Thursday, 10 November 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Before we begin the Order of Business proper, it is my great pleasure to welcome a group from Tara Hill National School, which is located just outside Gorey in the very beautiful county of Wexford. It is a very beautiful area. The students and teachers are very welcome. As a former teacher myself, I appreciate what teachers do.
I welcome the group to the Gallery and it is lovely to see smiling faces. The Order of Business is No.1, motion regarding the Planning and Development (Exempted Development) (No. 4) Regulations 2022, referral to committee, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and it is very nice to be back here in Seanad Éireann.
I think sometimes we forget how privileged we are to live in this wonderful country of Ireland, which is liberal, tolerant, decent and respect the rights of people. It is a real privilege to be here. I look at reports, for example, about the ignorant American priest who came over here to County Kerry and gave out all sorts about gay people and so on. It is a load of rubbish. I mean the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ himself, never once mentioned it so it was not a big problem for him. In fact, Christopher Marlowe, the great playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare, suggested the possibility that Jesus might have been gay himself. I do not think that he was. I think that he was not particularly sexual in any particular way. Next we have Qatar, where the so-called ambassador for FIFA denounced homosexuality in very bitter terms before, to my great delight, being quenched by an official from FIFA. It was lovely to see the kind of candle coming down and putting out his light. That is all I came in to say. I wanted to stand up as usual, in my feeble sort of way, for gay rights. I thank Seanad Éireann for recognising these things. Of course, in Ireland we have several very prominent people in Irish politics, including the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, who is openly gay. That is a very remarkable thing, and a tribute to the decency of Ireland and its people.
I thank Senator Norris. It is great to have him with us and to see him in such good form. I feel grateful to hear his very important sentiments again that are at the core of what we believe in here in Seanad Éireann and what we strive to achieve. I am sure that the Senator will be happy to know and, indeed, his influence is at work, that over recent days those themes have been touched on by a number of Senators.
It is always an honour to share the Chamber with Senator Norris.
I want to start by supporting the Order of Business as outlined. I also welcome the more than €400 million funding announced for the new Athy food drinks and skills innovation hub, which will located in the old model school in Athy. It will be a start-of-the-art hub in which to base food and innovation collaborations. The hub will house food production units for food entrepreneurs, and provide culinary and hospitality programmes. The initiative will prove very significant for County Kildare and the wider region. The announcement is really good news.
I wish to follow on from what has been said by Senator Norris. I welcome the important announcement by the Government that it has launched a public consultation on a scheme to disregard historic convictions of gay and bisexual men. The survey will run until 9 December. I encourage any of the people impacted, their families, their loved ones and the wider LGBT community to engage with the consultation in order that we can be mindful of their unique perspectives as we move forward. The scheme is really important in terms of disregarding convictions for consensual sexual activity between men prior to decriminalisation in 1993. As it is obviously very wrong that these archaic convictions can still impact negatively on people's lives, it is important that our voices are heard concerning this matter.
I want to mention the judgment that came out yesterday concerning the young girl with Down's syndrome who was left outside of her classroom for long periods. Basically, she only spent 40 minutes in her classroom and her special needs assistant, SNA, effectively became her teacher. It is a very sad situation. I admire her parents for having the courage to take the case. It is an important case because it shows there are still issues with ensuring there is proper inclusion within schools. We must be mindful of how we support schools and teachers when they cater for children with additional needs and special needs. There was no mention of the special educational needs organiser, SENO, in terms of this matter. It is important to be able to say to teachers and schools in situations like this that they must seek help and support. It is not a sign of weakness to look for extra support. It is a sign of weakness not to say that a child or school needs support. Obviously it was a very upsetting situation for the young girl and her sister, who attends the same school. It is important that we take note of this case and ensure that such a situation never happens again.
Finally, I propose that No. 15 be taken before No. 1.
I previously requested a debate on issues surrounding health and, in particular, matters of the capital programme for health. We had a very positive meeting yesterday evening with Galway Oireachtas Members, across all parties, and the clinical team within the Saolta hospital group on plans and their wishes for the Galway region regarding capital healthcare.
There has been much debate over a long number of years on the best options for Galway. There is somewhat of a turf war going on between a Galway University Hospital ground site and Merlin Park. Indeed, an options appraisal was published a number of years ago to arrive at the best plan and at that stage it was recommended a new hospital would be build at Merlin Park. In 2021, in light of Covid-19 and the size of the investment required according to the Saolta University Health Care Group for a full new acute hospital at Merlin Park, and the fact that some progress had been made in developing a new combined emergency department, children's and women's building at University Hospital Galway, KPMG was requested to revisit the feasibility of this preferred option. The outcome was a new preferred option which was to develop a model 4 hospital on the grounds of the University Hospital Galway - which I have advocated for a long number of years - with an elective hospital at the Merlin Park site.
We had a very positive meeting yesterday evening and for the first time now there is a clear vision of what the Saolta University Health Care Group actually wants in Galway. It is something all politicians of all parties need to get behind, put their shoulders to the wheel and deliver these extremely important projects.
There are four main projects which the Saolta University Health Care Group wants and needs and that the region deserves. These are: the emergency department, women's and children's block for which the strategic assessment report has been submitted and the preliminary business case will now be progressed; the replacement laboratory building whose initial facilities date back to the 1950s; a cancer centre and new ward block, including a 222 additional inpatient beds required for Galway; and finally, the elective hospital in Merlin Park and day-procedures taking place there.
All these are very important projects costing over €100 million and, therefore, have to go through the public spending code under the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We need to get an all-party purpose and yesterday's meeting showed that there is now a clear vision, for the first time in decades in Galway, as to what is needed. I look forward to the possibility of a debate with the Minister regarding capital plans for Galway and across the country. There will be sufficient interest, whether in Limerick or elsewhere, regarding what needs to be done and progressed regarding healthcare in Galway.
I have spoken about the Defence Forces here on many occasions. It is becoming an international embarrassment now. Yesterday, the foreign affairs site foreignpolicy.compublished a statement to the effect that "Ireland is Europe's weakest link". The site outlined the current state of defence in this country and how defence has not featured. My colleague, Deputy Berry, and I frequently say Ireland does not do security.
This article brings into the public domain what has been said to me privately throughout Europe. Anywhere I travel, people ask me about the state of our security services and the undersea cables that come from the Unites States to Europe. Some 95% of all data travelling between these two continents, travels through Irish waters and we do not have a clue what is going on down there. There are Russian so-called scientific vessels sitting over cables and Russian fleets sailing in and out. It really is an international disgrace that we find ourselves in this situation. Nobody is listening to the representative bodies: the Army Ranger Wing is waiting for years for back-payment and a lieutenant instructor now earns less than a corporal who he overseas. That is just all wrong. There is something wrong and we really have to look at it.
I have also invited a number of veterans to this House over the past few days. I cannot understand how it has happened that we issued a medal in 2016 to the Defence Forces. A soldier who left after 40 years of service on 31 December 2015 was not entitled to the medal while a soldier who joined on 1 January 2016 was entitled to it. There are soldiers who joined and left within a few weeks who are selling the medal they got on eBay and wherever else. What a bloody insult that is to those who gave their lives to the defence of this country. We really owe them an awful lot more.
I ask the Leader to use her good offices and to put it to the Minister of Defence that we should have honoured those who served and issued them the 2016 medal. They deserved it. They gave their lives for this country and it is the very least we could do. I cannot begin to explain the level of hurt that is there over that medal. The bottom line on it is that I feel for them.
It is no secret I am as deaf as a doorknob. It is a terrible disability to have. You have no idea what it is like to be in company. I was in company recently with my wife and we were talking to some members of the French foreign legion. My wife pulled me aside and asked me if I had any idea what they were saying. I told her I had and she replied and told me I was answering questions they did not ask. There is nothing worse than being in company and not being able to understand what is being said about you.
I want to talk very briefly-----
Chime, the National Charity for Deafness and Hearing Loss, is carrying out a survey on hearing loss and I ask people to participate in it. It affects us all.
I am glad I could not hear the Leas-Chathaoirleach ringing the bell there.
I raise two issues. I am sure many Members will have heard Flora Crowe, the supermarket owner from Sixmilebridge, County Clare, on the radio this morning. It really was startling to hear what she, and indeed so many other small businesses, are facing at the moment. She received an electricity bill for €20,000 and has made a very clear call on the Government to save rural towns and villages because they are facing bills they just cannot pay.
I understand there are restrictions under EU rules but I have a couple of requests. First, the temporary business energy support scheme needs to be implemented as soon as possible. The other point that was clear when listening to Ms Crowe this morning is that the 40% rebate on the difference between the old bill and the new bill will probably not be enough. I acknowledge there could well be restrictions in terms of the EU Commission in this regard but we need to have a debate about this and take a more holistic approach. These very small businesses are facing other cost items in terms of stock, fuel, insurance and so on and we need an holistic approach to understand how we can support them. If we were to lose businesses in our small villages and towns, the impact would be quite devastating. I call for a debate on this issue.
The second issue I raise relates to front-line workers who have not yet received the pandemic bonus payment. I credit the Labour Party Members who brought these workers into the House to meet us two days ago. These workers include contract cleaners, contract security staff and contract catering staff. These people operated at the cutting edge during the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, some of their colleagues died from Covid-19 as a result of working in hospitals. They were front-line workers at the worst of times and it beggars belief that they are still waiting for the payment of this bonus.
I know this issue has been raised by others. What I am hearing contains a concerning degree of ambiguity. We are being told these workers will be paid if they meet the eligibility criteria but none of us know what that means at this point. The fact that their HSE colleagues have, by and large, now received the bonus while these workers have not, is a cause of huge distress to them. Let me be clear. This is not about the money but about respect and valuing these people. When I met the workers the other day, I used that words that it is a national embarrassment that the Government has not yet paid these front-line workers. We were so proud to applaud these workers during the dark days of Covid-19 yet here they are, still waiting for the recognition for the work they did. I call for an urgent debate on this matter as well so that we can stand four-square behind these workers. Will the Leader consider writing to the Minister of Health to get clarity on what is happening here and to find out when they will be paid? The closer we get to Christmas, the more unacceptable it is. I hope this is an occasion where all Members of the Seanad will unite to support these front-line workers - the contract cleaners, the catering staff and the security staff - to ensure they get the bonuses which, by God, we all know they have earned.
I support Senator Gavan in his call. I also attended that meeting the other day and it is very important that we ask the Minister to clarify the position because so many people are dependent, as we were dependent on them, during the darkest hours.
I welcome some good news from my own home town of Athy. Since I first put on some motions many years ago to Kildare County Council following the damage to the former model school, the refurbishment of that particular school in our town into a training and innovation hub has been a priority for me and indeed for my colleagues, councillors Breslin and Leigh. The departure of Coca-Cola in 2018 was a blow to us all in the town of Athy but the company’s gesture of a legacy fund of €500,000 gave the project much impetus with Kildare County Council. It is very important to acknowledge today the work of Jacqui McNabb, head of the Kildare local enterprise office and her entire team.
I have worked closely with Ms McNabb on this project over many years and there were some great highs, including, obviously, the announcement this morning, but there were some lows as well and she has been steadfast in her determination to ensure that this project got off the ground and came to fruition. I am told and it is estimated that the project will create 75 jobs over three years, but, most importantly, it will train over 150 young people and will give them an accredited qualification and assistance in finding jobs. It is estimated the project will assist up to 60 new and emerging food businesses over its initial three-year period. The food and drinks hubs and skills innovation hub will complement the tradition of the town of Athy, with its links already to the production of malt, mainly for Guinness, over many years. This will not just support innovation in my home town but throughout the entire county of Kildare, as has already been said. I welcome the announcement this morning of almost €4.3 million for the town of Athy.
The other issue I wish to raise with the Leader this morning is the lack of GP places in south Kildare. It is something on which I am sure my colleagues from Kildare are contacted on a regular basis. I have been contacted by a number of people over the past number of weeks and over the past week I have been contacted by a couple who have recently moved to the town of Monasterevin and whose former doctor in Lucan had recently retired. Consequently, they are now without a doctor.
I have been given permission to read these couple of lines in to the record of the House today:
I am only recently out of hospital in Naas following cellulitis in my right leg. I ended up having to contact K-Doc and pay €100 for a consultation and then referral to Naas Hospital and had to be admitted for a number of days. My consultant stressed to me had I not gone to K-Doc and tried to wait for any local doctor to ring me back I would have been in a more dangerous situation with the cellulitis.
I am fearful that if anything further were to happen to either myself or my wife we would be unable to get seen by a Doctor. [I have tried every town in south Kildare but nobody is available.]
Now that [I am without a] Doctor I will be unable to get a prescription renewed once my current one runs out next month .
This particular letter is representative of letters, emails and phone calls I have been receiving over the past number of weeks and months, particularly with the newest population coming to south Kildare. I seek a debate with the Minister on this issue as it is a serious problem in that entire area.
I wish to raise a powerful briefing I attended yesterday by Comhar na nOileán CTR, which was facilitated by Deputies Connolly and Ó Cuív. The group came in to speak about a campaign that is being run by the islands of Ireland for the past 38 years. They want the islands to be recognised as a specific sub-regional area. The briefing actually blew me away and I believe that such recognition would allow for targeted and ring-fenced supports to facilitate the economic and community development necessary to ensure that these islands remain inhabited for generations to come.
I was on an island myself last week during the recess period, on a day trip, and it was beautiful but I heard that one of the islands, in particular, close by was down to a population of approximately 35 people, many of whom were over 60 years of age. It is somewhat scary as we do not want another Blasket Island situation where people have to leave the island.
The islanders are the custodians of some of Ireland’s most precious cultural and ecological wealth but their existence is definitely perilous. The depopulation vulnerability is very worrying, particularly around extreme weather.
The European Union is far ahead of Ireland in providing legal and economic frameworks for the support of island communities. Articles 174 and 349 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union outline the distinct geographical conditions of islands and permit the EU and its member states to enact special measures to counteract the structural handicaps that islands face. Ireland needs to look to examples from Europe and elsewhere to enact a more forward-thinking and just policy for its islands.
I have spoken many times here about my father coming from an island and I spent much of my youth on Rathlin Island. This island is one of the islands in the Six Counties. I had a wonderful upbringing going to Rathlin island but at one point, the population of that island dropped to just 70 people and the school faced closure because it had only four pupils. Thankfully, the Northern authorities stepped in and provided support and services, including the construction of some beautiful social housing on the island. This allowed many of the younger islanders who had departed to return home, which was very helpful. The island now has a population of 160 people, with 20 children in the school.
This kind of renewal and reinvigoration is possible for all Irish islands but we really need to work for it. I would love if the Leader could please facilitate a debate on this issue and if the Minister could come in to address this House on the progress that is being made in this area.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach. I also thank him for his very kind welcome to the students from Tara Hill national school. I also wish to formally second the proposal of my colleague, Senator O’Loughlin.
I agree with Senator Gavan on the pandemic payments. I have raised this issue with the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, who cannot figure out why these payments are not being made. The money was set aside for it and I must very much question the HSE inefficiency in this regard. This does not just involve the workers who Senator Gavan has talked about but I also wish to raise the case of those who are employed in section 38 and section 39 organisations, for whom money was also set aside. Again, there was an expectation where they equally put their lives at risk and yet there has been no progress on this.
In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, I know he is scratching his head as to why this has not been paid. This speaks to the need for a broader debate, not just around this specific payment but around the functioning of the HSE. We have all experienced difficulties where we do not know how the decision-making process operates within the organisation. It is not accountable and this has been one of the challenges facing successive Ministers for Health. There is a need for a broader debate on that question.
I also wish to raise – and I appreciate these are private hospitals - the decisions of some private hospitals not to make payments to some of their staff. I also appreciate the State cannot force private hospitals to make such payments but some of the staff working in private hospitals did the same work as those who were working in public hospitals. Nevertheless, these private hospitals have made the decision not to make a payment. It is important that we send out a very clear message that we feel, in solidarity with what happened, that those in the private sector should also take action in that regard.
I ask the Leader, as a matter of urgency, to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Justice on the future of An Garda Síochána and the need for us to support the members of the Garda. One can look at the figures revealed this week, where the number of gardaí retiring or leaving early is the highest in five years. One can also look at the number of people going into Templemore, which is just 90 out of a recruitment batch which is quite a deal smaller than was hoped for. One can then listen to the representative bodies, and in particular, to Brendan O'Connor of the Garda Representative Association, GRA, where he has stated, worryingly, that being a member of An Garda Síochána today is not an attractive career.
Regardless of what one's political ideology is and no matter where we come from, we have been well served by members of An Garda Síochána down through the years and it behoves us as a political class to put in place scaffolding and support to ensure that it is an attractive career in the first instance. Second, we must ensure that men and women will enter the force with pride and safe in the knowledge that they will have a good career. Third, we must ensure that that career will be well looked after in pay and conditions.That is something on which we need to have a debate as well with the Minister. I hope we will have a debate on the future of policing and the role of An Garda Síochána in communities, and that the Government will consider how it can incentivise and attract people to serve in what is a very important role in society.
I raise the issue of COP27. I am surprised no other Senator has raised it or spoken about it this week. Climate TRACE, a non-profit organisation, launched a report yesterday at COP27. The report lists a number of Ireland's largest polluters. Obviously, Dublin Airport is top of that list, but a number of places near where I live were also listed, such as the cement factories in Drogheda, Kinnegad and Ballyconnell in County Cavan. Shannon Airport was also mentioned, as were the cement plant in Limerick, Whitegate oil refinery and the Corrib gas field. Those businesses were all mentioned in the report in the context of emissions.
I do not know what we are doing wrong, but we are doing something wrong. There is no point in Micheál Martin going over there and making fancy speeches when he cannot come home and regulate and fine those companies that are creating emissions and causing pollution. In 2014, one of the first motions I put down on Meath County Council called for an Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, office in my region. It is badly needed. We want an EPA office with teeth. At the moment, there are five regional inspectorate offices but they do not have teeth. Who is sent out when a complaint is submitted? The county council. The county councils are inspecting the emissions and pollution that are taking place in their counties. If this happened in the UK, most of those companies would be fined millions of pounds. We need to be tougher on the companies that are causing the most pollution. I went onto the EPA website looking for its compliance and enforcement publications in respect of radiation. The most recent report was back in 2013-14. The EPA needs to be better resourced and have more teeth or what Micheál Martin said this week in Egypt holds little or no value.
We need to have a specific debate on public transport with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. There has been much focus this week on the unacceptable level of bus services in Dublin 15. There has been an acknowledgement of that but the issues keep arising. This is an ongoing real-time issue involving late buses, no-shows, buses that are full or buses that are grouped together. I get reports about the 40, 38, 38A, 39A and N4 bus routes in Dublin 15. The bus company said it would minimise the cancellations on low frequency services but that is not happening. For instance, the 270 bus route, which links Blanchardstown to Dunboyne, is essential for school links in the mornings. On occasions, the bus either does not show up or is full when it passes the stops, so kids are missing their link to school. The No. 70 bus route, which is also the connection to Littlepace, is disappearing. It is a peak-only service. It only runs hourly during the day. If a person misses that bus in the evening, how does he or she get home? We need to have a debate with the Minister on this issue.
I also want to mention Hansfield train station. When Hansfield was being built, it was brilliant because the train station was part of that strategic development zone and that is something we want to do in terms of balancing services and housing and building communities. Why then, when the population is increasing and, post Covid, the demand for the train is there, do we have to go through this rigamarole of getting Irish Rail to increase the services? Why do we have to shout about it? There are six trains in the morning up until 9.08 a.m., while the trains during the rest of the day only go as far as Clonsilla. I have been able to secure an additional service to Clonsilla but it needs to be extended to the city centre. We need to act on the demand that is there for trains and other public transport.
The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, is in Waterford this morning to announce rural regeneration development funding in Waterford and other places across the country. I almost feel like I need to apologise to my colleagues because, possibly unknown to the Minister, she has pretty much given all the money to Tipperary. We have received funding this morning of more than €30 million to go into three projects. We got all three projects for which we applied. There is €4.5 million going to Roscrea, €12 million to my home town of Cahir and €14.5 million to Carrick-on-Suir. A significant amount of work has been done by the council and its staff, as well as my colleagues, including former Deputy Noel Coonan and Peggy Ryan in Roscrea. I was working on the application for Cahir while my colleague, Mark Fitzgerald, worked on the application for Carrick-on-Suir.
I wish to touch on the project in Carrick-on-Suir in particular because it was a very difficult one to get over the line. Mark did a significant amount of work while he was mayor. He got the application completed and agreed to at a council meeting. There had to be two or three votes, with votes having to be done in person during Covid. Members of the opposition on the council, one of whom is now in the position of mayor, were against it. They voted against it, did not want it and seemed to want the money to go to someone else. If it was not for Mark's leadership, the project would not have got over the line, as the Leader well knows. He played a key role in making sure that application was there to be picked and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, delivered on that commitment that Carrick-on-Suir would be looked after. People in the town believe they sometimes get forgotten about because they are at the bottom edge of the county but this is the highest amount of funding any town in Tipperary has received since Fine Gael has been in government. Carrick-on-Suir is getting €14.5 million and I want to put on record the work and commitment Mark Fitzgerald put in as mayor to make sure Carrick-on-Suir gets looked after.
I highlight that Linda Ledger of St. Munchin's Community Centre on the north side of Limerick received an "Inspirational Hero" award at the Gala Retail and Virgin Media Inspiration Awards. Linda is involved in a remarkable amount of community work. She has an Ukrainian hub and provides meals on wheels. More than 300 people attend the community centre daily for lunch and events. The centres does all sorts of things, from hairdressing to flower arranging. What happens there is unbelievable. I compliment and congratulate Linda. We need many community leaders like Linda Ledger.
Regeneron, one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the country, is based in Limerick and believes in giving back to the community. Tomorrow, it will host its sixth give back to the community day. More than 1,000 of its staff are involved in different projects. They are going to 17 schools, with more than 1,000 students attending, to introduce students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, subjects. This is really important. All Senators realise the benefit of STEM and the emphasis that needs to be put on it. When I was on the education committee it was a matter we discussed at length. Some 2,500 kits are being prepared to be sent to children in hospitals across the country and also to Ukrainian children who are here. There are 365 of the company's staff involved in giving 1,300 hours to paint and transform two community centres.They are bringing in carpenters and staff with different skills to make things better for people in the communities. They are also working with non-profit organisations like the Irish Wheelchair Association to run projects like bingo. They are out on outdoor clean-ups in both Raheen and the city centre. I compliment all involved, from the CEO, Niall O'Leary, to all of the staff across Regeneron. It is wonderful to see a company of its standing giving back to the community.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and my colleagues for their contributions. It is lovely to see a large multinational being ethically responsible to their own communities; we all know we rely on them for jobs, investment and corporation tax, among others. The most impressive thing Senator Maria Byrne said this morning was about employees going out and working in the communities. That is wonderful. It is inspirational. I congratulate Regeneron, particularly their management and all of their staff for what they are doing for the Senator's neck of the woods.
Senator Byrne also said this morning that Linda Ledger is the most inspirational woman in Ireland and I can attest to that. I have seen the work she does and the impact she has on the Senator's community. The Senator is correct; if we had a Linda Ledger in every community in Ireland, we would be doing well. I congratulate her.
Senator Ahearn spoke about the millions of euro announced by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, this morning on behalf of the Government with regard to rural development. Sometimes the cynics around us talk about the fact that rural Ireland is lacking, yet when I go around the country, as I am sure most of us do, all I see are vibrant communities that are both working for themselves and being supported by the State. Today's announcement is no less. I tip my hat to the Senator on the €30 million for County Tipperary; his county did well today. I congratulate the teams involved in Roscrea and Cahir. I join the Senator in congratulating Mark Fitzgerald in particular. His tenacity on this project has astonished most of us. He was like a dog with a bone and was not letting go despite the opposition of people who will now take credit for the announcement this morning. I wish him particularly well and congratulate him on his success. I hope it continues. I congratulate all of the communities that got announcements this morning. It is well deserved and needed in most cases.
Senator Currie asked for a debate on public transport. We had the various actors in before the Oireachtas transport committee this week. The issues highlighted included a lack of drivers, which is having a knock-on effect of no buses or full buses, no-shows or late-shows. Perhaps colleagues heard testimony from a female driver who is giving up the job because it is just not safe and she does not feel safe any more due to the amount of intimidation from passengers. If one looks at the whole circle, I wonder why we have such resistance to transport police because it would make the job safer and therefore more attractive, meaning that we might get more drivers and fewer no-shows. We need a debate on it, so I will try to organise that as soon as I can.
Senator Keogan brought up COP27 and statements that have been made highlighting some of the inadequacies of states' responses, including our own. She has asked for a debate regarding the effectiveness of the EPA and whether it needs more teeth, to use her phrase. I will organise that as soon as I can.
Senator Buttimer requested a debate on the future of An Garda Síochána. It is an eerie fact that we have more members of the Garda not only qualifying for retirement but taking it earlier than they need to than we are recruiting at the moment. That tells me there is something wrong with the recruitment process. It cannot just be that it is not necessarily an attractive career, as has been said by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors. There has to be more to it and we need to dig deeper. The most funding ever has been allocated to An Garda Síochána, yet reports back have shown that we have the least visibility on our streets and in our towns and villages. That does not add up. We will try to get a debate with the Minister for Justice sooner rather than later.
Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke in support of Senator Gavan's query as to what the problem is regarding the remaining people who served us so well, and continue to do so, under enormous stress during Covid-19. It is bizarre. I know from his perspective he blames the Government and that is fine but given that the money has been allocated, there is a blockage in the middle to getting it into people's pockets. I do not understand what it is. I will write, as I have been asked today, to the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. We need somebody to come in to the Seanad to explain to us and, more importantly, to the people who were here yesterday why they are still waiting. We have all nearly put Covid-19 behind us and they are still waiting to be respected, as the Senator said. Senator Malcolm Byrne also said that he finds it frustrating that some of our private hospitals are not paying their nurses. I heard our former colleague Jim Daly on the radio last week; as he said, nurses are nurses regardless of where they work. If we accept that they went over and above what they would normally do, which is an enormous role in itself, then they should all be treated exactly the same. I will look into that further.
Senator Black spoke about seeking a sub-regional area for our islands based on presentations she heard yesterday. It is strange that the European Union is ahead of us in recognising the value of what the Senator saw on her trip last week. I will look for a debate and raise it with the Minister and come back to her.
Senator Wall spoke about front-line workers, as it was the Labour Party who brought them in this week. He welcomed the Athy training and innovation hub and the investment in his home town that has been a long time coming; it started when he was on the council there. I congratulate Athy. More seriously, he also spoke about the lack of GPs in County Kildare and is looking for a debate on that, which I will seek.
Senator Gavan spoke about front-line workers and the €1,000 pandemic bonus. The sinister thing the Senator said was about the eligibility criteria, which gives the impression that someone might not make the cut. That is not good enough. I will write and come back to him about that later today.
He also mentioned Flora Crowe. My colleague, Deputy Carey, brought that up at our parliamentary party meeting last night. The figure of €20,000 is off the clock; nobody can afford it. The Finance Bill will probably be the area where we debate this scheme. It will be with us, I hope, the week after next. It is a great scheme and it will make an impact. The 40% as suggested is a threshold we have to adhere to because of the European Union's new rules. What is not a rule is the date on which it starts. All of these businesses are suffering today and as for when we are going to start the scheme, I know we have an issue with retrospectivity in Ireland but we need to recognise that these people are in trouble now. I will bring that back and come back to the Senator with the date of the Finance Bill as soon as I can.
Senator Craughwell spoke about the Defence Forces and an article yesterday that raised some of the concerns he has been raising frequently over the last few months. He is looking for a debate. He is particularly aggrieved about a medal allocation, which I will take up with the Minister because what he said this morning does not seem to make sense.
Senator Kyne sought a debate on our capital programme spending in health. He highlighted what is, from their perspective, a very welcome cohesive plan for Saolta University Health Care Group and an investment of over €100 million in the provision of services in Galway. I wish we could have it in every region, if it was that easy. He is looking for a debate on the capital programme, which I will organise.
Senator O'Loughlin spoke about the €4 million funding in Athy. What is wonderful about it is that there are food entrepreneurs and hospitality involved. Some 150 young people locally will get the opportunity to train and work locally with experts. I wish them all well.
The disregard for historic convictions was not something I was aware of and it is something we should be screaming from the rooftops about. Our opening speaker, Senator Norris spoke today, as he has done for many years, about equality and rights for our gay community. He highlighted the provocative sermon recently by Fr. Sheehy, but also more importantly the restrictions around freedom of movement in Qatar in what should be one of the most celebrated sports events internationally, but which has restrictions on it immediately, even before a whistle is blown. The two things are directly related. It is wonderful to see Senator Norris here today still advocating for his community. We should all be advocating for this community because it is our community. It is our brothers, friends, sisters, cousins; it is everybody, it is us. If we stand by and allow any form of discrimination or even provocation, as was put upon us by Fr. Sheehy, it is not acceptable and is not tolerable. We need to call it out and say that it is not acceptable. I will do my best to highlight the survey. If we can all do the same and encourage everybody to make submissions, it will have a fruitful outcome. I wish Senator Norris continued good health. It is lovely to see him here today.
Senator O'Loughlin has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 15 be taken before No. 1". The seconder is Senator Malcolm Byrne. The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.