Tuesday, 15 November 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I wish to put on the record of the House my feelings at the passing of Vicky Phelan. Over the past number of years we have seen a woman of courage and determination. Her strength and dignity through her illness and her fight for the rest of the women of this country has been something to behold. Through her tireless efforts she has ensured that the women of Ireland who were involved in the 221 scandal but indeed every woman going forward will be protected. I wish to extend our deepest sympathies to her husband, her children and her family.
The Order of Business is Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the Order Paper. No. 1, motion regarding the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulation 2022 referral to committee, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, statements on forestry, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude at 6.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and their time can be shared, and the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2022 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 8.30 p.m. if not previously been concluded.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group I also wish to be associated with the acknowledgement of the great life of Vicky Phelan. I am cognisant of the fact that it was Vicky's wish that on her death she would not receive tributes from politicians but that we would instead take actions. I hope that we can continue to take the necessary actions to right the wrongs that caused Vicky to come to notoriety initially. Other than her own campaign for and with the cervical cancer issue she was an inspiration to people in general, irrespective of what their personal problems may have been at any time. We saw somebody who was terminally ill dealing with a cause in such a manner always with a smile on her face and always so respectful. She could have had so much grievance with the system yet tried to reach solutions amicably. Her rejection of the confidentiality clause in her court case was a statement that she could come out and advocate for what she felt so strongly about. I wish to take this opportunity on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group to extend our sincerest and deepest sympathies to her husband, Jim, and her children Amelia and Darragh.
I would also like to include sympathies to the family of Dr. Éamon Phoenix, the historian who has passed away.He was a very valued member of the Government's expert advisory group on the centenary commemorations and played a major role in that. We are also sorry to hear today of his passing. I again extend our sympathies to his wife, Alice, and daughter, Mary-Alice.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which recently produced what I call, and I know self-praise is no praise, a very good report on the issues impacting on dog welfare in Ireland. This report has been previously mentioned in the House by Senator Boylan, who is also a member of that committee. Indeed, I am the first to admit that Senator Boylan championed much of the work we did for that report. I plead with the Leader to try, if she can, to get that report onto the agenda for discussion in this House as soon as possible.
I, too, echo the words of our Leader and Senator Daly on the passing of Vicky Phelan. As Fine Gael spokesperson on health, and having the privilege to be a member of the Joint Committee on Health, I am even more cognisant of the impact that Vicky's campaigning, and the terrible tragedy that happened to her, had in terms of positive change. That positive change certainly has a long way to go. The best way we can pay tribute to Vicky Phelan's legacy is to get the disclosures legislation over the line. I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has announced that this will happen before the Christmas recess. That is very welcome, even though it is late. It should have happened before now but the fact it will now happen is the best way we can pay tribute to Vicky Phelan.
We could also pay tribute to her through the setting up of an Oireachtas committee on dying with dignity, an issue that she campaigned for and had a great interest in. We have looked at setting up citizens' assemblies on matters such as biodiversity. While these matters are important, health and dying with dignity are far more important. I cannot for the life of me understand why we would delay setting up a committee to engage in this issue, hear all sides and come back with recommendations on what should happen. These are the tangible ways that the Oireachtas, the Seanad and society can pay tribute to Vicky's legacy and the tremendous work she did. I take great solace from the fact that she spent much of her quiet time in County Clare, on Doughmore beach in Doonbeg, and that she got great peace from Doughmore and west Clare. West Clare will always have a connection with Vicky Phelan because she spent so much quality time there.
I propose that we observe a minute's silence for Vicky Phelan, perhaps tomorrow, and that we notify all Members of it in order that as many people as possible who would like to be here for it would be in a position to attend. Perhaps a good time to do it would be at the conclusion of the Order of Business tomorrow.
Déanaim comhbhrón le muintir Vicky Phelan freisin agus le muintir an Dr. Éamon Phoenix – go ndéana Dia trócaire orthu. Rinne an Dr. Phoenix sár-obair mar a luaite.
In response to what my friend, Senator Conway, had to say, I will point out that everybody dies with dignity. The question always is whether people's dignity is respected. Nothing disrespects people's dignity like making them feel as if they are a burden in life. That is one of the single biggest fears people have about euthanasia, assisted suicide, assisted dying or whatever people care to call it. We should move very carefully in that area and not just rush to have another citizens' assembly discussion that seems, whenever these happen, to be designed to bring about a preordained or pre-desired change. The matter I want to raise today is a similar human dignity issue. It was reported last Saturday that the Government plans to make telemedicine abortion, so-called, or telephone-based appointments for abortion, a permanent feature of Ireland's abortion policy. I think this is misguided and that it will have negative consequences. The HSE confirmed in October last year that no report or analysis into the operation of so-called telemedicine or remote consultations had been carried out in Ireland since the policy was introduced in early 2020 in the context of Covid. We were told by the Secretary General of the Department of Health in March 2021 that telemedicine would lapse when the pandemic was over. In 2018, the then Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, said in the context of the abortion legislation that there would absolutely not be abortions by telemedicine in this country. Yet here we are, despite the fact we know from England that over 10,000 women there had to receive hospital treatment following the use of at-home medical abortion pills between April 2020 and September 2021. England has also seen a dramatic spike in the number of ambulance call-outs dealing with the adverse effects of the self-administration of abortion pills.
We also have the safeguarding issues associated with the removal of the need for in-person consultations. When we substitute that for a telephone call, we remove the privacy afforded by a GP’s surgery. There is no way for a doctor to verify that a woman requesting an abortion is actually alone and that she is not being pressured by a partner or third party. We had an alarming report in October describing how an underage girl in this country was locked in a room and forced to ingest abortion pills. This is highly disturbing. It would be terrible to think that the Minister and the Department of Health would be enablers of such abuse by their overly lax attitude to telephone appointments for abortion.
There needs to be a serious discussion about this. I call on the Minister for Health not to recklessly make telemedicine abortion permanent but to immediately instigate a comprehensive investigation into the operation and impact of such abortion appointments in Ireland to date. The very least we could do in this House is to have a serious discussion about something so potentially far-reaching.
I too extend the sympathies of my Green Party colleagues to the friends and family of Vicky Phelan. She was a once-in-a-generation advocate for change. May she rest in peace.
Here in Ireland, the vast majority of homes and buildings are made from concrete and steel. We have yet to embrace timber construction in the way many of our near neighbours and European partners have. This is a huge opportunity for us. Last week at COP27, Climate TRACE, a global not-for-profit organisation, released a huge bank of data listing the top known sources of greenhouse gas emitters across the globe. The data for Ireland made for some eye-watering headlines and reinforce the urgent need for us to rethink every aspect of our lives in order to reduce emissions. On the top-ten list of known emitters in Ireland, there was one road network, one oil refinery, one gas field, three airports and - something a lot of people may not be aware of - four cement plants. Many of us do not normally think of cement when we think of greenhouse gas emissions. We tend to think more of cars and planes, energy production and agriculture, but there is an entire industry in the built environment that we do not tend to think about in the same way as other industries in the climate change battle.
If we are serious about climate action, we need to look at our built environment and remove whatever barriers exist to using timber in construction where and when we can. Timber may never be a total replacement for cement but, in many cases, it can be the sustainable alternative. Some simple statistics speak for themselves. Producing 1 tonne of cement releases 0.6 of a tonne of CO2 and producing 1 tonne of steel releases 1.85 tonnes of CO2, whereas producing 1 tonne of wood actually absorbs about 0.75 tonnes of CO2.
Using timber in construction is not unproven territory. There are many countries leading the change across Europe, not only in building homes and commercial buildings with timber, but in using it to construct ground-breaking tall buildings, once thought impossible to build with anything but steel and cement. In Scotland, for example, home building is now dominated by timber construction, with about 80% of homes being timber frame.In Ireland, the figure is closer to 20%. As the House knows, we are big producers of timber and at present export over 70% of it. We have seen some innovative use of timber in Ireland, most notably in Avondale in County Wicklow, where Coillte has used Irish timber almost exclusively in the construction of its pavilion and treetop walk.
We now need to move beyond innovation and into the mainstream. It can and must be done, and we must now all work together to rapidly increase the use of timber across the construction sector. Through the education of our architects, engineers and planners, the skills of our construction workers, planning laws and our own attitude in government, we must encourage and assist those who want to build with timber to do so by offering assistance across all levels of the building process. We have to do more work with the general public. We must convince them that timber homes are as warm, if not more so, and as solid and safe as those constructed with cement. We have to do all we can in the coming months and years to reduce the emissions profile of our built environment. Timber can help us do just that.
Like others, I want to begin by expressing sympathy on behalf of our party on the passing of Vicky. Even though we knew she was very ill, it was still shocking to hear that she had passed away. Vicky Phelan was a graduate of UL and had particularly close links to Limerick. She was a past staff member of the university and of course was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2018 in recognition of her courage and incredible leadership on all the issues she faced. I agree with Senator Paul Daly. Rather than words, the best tribute we can pay is the actions she wanted to see regarding all of the issues she raised. May she rest in peace.
I met a group of security workers at a SIPTU meeting at the weekend. We have 16,000 security workers throughout the State. I could not begin to describe the level of anger expressed by workers who continue to wait for a pay rise. An employment regulation order, ERO, due to come into being at the end of August was challenged by just three employers. An injunction was raised. These workers are now on €11.65 per hour. They are front-line workers who kept many of our factories and hospitals open during the darkest days of Covid, yet they are only earning €11.65 an hour. A new ERO would have lifted their pay to €12.50 initially and then up to €12.90 in February. Quite frankly, that is not enough, but it would have been of some significance.
The difficulties I have, which the workers asked me to express here today, is that while we understand an injunction was raised we also know the Minister has it within his remit to challenge the injunction. It is a matter of more than regret that three months later no such challenge has taken place. It looks as if the Minister is content to let the challenge meander. It is Groundhog Day for the workers because they have been in this situation before. It may well go on for the best part of another year.
Frankly, it is simply not good enough for the Minister to allow the workers to twist in the wind. They are low-paid workers and work in an industry that has seen significant cutbacks over the past number of years, often with consequences for themselves. The ERO would also ensure the right to sick pay, payment while injured on the job and some improvements to the basic rate pay, yet once again the workers have been left behind. They were very clear to me that they will go on strike if some action is not undertaken. The consequences of that for our hospitals, key factories and other sectors across the State will be massive.
I cannot understand the lack of action by the Minister of State, Deputy English, in regard to this issue. He can and should challenge the injunction. He should work collectively to defend the ERO system. We have seen a new, and very welcome, ERO for childcare workers. Where is the Government when it comes to defending this ERO and standing up for our security workers? I am at a loss as to why this has not happened. I ask for an urgent debate and the support of the Leader on this matter.
I thank the Leader for outlining the Order of Business, which we will support today. As others in the House have done, I want to start by paying tribute to Vicky Phelan.My former party leader, Deputy Alan Kelly, worked very closely with Vicky on the CervicalCheck tribunal. Because of her refusal to sign a non-disclosure agreement, she took a stand and shone a light on behalf of other women. It was not enough for her to be vindicated herself; she wanted other women to have that vindication and to be informed where their slides had been misread or they had been misdiagnosed. The women of Ireland and, in particular, screening programmes in Ireland will owe her a debt of gratitude for decades to come because of her simple refusal to stay silent or to sign that non-disclosure agreement.
This morning I attended the launch of the Raise the Roof campaign, which is calling for a national rally on housing on 26 November in Dublin. Among the issues highlighted at the press conference today were access to social housing and people in the insecure private rented sector. I have raised this many times on the floor of the House. There are two key things the Government could be doing that it has not done. Since 2011 we have not reviewed the income thresholds for social housing, with the exception of five counties that secured special dispensations in September. Since 2017 we have not reviewed HAP, even though we have allowed the discretionary limits for the scheme to change. That means that low-paid private renters in private high-rent housing such as Tathony House, in my constituency, where we are looking at 35 people being evicted from those apartments, are not able to access basic social housing or, more crucially, HAP for assistance in the private rented sector. I am calling today for a debate on the income limits for social housing. There is a report that has been sitting on the Minister's desk for over a year at this stage. We keep being told that something is being brought forward, but then we saw that tinkering around the edges with the five counties in September. We need a full and frank debate because people's wages have grown, yet the rate at which they can go on the social housing list and then access other supports has not grown or changed since 2011, during which time rents in the private rented sector have at least doubled.
I also wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the late Vicky Phelan and I thank her for her advocacy and campaigning zeal. I think we all agree that we should not lament her passing without ensuring that the action she fought for is fully implemented. May she rest in peace, and to her family we express our deepest sympathies. Senator Conway's suggestion of a motion of sympathy tomorrow is a good one and I hope the Leader will acquiesce to it.
I ask that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Fleming, come to the House to discuss the issue of insurance and, in particular, insurance costs. While I welcome the fact that motor insurance premiums fell by 17% between 2017 and 2021, there are still issues for consumers that need to be addressed, notwithstanding the reforms initiated by the former Minister of State, Michael D'Arcy, which are now being continued, thankfully, by the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming. It is clear that reform in the insurance industry is working and it is very important we continue that work. That is to the benefit of the insurance customer, the consumer. I would like that debate to be expanded to include home insurance premiums, in respect of which there are all sorts of clauses whereby customers of longevity get penalised. All those issues should be addressed in the debate on the issue of insurance, both motor insurance and home insurance. It is important we have a real debate, to include also business and the cost of insurance for businesses in a very challenging environment for our small and medium-sized enterprises. Again, I welcome the reform happening in the insurance industry. I ask that we have a debate in the House on it. It is a matter of huge concern to consumers, and I hope that debate can be held prior to Christmas, if possible.
I, too, join in the expressions of sympathy to the late Vicky Phelan.
I raise today the issue of fire services and retained fire services.As the Leader is aware, outside the main cities we rely very much on fire services operated by local authorities. As a result of the model that is currently in place, fire services across the country are experiencing many difficulties in recruitment and retention. The fire staff are paid a retainer, but, for that, they are expected to remain close to the fire station and could be called on at any time. That presents a difficulty if they are trying to keep down other employment at the same time as operating on a retainer. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the fire services. The model worked well when it was originally designed in the 1930s and 1940s but in modern society, where we travel significant distances, it is not a model that works. As the Leader is aware, there is a major Government programme of capital investment in fire stations across the country but it is not good enough that we have state-of-the-art fire stations without necessarily having the crews to staff them. Although negotiations have been going on between the unions, the Local Government Management Agency and the Department, a more comprehensive overview of how fire services operate in the modern age is needed. It is critical that we have well staffed and trained fire officers. Those who currently provide that service across the country do a wonderful service in all our communities but they are they are finding it difficult to get new staff to come on board, and then to retain them. This is happening not just in my home county of Wexford but across the country. They love what they do and are very committed to it. Part of it relates to pay and conditions but another part relates to flexibility and having enough numbers in all fire stations to be able to do the work. I ask for statements on the future of the fire service and an update from the Minister.
A selfless and inspiring campaigner, Vicky Phelan truly was the very best of us. Her tireless work in speaking truth to power has improved lives and saved lives. We will be forever grateful for her contribution to Irish society. As we honour Vicky Phelan today, I am reminded of her words two years ago after the death of her fellow cervical cancer sufferer, Ruth Morrissey. She said:
I don't want your accolades or your broken promises. I want action. I want change. I want accountability.
This morning I attended the launch of the findings of a survey by BeLonG To. The survey is the largest ever of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people in this State. It is stark and somewhat upsetting. It highlights the significant difficulties that face LGBTQ young people in schools. It also highlights the incredible support that many teachers are to those young people. However, we know life in school can be difficult, even without the external factors of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. A shocking 76% of LGBT youth feel unsafe in school. A majority of LGBT youth have heard homophobic remarks, both from students and from school staff, which is troubling in its own right. I ask that when the Minister of Education is invited to the Seanad for statements on education, she be informed the Seanad will be raising this issue with her.
In the short time I have left, I call on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to get moving on the programme for Government commitment in respect of the roadmap for digital creative industries. Obviously, that concerns games, augmented reality and graphic design domestic companies. SMEs and micro SMEs are just as important, particularly with the whole tech situation in the news. When will we see action on that roadmap?
I join with colleagues in conveying my deepest sympathy to the family of the late Vicky Phelan.
I refer to the expansion of the Croí Cónaithe towns scheme which has been announced by the Government in recent hours.It is very welcome news that this excellent scheme, which focuses on rural one-off properties and properties in our city centres, is to be expanded. The scheme provides a grant of €30,000 to renovate a property which has been vacant for two years. A top-up grant of €20,000 is available where structural work to the property is required. Importantly, it can also be combined with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, better energy support scheme which provides grant aid of nearly €30,000. All in all, grant support of nearly €80,000 is in place to do up a vacant and derelict property anywhere in Ireland. That will be very much welcomed by young people, in particular, who are looking to get their foot on the ladder. We have all seen what can be achieved in TV programmes such as the "The Great House Revival" and "Cheap Irish Homes". That is often where the best value is to be achieved on the current market. Thus, the expansion of this scheme is very much welcomed. It is one of many schemes, including the repair and release, buy and renew, living city and Croí Cónaithe schemes, which seek to bring vacant and derelict properties back into productive use for housing. There is no longer an excuse for any property to lie idle in this country. The Government has put all of the schemes in place to encourage the owners of these properties to take them on or to offload them and give others the opportunity. Where that does not occur, local authorities need to be far more proactive in using their compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers to take them on under the buy and renew scheme.
Firefighters from Monaghan, the Leas-Chathaoirleach's county of Cavan and elsewhere throughout the country will make their way to Leinster House today to call for reform of the fire service model and to try to rescue this essential service. Firefighters will tell you that the current model, which dates back to the early 1950s, is not fit for purpose in the modern world in which we find ourselves. They will also tell you that people are applying to join the fire service but, unfortunately, when they get in there for a while and realise the restraints under which it operates, they leave. We first have a recruitment issue and second have a retention issue. Something needs to be done to address that and to modernise the model in such a way as to attract new people to join and, more importantly, to be in a financial position and an employment situation to be able to stay there once they do. We need a wide-scale debate on fire service personnel, including on how we attract people into the profession. That may include incentivising employers or increasing the retention payment, but something needs to be done. Firefighters are coming to the capital city today to look for help. These are the very people to whom we turn when we are in an emergency. It is time we listened. I would welcome a debate with the Minister, arranged by the Leader, in order to come up with a model and suggestions which might alleviate the current situation in which we find ourselves because communities depend on our firefighters.
I too offer my condolences to Vicky Phelan's family. The State is mourning her loss but mná na hÉireann are really feeling her loss today.
I thank Senator Paul Daly for calling for a debate on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine report on dog welfare issues. I echo the call. A debate on those issues is very urgent. I will raise the annual crisis we face with regard to dog shelters at Christmas. We tell people not to give dogs as Christmas presents and to adopt rather than to shop but it seems that Christmas is very much coming early this year, because we are only in November and the dog shelters are already in crisis.In the past two weeks, 11 dog pounds have shut down or announced that they are full. On Monday, five shelters shut down in a single day. I am afraid to say that in classic fashion, the Government did not heed the warning signs. Three weeks ago, I raised this issue with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, who is responsible for pounds. She was not available and instead of sending a junior Minister from her Department, she sent the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Browne. I mean no disrespect to him but he does not know the subject so he duly read out the statement of which he had a tenuous grasp. The opening line of that statement said that the Department of Rural and Community Affairs has policy responsibility for dog control while the local authorities are responsible for all operational activities. The Department passed the buck to the local authorities but when I requested this week that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage come in to address the question of whether the local authorities have the resources for the dog pounds, I was told that it is not a matter for that Department but rather that it is a matter for the Department of Rural and Community Affairs. They are passing the buck between them and in the mean time, dogs are dying, pounds are crumbling and the shelters are saying they cannot take the dogs from the pounds so we are seeing dogs being abandoned and thrown into rivers. In one case a dog was left in a cage at a canal in Dublin. We need a debate on the capacity of pounds to deal with the number of dogs being surrendered or abandoned and puppy farming. This is why the debate on the report is so essential.
I pass on my sympathies and deep condolences on the very sad news of the loss of Vicky Phelan.
Last week, we saw the mid-term elections in the US and a groundswell of support for candidates who stood up for the democratic and electoral process. They stood up for women's choice. One of those candidates has ancestral links with my home town of Ballinasloe - Béal Átha na Sluaighe. I congratulate Governor Maura Healey from the Democratic Party. She is the first woman to hold the position of governor in Massachusetts and one of the first openly gay candidates to run for and be elected to office. Governor Healey is changing the status quo. She is a woman who drives change. She has been the state's attorney general since 2014. She brought forward so many lawsuits against the previous administration challenging the Muslim travel ban, protecting immigrant rights and challenging the rolling back of environmental regulations.
Maura Tracy Healey grew in New Hampshire. She is a former professional basketball player turned civil rights lawyer. Her grandmother, Katherine Tracey, who was born in 1897, which is 125 years ago, to Michael Tracey and Mary Hogarty, was a native of Ballinasloe. Governor Healey's paternal grandparents hail from County Kerry and Macroom in County Cork. This election was unique in that it showed the highest number of young people in two or three decades vote and vote for rights for women as well. The new governor said afterwards, "to every little girl out there, we want you to know - there's no ceiling you can't break." From a Senator from Ballinasloe to a governor of the state of Massachusetts whose grandmother came from Ballinasloe, I ask the Leader of the House to invite Governor Healey to visit Ireland and address Seanad Éireann.
Like everyone in the House today, I extend my condolences to the family and friends of Vicky Phelan. It is a very tough time, particularly for her young family.
Senator Buttimer spoke about the report of the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, on insurance. I worked on that committee for a while. Much time and work went into that report and it would be a good idea to invite the Minister of State to come to the House to discuss it. It would be very worthwhile. As has been stated in the media, insurance premiums have come down.Motor insurance premiums came down by 17%, on average, between 2017 and early 2022, so over the past four or five years. There have also been reductions in other areas. Some of the key findings are well worth discussing in this House and there are some other issues we could thrash out. The costs are down mainly due to a mix of legislation, the strengthening of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, and the promotion of its board, which made it a strong option to engage with. Insurance companies, their practices and how they dealt with different claims have also fed into the decrease. I support Senator Buttimer's comments.
I call for a debate on cross-Border tourism. The reason I do so is the work done by the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP, in the Newry, Mourne and Down regions. In particular, my good friend Mr. Killian Feehan, who I met last week, outlined the work the SDLP is doing in advocating and promoting the inclusion of counties Armagh and Down in Ireland's Ancient East. A unanimous motion was passed by all political parties, including the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, two weeks ago at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. All parties and politicians at local and council level are in agreement and would love to see Armagh and Down added to Ireland's Ancient East.
This issue is very important for a number of reasons. First, it would considerably enhance the tourism opportunities on both sides of the Border. What often happens with tourism in certain instances is that you get to the edge of Dundalk or the County Louth border and tourism drops off a cliff. There is an excellent tourism initiative and seafood trail called "Sea Louth" and we should be trying to expand that across Carlingford Lough into County Down. In the same way, we should include counties Armagh and Down in Ireland's Ancient East.
It is a important to always include both sides of the Border. The world does not end at the Border when it comes to tourism. We see major increases in tourism through greenways and blueways. Having two counties from the North included in Ireland's Ancient East would be a really productive and positive step. That is why I would like to have a debate on this.
I am aware there are discussions with Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland on the issue. That there is local buy-in from all political parties is really positive. There is certainly political buy-in from political parties on this side of the Border. I would appreciate a debate on the wider aspects of cross-Border tourism and how we can continue to foster economic prosperity on both sides of the Border. This is about bringing economic prosperity to both sides of the region, in particular to the Dundalk, north Louth, south Armagh and County Down region. I would appreciate a debate about that at some stage.
It is "winner alright, winner alright" today, with the publication or approval of the publication of the gambling regulation Bill by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Browne. It is among the most significant Bills to be brought before these Houses in respect of this industry. The impact of gambling on so many people, families and individuals, has inflicted pain over the decades, the last decade in particular given the nature of social media, which allows people to be targeted individually and exploits their weaknesses. In that respect, the provisions in the Bill in this digital age to address the particular proliferation of gambling advertisements on social media and prohibit such advertising by default are a very welcome addition. It will also prohibit the use of credit cards as a form of payment and the offering of inducements and promotions. All the various aspects of this Bill are hugely advanced.
The chief executive of Extern Problem Gambling, formerly Problem Gambling Ireland, Mr. Barry Grant, described the Bill as hugely significant. The Cathaoirleach, Senator Wall and I have met Mr. Grant several times. He said this was the first time in over a decade that we have eventually got something over the line in this sphere.The holding company of Paddy Power, Flutter Entertainment, which operates in the UK and Ireland, welcomed the Bill. It said the industry has not always got it right. I am sure a public relations company was formulating the words of that statement this morning, but it is right. I hope that when the Bill makes it to the Houses, we do not see amendments from parliamentarians that were written elsewhere, rather than in these Houses, to try to water down the Bill. Well done to the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, on making sure this Bill has got to where it needed to be.
I thank Senator Cassells for acknowledging my involvement with him on that question. The Leader knows I have raised it often from the floor. I concur with all the Senator's remarks. It would not be in order for me to more while in the Chair.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, of the €15.5 million that is being given in advance payments for the sheep welfare scheme. In Tipperary, 374 farmers will receive a total of just under €500,000. It is a substantial amount and I know they are grateful for it. Would it be possible to have a debate with the Minister on lamb prices? They are much lower than they are in France and other European countries. It is a real challenge. People who are not too familiar with farming would think it is going quite well. Some sectors are, including dairy, tillage and one or two others. It is important that we keep our sheep farmers. They play a vital role in important areas of rural Ireland. I ask for a debate with the Minister about his views on the viability of that sector.
I express my deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Vicky Phelan. She fought hard to live and she fought for others to live. I hope she is at rest. My thoughts are with her family and loved ones. I thank her for her work on behalf of all the women of Ireland.
It seems almost futile to go onto my next point after speaking about Vicky Phelan but I want to express concern about health and safety on the Dublin-Belfast train line. At off-peak times recently, there have not been enough rail carriages on the line, which is the busiest in the country. They are completely unsafe. People are squashed on to these trains. They are crushed. There are warnings at Dundalk that there is standing room only. It is really face-to-face room only. In the era of Covid, never mind any other health and safety issues, if people have a disability or any sort of illness, it is completely unsafe. We are coming up to a busy period of off-peak travel as people travel for shopping, to see family and for many other reasons. Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways are aware of the problem. They are just not doing anything about it. We need an urgent resolution to this matter.
I support my colleague, Senator Ahearn, on having a debate on sheep. I have spoken often about sheep in this House. I was born and reared on a sheep farm. Sheep farming is part of the fabric of our rural community. Sheep farmers are getting older and sheep farming is an incredibly laborious job. We need to make sure we not only protect all sectors but that we place an emphasis on sheep farming because it has been the poor cousin for a long time.
Leaders from around the world met last week and again this week in Sharm el-Sheikh to try to move the world towards having greater respect for the environment by targeting the reduction in carbon emissions. While much of the talk is about policies, targets, limits and restrictions, it is up to us in these Houses to put more time into the actions that need to take place.It is fine to have the policies, targets and ambition. It requires concrete action. If anything has come out of the various intergovernmental reports it is recognising laws that are passed. However, the emissions continue.
Perhaps we should have a debate in this House on the practical measures that we as a society could implement and begin that dialogue and debate about practical measures rather than just looking at the targets. I am taken to some extent by matters I have read about what has been done in France for some time. They put solar panels over every carpark. It seems an easy win, a no-brainer. Here we are talking about planning permission for rolling out solar farms and that is good. Many communities do not want wind farms anymore. I get that. We need to expedite the offshore potential but that is seven or eight years away. Every public carpark can with a stroke of a pen without any necessity for further planning have solar panels installed. It seems an easy win if there is a directive that solar panels are put over them and that it is a requirement before any future carparks are allowed to be built to put solar panels over them. They can act to some extent as protection from the rain which we have seen plenty of in recent weeks. I make that suggestion as an aside. I would like some time here for a discussion because many Senators meet many people and hear a great many ideas. Perhaps we could have a debate about practical measures that could be brought forward to assist in the decarbonisation of our economy.
I thank Senator Dooley. We proposed on a number of occasions that we have a rolling debate on climate change here last year and probably even more recently. It is an incredibly important topic for us to talk about but every conversation and topic we have every week is urgent and important and it seems to consistently be put back until we have an emergency. However the Senator is right, it is time for us to have a practical debate on measures that we all know could advance our reducing emissions. The Taoiseach’s speech at COP27 this week was poignant. We are all aware that our emissions are still going up, not down. They are not going in the right direction. Sometimes I think we need to get out of our own way and do the things we know would make a difference.
Senator McGreehan spoke about the health and safety or lack thereof on the Dublin to Belfast train. She is seeking answers from Iarnród Éireann. Senator Ahearn called for a debate on the sheep welfare scheme and particularly lamb prices. The sheep welfare scheme was announced this morning by the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. It provides €15.5 million to pay towards the welfare of sheep throughout the country which is welcome.
Senator Cassells mentioned that finally the Gambling Regulation Bill has been published. A number of Members of this House, including Senator O'Reilly, who has literally raised it with me week in and week out since I became Leader a couple of years ago, have engaged with this Bill. I commend Deputy James Browne. It would be remiss of me not to commend Deputy Stanton who for years in that Department laid the groundwork for what is a tremendous Bill. I look forward to us all debating it in the next couple of weeks and getting it passed so that we will see the restrictions on the industry that we have all called for over the years so as to try to lessen some of its damaging aspects.
Senator McGahon called for a debate on cross-Border tourism, particularly since the all-party motion at Mourne Newry Council in recent weeks. We will try to arrange that debate. Senator Davitt, along with Senator Buttimer, has sought a debate on the insurance report that was published recently by the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming. That would be a worthwhile debate. We will organise that as soon as we can.
Senator Dolan spoke about governor-elect, Maura Healey. I googled her earlier and funnily enough she is exactly the same age as I am. There is only one week between us but by Jove she has some legacy and career to date for a woman so young. It would be a lovely thing to recognise her connections with Ireland and her granny and grandad who were from Kerry and Ballinasloe. I can certainly write to her and ask her to consider visiting us here and with the permission of the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Cathaoirleach to address the Seanad if she was to come. The connection between Massachusetts, particularly Boston, and Ireland are renowned. That would be lovely.Senators Boylan and Daly asked for a debate on the dog welfare report. I have already asked for it; I am just waiting for a date. We spoke about the greyhound industry, about which a debate is coming, but it is not the same thing. The dog welfare report is such a good one - Senator Boyhan gave me a copy when it was published a couple of weeks ago - it needs to be debated on its own. I will get that date as soon as I can and will try to do so in the next couple of weeks.
Senators Gallagher and Malcolm Byrne both spoke about our retained fire services. Any of us who live outside Dublin are totally reliant on retained firemen and firewomen. It is incredibly difficult to be a retained firefighter and have any sort of normal job or normal life. We owe them an enormous debt. The fact that they had to come to the city today to talk about looking for reform, not just of their conditions and pay but in the way they structure their lives so they can look after the safety of our lives, is an incredible shame. We owe it to them to make sure we do them justice and have a debate as quickly as we can. I will try to arrange that as soon as I can.
Senator Cummins spoke about the expansion of Croí Cónaithe this morning, which is great. The fact that €80,000 per dwelling is now available to people, not just in our towns and villages but for the one-off rural houses we know are dotted all over the counties of Ireland, is very welcome.
Senator Warfield spoke about the transgender survey that has been published. Some of its findings are pretty stark when we consider that in 2022 such a huge percentage of our young people still feel maligned by views that have no place in Irish society. The Senator asked that the Minister come to the House to have a conversation about what we will do to alleviate that system. I will organise that as soon as I can but it will probably take place after the Christmas recess at this stage. What is very sad about the report is that we all know of schools and teachers who are tremendous advocates, and look after and are mindful of our younger people, especially when they are finding their sexuality and going through different stages of their lives. That such a high percentage of people still suffer at the hands of people's hurtful words and malignant views is very hard to take. I will organise that debate as quickly as I can.
Senator Buttimer looked for a debate on the finance and insurance Bill, which we will organise. Senator Moynihan spoke about the Raise the Roof campaign and looked for a debate on the review of income limits, not just on social housing applications but for the HAP. We can certainly organise that.
Senator Gavan spoke about security workers and the very understandable anger at the lack of action. I tried to get the information he referenced earlier but do not have it. I will get the answer today and get back to him. Whatever the excuses are, they are not good enough when we have people who are providing security to businesses, clubs and venues throughout the country but are being paid €11.65 an hour, mostly for unsociable hours. It is just not good enough. I will come back to him as soon as I can.
Senator Hackett spoke about embracing timber construction and the value of the absorption of CO2 by timber houses. Senator Mullen looked for a debate on telephone appointments for abortion. It is odd that we had commitments and now we have had changes without proper consultation. I will try to organise a response for the Senator as quickly as I can.
Senator Conway spoke about Vicky Phelan, with whom I know he had contact over the years. For all the other colleagues who expressed their deepest sympathies, we will hold a minute's silence tomorrow at the end of the Order of Business to give everybody enough time to make sure we show the dignity and respect that such a tremendous lady requires. Senator Daly spoke about a lady who always sought solutions. That is something we can all definitely concur with. She was not looking to finger-point; she just wanted to make the world a better place. Ireland, for all of us knowing her, certainly has become better. We will pay our tribute to her tomorrow following the Order of Business.