Thursday, 15 September 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the address to the Seanad on Tuesday, 20 September 2022 by MEPs representing the European Parliament Dublin constituency, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 4.30 p.m. today, if not previously concluded, with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed 15 minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes each, and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes each, with the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, statements on the Report of the Future of Media Commission, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed 12 minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes, with the Minister to be given not less than eight minutes to reply to the debate.
As this is my first time to rise since the recess it would be remiss of me not to mention the biggest issue we face, not just as a country but globally, which is the cost of living. We acknowledge that the Government has very successfully led the country through Covid and that we have emerged in a stronger and more economically viable position than we thought we would have. A lot of this was down to the prudent management of our finances and, of course, the leadership of the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin. We need all of that energy, drive and support now to support families, households, businesses and community buildings such as schools through the energy crisis. We need to have a very significant package announced in the upcoming budget to be able to support all of those. I have every confidence we can, but we need to send a very strong message here that we need every level of support we can possibly give to all those I mentioned.
This month is World Alzheimer's Month. I thank colleagues who gathered together this morning to show cross-party support for investment we need at budget time also. When we consider the impact of dementia in Ireland, almost 500,000 families are affected. Every day 30 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and some of those are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. It is very important we continue to invest in day care, homecare and extra supports that families and those living with dementia need. There will be a Memory Walk next Sunday, 18 September, throughout the country. I encourage Members of this House and of the Dáil to get involved. Our own walk in Kildare will be at the Curragh, starting at 3 p.m. We are doing it in memory of a very special lady, Marie Conlon, who was the former chair of the Kildare branch of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and whose own mother had dementia. We are doing this in memory of Marie and to raise funds for our first full-time permanent Alzheimer's centre, which will be in Kildangan. We look forward to that and I encourage anyone who can to get involved.
The other issue I want to mention is around Therapists For Change. Thousands of psychotherapists who are very qualified live here in Ireland. Unfortunately, unless they have a secondary degree, the HSE will not give them work. We therefore have a situation where people who have qualified and trained at their own expense cannot be contracted by the HSE for the very vital and important hours we need. We are all aware and hear about the waiting lists in our communities for people to access the talk therapy they need. In many instances we find that people are being given medication, which should not be the case. Talk therapy should be first. CORU has been tasked with registering the psychotherapists and so on but nothing has happened. It has not opened for registration. It is particularly difficult for students who are studying these courses now and do not know whether they will have an opportunity to have a career in this area. It is important to ask CORU to open that registration.
I call for a full inquiry into the ongoing system of unsafe medical practice in Ireland. On foot of the news over the summer that the UK's interim report by Dr. Hilary Cass found that the standards of clinical care, assessment and treatment at the Tavistock and Portman gender identity clinic fell below acceptable levels, we should have instantly examined how this has affected Irish children who were sent there. To my knowledge, this was not done. Having spoken to an expert from the National Gender Service, I know that not only were Irish children sent to London to receive medical hormonal intervention at the soon to be defunct clinic, but psychologists were being flown over from the Tavistock clinic to a satellite clinic in Crumlin hospital to carry out work there. This was being operated under the treatment abroad scheme. That scheme is for Irish people to visit an EU state to receive medical care they would otherwise not be able to receive here. No part of that scheme deals with the flying in of psychiatrists from a non-EU country to do business in Ireland. Critically, this meant these medical professionals are operating with zero indemnity. They are not covered under the Irish scheme and they are not covered by the NHS for work done in Ireland. The higher-ups in Crumlin hospital did not even know that this was happening.
Why was this done? It was because it was convenient and it allowed this to happen under the radar without having to flag anything to the HSE by asking for a budget. Millions of euro have been spent on this over the years. By 2019, members of the National Gender Service had written to Crumlin hospital's clinical director to voice their concerns at the practices and the care in these clinics. At a subsequent meeting these same individuals asked for basic information from the clinical staff about how many children had been put on hormone treatment or puberty blockers. They did not know. They asked if they could see the assessment records of the patients. They have a few but nowhere near the correct total. It was then that our own medical professionals judged the Tavistock-Crumlin satellite clinic to be ungoverned and unsafe.
One of the National Gender Service head psychologists flagged this with the HSE, urging it to conduct a complete review of the Crumlin case at a clinical and legal level.In response, he received a letter of comfort and no further action. We need a full clinical and legal inquiry into the activities of Tavistock psychiatrists at Crumlin hospital, to check in with the children who have been impacted and to make sure that they are looked after. This inquiry is an ask of the multiple experienced clinical psychiatrists who have spent over 20 years providing holistic health and mental care specifically for transgender people who are saying what has been done here is wrong. One cannot rush children onto irreversible puberty blockers. Other countries have stopped this. Why can we not see the writing on the wall and do the same? I would appreciate the Leader calling for an inquiry into this as the Leader of the House.
Many words of sympathy and condolence have already been spoken in respect of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. I commend those who arranged a minute's silence in this House yesterday. I attended that with His Excellency, Paul Johnston, the British Ambassador to Ireland. I recall the Leader of the House, while she moved the motion of sympathy, including that we should remember people in the Republic of Ireland who also feel that they suffered a loss. I believe the last few days have done us all proud. Parliamentary democracy in the Republic of Ireland has responded in a uniform, respectful and appropriate way. That uniformity of response is not one of tolerance, but of overriding respect. I also feel that Scottish and Irish nationalism are very proud, but in the last few days they were also dignified before a global audience. They have shown us the way forward, which is never through threats, ultimatums and intimidation. They have probably inadvertently done more for Irish nationalism and Scottish nationalism in the last few days. I believe history will judge it as a pivotal moment of a measured response in a dignified, human way.
Just as the Queen had a sense of duty up to her last day, I also recall that Bertie Ahern, who was Taoiseach at the time that the Good Friday Agreement was being clinched, had an immediate family bereavement, but he put public service first. Little things in life matter. The Queen showed us that. Sometimes these are big things. It is often the little things in life that make difficulty and division, but we are one on the big things in life. The Queen showed in an inimitable way the power of gestures. A corollary of that is that gestures can also have a counterproductive impact. As we build reconciliation, we must all the time be acutely aware of gestures. It does not take a bold statement to offend and to have a setback. Gestures can sometimes prove to be destructive too. Queen Elizabeth II was a fantastic exponent of the positive power of gestures.
I want to address youth emigration, but before I speak on that it is important to note what happened yesterday outside our Houses of Parliament with the far-right attacks on Deputy Paul Murphy. That should be condemned by everybody in the House. We all need to be very careful, particularly on social media and of the accounts that we tweet and retweet that endorse threats of violence against Members of this House. It is up to all of us to stand up for democracy and to make sure that the far right does not grow any further legs. They are here, they are growing and we all need to stamp that out. I just wanted to put that on the record and offer solidarity to Deputy Paul Murphy.
I want to talk about the RedC poll that was carried out by the National Youth Council of Ireland, NYCI, that highlighted a frightening and startling fact, which is that seven out of ten of our 18- to 24-year-olds are considering moving abroad for a better quality of life because they cannot afford to live in this country. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic which in itself was so problematic for young people, we now find that the cost of living and the housing crisis have ensured that the spectre of emigration once again hangs over his State. There is little doubt that the Government has failed and is continuing to fail our people, particularly our young people. It always seems that they are the pressure valve and when things get bad, we just expect our young people to emigrate to relieve that pressure.
We have a broken health system, we have the worst housing crisis ever and we have a cost-of-living crisis that is now being magnified by soaring inflation and ridiculous rental costs alongside outrageously high energy bills that are on the horizon as winter approaches. Something has to give. It is not only that we are living with all these multiple crises, but we also need our young people to stay in this country because we need them to help us to get us out of this crisis. We need our young nurses and our young doctors to help fix our health system. We need the teachers to educate our children. We need the young skilled electricians, plumbers and plasterers to build all of the houses that are so urgently needed. Why are we educating and training our young people for another country’s benefit when they are so badly needed here? I call on the Government to introduce targeted action to address the cost of living but particularly to focus on those issues affecting young people, including youth homelessness. We are now seeing students who have done excellently in their leaving certificate examinations and who are being offered places in college and they may have to defer those because, again, the housing crisis is impacting on them. Unless young people are catered for in the upcoming budget, many will choose to emigrate. I call on the Government to please hear the calls from the National Youth Council of Ireland and to support our young people.
To finish, trans rights are human rights.
Today marks the day when the employment regulation order, ERO, for early years education and childcare workers comes into effect. This is a huge victory and progress for the thousands of workers who give so much of themselves day-in, day-out to looking after and educating young children in this country. I want to say a huge congratulations to the SIPTU Big Start campaign and to all who worked tirelessly over the years, including Darragh O’Connor, Eilish Balfe, Deborah Reynolds and the thousands of others who have gone out to campaign to achieve this ERO. It is a vindication of what can be achieved when people join a trade union because united we bargain, divided we beg. This ERO sets down decent pay rates, progression towards bettering pay rates into the future and a recognition of the professionalisation of the sector. I wanted to mark that. That is a good news story.
What should also be a good news story is the employment regulation order for the security sector. This morning, the Minister of State, Deputy English, was before the House addressing a Commencement matter. On 3 August, the Minister of State committed to signing the employment regulation order for the security sector into law by the end of the month. On 24 August three employers who were representing a tiny number of workers across the 16,000-strong security industry lodged an ex parteinjunction to prevent the Minister of State from signing that hard-won pay deal into law. Security workers have not had a pay deal in three years. They have had tortuous negotiations and that ex parteinjunction stands. The Government has done nothing to lift thatex parteinjunction. It sat on its hands. There is a real question mark now - and I say this to all Members in the House - over when we pass by security workers, whether in the shop, or whatever place we are walking into, and we look them in the eye. This Government is preventing them from getting their collectively bargained wage agreement, which is 40 cent in phase 1, 45 cent and an allowance for unsociable hours in phase 2, and 40 cent in phase 3. These are very modest pay increases, yet the workers are being prevented from getting that wage agreement.It is up to the court to decide now how we should all proceed but it is up to the State to fight that injunction. In the three weeks since that injunction was initiated in the courts, the Government has sat on its hands. A date of 15 November is being put out for the judicial review challenging the constitutionality of the security employment regulation order. That is in for mention on that date, not for hearing. It will be well into next year by the time those wage rates will be decided for those security workers. These are low-wage workers. In January 2023 there will be a 35 cent difference between what a highly-trained, professionally licensed security worker earns and those on the national minimum wage. That is outrageous and it is outrageous that this Government has done nothing since the ex parteinjunction was lodged on 24 August.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the control of dogs and, in particular, the activity that seems to have increased in recent times of illegal hunting by a certain fraternity using lurchers. It is a practice that has become considerably prevalent in the north Clare area where there is a particularly good stock of hares because that region is known for regulated coursing. We now have individuals coming in from outside with lurchers illegally hunting hares in the dusk of morning and night, which is having a huge impact on farmed cattle in the region. I have heard of a number of cases where animals are being severely injured because of the activity of these dogs and their owners. A pet farm in the region had a lucky scape recently. Were it not for the owner being in a position to protect his animals, his business might have been wiped out. Other farmers have lost cows. These dogs and this activity is frightening the animals to the extent that they injure themselves and in some cases have to be put down. It is something that needs to be stamped out.
I would certainly welcome the opportunity to have a debate with the relevant Minister in terms of agriculture, in the first instance, and certainly from a justice perspective, on these individuals who carry on a trade. Very significant amounts of money changes hands at these events. It is one of those issues that is causing a considerable level of upset in the areas I talked about. We should try to have a debate about it in the Chamber.
I rise today to welcome two things, the first of which is the fact that the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has released more than €2 million and we will see 25 affordable homes being built at Brú na Gruadán in Castletroy. This is most welcome news. It is an area where affordable housing will be really welcome and will help so many people in terms of setting up their new homes. I know that people worked through the council in terms of qualifying for the 25 homes. It is certainly very welcome news for Brú na Gruadán in Castletroy.
The second matter I wish to raise is that of a young girl called Mairide from County Limerick who is on the apprenticeship programme. She represents a younger generation of apprentices and has been selected to go forward in the national apprentice of the year awards. Certainly,Mairide Bennisis a good-news story in that she is going to receive a level 7 degree in her apprenticeship. That is an area in which the Minister, Deputy Harris, has done wonderful work in terms of apprenticeships and skills. It is an area we need to promote because there are so many starts for people who take part in the apprenticeship programmes. She is in her third year in college and she will certainly be flying the flag for the Limerick-based company, DesignPro Automation. So many companies have been so good in working with apprentices and giving them those skills and up-training. I really think it is something we need to talk about much more in terms of promotion and encouraging people, especially due to the fact there is no gender bias. Many young women as well as men participate in the apprenticeship programmes whereas traditionally it would have been all men. It is, therefore, a good news story.
I came across some very wise words in recent days. I will read the quotation:
It is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.
They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint. [...] Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.
That quotation did not come from Pope Francis or Jordan Peterson or any of the other great philosophers of our time. It came from Queen Elizabeth II’s Christmas message in 1957. It struck me how remarkably fresh those words seem at a time when there is so much frustration, fractiousness, fratricidal conflict in some places, and fear of the future in our culture. Something of that vision is needed and I do not think one has to be a British subject or a monarchist to feel a certain sadness at the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. She was a part of all our lives because we knew who she was and saw her for so many years. With her passing we lose some little bit of ourselves and we are reminded that death and letting go is a part of life. Certainly, however, her faithful service to her country and devotion to her duty was exemplary in so many people's eyes.
I support what Senator Boylan said about the dangers of the hard right, but we do not talk enough about the dangers of the hard left. Both are threats to democracy in our country. I will be talking to the House about an initiative of my own next week to try to promote interest in democracy and our processes among young people. I would agree as well that we need to be very careful about social media. I think a Member of this House has been the subject of a false accusation about something she is alleged to have retweeted on social media. We need to protect ourselves and seek fairness in all our dealings.
I have one brief word of criticism for Senator Boylan. I hear now very often the Sinn Féin-----
I will finish with this. I refer to the use of the quotation "trans rights are human rights". I am sure I agree with that if I could be sure what it fully means. I hear it used almost with the same frequency that politicians fob in at Leinster House. I worry that we must not just seek political success through the use of slogans. We have to try to interrogate the issues carefully-----
I will just finish my last sentence to all sides. We need to interrogate the issues with care and compassion with a search for truth and seek to distinguish between the things that are inalienable human rights and those that are claims that may be contestable or that may be subject to debate. That is our role in here, not the constant repetition of phrases which cause more confusion than clarity.
I stand to support the campaign by NewsBrands Ireland with regard to its campaign about tax on journalism and the call to cut VAT to 0%. This is something that should be taken up in advance of the budget. Local newspapers from across the country were present today, and I welcome the editor of the The Connacht Tribune, Mr. Dave O'Connell, including The Connaught Telegraph, Galway City Tribune, Mayo News, Tuam Heraldand The Western Peoplewhich, to name a few local newspapers, carry out very important and impartial work with regard to reporting news and allowing all of us across the political spectrum to provide our views and concerns on a weekly basis. That is very important.
There has been much discussion at various times regarding VAT rates and there have been campaigns at various stages to reduce the VAT on a number of different products, whether it be contraceptives or lifesaving equipment. I have seen campaigns that are all very worthy. The understanding I always had is that we are allowed two VAT rates plus the standard rate of 23%. I understand from speaking today, and from the contributions today in the audiovisual room, that other European countries have 0% VAT on newspapers.We should seek clarification from the Minister as to whether it is now possible to have a zero VAT rate on certain products, including newspapers. It would do so much in saving jobs and immediately enhance the viability of our local and national newspapers. It would provide the sector with the financial leverage to continue its investment as it transitions to digital. They do not have their heads in the sand over the reality of how things are moving to digital, but they need support to allow that transition to take place.
Yesterday there was a protest by those affected by cystic fibrosis. I have no doubt that other Members mentioned it yesterday. A number of people's lives and health outcomes are impacted by the failure of the HSE and the pharmaceutical company to find a resolution in the row on the Kaftrio medication. That is one instance.
In another instance, a product called Ozempic is used for people with type 2 diabetes. It is a weekly injection. Another similar product requires a daily injection. It has also been proven to assist where people have obesity. Over the summer some parents whose children have intellectual disabilities met me and pointed out that it is very helpful in moderating where there are appetite issues. In cases of Prader-Willi syndrome, moderating and self-regulation on appetite are important given all the attendant effects that flow from obesity. However, the HSE mechanisms only allow that to be acquired on a medical card or on the long-term illness scheme in cases of type 2 diabetes. This has been proven worldwide to provide support. However, the parent of a child with an intellectual disability who needs this product will need to pay up to €300 a month for treatment with this drug. That is not okay.
I call for a debate on the regulation of drugs and how drugs are approved to qualify under the long-term illness scheme or to be covered by a medical card. What is that mechanism? Who makes those decisions? Where is the transparency and accountability for that? Real people's lives and medical outcomes are being affected by procedural and administrative issues when we need to get underneath that. A debate in the House will give us the opportunity to hear how prevalent this is and how inhibiting it is to people's lives and health outcomes.
I raise the issue of the Croí Cónaithe town and village scheme. Prior to the summer recess, I joined the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, at the launch of that scheme. It is an excellent scheme which provides up to €50,000 to bring a derelict or vacant property back into productive use for first-time buyers, essentially in lieu of the help-to-buy scheme which provides a grant of up to €30,000 for new-build homes. However, it does not apply in city areas nor does it apply to one-off rural houses outside a village settlement of about 400 in population. I believe we are missing an opportunity by not widening the scope of the scheme.
The target is to reach 2,000 units before the end of 2025 and a review will be ongoing throughout the scheme. There is enormous demand for this scheme, but we are missing an entire cohort of vacant rural homes that could be tapped into for young people to purchase a home, get the grant of €30,000 or €50,000, combine it with an SEAI energy grant and get themselves on the property ladder while also supporting population increase in rural areas. I think we are missing a trick with it. I will continue to push for that and also for its expansion into the cities. In my county of Waterford we have seen what the repair and lease scheme has done in bringing vacant units back into productive use for social housing purposes. We also need to focus on bringing those vacant and derelict properties back into use for young people to live in and own those properties.
I have just come from a briefing in the audiovisual room given by local journalists speaking about journalism in general. They have started a campaign to end the payment of VAT on print and digital newspapers, which I support. We all know they are going through a very difficult time at the moment and need as much support as possible. They are looking for a zero VAT rate to support the good work they do. Today I met Garry Cotter from The Nenagh Guardian. It is possible to see the work they do and the number of people who support that. I am from Clonmel where we have The Nationalist. Its editor, Darren Hassett, along with Eamon Lacey and all the staff are trusted by the public in the articles they write. The newspaper has been there for years and we need to ensure it continues.
While it still has its printed edition, in recent years it has moved into digital. TipperaryLiveis a very popular digital news outlet for people looking for information in Tipperary. The Tipperary Starand TheNationalistdo that together. We need to support them. It is recognised that the work they do is extremely important. Everyone accepts that media are changing, but the local media in places like south Tipperary are really important. They allow people to get information out for small villages and towns. People still go to the local media to get the publicity to promote the Tidy Towns competition, a local event or something for which people want to create a bit of atmosphere. The local media do that job. We need to ensure they are preserved for the years ahead.
A zero VAT rate applies in the UK, Belgium and many other countries. There is no reason we cannot do it and I call on the Government to consider it seriously.
I do not wish to repeat what Senator Ahearn and others have said, but I believe the campaign for a zero VAT rate is worthy of our support.
I support Senator Seery Kearney's call for a debate on the bureaucracy leading to delays in getting vital drugs recognised and into the system in the country.
Before the recess, I raised the issue of Shannon Heritage, which is currently part of the Shannon Group. It has been agreed that Clare County Council would take over the Shannon Heritage properties because Clare County Council knows how to promote County Clare. It has the experience of running the most successful tourist attraction on the west coast of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher Experience, along with Knappogue Castle, Bunratty Castle and other facilities in Clare. They would fit well under that structure.
The problem is that the facilities have had no investment over the years and have been let run down. The Exchequer needs to invest €4 million or €5 million to bring the facilities to a sustainable position so that they will not be a cost burden on the ratepayers of County Clare or Clare County Council. They need to be handed over cost neutral. Unfortunately, one Department is kicking the ball to another Department and ultimately it is falling between all the stools. I ask the Leader to write to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage requesting that this issue be dealt with quickly so that the sites can transfer to Clare County Council in time to put a marketing plan in place for 2023.
Tourism is the most important industry in Clare.We have capacity in Clare to have a lot more tourism in the county than is currently the case. These sites are vital to the tourism offering of the county for the people who come and visit. We need certainty and more importantly, the staff who are working in Shannon Heritage, doing a fantastic job under difficult circumstances, need certainty as well.
I welcome the Leader back to the House. I want to reflect on the Ceann Comhairle's event on Monday last on an inclusive Parliament. I was proud to serve on the family friendly forum for an inclusive Parliament and want to commend the Ceann Comhairle on organising the event. We really need to look at our own House as well. Seanad reform is directly linked to a greater gender balance in this House. There are 43 Members elected through panels and nominating bodies, where they have more than one nomination, should nominate with gender balance in mind. We could look at more radical reform, including looking at the internal and external panels to address the issue of gender balance. Obviously, nine of the current 11 Taoiseach's nominees are women but that should not be left to the whim of the Taoiseach. It should be standard that we address diversity and gender balance with the Taoiseach's nominees. Again, I call on the Government to get on board with Seanad reform.
At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Gender Equality this morning, we discussed the fact that incentives need to be put in place so that quotas can be introduced at local government level. Serious work needs to be done to achieve a greater gender balance on local councils.
In conclusion, comments were made earlier today about the Tavistock clinic that Irish families with trans and gender diverse children have attended. It is not the service itself that was deemed unsafe by the independent review undertaken by Dr. Cass. The problem was that the queues were too long. The waiting times and the delays of up to three years were considered excessive. Two new regional centres are being created but I want healthcare to be provided for young people and their families at home. It is atrocious that we continue to send people abroad for services that we cannot provide here in Ireland.
I thank colleagues for their contributions. Senator Warfield is right that the value of Monday's symposium should not be lost on anybody. While the Seanad does reflect a little bit more of what we would like to see, it probably does not go far enough. The Senator was not present yesterday when Senator Conway made a request to have three separate debates on the three topics addressed on Monday and I will try to arrange that over the coming weeks. I would like to let Senator Warfield know that Seanad reform aims of the current Cathaoirleach have been raised at every single Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight meeting that we have had. To be fair, in the autumn of his tenure, the Cathaoirleach has done a significant amount -----
-----that did not require legislative change. As the Senator will be aware, any of the substantive change we would like to see requires legislation. That said, we will keep plugging away and I urge him to also keep plugging away and raising the matter.
The Senator also referred to Tavistock and gave a far more honest account of the report on that clinic but if Senator Keoghan has concerns, I urge her to write to the CEOs of the HSE and Crumlin children's hospital. The biggest shame that has been highlighted by the Tavistock report is that we do not have these services available in Ireland for our own children. We should not be sending anybody who is in such a stressful situation in their own lives to the United Kingdom to get medical care. We should look after them right here.
Senator Conway asked me to write to Ministers regarding the transfer of the heritage buildings in Shannon to Clare County Council. I will write to the three relevant Ministers today on his behalf. The Senator, along with Senators Ahearn and Kyne, also raised the briefing this morning by local media who are calling for 0% VAT rate to be applied to local newspapers. As politicians we all know, as do the people who buy local newspapers for court reports, local sports news and so on, the value of local journalism. Their value is not lost on anybody. Local newspapers have a significant readership of 1.3 million and when one considers the fact that we have a population of only 5 million, most of whom live in our cities, that is a significant number. What was not highlighted this morning is the fact that the cost of paper has risen by approximately 150% recently, yet the cost of newspapers has not increased at the same rate. The very least we should do to support local journalism, if we really feel the way we say we feel about it, is to ensure it remains viable. To that end, on Senator Kyne's suggestion, I will write to the Minister for Finance and ask if it is even possible to have a 0% VAT rate on something like a newspaper. That will further fuel our activism in that area.
Senator Cummins sought an expansion of the Croí Cónaithe scheme. I suggest he writes to the Ministers for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and Finance, to request same. Senator Seery Kearney, supported by Senator Conway, sought a debate on how drugs get onto the illness benefit scheme or medical card scheme lists. I will inquire as to the current position so that we can all be clear on it and then I will organise a debate so that we can ask for changes to be made if we are not happy about it.
Senator Maria Byrne raised several issues. She welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage of €2 million in funding for 25 homes in Castletroy, which will be very welcome in Limerick. I hope they are built quickly. She also advocated different routes to professional education and spoke about a young lady she knows called Mairéad who is in her third year of a level 7 degree programme. In the past number of years we have changed people's mind sets but we still have a way to go. Going to Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University or the South East Technological University in Waterford is not the only route to getting a professional education and qualification in this country. Congratulations and continued success to Mairéad.
Senator Dooley asked for a debate on the control of dogs with the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and Justice. He highlighted illegal hunting in County Clare and I will try to organise such a debate at the earliest opportunity. Senator Mullen spoke about the sad passing of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom. Senator Sherlock very much welcomed the ERO for early childcare workers but highlighted the unacceptable delay in its implementation. I am sure that all 60,000 workers and their families also find that delay unacceptable. It is a result of an injunction dating from the end of August. I am not sure what is causing the delay but I will find out for the Senator and if there is anything I can do to help, I will do it today.
Senator Boylan spoke about the far right and the really awful incident that happened outside Leinster House yesterday but this is not just about the far right. Any incident like that, involving violence by anybody against anybody else, whether in public life or not, is not acceptable. That incident highlights a growing concern around some people's views, which I do not find acceptable and which would not be acceptable to the mainstream. We certainly should not intimidate or abuse each other in any way, shape or form. The Senator also spoke about youth emigration issues, as she and her party see them, but I certainly do not agree. We have far more people, including our youth, returning to Ireland than we ever had. Indeed, the population increased by 84,000 people last year. It is hard to understand the Senator's sentiments when so many people want to come back and live in Ireland. That is not to negate the fact that we do have obvious concerns and issues; I accept that and she highlighted some of them.
Senator Keoghan spoke about Tavistock and her concerns. As I said earlier, I suggest she send a letter to the CEOs of the HSE and of Crumlin hospital. Senator Martin spoke with real dignity about the passing of Her Majesty, the Queen of England and I thank him for that. Senator O'Loughlin spoke about the cost-of-living crisis and about the leadership that has been shown by the Taoiseach, which she expects to continue in the next number of weeks. She asked for a debate on therapists and the delays with CORU registration, which is preventing psychotherapists taking up posts in the HSE. She drew our attention to the fact that September is World Alzheimer's Month and that 30 people are diagnosed with the disease every day. Families up and down the country are really impacted by this and are worthy of increased support in the forthcoming budget.
I ask the Cathaoirleach to indulge me as I congratulate a County Galway family I know. The Connolly family from Tuam are the recipients of the overall prize in the National Dairy Council and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards for 2022. More power to them and continued success.