Wednesday, 13 July 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I have no doubt it was complimentary and it was informative.
Before I announce the Order of Business, I extend a vote of sympathy to our colleague, Senator Timmy Dooley, on the passing of his father, Mr. Joe Dooley, who was buried in Clare two days ago. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. I am sure I speak on behalf of all of the House in extending our sympathies to Senator Dooley and all of the Dooley family and to all of their community.
I acknowledge the passing of Judge Séamus Hughes, a former Mayo Deputy, who passed away after an illness. I extend our sympathy also to Deputy Alan Farrell on the passing of his father.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Thursday, 14 July 2022, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, Remediation of Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks Bill 2022 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 3.25 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3.30 p.m; No.4, motion regarding the earlier signature of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3, without debate; No. 5, Communications (Retention of Data) (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4 and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.30 p.m. by the putting of one question by the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government; No. 6, Education (Provision in Respect of Children with Special Educational Needs) Bill 2022 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 6.30 p.m.; and No. 109, motion 3, Private Members' business, to be taken at 7.30 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 6, whichever is the later, with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
Very briefly, I associate myself with the Deputy Leader's words of sympathy, first, to our colleague, Senator Dooley, with whom I had the privilege of serving on a committee of this House for a number of years, to our colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Alan Farrell, and also to the Hughes family in Mayo.
As this is the last Order of Business before the recess, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group I extend our deep gratitude and thanks to all of the officials, to everybody in the Clerk's office and everybody who makes our workings go very smoothly, in particular when we have late nights and early mornings. I thank them for that, and I hope they all have a nice recess. I appreciate that work will continue for them.
The weather is beautiful and it is lovely to see people out enjoying themselves. It is particularly sad that we have had two drowning fatalities in the past 24 hours. We extend our deepest sympathies to the bereaved families in Dublin and in Clare. We send out a strong message for people to be very careful when they are out and when they are near the sea.
Councillor Lisa McDonald, a former Member of this House, launched a wheelchair mat yesterday in Rosslare. It is the second of its kind in Ireland and I understand it is a pilot project. The mat allows people with a wheelchair to go out onto the strand to enjoy themselves with family and friends. This is an innovative idea and it would be wonderful to see it rolled out on beaches all around the country. We might make that call.
This week in Kildare, two highly significant planning permissions have been sought. One is for the 95-bed unit in St. Vincent's, Athy, which is a hospital for older people. The sum of €900,000 was allocated to the project in recent weeks. It is great to see the planning application going in. That will help with respite and when older people need to have a longer hospital stay.
At the same time, planning permission has also been sought for a new permanent Alzheimer's day care centre. I have spoken about this a number of times in this House. It is very important. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, ASI, has operated for 20 years without a permanent place for people to go. We are going to have that now in Kildangan, which is very welcome. I thank the ASI for all its help with that.
We heard a few days ago that Horse Sport Ireland will not be moving to Dublin. This was the subject of a matter I raised in a Commencement debate previously. I am very pleased that it will stay in Kildare. The Army Equitation School was based in The Curragh, but it is now in McKee Barracks. It would be wonderful to see the Army Equitation School move to The Curragh and Horse Sport Ireland being located beside it. That makes a lot of sense in terms of national investment in a centre of excellence.
I happened to see that the Deputy Leader has the interim report of the Joint Committee on Gender Equality in front of her. That is something that we are all deeply interested in. It is important that we have a referendum sooner rather than later on a woman's place in the home. I would appreciate it were the Deputy Leader to give us an outline in regard to that.
I welcome the ambassador to the Chamber. She is very welcome. I wish her well on her national day.
I also take the opportunity on behalf of the Fine Gael group to thank the offices of the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach for their work and co-operation over the course of this term. I hope that all staff get a good and well-deserved break as well.
I spoke previously, as did many others, on the need for a debate on the Defence Forces. I welcome the announcement yesterday and the official announcement today of the new era for the Defence Forces, as the action plan has been announced. This is very welcome. I hope we will have time for an in-depth discussion on issues relating to the Defence Forces soon after we resume. I welcome the fact that the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, which was initiated by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, will see investment planned over the coming years.
Three options were presented by the commission. One was pretty much the status quo, which would still require an investment of approximately €47 million. The second option would allow for investment to increase the forces from approximately 9,500 personnel to 11,500, including 700 extra Naval Service personnel, and to get the Reserve Defence Force back up to 3,000. The investment includes improvements in primary radar capability, medium-range aircraft, and to the Army's firepower and armour. All of that is very welcome. The third option, which is not to be pursued at this stage, was based on getting to the level outlined in the second option. It would involve improving the capability, resourcing and level of personnel anyway before even engaging in the possibility at a future date of pursuing the third option. That would be to match what other European countries do and would require a threefold increase in resourcing.
This is a game changer for the future of the Defence Forces. As the Minister said, it will provide a modern workplace for the Defence Forces. Two new civilian posts will be created, namely, a head of transformation and a head of strategic human resources. In practice, it will take a number of years to deliver this change for the Defence Forces. It is clear now that the future is bright and strong for those of us who have very important barracks, such as Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa, Renmore, Galway. We will see continued investment and increased levels of personnel in all barracks like that, which will require accommodation and resources. I welcome this Government initiative based on the decisions and work by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who has had a significant interest in the rebuilding of the Defence Forces.
I also welcome the ambassador, H.E. Karen Van Vlierberge. Although I do not normally speak in any way in support of a drink culture in this country, if there is anything she can do to increase the supply of Westvleteren beer coming into this country, she would be doing us all a service. That is a beer that is made by Trappist monks about an hour and a half from Brussels, but only in such small quantities as allow them to continue their business. They say they make beer in order to be monks, not the other way around. The only way I was able to get hold of it was by visiting the monastery. The restaurant beside the monastery was heaving with people on a Saturday evening, enjoying a meal and drinking sensibly. It was possible to get it there, but it is impossible to get it otherwise. You have to go on a list, and it takes ages. They take your car registration number and your mobile phone number and they will not sell it to you again for a certain period. It is quite a remarkable product that has been voted the best beer in the world on a number of occasions.
I hate to start on a note like that because I do now have to talk about a very sad topic. I listened to the report about the HSE report into abortion as part of the three-year review yesterday on RTÉ and I thought it was tragically tendentious and horribly biased. There was no talk of whether women who chose not to go through with abortions after the initial consultation were interviewed. There was no talk about the report that doctors are disturbed that in the case of late-term abortions, there are children who remain alive. There was no talk about whether precautionary pain relief should be administered. There was no talk about reducing abortions by seeing it as something that should be rare or about giving women the option of seeing ultrasound, all the many hard questions that have to be asked about how abortion operates in our country now.I agreed somewhat with the Leader last week on the need to reduce the number of abortions. She saw the matter first and foremost in terms of contraception access. We should not only see abortion as something to be reduced or to be used when contraception fails; we should also see it as something we want to reduce because it is something regrettable. Let us at least agree on that. At the moment, we have a perverse use of language. Abortion is being described in the media, very flippantly, as abortion care. There is no care for the baby involved. Let us never forget that.
Since the commencement of the current law, we have seen approximately 21,000 unborn babies aborted in just three years. That is a harrowing reality. It is a massive explosion in the numbers. The case for reducing the numbers is not getting an airing. The reason we have to guess rather than know for sure how many abortions have taken place is because the Minister has still not released the abortion numbers for last year as required under the law. Why is this Minister never honouring his obligations in this area? He has consistently used the phrase "in the coming weeks". In the context of making an announcement on the future of telemedicine abortion policy, however, he keeps postponing facing up to his responsibilities.
Since this is the last Order of Business, I thank everybody for their work, especially those who keep these Houses running behind the scenes. This morning, I wish to raise an issue relating to energy poverty. This is something that came to light through the National Traveller Money Advice and Budgetary Service, MABS. Its 2019 study on energy poverty indicated that 77% of Travellers living in mobile homes were in energy poverty. It also found that their weekly energy use was €108, which is 26% of their income. That is well above the 10% threshold for energy poverty. The Government's electricity rebate was supposed to soften the blow of the large increases in electricity bills. However, despite the extraordinary levels of energy poverty in the community, a large cohort of Travellers did not benefit from the rebate according to the National Traveller MABS. In the case of families living on halting sites, the local authority has an account with the electricity company. The account was not considered a domestic account and therefore there was no rebate payment made at all. In many situations, the families do not receive electricity bills directly because families make payments for electricity directly to local authorities as part of their rent. In some cases, where they did the electricity credit, it was divided between the number of bays on-site, meaning that they only got about €7 per family because the mobile homes share the parking bays.
Again, despite being in energy poverty, many families were done out of the full rebate while millionaires and holiday home owners benefitted, despite our attempt to exclude them in amendments. To add insult to injury, the Select Committee on Environment and Climate Action heard yesterday that €20 million of the €400 million that was set aside for the electricity credit scheme went unspent. When the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan was asked how many Traveller families did not receive the payment, he was unable to give an answer. The Government and local authorities need to get to the bottom of this quickly and make sure the Traveller families get the previous payment and that if the scheme is repeated - and there are kites being flown that it will be repeated in the early budget - that the same mistakes are not made again. I echo the real concerns by the National Traveller MABS on this. This issue has received very little coverage in the media.
I wish to raise the review of An Bord Pleanála by Mr. Remy Farrell and the internal report. The head of the strategic housing development, SHD, division, Mr. Paul Hyde, resigned on Friday following allegations and an investigation into some of the decisions he took. We need to ensure that the report into this matter is published in full by the Minister in order that we can see its contents and whether there was any reason for Mr. Hyde's resignation. I also ask that the internal report be published in order to ensure faith in our planning system. It has been very undermined by the SHD legislation and the number of judicial reviews that have been taken, especially in the context of the number that those involved lost.
With that in mind, I want object to the amendments being included in Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022, which deals with substitute consent and which is being taken in the Dáil today. That Bill will come to the Seanad tomorrow and will be debated for a mere 45 minutes. Substantial changes are being made at that last minute. These had obviously been in train and planned by the Minister. To rush Bill through the Houses, particularly in light of the issues relating to An Bord Pleanála and people's lack of faith in it, is a disgrace. When we legislate in haste, we tend to repent at leisure. That is very much the case with the SHD system. We do not know what is in the report but I imagine it will raise issues with regard to process, conflicts of interests and how the board allocates work. There are many people making substantial decisions for many communities throughout the country. I object to the Bill being rushed through and to the introduction of last-minute amendments without the Opposition being given sufficient opportunity to consider them in advance.
Senator Mullen referred to the biased report from the HSE. It is not a biased report. It relates to the lived experience of women who had been affected by Ireland's abortion laws. It is not anyone's ideological position but their lived experience. To call a report on the lived experience of people who have been at the raw end of those laws biased is an absolute disgrace. It should not be allowed to happen in this House.
I thank the Senator for her contribution. I thank Senator Keoghan for informing me that the Ray of Sunshine after-school group from Wicklow, including its teachers and leaders, is in the Visitors Gallery. It is lovely to have them here. I hope that they enjoy their day in Leinster House and that the sun continues to shine on them through life. Ray of Sunshine is a wonderful name.
To take the mystery out of what I will do next, I will balance party rotation with time of arrival. On foot of that, our next speaker will be Senator Gallagher.
I also extend a very warm welcome to our visitors. I hope they enjoy their day.
It gives me great pleasure to extend a very special birthday wish to a very special individual, namely, Councillor Ian McGarvey from Ramelton in County Donegal who turns 92 tomorrow. He truly is a remarkable man indeed. He was first elected to Donegal County Council aged 73 years. He went on to serve as mayor of Donegal at 82 and in 2018, aged 88, he was mayor of Letterkenny. In the 2016 general election, he was the oldest ever candidate at 85 years. He is a role model for us all. It proves you can never been too young or old to stand in political life and that people of older years should never be dismissed. We all know how important it is to encourage young people, and especially women, to get involved in politics. That is something we must continue to do but we should never lose sight of the benefit of years of experience too. Councillor Ian McGarvey proves that age should never be a barrier.
They say that behind every great man there is an even better woman and in Ian's case that is true. His life partner is Marjorie, and only a few weeks ago they celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary. They really are a remarkable couple. It gives me great pleasure to wish them a very special wedding anniversary and Ian a very happy birthday. I wish them continued good health and happiness for many years to come.I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader would send a little note of congratulation to them both on behalf of us all.
We all heartily join in those good wishes. It is a remarkable achievement. I remind my good friends, Senators Cummins and Buttimer, who are Fine Gael Members from the Labour Panel, that I am very inspired by those remarks.
As this House rises for the summer recess tomorrow, that day will also mark 140 days of hostilities by Russia against Ukraine. That is 20 weeks during which ordinary Ukrainian citizens have suffered, have been displaced and have been killed in their homes, towns and communities. One of the issues our Ukrainian friends face is keeping the war imposed upon them by Russia to the forefront of the news. The real danger is we will forget what is happening on a daily basis throughout Ukraine, and eastern Ukraine in particular, including the displacement of citizens and the victimisation of ordinary, innocent people.
What is perhaps most galling is this happens and continues to happen at the same time as certain Irish MEPs are denying that Russia is culpable, or that it is at fault or to blame, for this sacrifice of humanity going on in Ukraine. It is not only important we remember what is happening, keep the Ukrainians to the forefront of our minds and constantly remind ourselves an illegal invasion of their homeland is still going on, we must also remember to call out those who are peddling propaganda from the Kremlin. It cannot be tolerated in a free and democratic Irish politics. Of course, people can say what they like but when it is objectively untrue, and they are peddling propaganda from a rogue state that is conducting an illegal invasion, it must be challenged and we must say we will not accept it.
We stand with Ukraine. We continue to keep the Ukrainian people in our hearts and minds as they continue to repel an illegal Russian invasion.
I join with others in wishing the staff who run the Seanad well as we head towards the summer recess. Last weekend, The Irish Mail on Sundaycarried a story about the Leader and me, and the Air Navigation and Transport Bill that is passing through this House at present. The article referenced the likely impact on the Leader's position as a result of the position she has taken in the House. We are Senators, not Deputies or county councillors. We are here to evaluate or appraise legislation as it passes through the House. There should be no Whip. We are elected to vocational and university panels and do not have constituencies. That is it. That is where it starts and ends. The Leader looked at the legislation, found flaws with it - similar to those I found - and took a position. She should be honoured and not castigated for that.
I appreciate that. The point I am trying to make, and this is something we should all reflect on as we go away for the summer, is about the role of the Seanad. Most of us are proud to be in this House. Its role is to challenge the Government, to look at Government legislation as it works its way through, to initiate legislation and to bring topical matters of concern to the nation to this House. I found it particularly difficult to read the article on Sunday because I know how deeply committed the Leader is to her job and to the legislation. It is not an easy thing for a member of a party to stand up against legislation that is passing through the House.
I slagged off my colleague, Senator Ahearn, yesterday for representing County Tipperary. We all do it from time to time. Every day, Senators stand up in the Chamber to talk about their constituency. I do not have a constituency. I come from County Galway, live in Dublin and do not have a constituency, but I fully accept people do. I ask us to reflect over the summer on the vitally important role we have in challenging the Government.
I will raise a very unfortunate issue about which an article appears in today's edition of the Irish Examiner. It is about how we dealt with the organs of children following post mortems. I was approached by a constituent, Ms Laura Kelleher and her husband, who now reside in Australia. They were involved in this unfortunate issue at Cork University Hospital. They were distraught that the organs of their daughter, Hope, were not disposed of appropriately and they were not kept informed regarding it. It was very distressing for them. They found this information out hours before an RTÉ "Prime Time Investigates" programme was broadcast.
An internal HSE audit has been done regarding this issue. Similar issues pertaining to other hospitals have also materialised. It is a significant issue of trust. To think that a person in such an unfortunate situation could not trust the hospital or consultants regarding what happened to their child's organs when permission was given for a post mortem, is a major issue for the State, families and society. The legislation being proposed, the human tissue Bill, which I have raised in the House several times, has not yet come before the Houses. It has to come before the Houses in the next session. We cannot have a scenario where a Bill that is proposed to sort out this issue has been drafted but not actually brought to the Houses.
From reading about what happened in this morning's edition of the Irish Examiner, there is a much bigger issue here. Some kind of tribunal should be established in order that parents can find out exactly what happened. An internal HSE audit has been published. That is not good enough. We need to appoint a High Court judge to review exactly what happened and look at the conduct of consultant A in the context of the article published today. This is a really significant issue for us and I propose we have a debate on it when we come back in September. The Minister should come before us regarding the legislation. There needs to be public accountability. The families affected need this, as do the mother and father I met in my office. I respectfully say we need to see real movement on this Bill and a public, independent inquiry put in place.
I will raise an issue around domestic septic tanks that has come to my attention. The Environmental Protection Agency has been highly critical of the number of inspections that local authorities have been able to carry out throughout the country, and the fact many septic tanks are failing inspections, yet remediation action has not been taken. Domestic septic tanks had to be registered before 1 February 2013. The issue that has been brought to my attention is grants are not available for those not registered before that date.
While I can understand the State not wanting to support somebody who failed to register before that period, the issue I have concerns those who bought properties in the intervening period. A constituent of mine bought a property two years ago and its septic tank has been found by the local authority to require remediation action, but that person is not entitled to a grant, through no fault of his or her own. The fact it was not registered was identified in the sales process but the issue of that person not being entitled to a grant has only come to light now after the fact. As the previous homeowner did not register the septic tank by 1 February 2013, the new homeowner who bought the property in 2019 is being penalised for the inaction of someone in 2013, without the ability to fix that issue.If we want to improve groundwater and improve the issues around septic tanks, it is counterintuitive that the State would penalise a new homeowner who has bought a property in good faith but is unable to access the €5,000 grant, which is available to remediate that septic tank. I am sure this is an issue also in many other parts of the State and not just in my own area in Waterford. I have written to the Minister about this issue and I certainly hope we can see movement on that. Perhaps the Deputy Leader will schedule a debate on the wider issue of groundwater when we return after the summer recess.
I also wish to be associated with the condolences to Senator Timmy Dooley and to Deputy Alan Farrell on the deaths of their fathers.
I offer congratulations to Councillor Ian McGarvey who will be 92 years of age. I met him and Marjory on his 90th birthday. Good health to him for many more years to come.
I submitted a Commencement matter this morning that was not selected, but I really want to air the issue prior to the summer recess. Earlier this week I also highlighted the matter with the Minister for Education. The Duleek area of Meath is in need of a new post-primary school given the rapidly increasing population there. The people of Laytown and Bettystown are also renewing their calls for a 24-7, fit-for-purpose Garda station in that area. These requests from the people of these areas have been growing for some time.
The 2022 census figures show that the need is even more dire than previously thought. With an increase from 2016 to more than 25,000 people in the county, policing has become increasingly stretched. Laytown Garda station is not fit for purpose. We need a new building there and we need a new 24-hour Garda district there to deal with any emergency calls in the area, which are currently dealt with from the Ashbourne district. The distance to be traversed in these instances by gardaí responding to calls can be significant and especially when time is of the essence. The east Meath area has the highest population growth in the county after Navan and this should be acknowledged and reflected in the investment into essential services there. What service is more essential than our gardaí who keep our community safe?
I ask the Deputy Leader if we could have a debate in the Chamber on the national police force in the State, and that Members of the House would take a forensic look into the areas in many of our counties where Garda resources are not fit for purpose and where upgrades are needed.
Before the summer recess, I want to thank the staff, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, and all of the staff in the Seanad and throughout the Oireachtas, including the porters, the ushers, the catering staff, the cleaners, and the Library and Research staff. I thank them and I hope they enjoy their summer recess. I thank them for all of the help throughout the year.
I wish to be associated with the vote of thanks to all of the members of staff in the Seanad and in the Houses of the Oireachtas more generally. We certainly could not do our job without their help, and also the work of our secretarial assistants. I hope all of the staff will get a well-deserved break at some stage over the summer.
I congratulate the Houses of the Oireachtas on its organisation of the Mná sa Seanad yesterday. It was great to see and hear Tras Honan. Ms Honan made such an enormous contribution to Irish life and she still has a very keen interest in it. I thank all of those who organised that event.
I welcome the fact that the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, has announced that she is going to proceed with hate crime legislation. I am conscious that the Minister has announced this on a number of occasions but it now seems to be the case that it is progressing. I commend my colleague, Senator O'Loughlin. The Senator has introduced hate crime legislation previously in the Dáil and in the Seanad. When the Senator's Bill came before this House I was fortunate to be able to second it. Such legislation is required as a matter of urgency. I ask the Deputy Leader to do everything she can to expedite this legislation.
We have finally seen the publication of the report by the Future of Media Commission yesterday. The report was delivered to the Government nine months ago. I am glad that the Government has taken on board 49 of the 50 recommendations. I am disappointed that we will not have time in this session to have a debate on the future of media. We need a debate around local and national media, how it is funded, and tackling fake news and disinformation. I ask that this House would communicate our concern around the issue of funding of RTÉ. The question of licence fee reform has been kicked down the road yet again with another working group. I understand entirely that there must be an overhaul and that there has to be a review, but when this takes place I ask that a decision is taken quickly so that the national broadcaster can have certainty with regard to its funding.
I wish people a happy summer recess. I hope they get the time off they deserve. Today I want to acknowledge the work of our secretarial assistants. I would not like to come back into another Seanad term without their pay addressed and changed so they do get the actual wage they deserve for the work they do.
This issue has been even more relevant over the past few weeks as we move through a huge amount of legislation at such a quick speed. Our secretarial assistants sometimes work above and beyond the hours they should be working, going through the legislation with us line by line. This applies especially to Independent Senators because we do not have a huge amount of staff and resources. We rely heavily on each other within our group.
I believe that we do not acknowledge each other enough. I would like to acknowledge the leader of the Civil Engagement Group. She would be raging if she walked in now. I am absolutely honoured to work with such a powerhouse. She does not only think about herself or domestic issues: her vision is far-reaching for Ireland, for the globe, for Europe. Seeing the way in which she approaches every single piece of legislation, I do not believe I would have the level of smarts to be able to actually understand such nuance in the way she does. I also acknowledge Senator Seery Kearney, from whom I have learned a huge amount.
Sometimes we do not extend this appreciation across the House. I have been working with Senator Seery Kearney on the surrogacy committee and we have also engaged other issues. It is always great to see women working towards enriching the lives of people, enhancing people's experiences, extending human rights to people, and not looking to sow division or to exclude people.
Sometimes in here we can wrap quite exclusionary language in civility. We can wrap aggression in politeness. We can see through it and we can see that language matters. Sometimes I will come in and I will be quite blunt and harsh and there is outrage but not everybody wants to hide what they think and believe behind civility and politeness. It is much braver to be our true authentic selves and to be fully clear of what we mean, what we say, how we say it, and be very clear that it is not framed in any other shape or form. I hope when we return to the Houses in the new term we can actually call this out and hold people accountable when they are wrapping violence up in civility.
I extend my sympathies to Senator Dooley and to Deputy Farrell, and to any Member of the Houses and the staff. Many of us have lost loved ones over the Covid period. It has been a strange time. I hope that everyone gets a bit of time during the recess to have that time to themselves.
I thank all the staff in the Seanad who have assisted me and all of us. We have had a very heavy workload. It is a huge privilege to be one of the women of Seanad Éireann and to serve with such great women and men. It is a particular pride for me.From a housing perspective, we have made some very significant changes in the Seanad. These are changes which will serve generations into the future and which put the State at the forefront of leading on the delivery of housing. On home ownership, security and affordability, empowering our local authorities, using State-owned lands to build homes that are affordable and secure for people, this is work we can all be proud of.
I also commend our own Seanad party leader, Senator Chambers. It has been great to work with her, with our colleagues, with people from outside of our party from right across society and from experts in their field in the area of women’s health. The first women’s health policy to be produced by a political party was launched yesterday. I want to thank all those who attended and helped with the launch and preparation. Ms Corona Joyce, who works in the Fianna Fáil office, did a tremendous job. Our secretarial assistants, SAs, work tremendously hard also. We do not have an army of staff. Whether Fianna Fáil is considered a big or a small party depends on which poll one reads. All I can say is that I am very appreciative of everyone who helps me and I am sure every Senator is. We all benefit from support, both formal and informal. That is a great privilege for all of us to have and to be able to take the benefit from here.
Finally, as we go into the recess, we need to remember that Europe is at war, that Ukraine is under attack, and that we must all be very much committed to supporting that country.
I will pick up on what Senator Craughwell said in talking about one’s own county. I will never apologise for talking about Tipperary. I also remind him that there are 167,000 people living in Tipperary and it is the lowest represented county in the country. It needs more voices. I assume at some point, when the commission is set up, that Tipperary will be seen as a very large county that needs more representation.
I acknowledge the vote of confidence in the Government yesterday, the resounding victory the Government received in that motion, and the mandate that it now has going forward through the summer and into the budget, which will be an important one for the people of Ireland. Rather than create division in the Lower House, it has united our party and, in fact, the three parties and our other supporters into the future to do what is right for the country.
It has also told us how certain people think, in particular Independent representatives. I was listening to Senator Ruane speaking about Independent voices. We are quite lucky in this Chamber that we have Independent voices with clear vision and leadership. Unfortunately, we do not have that in abundance in the other Chamber where we have Independent Deputies who go which way the wind blows and who are all things to everyone. The interesting thing about last night is that they had a decision to make as to whether they supported this Government or wanted a Sinn Féin government.
It is clear from last night that the people of Tipperary now know that Deputy Mattie McGrath wants a Sinn Féin government. Independent Deputies have for years been all things to everyone but last night they had to make a decision. People in Tipperary now know that a vote for Deputy Mattie McGrath is a vote for Sinn Féin. This is a welcome development in Tipperary because people need to know that. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I want to bring up the HSE service plan and Westdoc. Westdoc provides GP cover and many people around the country would know that this service comes in under different names in different regions. It provides out-of-hours and red-eye cover. That is, out-of-hours between 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock in the evening until 12 o’clock at night and then red-eye cover from midnight until about 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock in the morning. The challenge is that in east Galway - I know are other parts of Galway are affected as Senator Kyne has mentioned his area of Moycullen - there is no cover in the towns of Ballinasloe, Kilconnell, Laurencetown and Kiltormer. The GPs in those towns are not included in Westdoc. Representations have been made in respect of the HSE service plan to include this region. I would hope to bring this up and would very much like to have an opportunity to potentially talk about health prior to the budget with the Minister for Health. How are we going to ensure we have GPs and that we recruit and retain them, particularly when so many of them are young women with families, and to attract them then to live in regional areas where they have to travel, have more nights on than off, and do not fall under the Working Time Directive.
In other words, if they work a night on duty, they are working again at 9 o’clock the following morning. We already have about ten vacancies in the west for GPs. This is very significant. At the moment the HSE is paying out for locums to deliver this service when we should have GPs in our local areas.
This is a serious issue which has been brought forward in respect of the HSE service plan, but it was not implemented this year. We need to look at how we can do that next year but also look at the areas in the west. The Deputy Leader will be aware that in her region, we also need to look at incentives for GPs.
What will those incentives be? I am aware that the HSE is looking at how we can put forward incentives via per capitapayments but we need to look at how we are doing that in the west. We do not have the GPs. They are not coming to live in rural areas where they have to work a night on, a night off, then again at 9 o’clock in the morning and have to travel an hour, if not two hours, to their nearest patient. We need to have a discussion on this issue.
Like Senator Ahearn, I will never apologise for representing where I am from which is Longford. I also want to raise the whole issue of the CLÁR funding scheme which is very beneficial to community groups in my home county. I am aware that 15 applications have been submitted by Longford County Council to the Department and these schemes will be looked at over the summer months. I hope and ask that perhaps extra funding can be obtained to ensure that a high number of those applications will be successful. The reality is that this is where the money trickles down into the local communities, it is where our local school gets set up with projects and where our local community centre or our sensory garden is developed. A great amount of work has been put in by all of the organisations that have applied and it is very important that extra money would be put in place to ensure that, if not all of them, a significant number of these organisations are successful in their applications.
I understand that discussions in the Department will take place over the summer months on the rural regeneration scheme. A significant application has been submitted for Granard in County Longford through the Lus na Gréine family resource centre to develop childcare and after-school facilities in a growing town where there is a severe lack of such facilities. It is needed in the area, the figures stack up and the numbers are there. I hope the Department looks very favourably at this application and that it is successful.
I have referred to the issue of boxing on a number of occasions in this Chamber. An extraordinary general meeting, EGM, was held in Roscommon last weekend where nearly the entire executive of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA, was voted out of office. We had a vote in respect of recommendations that were put to the clubs, which were voted against unanimously. We should be supporting the clubs, the members, the volunteers, and the sports people but we are not. The CEO and chairperson of the IABA need to step away and step down if we are going to progress boxing in Ireland. The Minister of State and Sport Ireland should take back the threat of withdrawing the association's funding, should ask those people to consider their positions, and put the vote to the members. They will support it and will move forward. We need to have changes at the top.
I thought the Members would be in much better form today, but nevertheless I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and I join other colleagues across the Chamber in acknowledging and thanking staff across the Oireachtas for everything they do for us throughout the term of the sitting. They keep us right, safe, fed and watered and do a great job, and we are very thankful to them. This is the case as we emerge from the very difficult circumstances of Covid-19 and all the burdens that placed on them.
I fully endorse what Senator Ruane said about our secretarial assistants. Regardless of anything else, we can come in here and argue about politics, which is only right and proper, but we can all agree that people are facing a cost-of-living crisis and that many people are having a really difficult time, and are stretched.In spite of all the fantastic work that secretarial assistants do to support each and every one of us, the reality is that they earn less than the living wage. Many of them, even if they do not live in Dublin, spend a huge amount of their time in Dublin and struggle to survive on such pay. We, as a House, are united in the belief that we need to resolve this issue. We should feel unabashed and unashamed for trying to fix this situation for these workers who give such a good service to us, these institutions and, indeed, political life.
I will not debate the Private Members' motion now and simply urge colleagues across the House to support this motion, which was put forward by my colleague, Senator Warfield, who is a member of the Sinn Féin group. The motion concerns the nighttime economy and night life while recognising that both of them are about much more than alcohol. They are about stimulating creativity, supporting communities, and developing cultural spaces and creative opportunities. We have a job of work to do to support this sector through the cost-of-living crisis, provide support and keep safe the workers in that sector and industries, and continue our culture, arts and language for which Ireland is known for throughout the world. We can do much better so I urge Senators to support the motion.
I join in the expressions of thanks to staff. I acknowledge the incredible work that people do and have done, especially as business intensifies. I thank all of the staff of the Seanad Office. I thank the staff of the Bills Office who I know must work overtime. I do not believe they should have to work so late because we should not rush legislation through in the way that we do. I acknowledge the incredible work done by the staff of the Bills Office.
I join in the words of acknowledgement and thanks expressed for secretarial assistants. Their case is a live issue. The secretarial assistants who work with Senators do extraordinary work on legislation. They deal with incredibly dense and important work. As mentioned, they pore over legislation line by line; my assistant goes through each line of all legislation with me. It is important that progress is made and that the SA issues are not put on the long finger or excuses made. I hope that by the autumn progress will be made to improve the terms and conditions for SAs.
I join the acknowledgement by colleagues right across this House that the Seanad is incredible and transformative, especially when Senators engage in discussion and work together in a constructive manner. I hope that we all will be fully rested when we resume in the autumn and have exciting new ideas about what we can achieve in the Seanad to mark the 100th year of Seanad Éireann. I refer to the idea of minority voices and the Seanad being able to lead on issues of equality and human rights. Indeed, the Seanad has an inspiring record of bringing forth laws that lead to major changes in society and legislation. In the autumn, let us add some new points to that chapter to mark the 100th year of the Seanad..
In terms of major changes, I want to acknowledge the launch today of the interim report by the Joint Committee on Gender Equality. The Deputy Leader and I are members of that committee. We have put in a very strong marker that indicates that we think Ireland should hold a referendum to change the Constitution in order that it properly acknowledges care. We must move away from narrowing things but make sure that care is acknowledged, and make sure that all families are properly reflected and acknowledged in the Constitution.
Finally, I wish to alert everybody and their parties to the fact that this summer one person will die from hunger every five seconds in the Horn of Africa. The famine is not solely due to what is happening in the Ukraine but is caused by climate change. Therefore, I urge Senators and their parties to endeavour to ensure that action is taken over the next three months.
On Sunday, Limerick will play Kilkenny in the all-Ireland senior hurling final. The Limerick hurlers are led by Declan Hannon and I wish him and the rest of the Limerick hurlers all the best. Limerick seeks to win three all-Ireland finals in a row and we are proud of that tradition.
Today, WP Engine moved to its new offices located on Henry Street in Limerick city. I wish Mr. Paul Ryan and his staff all the best in their new endeavour. WP Engine announced that there will be 20 new jobs created, which will add to the 120 existing jobs. WP Engine has been a very proactive company since arriving in Limerick city in 2016 and I wish everyone all the best in its new premises. I was invited to attend the launch but it is good to be here in the Seanad.
I wish everybody a nice rest over the summer because they deserve that. I thank all of the staff across the Houses of the Oireachtas. I thank the staff in the Seanad Office and the various departments in the Oireachtas. I hope that all colleagues in the Seanad have a nice rest and return invigorated and ready for more hard work in September.
I concur with my colleague, Senator Byrne, in wishing the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the entire parliamentary community in Leinster House a very enjoyable summer. Thankfully, it will be a normal summer or at least as normal as it can be despite the rise in the number of Covid cases.
I ask the officials in the Department of Health to clarify details about the winter programme, specifically regarding vaccinations. I ask for that because some vulnerable people have not received their fourth vaccine and that is not good enough. The Minister for Health has referred matters to the national immunisation advisory committee but I cannot understand why NIAC is taking so long to make recommendations to him. The incidence of Covid will be very serious as we move into the winter. It is now the summer and the number of Covid cases is peaking so God only knows what the situation will be like in the wintertime.
We do not know when the flu vaccination programme will be rolled out. Two or three years ago there was a difficulty with the supply of the flu vaccine. I presume that any difficulties have been resolved and the vaccine will be readily available. I believe that the flu vaccine should be made available to everybody free of charge because it is an essential health measure.
We need to know when the human papillomavirus, HPV, vaccine will be rolled out in order to forward plan. It is great that the Minister has announced that there is a catch-up programme and that all females under-25 years who have not received the vaccine do not have to pay any costs. Has a catch-up programme been announced? Have GPs signed up to rolling out the programme? Will pharmacists be involved in the delivery of the programme? People have many questions about the catch-up programme so clarifications are needed. I ask that the Deputy Leader arranges a debate on vaccines for Covid, the flu and HPV.
Earlier I could not speak as the Leas-Chathaoirleach was having a full flowing conversation so I shall finish making my point. I ask that a debate on all elements of the vaccination programme is arranged for the first week of the next term.
Last Sunday, an extraordinary general meeting, EGM, of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA, took place in Roscommon town where the delegates voted against allowing company EGMs and annual general meetings, AGMs, to take place in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, again concerning EGMs and AGMs, a motion to change the wording in the company's constitution from State to the island of Ireland was not passed. In advance of the recent EGM, the Ministers with responsibility in this area, namely, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, and her Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, made it very clear what that organisation had to do to reach the required, necessary and accepted standards of governance. It has been documented. I am enraged on a different level. I am enraged that a sport that has done so much to heal rifts in this country would decide to snub people in the North. I refer to people like Hugh Russell. Do people not remember Barry McGuigan in the King's Hall or in the stadium on Loftus Road with his late father singing "Danny Boy"? Do they not remember Wayne McCullough and Michael Carruth? Do they not remember Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan? Do they not have an inkling that boxing is so much more than just a fight? Boxing in this country has transcended sport, and been a healing and unifying force.
The IABA delegates acted in a reckless way with no regard whatsoever for the fine boxing heritage and history in this country. They do not reflect the followers of boxing. They do not reflect the Kellie Harringtons and Katie Taylors. They do not reflect Eric "Lilywhite Lightening" Donovan from County Kildare, who epitomises all that is decent in the sport of boxing and wish him well as he has a tittle fight in Belfast in September.
I urge the IABA delegates to rethink their actions and hope they have not done irreparable damage to a wonderful tradition that has survived much tougher and challenging times. Boxing did not go the way of many other sporting organisations. It was one place where you could park your politics before entering any boxing stadium. The delegates have done sport and their own sport of boxing a terrible disservice. I hope that we can still rectify the situation. We can talk again about corporate governance and this situation goes to show how endemic the problem is in leadership. I wish to emphasise that not everyone in the IABA is at fault. The senior people in the IABA urged a different outcome but their advice was ignored, neglected and declined by people who did not have the sport's unity and healing front and centre in their thoughts.
I wish to raise the issue of the community services programme, CSP, managed by Pobal, as we are in the run-up to the budget. This issue affects the Huntstown Community Centre and various other community centres in Dublin 15 and nationally, as represented by the national CSP managers' network. As people will be aware, the programme ensures that community centres are provided with support, which is topped up through the social enterprise aspect of the centres and the shortfall is met. The programme creates employment in areas for people who might struggle to secure employment elsewhere. It also provides social, economic and environmental services in communities. We can feel very proud of the programme in terms of what it delivers.
I wish to state that the support aspect of the CSP programme has not been increased since 2009 and stands at €8.65 an hour. As we know, the national minimum wage is currently €10.50 an hour and the living wage is €12.90 an hour. These centres and other partners in the programme have faced Covid but now face ongoing and rising cost-of living charges, and increases. Therefore, we need to examine the programme in the budget as the hourly CSP rate has not increased since 2009. At present, managers earn €32,000 and they seek an increase that will bring their wage up to €40,000, which would be money well spent. They also want the current support of €8.65 an hour increased to the current minimum wage rate.
Tomorrow, 14 July, is the deadline for the community centre investment fund and wish community centres all around the country the best of luck.
I thank my secretarial assistant and agree with Senators who have said today that the secretarial assistant issue must be resolved, as a matter of urgency. Finally, I wish everyone a good recess.
I endorse the comments made by Senators Carrigy and Martin in asking that the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Chambers, is invited in here for a debate on the future of Irish boxing. Notwithstanding the reasons pertaining to the decisions made at the EGM last weekend, those of us who love boxing and support the sport are concerned and worried about the future of boxing. I know through the good work done by Andrew Duncan and others that the sport was reformed. However, I firmly believe we need to have a serious debate about the governance and future of Irish boxing. I am not going to lecture the boxing fraternity about what it should do but as Senator Martin noted, boxing brought people together and for those of us who admire the sport, I hope we will have that again in the future.
I ask that the Report of the Future of Media Commission be debated in the House with the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, as a matter of urgency. In fact, we should have had a debate on it this week. Together with Senator Carrigy, I was a member of the Fine Gael subcommittee that fed into the outcome that is the publication of the report yesterday. It is disappointing that the licence fee has not been looked at. I think that we, as a Government, made a mistake in not doing so and I hope that we can reverse course. Although 49 of 50 recommendations have been accepted, we need to examine the licence issue. In a cost-of-living crisis, perhaps the Government should consider reducing the cost of the licence fee to give the hard-pressed taxpayer and those who are faoi bhrú an opportunity to get a rebate. I also ask RTÉ to look at its structure of costs.
Finally, I concur with the Members of the House by wishing everybody and all the staff of the House a very happy summer vacation. We are well served by people who range from the people who record us, the stenographers, to staff in the Seanad Office and the Bills Office, who were here until 7.30 p.m. last week and we never reached the amendments. I thank the secretarial assistants and staff of Senators who do tremendous work. On behalf of the Fine Gael Group, I can say that we have a tremendous team on this side of the House, of which I am very proud. They do extraordinary work on behalf of the people whom we represent.
I echo everything that has been said about secretarial assistants and wish everybody a good summer. I am very grateful for the words expressed by Senator Ruane. Likewise, it has been an honour to serve alongside her on the Joint Committee on International Surrogacy and the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. In honour of her words, I will be absolutely blunt in my last contribution here before the House goes into recess.
This morning, I received yet another email from an absolutely distraught parent of a child with a disability. At this point, that parent is in a broken relationship, in a broken life, has a broken heart and has a broken child because the HSE is not supplying the services it is supposed to do. The HSE is absolutely not recruiting and not supplying nurses. Today, a child sits in her home while needing dressings that respond to her particular disability. She has been left without dressings for several days. This situation has arisen but not for the want of the work done by the fantastic Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte. I am not criticising the Minister of State because I think that she is a saint, and her office is incredibly responsive. However, we have people who do not prioritise children, allow children to languish without supports and cause devastation in families.
I regret that we are going into recess because I am terrified these situations will continue without our voices in here and people being able to daily apply pressure. By God, I promise that on our return in September, I will talk about this issue on a daily basis because I am tired of sitting in kitchens with broken women who are doing everything they can for their children. It enough that the hearts of these women are broken at the loss of opportunity, life and living life to the best that is ahead of their children but they must fight all day and every day to get the most basic of services.It is not good enough.
I am sorry but this is too important. We cannot trust the HSE. Its representatives have come before committee after committee. We are dealing with recruitment but that is no use to this child today or the many other children who are affected.
If it is okay with Members, I will not go through everything in as much detail as usual as we have run over time considerably to accommodate people coming in on the last Order of Business before the recess.
On the point raised by Senator Seery Kearney, I certainly would be in favour of a collective approach in this House to a weekly debate on that issue. What is going on is disgraceful. People are being left with what is, in effect, a life sentence because they get no help. It is breaking up families and leaving people at the point where they may think of checking out of life. We all agree with the Senator on this. Let us do something like she has proposed. If we do not do it, it will not get done. I thank her for her remarks regarding the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who is trying her damnedest. We have seen how she has been treated by some officials in terms of blocking her from doing her job. I am with the Senator on that, as are all Members. Let us make this our top priority for the next term.
I concur with the remarks thanking all the officials and staff who have worked with us this term. I hope they get a break over the summer months.
I join Senator Gallagher in congratulating Councillor Ian McGarvey, who is about to turn 92 years of age. That is a significant milestone. It is a good message for all of us to take on board that although we are often looking for younger voices, there is always space for everybody.
Several Members called for a debate on the Defence Forces. I hope to have it scheduled for the first sitting week in September. Senators Malcolm Byrne and Buttimer called for a debate on the Future of Media Commission. I am afraid it will not happen this week but it will be one of our top priorities for the first week or two after we return in September.
Senator Moynihan raised a particular issue relating to the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2022, expressing concern that there will not be time to debate amendments. There is no time limit in that regard and we may debate amendments for as long as is needed during the debate this evening. The debate will not be cut off and will only adjourn once Members have finished speaking on it. There is no guillotine.
I take on board what Senator Mullen said regarding the abortion services review and the associated report. I note he is representing a particular viewpoint that is held by many citizens. There is respect for that, although many of us in the House take a different view on the matter.
Senator Moynihan requested a debate on An Bord Pleanála and the report that is due. We will look for that debate.
Senator Cummins spoke about EPA provisions regarding septic tanks. I suggest that he put in a Commencement matter on that issue, which concerns the grant not being available to people who purchase a home after the deadline and where the tank was not registered. This might be appropriate for discussion on the Commencement debate.
I concur with the remarks by Senators Fitzpatrick, Ward and others on the ongoing war in Ukraine and the need to keep a focus on that issue. It is very nice for us that we are heading off into the summer recess but our friends and neighbours in Ukraine, who are 20 weeks into this conflict, will continue to be in that situation. It is important that we keep shining a light on the atrocities that are happening.
If it is okay with Members, I will leave it at that.
I thank the Deputy Leader. Before we conclude the Order of Business, Senator Higgins, who is always so factual and knows what she is talking about, is anxious to correct the record. What she discussed is tragic but she wants it noted that she made a mistake in saying that one person would die every five seconds in the Horn of Africa. She wants to correct the record to state that a person will die every 48 seconds. This remains something beyond tragic.
I want to associate myself and the Cathaoirleach with the words of appreciation for our excellent staff at all levels of the Seanad, including those based in the offices in the other building and those who work here. We really appreciate them and the work they do.