapists there have now moved outside the area. We have more than 240 kids waiting for assessments of need and more than 700 children waiting on services. Things are at a drastic point within disability services.

I call on the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, to come to the House to discuss the allocation of home-school liaison officers. In my home county, for example, there are six home-school liaison officers covering a large number of existing schools that are covered under DEIS, mainly in the town areas. One of the schools has 534 pupils and one such position. More than 60% of the population of the school is non-Irish, with 30 different nationalities. Among all the schools in the county that are covered under DEIS, there is an absenteeism rate of between 18% and 20%. The whole system in the county is at breaking point. Several schools have been added in under the most recent allocation but the schools that were there previously are at breaking point. Ballymahon Vocational School, which has 407 pupils, shares a home-school liaison officer with Roscommon Community College, which is located in another county. The Minister needs to come to the House on this issue. If we do not get the necessary intervention in education and get kids to school, we will pay in the long run. I ask that the Minister be requested to come to the House to discuss this matter which is affecting schools across the country. There is a particular issue in my county because there is a high percentage of non-Irish people living there, particularly in the county town, and that is leading to a very high absenteeism rate. There are not enough home-school liaison officers to keep on top of it.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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We are supporting so many people who will participate in Dublin Pride this weekend. Many people will be travelling up from other parts of the country. I refer to the important work being done by teams and people working within the Oireachtas. A lovely Equali-TEA event was held this morning.

I also wish to highlight LiveStock, a wonderful music festival that will be happening in Aughrim. It is a fantastic festival that brings together bringing music, arts and crafts. Independent musicians such as Kíla will be appearing. There will be trad music, alternative music and many craft workshops. It is being run by Cormac Jennings, a local farmer, on his farm outside Aughrim, which is only a few miles from Ballinasloe. It is taking place on 1 and 2 July. I want to give it a word of support. It is a chance for us all to get back to normal and enjoy outdoor festivals. It is a family fun event and under-12s are welcome. Many festivals are happening around the country but it is nice to see one happening in my local area.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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It is mad that Senator Dolan mentioned a festival. I was planning to commend all those who organise festivals throughout the country.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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Excellent.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I had the pleasure of being at Body & Soul at the weekend and seeing Kneecap, Róisín Murphy, CMAT, Fynch and Mango. I commend the organisers, such as Avril Stanley, and all the folks who make it possible. These events are really important for people's resilience. People come together for artists. I refer to the amount of curation that happened at the weekend. They are also important for the economy. I tip my cap to the Body & Soul festival at Ballinlough Castle last weekend. On another musical note, a very sad one, I wish to acknowledge the passing of Dennis Cahill on Monday at the age of 68. Dennis was a very well-known guitarist who was probably best known for his partnership with Martin Hayes and The Gloaming. I pay tribute to him and his work in popularising traditional music across the generations, but particularly my generation, in recent years. I had the pleasure of seeing Dennis perform many times and his style was unique. He was born to Irish parents in Chicago. This is a sad week for traditional music. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Warfield for paying a nice tribute to Dennis Cahill. May he rest in peace.

Senators Warfield and Dolan spoke about festivals and it is that time of year. The sun is supposed to shine but it is not doing its job. It is very welcome to see open air and small festivals in local towns and villages returning to us. Now more than ever, given the impact of Covid, artists and creative people need the support they have heard us talk about for the last couple of years. They need to start seeing that support now and people need to talk with their feet by going out and enjoying the wonderful talent we have in this country.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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Senator Dolan touched on the fact that events celebrating Pride month will take place this weekend and not only in Dublin, although Dublin Pride will probably be the largest festival and parade in the country. The Equali-TEA event in Leinster House this morning was our attempt to support Pride. During this month, we must be mindful and recognise that there are people among us who do not enjoy the dignity of treatment that we all expect to get. It is important for us all to be advocates for our friends, neighbours and family members. We must ensure every month, not just during Pride month in June, that we act as allies for the LGBTQI+ community. We will work and march in Pride - and with pride - this weekend to support our family members, friends and neighbours.

Senator Carrigy asked me to contact the Minister for Education about the allocation of resources for schools, particularly DEIS schools, and raised the inconsistency in this regard around the country. I will do that today and get back to the Senator. The Minister was here this morning. I will reflect on the Senator's request and contact the Minister.

Senator Carrigy also supported the call made by Senator Buttimer that we set aside a Seanad sitting to discuss disability matters. The Joint Committee on Disability Matters meets every Thursday morning but a Seanad sitting would shine a very large light on disability matters. We could bring in representatives of all the focus and advocacy groups working in this area to talk about the many challenges. Not least among these is the Government's disability capacity review published last year, which tells us in no uncertain terms exactly what is needed in the system as regards inputs between now and 2032. We certainly do not come close to what is required. As such, a debate in the House would be welcome. I will ask for a special sitting, perhaps via the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight. We can have a conversation on what is the best way to proceed and invite all Senators to let us know who we should ask to attend.

Senator Keogan asked me to write a letter to the Minister for Health and I will do that today. I ask her for information on the reasons 35 children have been excluded from the scheme for the Kaftrio drug. This welcome scheme gives enormous hope to hundreds of people, particularly young people aged under 18, who are suffering from cystic fibrosis. They need to have hope and be able to aspire to a normal quality of life. If the Senator provides that information, I will write to the Minister. Hopefully, with the support of all Senators, we can get all of the children included in the Kaftrio scheme.

Senator Gallagher asked for a debate on the home care sector. It is a bizarre situation in which we find ourselves. For the ten years I have been a Member of these Houses, we have sought more hours because there is always a need for more hours. As the Senator described, we know that keeping people in their own homes allows them to live longer, healthier and happier lives. This year, we probably have more hours than are required in the system but we do not have the people to provide all those hours. That is better than the problem of having no money to fund the hours. We certainly need to talk about staff pay and conditions and ensure we resolve the problem as soon as we possibly can.

Senator Mullen asked me to find time to reintroduce his Bill and I can certainly do that. As Members know, we have been using Thursday afternoons when there is no Government legislation to advance Private Members' legislation in the House. That approach is working successfully. Perhaps the Senator could restore his Bill to the Order Paper and I will happily facilitate it as soon as I can.

Senator Maria Byrne very much welcomed the announcement that Shannon Airport and Ireland West Airport Knock were the first airports to be awarded age-friendly status by the WHO this week. That is a very welcome announcement.

Senators Marie Byrne, Malcolm Byrne and Cummins spoke of the need for equality for consumers. At the end of the day, consumers rather than the question of who provides the transport are what are important. We have an inequality with regard to coach tourism and Expressway services as they cannot avail of the extra 20% discount in fares announced by the Minister for Transport a number of months ago. That also applies to the adult student card that has been introduced. I do not believe a private versus public scenario was ever envisaged but the matter needs to be sorted out now.

To respond to Senator Maria Byrne, last Wednesday night during the debate on a cost-of-living motion, I asked for the 20% reduction in transport fares to be made permanent. I am pleased to hear, and I know these are only whispers but they are obviously whispers with a purpose, that the 20% discount will be extended for at least another year. That is very welcome.

Senator Murphy congratulated the Rás winner, Daire Feeley, who is from Roscommon. There must be something in the water in Roscommon as the county has enjoyed so much success lately. I, too, congratulate Daire. His exploits in cycling are a real feat. It was wonderful to see pictures of him and his family smiling yesterday.

Senator Murphy welcomed the ACRE scheme announced by the Minister for Agriculture, his two Ministers of State and the Taoiseach yesterday. An allocation of €1.5 billion over five years has been provided for the new scheme. Senator Boyhan referred to communication problems and I think they can be sorted out. It is a worthwhile scheme. Senator Murphy was right to encourage people to sign up to both the new scheme and the fodder scheme, for which I thank him.

Senator Flynn asked me for a debate and yesterday, in my absence, she asked the Deputy Leader, Senator Chambers, for a debate. It is likely that I will not be able to arrange a debate before the end of July but I will get her an update. I will talk to the Minister's people today to find out exactly what the position is and update the Senator.

Senator Flynn also asked for support for two pensioners who want to get back into the home in which they lived for 50 years. I do not know all of the details but I will do whatever I can later today to help the Senator.

Senator Moynihan spoke about the 206 Irish women who had to travel to the United Kingdom outside of the democratic decision Irish people made a number of years ago to introduce medical terminations in this country. The review of the legislation will allow us all to have a proper debate and suggest changes. Whether people are pro or anti the legislation and the way it has worked in the last number of years, everyone is entitled to a view. That review must be completed sooner rather than later because some people still find themselves in traumatic situations. We fought so hard for this and encouraged the Irish people to be as compassionate as they were. This matter needs to be reflected upon.

Senator Moynihan also mentioned something that is extremely practical. The construction defects group will probably not have its report ready by the time we deliberate on the 2023 budget in September or October. It makes sense, therefore, to make financial provision, as the Senator suggested. I will pass on her suggestion to the Minister and get back to her.

Senator Ó Donnghaile raised an issue that is news to me. I am not a member of the committee in question and had not heard about the matter. The Senator is right, and I am a little baffled. I have tried to make inquiries since he raised the issue but I have not received a response. I will follow up the matter.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Leader.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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As the Senator said, a decision will be made this afternoon. If we wish to have some input, we must act quickly. It will be the first thing I do when I leave this Chamber. We are an island and we have the all-Ireland shared island unit, which was established with gusto by the Taoiseach. It makes no sense for these Houses to exclude anybody's opinion, particularly when the issues for which a select or special committee has been established are not parochial but national and all-Ireland in nature. It seems very regressive to do that. I will follow up on the matter and get back to the Senator.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Leader.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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Senator Boyhan introduced and acknowledged the ACRE scheme, which will replace the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS. He signalled a slight concern that some people will be left out of the consultation. I will revert to him with a note on that.

Senator Boyhan also welcomed the publication of the Bill providing for a scheme of redress for those affected by mica. He acknowledged that there is no pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The Business Committee waived pre-legislative scrutiny in order to get the Bill into the Dáil this week because we want it passed before the summer recess. That gives us only three weeks.He highlighted that the committee has eight hours of hearings tomorrow on the particular topics that might feed into all of our thinking with regard to the Bill. The Bill will go to the Dáil first, so by the time it gets to us, I expect it will be amended. I ask Senators to keep a look out for it.

Senator Cummins welcomed the increase in the income disregard yesterday for all students in college. It will allow them to earn more money this year than they were able to earn last year without affecting their SUSI grant, which is really positive.

Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke at the opening of our session of his grave concerns with regard to the proposed UK and Northern Ireland legislation that would seek to ignore EU rights we have enjoyed for many years. We will contact the Minister for Foreign Affairs to find out what is going on. The Senator looked for a debate on facial recognition and artificial intelligence in light of the new public consultation announced by the Minister for Justice. I will certainly organise that. He mentioned the inequality between private and public coach tours, something that needs to be sorted out.

Order of Business agreed to.