Tuesday, 22 November 2022
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Before I ask the Leader to outline the Order of Business, I have two groups to welcome to Seanad Éireann. From the great state of Massachusetts we are joined by Representative Daniel Carey and his wife. I thank them for joining us in the Seanad while they are on their honeymoon. We are delighted they are able to come here. We had the American ambassador in earlier. We hope they enjoy thanksgiving this week. We appreciate the long and distinguished relationship between Ireland and the United States of America and especially Massachusetts which became home to so many people from all over this island. We look forward to them coming back and celebrating 2026, which is the 250th anniversary of American independence. George Washington acknowledged the great links between Ireland and the United States of America at that time when the war was being lost and he said that when America's flags were friendless, Ireland's sons were its only friends. We greatly appreciate them coming to Seanad Éireann today. The other group I would like to welcome to Seanad Éireann today is from Claremont. They are from the deaf community. I thank Senator Boyhan for bringing them in today. Seanad Éireann played a key role in the recognition of Irish Sign Language. The very fact that we have a sign language interpreter in the Chamber is because we passed the legislation in this regard. The Ceann Comhairle put together a policy on sign language interpreters. Through the legislation passed, with the support of all sides in Seanad Éireann, members of the deaf community are able to access Government services. We are delighted they have come here today as citizens of this State to their Parliament and that they are able to understand what is going on in their own language. We are delighted Senator Boyhan brought people who have been in Claremont to the Seanad today. I thank them for visiting.
As the Cathaoirleach said, our guests are very welcome. I apologise as I do not know any Irish Sign Language. I thank the guests for attending today and Senator Boyhan for bringing them in.
I congratulate Mr. and Mrs. Carey. It really must be the honeymoon period if they are in Leinster House during their honeymoon. They are very welcome. I wish them a long and happy life together.
The Order of Business today is No. 1, Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill 2022 – Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude at 6.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated for opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and their time can be shared, with the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes in which to reply to the debate; and No. 2, Water Environment (Abstractions and Associated Impoundments) Bill 2022 – Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and to adjourn at 8.30 p.m. if not previously concluded.
I wish to raise three issues. One relates to a bus link for Rathangan. I spoke two weeks ago about public transport in respect of the need to extend the short-hop zone and create a medium-hop zone. Most certainly, rural transport deserves to have its place too. There are a number of issues I want to raise, from a lack of connectivity to absolutely deplorable reliability. I have been working closely, or trying to work closely, with the National Transport Authority on a number of problem routes in my area, south Kildare. One is the 129 route from Kilcullen to Newbridge. The bus on this route is well known for not turning up at all. The 120 bus route is an ongoing saga. In many cases, people attempt to use the 120 to get to work but unfortunately it does not arrive.
Rathangan, my home village, has been trying to get a Local Link bus service to run every day, including Saturday and Sunday and in the evenings, as the transport links are almost non-existent. Rathangan's population has been growing and it has many new estates. It is unacceptable that the links are not much better than they are. There is only one Transport for Ireland bus, which runs twice daily from Monday to Friday, at 6.50 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. There is no connectivity whatsoever on Saturday and Sunday. We also need to connect Allenwood and Rathangan, particularly to service those who work at and want to visit Lullymore Heritage Park. I call for a more regular and reliable bus service for the people of Rathangan that will cater better for those living in villages and provide better onward connectivity for commuters.
I also want to raise an equestrian issue. We have a top-class equestrian sector in Kildare and, indeed, the rest of the country. In this regard, Ireland is renowned right around the world. Kildare is at the heart of the sector. Unfortunately, Brexit has had repercussions that have affected domestic breeders. At a recent meeting with Ms Cathy Grassick, chair of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, she told me there has been a decrease of 27.5% in the number of mares in the past two years. That represents a huge loss of income for Irish breeders due to Brexit. There are many knock-on effects. There is a loss of income to Irish stud farms and ancillary services such as veterinary, farrier and transport services. Therefore, thoroughbred breeders are experiencing significant hardship. The declining numbers have coincided with a strengthening of the UK-based stallion pool and an anti-competitive scheme for British born, bred and sired horses in the form of the great British bonus scheme.We need to have an extension of the IRE Incentive scheme. I am asking that the Brexit readjustment fund could be used for that. We could have a debate on it.
I want to propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I propose that No. 22 be taken before No. 1, which relates to the climate survey from BelongTo that I raised last week. It is and should be of huge concern to so many of us. I acknowledge the work of the Minister, Deputy Foley, in this area; the review that the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, is currently doing; and, of course, the announcement last week that there would be an upskilling for teachers in relationships and sexuality education, RSE. In 2019, the Oireachtas education committee did a very thorough report. It engaged with 54 different sets of stakeholders and produced an all-party group of strong recommendations that should be put in place to help support our young people to have healthy relationships and address inequality, human sexuality, gender identity and, of course, the influence of digital media.
I join with the Cathaoirleach in welcoming Senator Boyhan’s visitors to the Gallery from Claremont.
I congratulate State Representative Carey and his good wife Melissa on their magnificent wedding and I congratulate him on his re-election as a state representative of Massachusetts.
I stand today to ask us all to reflect upon the events of the past four days. Five people were killed in a nightclub in Colorado last Saturday night on a night out in a space where, for many of us as gay people, it is our place of sanctuary where we can be free to be who we are with our loved one and our friends. Five people were senselessly gunned down in a nightclub. We remember them today, their families and those who survived that awful attack last Saturday night.
In parallel with that, we have the FIFA World Cup under way as we speak. Just imagine eight captains were told by the governing body of soccer that they cannot wear a One Love armband.
An armband that symbolises not a political statement or political comment, but acceptance, inclusivity and diversity. FIFA, the governing body of one of the biggest sporting organisations in the world, lacks leadership and courage. It is disgusting, appalling and unacceptable. I do not get pretty emotional about things in this Chamber but what are we saying when an American journalist is for 25 minutes stopped from going into the stadium because he wore a rainbow or LGBT t-shirt? The former captain of the Welsh soccer team had her LGBT hat taken off her. Gay people are told come to Qatar but they cannot be who they are. They report back that they are feeling unwelcome and afraid, and then add to it all the governing body of FIFA said nothing about leadership. Nothing.
What are the events of the past four days saying to the young boy and girl, whether in Cork, Kerry, Dubai, Doha, Indonesia or Colorado when they are grappling with their sexuality and their sexual identity? What are they saying? What are we as a society in the world saying? Our language and our behaviour matters. I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs come to the House for a debate on human rights and the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, as I requested last week, come to the House for a debate on the awarding of sporting events to countries such as Qatar.
I ask us today to remember the five people, young men and women, and give thanks - as the Cathaoirleach said, in this week of Thanksgiving in the United States of America - to the bravery of the people who apprehended that gunman in that nightclub, which is a place of sanctuary and safety for us in the LGBT community.
I thank the Senator for raising that important topic on what happened in Colorado and the two security guards who risked their own lives to protect the lives of others.Many more would have been killed were it not for their bravery. There is, as the Senator pointed out, cause and effect, with large organisations like FIFA awarding the World Cup to a country where there is discrimination against members of the LGBT community. FIFA is sending out a message by doing that. The actions and the silence in the context of the symbols of that community being forcibly removed from people who are wearing them sends its own message. FIFA has acted shamefully and has brought great shame on the sport of soccer. Many others who are involved in sport have stayed silent as well, which reflects badly on them. A debate on the matter would be appropriate, because there is a cause and an effect.
I agree with every word that Senator Buttimer said. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that No. 128(5) be taken before No. 1. No. 128(5) states:
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for Health to name the new National Children’s Hospital after Dr. Kathleen Lynn, noting her contribution as Chief Medical Officer in the Irish Citizen Army, and her role in establishing St. Ultan’s Hospital, one of the most important centres for paediatric healthcare in the early years of the Irish State.
I would like to touch on the issue of Claremont. I thank the Leader for organising the sign language interpreter. It was an emotional day for me because all of the people in this audience are in their 50s and 60s. All of them were in my primary school. The difference was that we were in one building and they were in a prefabricated building with the rain pouring in. This was because there was no integration for deaf children in the 1960s and 1970s. What was unusual about this particular group was that they were all raised in the faith of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The families had to mobilise themselves, hire out an old prefabricated building in a school in Monkstown village in Dún Laoghaire and have their children educated. They were not encouraged to learn in sign language at that time. It was not policy to do so. There was a pilot scheme for a school in Cabra. It allowed them to have their own identity. We talk about identity a lot in this House. They were Church of Ireland and their family wanted them to have a non-denominational education or a choice within education. I invited them here today. I had not seen any of them for over 50 years but I remember them all. When we met there were many tears and much laughter and a great sense of sound and excitement came from them, as one who deals with deafness knows. Many of them are profoundly deaf. Through our interpreter we had a conversation and I want to share three things. The strongest thing was that many people found it difficult to get a job or secondary education. They also found it difficult to sustain a relationship.
More importantly, we talked about the following matter and someone asked me to bring it wherever it needed to be brought. People with disabilities do not cease to have sexual needs. This is a matter we do not discuss - it is another taboo subject - but we all need to feel loved, wanted and accepted. We all want confirmation, affirmation and an abundance of love. That is a human need for everyone and that is my message. Through the disability sector we must continue to be strong advocates for people in residential care.
At a time when we are talking about physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse in institutions, we should think about what it must have been like to have been deaf or to be a blind child in the blind asylum in Merrion. There were all the other institutions that were meant to care for people. Think about all the people who had psychiatric illnesses. They were vulnerable. Many of them do not have the power or ability to advocate or talk.Many of them have that all locked and trapped within themselves. When we talk about all these things, it is important to remember to somehow take a look back to advocate and facilitate organisations that represent an elder group of people who were perhaps aged over 60 who were in these institutions. They, too, were hurt and feel forgotten. More importantly, however, many of them do not have the skills or ability to communicate and be a voice for themselves.
Before I call Senator Gavan, I welcome to the Visitors Gallery Senator Vincent P. Martin but, more importantly, his nephew, Turlough Duffy, and friend, Ciara Morton. They are most welcome to Seanad Éireann today. No doubt Turlough might follow in the footsteps of his uncle or Deputies Catherine Martin or Francis Noel Duffy. Perhaps we will see him at some stage, if not in this House, then maybe in Dáil Éireann. He is most welcome to Seanad Éireann. I hope his uncle looks after him on his visit today. I thank him for coming. I call Senator Gavan.
I will begin by echoing that call by Senator Buttimer for an urgent debate on human rights. It would be very important to have it during the World Cup, if possible.
I also wish to raise issue of football. It is fair to say that the FAI has had a turbulent recent history. A criminal inquiry into FAI matters brought by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement is ongoing. One would have thought that having gone through all of these horrendous recent scandals, the FAI would now understand the absolute importance of transparency, good governance and the value of an audit. I regret to have to inform the House that this is not the case.
An ongoing row involving the Limerick district soccer league has caused huge frustration among the vast majority of honourable people who make up the bulk of soccer players, coaches, parents and supporters. Key concerns are the failure to conduct an audit of accounts for 2020 alongside a failure to adopt a series of governance reforms such as introducing term limits and, Lord protect us, actually appointing at least one woman to one of the 12 board positions. At the heart of this story is an all-male board of management of the Limerick district league. A number of the officers have held key positions for so long that they would make the leadership of the Workers' Party of North Korea blush. Some of these men can boast of being in situfor between 30 and 35 years. The concerned club members want a time limit placed on the term in office of committee members, limiting it to a few years rather than having a situation where people could potentially hold office for life.
The new broom that was promised by the FAI certainly has not reached Limerick. Unfortunately, I am also informed that those clubs or individuals who have spoken up in favour of reform and good governance have found themselves and their clubs disadvantaged as a result. A number of these people told me they are operating under an atmosphere of fear and loathing because of the actions of the board. This is what happens when board management degenerates into a personal fiefdom.
The need for an audit of accounts for 2020 is an issue that was described by the FAI itself as being of significant concern. Some of these concerns related to so-called honorarium payments made by officers to themselves, and others to issues of governance and transparency. Yet, over a year later, there has still been no audit carried out. The FAI issued 11 recommendations in all, including the need for term limits for committee members, the need to appoint at least one female committee member out of 12 and an updated rule book. To date, I am informed that the FAI has failed to ensure that any of these recommendations have actually been implemented. After all the FAI has been through in recent years, it beggars belief that having identified a series of recommendations to improve governance, it failed to ensure implementation of any of them. The senior management of the FAI has been made aware of all the issues but has to date failed to take any action. The FAI needs to act now. Otherwise, it should be called to account for its inaction on these matters before an Oireachtas committee.
I will finish with quote from a press release that came from concerned supporters groups today. They said, “All we want is to see soccer in Limerick grow and for people and kids to get involved and to play, but without a change in governance we can’t go forward.” I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister with responsibility for sport on the topic of FAI governance and accountability. As far as the Limerick district league is concerned, there is in my opinion a significant deficit of both.
In respect of the disturbing events that have been highlighted and that are unfolding off the football field in Qatar, I rise to my feet on behalf of the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, to associate myself as closely as I possibly can with the eloquent words of Senator Buttimer, who is a forthright and passionate campaigner on a quest for equality.That is all that Senator Buttimer and right-minded people want. I believe it is important that this House is heard on that issue. Senator Buttimer has articulated that in a most brilliant way this afternoon.
One unintended consequence, maybe if there is a light at the end of the road, is that the hosting of the World Cup in Qatar gives us all a dose of reality and hammers home to us that there are parts of the world that are not as lucky as we are and that so much work has yet to be done globally. That work starts in every single jurisdiction, home and democracy to try to right these awful, horrible wrongs that are still unapologetically alive and well in our society. In a brazen way, we must face that down and take a leaf out of Senator Buttimer's book.
I also want to be associated with the comments made by Senator Buttimer on what is happening. People knew that this was going to happen as the World Cup taking place in Qatar, even though there have been human rights abuse in that place, has been spoken about for a long time. Unfortunately, we are not surprised by the situation there. It is a great shame that the captains of the soccer teams did not show leadership at a certain moment. I firmly believe that if they cannot show leadership by wearing an armband on a pitch, then I do not know what support they can offer a member of their team who may be a member of the LGBT community.
I wish to talk about what happened in the East Wall over the past couple of days. My heart is broken thinking about the people who have fled war and sought safety and asylum here in Ireland. I cannot imagine how they are feeling. Let us imagine if any one of us had to leave Ireland to seek a better life and get a start for our families only to be met by what was, quite frankly, a baying mob. The scenes that I watched online were unbelievable and shocking. What happened over the weekend was disgraceful. I believe the community there is being manipulated by bad actors who seek to take advantage of a community that is weary from societal neglect and feel like they have been left behind. The extreme far right are thriving on seeding this panic. They will simply skip off into the sunset and find other places, which we have seen in Oughterard, Roosky, Moville and all over the country. They manoeuvre themselves around the place and whip up fear and hatred. They do absolutely nothing for communities outside of pitting them against each other.
I want to put it on the record that immigrants do not come here and take anyone's jobs. If anyone was laid off in favour of cheap immigrant labour, then they need to blame the capitalist masters who decided that they wanted cheap labour and decided to take advantage of the immigrant to increase their profits with little or no care or regard for the consequences of their actions. It is that capitalist master who rubs his or her hands with glee as immigrants are blamed for the woes of society and the capitalist master is not blamed for his or her greed or endless pursuit of profit. Immigrants do not come here and take people's houses. They do not come here and take people's healthcare. They are not to blame for a scarcity of resources. Societal resourcing is the responsibility of the State, not the people who come here for a better life.
I wish to commend the members of the East Wall community who have gone to the site to let the frightened people there know that they are welcome here. I would like to make a point to those who have taken it upon themselves to fall into the trap of protesting that people are coming here for a better life. First, protestors would be better off not blaming immigrants for things that have been caused by decades of capitalist decisions. Second, they would be better off protesting the for-profit housing policies designed for speculators and big business. I join with the community in East Wall who have called for proper supports for the community there. They are currently in beds in partitions and big office spaces. I commend anyone who has said that refugees are welcome here and that they are not to be blamed for society's woes.
I join with Senator Hoey's words. It was quite upsetting to see what happened in East Wall over the weekend because you come from a community, you have a certain algorithm on your social media and you see that it is people you care about and people you love who are sharing some of those sentiments.It can be difficult to step into those conversations with people you care about while also having some sort of understanding as to what may have led to the position whereby they are sharing that stuff online or joining in with the mob. We must try to come at this with a certain analysis or insight that allows for a lack of defensiveness in order that we can have those conversations. Unfortunately, those who fall into the trap of the anti-immigrant narrative that is being fed to them often have very little power, agency and autonomy in their everyday lives. I sometimes wonder whether it is the human condition to seek power over other people. If we have little power, how can we exercise power and autonomy in our everyday lives? If somebody comes along and tells people they can exercise their power in this particular direction, they may do so because they do not feel they have the capacity to exercise that power upwards at the State, administrative decisions, bureaucracy, politics and the concentration of power. They look to where they can exercise the little power they have.
Unfortunately, we politicians sometimes buy into the same trap when people come to us saying immigrants were not vetted or there was no consultation. We then start saying there should be consultation. No, there should not be consultation. We should be empowering communities to be part of the humanitarian response. We should be empowering and resourcing communities to be the welcoming committees that are there and waiting for people to arrive. That is what the consultation should be. It is about being part of the process.
Where we come from, who we are and where we were born is not our fault but it is our responsibility. We cannot always control who we are, what we are fleeing, the conditions we have grown up in and whether we have housing and safety, but it is our responsibility. For me, for communities like mine and for the people of East Wall, we should take that responsibility in another direction and with the good heart I know we all have because we extend it our neighbours on a daily basis. We need to call out racist and anti-immigrant sentiment. If questions are being asked as to why people were not vetted, where the women and children are and why there was no consultation, we need to remind people this is anti-immigrant sentiment and that we do not vet our neighbours when they move in next door. We do not vet people when a new estate opens in our community and new residents move into it. It is not a normal thing to vet people in those situations.
We must stand up and say it when anti-immigrant sentiment is being expressed. We should not look to the mood of the electorate or whether the mob will vote for us to decide what we should or should not say. We must be strong and make sure the humanitarian response does not end by just letting people into the country.
I second Senator O'Loughlin's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
I agree with the comments by Senators Hoey and Ruane on the importance of language and how we all have a responsibility to welcome refugees and asylum seekers to this country and challenge those who spread misinformation and untruths.
I equally commend the contribution of Senator Buttimer highlighting the tragic events in Colorado and pointing out, once again, the disgrace that was the decision by FIFA to award the hosting of the World Cup to Qatar.
I raise the statement in the High Court yesterday by Mr. Justice Meenan in which he referred to the "dramatic increase" in the number of actions against the HSE regarding the assessment of children with special needs. He said seven new applications are coming before the High Court each week involving parents who have to fight for their children in that situation. As legislators, I believe we have done a good job in this area in many ways. We passed the Disability Act. We have a very good disability committee, an excellent autism committee and an indefatigable Minister of State with responsibility for disability services, Deputy Rabbitte. There is unity in the House on this issue. We have heard people talk about what we can do for those with disabilities and learning difficulties. However, what really frustrates me and drives me mad is that family after family must resort to the courts to secure their rights. Almost inevitably, we see the same thing happen when those cases end up before the courts.In almost every single case, the parents have been dragged through the legal process. The courts will say the legislation, particularly under the Disability Act 2005, is very clear that the State has an obligation to provide for these children. However, this should not just be because it says it legislatively but because it is the right thing to do. I am tired of engaging with families and with people I know and care about who are having to fight their case all the time.
It is not just the HSE in these cases. We are also talking about agencies such as the Department of Education. I still recall when Andrew Geary had to fight for his deaf son, Calum. Again, they were dragged to the steps of the High Court before the Department of Education finally settled. I know Senator Boyhan referred to this with regard to those who are deaf but we need a broader debate. It is no good us talking in this House about our legislative provision for those with a disability and special needs and about the work we do as politicians if, in the first instance, the approach of the HSE and the Department of Education, any time there is a challenge, is to lawyer up. This has to be a debate around the culture that exists within the State. When it comes to somebody with a disability, why are we not looking in the first instance at how we can provide the necessary supports at a local level? We talk about speech and language therapy and everything else, and it is quite often far cheaper to intervene at an earlier stage. There is a crucial Supreme Court decision coming up in this area which will uphold this, but we need a debate in this House and within broader society as to why it is, when we have made legislative provision very clearly and want to support these families, the State continues to drag them kicking and screaming to the doors of the High Court.
I second Senator Boyhan's amendment to the Order of Business seeking the moving of No. 128(5) regarding the naming of the children's hospital.
Last night we were treated to a view of two gardaí being beaten in Dublin. Sadly, it is not just Dublin; it is happening everywhere. Members of An Garda Síochána put on their uniforms and go out to work in the evenings expecting to come home in the same physical state. My own young brother, God be good to him, when he was a garda, was severely beaten on one occasion. At that particular time in his life, he was dealing with one of the most notorious criminals in Dublin, a man noted for vicious brutality. It is grossly unfair that members of An Garda Síochána are not at least sure of that, if they are assaulted, a mandatory prison sentence will be imposed. I place on record my total support for the position taken by the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, last night on RTÉ. It is simply not good enough that those young men and women who protect us and keep us safe in our homes can be attacked in that vicious way and that the criminals, when they are caught, might not receive a prison sentence.
On a second issue, Members will all recall the death six years ago of Caitríona Lucas, a member of the Irish Coast Guard volunteer group in the west. Ms Lucas's inquest has still not been held. Are the family not entitled to the closure an inquest will bring? It is outrageous at this stage and I ask the Leader to use her office to write to the coroner in Limerick to ask why there has not been an inquest. The Lucas family are entitled to closure, and if there are things to come out from that inquest that may be disturbing for people, then so be it. Let that happen but let us have the inquest.
This coming Friday marks the close of a public consultation on a levy that is proposed by the Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for the circular economy in respect of disposable and single-use cups for hot beverages. What is there to oppose about that? In the documentation that has given rise to the public consultation, there is much talk about how it will be along the same lines as the plastic bag levy, which we know has been a huge success and which I, for one, absolutely support. Why would anyone not be in favour of a similar levy for coffee cups?The simple reason is that it is being applied completely inconsistently. The public consultation, as far as I can see, refers only to hot beverage cups and that is what is in the documentation that has gone with it, which ignores the fact the likes of McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food outlets also sell Coke, 7-Up and so on in single-use disposable cups that are waxed and not recyclable. Globally, that accounts for more than 200 million cups a year, yet that is not the subject of this public consultation or of the proposed regulations from the State.
Instead, the regulations propose to put a 20 cent levy on coffee cups from small, independent coffee shops. I fully support the idea that people should be conscious of the volume of waste they generate and should endeavour to use reusable cups, and the funny thing is these businesses do too. Small coffee shops in all our local areas, in places such as Blackrock, Dún Laoghaire and Glasthule, are some of the most environmentally conscious businesses in our economy. In fact, the vast majority of them sell coffee in compostable cups that are recyclable but cannot be recycled because local authorities do not have the facilities on street to gather and recycle them.
Why is the Government not targeting that? Why is it specifically proposing in the regulations that even compostable and recyclable cups will be subject to this levy, simply because it wants to target reuse? I am all for targeting reuse, but let us do it consistently across the sector. Let us also hit McDonald's, Burger King and other companies that produce non-recyclable, non-compostable waste that goes into landfill or incineration. It is something on which we should have a debate because the consultation will end this week and the regulations are due to come in next month. We should have a debate on the matter in this Chamber.
I express my support and solidarity with An Garda Síochána in light of the appalling incidents in recent days. We are fortunate in this country that we have a community police force. The Garda depends on the support of the community and it invariably has the support of 90% of decent people. When this country was in difficulty during the Troubles, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces stood between us and mayhem and chaos, with people trying to undermine the State. Many gardaí paid the ultimate price, not least my friend Jerry McCabe in Adare. We should express that support for the Garda Síochána. People are quick to criticise the organisation if a garda issues a parking fine or a speeding ticket or calls to a pub at closing time, for example, but communities should express the strong support they feel for the Garda Síochána. I am delighted to say that in my town tomorrow, the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, will lead a celebration of 100 years of the Garda Síochána, and I assure the House that every man and woman in Listowel who can be out will be there to celebrate with the Garda. I am sorry I cannot be there myself.
On a separate issue, the banks are at it again. They are again making profits and were quick out of the traps when it came to increasing charges on both general lending and mortgage lending. At the same time, today's newspapers show that our banks pay the lowest rates of interest on deposit accounts in Europe. It is pitiful what they are paying in these inflationary times and when they are starting to make serious profits again. While they have quickly jacked up their lending rates, they are very slow to address their deposit rates. A large cohort of our citizens, elderly people, depend on perhaps a lump sum that has been deposited in the bank to keep them going. At this time of inflation, those savings are being eaten into and the bank is paying this niggardly rate of negligible interest.
I ask the Minister for Finance to address this. We complained in the past about light regulation over the banks and rightly so. We need strong regulation now when it comes to banks paying decent deposit rates, especially to our elderly citizens.
Ballyfermot Youth Service will hold a vigil at 4.30 p.m. today outside Ballyfermot Garda station in response to the incident that happened at the weekend. We send the solidarity of the House, but I send it also as a person who was born and reared in Ballyfermot.We have to understand that not every single person in that community is a bad person. That is my message today. While we stand in solidarity with An Garda Síochána, we also stand in solidarity with the community of Ballyfermot and the young people who have to grow up in these communities.
On today's Order of Business, I will also say that I know exactly what it is like to be oppressed in Irish society. On the increasing level of racism towards people who are fleeing war and coming here for international protection we have being seeing both on and off social media, as we say in my house, it is a mortal sin to treat people in such a disrespectful manner. It is not every single person in Ireland but a few. Again, coming from the community I come from, I know that we cannot target all people as being on the far right or as bad people. Senator Ruane and I were having a conversation about this with some other people last night. Not everybody in the host community means badly. Oppressed people can become oppressors and we have to look at why, although I am not excusing what happened in the past few days with regard to racism and discrimination. We, as leaders, and the Government have a role in rolling out campaigns to support people coming to our country from others. I stand in solidarity with and respect every single refugee in Irish society and I say to them now that they have millions of welcomes from the people of Ireland. A few might have stood against that welcome that day but I ask those refugees to put that aside because they have the support of the majority.
I second what my colleague, Senator O'Sullivan, said about the banks and how they are treating people with regard to the interest rate. The Senator probably has a lot of money in the bank and God knows he could do with the interest to get a few bob. On a serious note, he is right. Up until very recently, if you had money in the bank, as Senator McDowell and many others would know through their business with deposit accounts and whatever else, those banks were charging-----
Their attitude towards business in particular has been very mean-fisted. I refer to how they have been dealing with people who run businesses and who have other people's money, including that of clients, in their accounts. It has been scandalous to say the least.
With regard to Croí Cónaithe, I have been dealing with the scheme for a number of months and we have found it to be a great success. There is certainly evidence that the scheme, brought in by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is very helpful and very positive. I have seen it in my own area. The owners of houses that had been laid up for quite a while have been approached and the houses bought and young people are now doing them up and moving into areas that have been neglected in recent years. We hear a lot of negativity with regard to housing but the Croí Cónaithe scheme and the €50,000 grant for older houses to be done up by first-time buyers has been a bright light. I commend and compliment the Minister in that regard.
I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's latitude in allowing me to make a final point. As the Cathaoirleach will know, because we have discussed the matter here on a couple of occasions, my views on Russia's aggression in Ukraine are on the record. However, it is bit populist of people to call for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador. We are a neutral country and we have to keep channels of negotiation, discussion and persuasion open. I strongly feel that calls to send the Russian ambassador back to Russia are somewhat less than genuine.
I echo the statements of Senator Flynn with regard to the people of Ballyfermot, although I stand in solidarity with An Garda Síochána and particularly with the two gardaí who went out to work expecting to come home safely but did not.That should not happen under any circumstances. There is also a community at the heart of this which is full of very good people who have a passion, care and love for each other and I am proud to say some of them are within my own family. I note for the House that at this moment the community in Ballyfermot is gathered around the Garda station there, supporting An Garda Síochána and demonstrating its abhorrence of the actions of that tiny minority, which is stigmatising the whole community there and in Cherry Orchard. I also welcome that on Thursday - this is not anything arising out of this week but has been long-planned and worked on over the past number of weeks by the Minister, Deputy McEntee - the Minister will be out in the community of Cherry Orchard discussing the progress that is being made on plans there to have an inter-agency and interdepartmental approach to solving some of the issues and challenges of that community.
I support my colleague, Senator Buttimer. I also note that we need a debate on FIFA and the whole abhorrent decision to have the World Cup in Qatar. Anyone who did the slightest piece of research would have known that that was a country which was going to completely stand apart when it came to the treatment of people and would have no sense of human rights whatsoever. The stories coming out of the country over the past number of years have been horrific and it is modern-day slavery. Those stadia, which people are sitting in, are built with the blood of migrants to that country. It is appalling to support this World Cup in any way, shape or form.
Yesterday the Iranian team did not sing its national anthem at 1 p.m. At 4.30 p.m. we all received a briefing document from the Iranian Embassy in our inboxes, which was 21 pages of propaganda, and, frankly, lies, claiming things are not the way they are, that there was no violence in the deaths that occurred, and that what we see and know is going on is not actually going on at all. I want to completely condemn the Iranian Embassy for having the audacity to send a such a document in. I sent the embassy back an email making my feelings known but it is a completely abhorrent thing for it to do, and for it to think that it might get away with such propaganda on such a large scale.
I inform the Leader that in the UK, the Covid-19 inquiry is getting down to brass tacks in examining the political decision-making of Boris Johnson’s government during the pandemic and scrutinising the actions taken in combating the virus. Decisions which led to the imposition of the three national lockdowns and the regional restrictions, together with measures such as working from home, the reduction of contact, and the use of face coverings will be examined. The chair, Baroness Heather Hallett, has said that those who suffered during the pandemic would be a part of the inquiry.
This is the fifth time I have raised the issue of the complete absence of a Covid-19 inquiry in this country. The first time I did so was 16 months ago when, in my naivete, I took it for granted that such sweeping interventions into public life would be the subject of some critical appraisal in hindsight. More fool me to expect that the Chief Medical Officer and NPHET and the Cabinet, which handed over the reins of the country to them, would ever deign to admit that they had any mistakes to learn from.
The writing was very much on the wall when the Government decided to wind down its one and only Covid-19 committee, competently chaired by Deputy McNamara, on 8 October 2020, snap-bang in the middle of the pandemic. The role of the committee was to consider and take evidence on the State’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. NPHET had to be dragged kicking and screaming in front of the committee to answer a few questions and a quiet word must have been had, because the order to wrap the committee up came soon thereafter. The Cabinet realised it was inconvenient that there should be such a forum for parliamentarians to which it would be responsible. Vaccinations were pushed on to children, when the data for doing so was inconclusive. We now know of at least one death which resulted from that and who knows how many more there may be.
Now we are on to the next thing. I am sure it is the desire of the Government that we will just let bygones be bygones, sweep it under the carpet, not talk about it, and that in years to come, when we talk of Covid-19, there will be no lessons learned, no recognition of mistakes made or accountability for such.We will all just shake our heads and say, "Sure, that was awful, wasn't it?" and continue on blithely. It is state-sanctioned gaslighting at national scale and it will not work. The Government should man-up, set up an inquiry and face the music.
I concur with other speakers, Senators O'Sullivan, Flynn and Seery Kearney, about the attack on two members of An Garda Síochána yesterday. It is not a blight on a whole community but a blight on the individuals who carried out the act and those who filmed it and circulated it on social media. It should be rightly condemned. It is clear that there is an increasing lack of respect for the uniform and the profession of An Garda Síochána. It is an unarmed police force to care for and protect communities. I wholly condemn it.
I disagree with the motion put forward by Senator Boyhan and the Independent group regarding the naming of the children's hospital. I have read something of Dr. Kathleen Lynn and I know that she was a fine woman. I have nothing against her or her work, lest anyone get me wrong, but I firmly believe that we should not agree to a motion about any name being put forward in the House, first, without a debate and, second, without going through a process of inviting groups to suggest other names, whether a woman or a man, and engaging. This has been a much-maligned project, as we know, over some time. I am proud to be part of the Government that, instead of talking about this for decades, went ahead and built this. I had the pleasure of visiting the facility last July. It is a world-class facility. The name should include the words "children's hospital" and "Ireland" rather than naming it after one individual. I strongly disagree with putting forward a motion here without a debate.
I apologise that I must leave the Order of Business early. The Government has once again demonstrated that it is unwilling or unable to deal with the housing crisis. This weekend, a Government memo confirmed a housing budget underspend of almost €500 million so far this year. Just days ago, the Minister finally acknowledged what most independent experts and Sinn Féin have been saying for a long time, namely, the targets the Government is setting are too low. The Government effectively admitted that even if it meets its low targets, the crisis will continue. Yet it continues to fail to meet even these modest targets. Houses, much like Dublin buses, disappear off the radar, never to be accounted for again.
Unfortunately, with each year of under-supply, the overall housing need increases further. We have now met an unprecedented point in the housing crisis. In the last 12 months rents across the State have increased by an average of 14% to an average of €1,688. In Dublin, the average rent is now €2,258 a month. Six education trade unions have this week issued a joint statement that the effective delivery of education is now fundamentally at risk because of the housing crisis. Schools and colleges cannot recruit and retain critical staff. They cannot get teachers. Children in emergency or unsuitable accommodation struggle to find a place to do their homework. Many young people are deferring their further education due to lack of accommodation.
The Minister may deny that this is an emergency. Sinn Féin will table a motion in the Dáil calling for a housing emergency to be declared. People will take to the streets on Saturday making their voices heard at the Raise the Roof rally. I commend them on it. It is time for the Government to listen to the people on the street, declare a housing emergency and introduce measures to help those struggling.
I have legislation going through the House called the Criminal Justice (Public Order) (Amendment) Bill. The Bill's purpose is to introduce a stronger, mandatory, sentence for anyone convicted of assaulting an emergency worker in the course of his or her duty.It successfully passed through Second Stage here some time ago and has now proceeded to Committee Stage. We have taken the lead from other jurisdictions, namely parts of Australia, New Zealand, parts of France, England and Scotland, which have already moved to introduce mandatory prison sentencing for anyone who assaults an emergency worker. Unfortunately, assaults on emergency workers are on the increase. We noted the horrific assault over the weekend of two members of the Garda, a man and woman going about their duty to protect the community they serve. Unfortunately, other professionals, be they nurses, paramedics, doctors or others in the medical setting, have been also subjected to an increasing number of assaults. It is time we called a halt and protected those who go out daily and put their lives on the line to protect us.
I am disappointed by the lack of progress on the legislation. Again, I call on the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, to embrace it. I am not saying it is perfectly scripted but its aim is to send a clear message to anyone who would assault an emergency worker in the course of duty that we will not stand for it. I hope the Minister will make progress in the legislation as a matter of urgency.
I support Senator Buttimer in offering condolences to those whose loved ones lost their lives in the United States. Club Q was the heart of the LGBT community. I hail those who put their lives on the line to stop the attack. It is absolutely incredible.
As has been mentioned, I support the Garda today on the work it does in our communities day in, day out. The incident that has been mentioned was shocking. We need to stand up for our gardaí, as at the vigil now taking place in Ballyfermot. What occurred was an attack on our society. The Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, has spoken about this. She called it an absolutely despicable act and will be taking action on it.
Let me take the opportunity on the Order of Business to speak about European Commission funding. A stimulus package of more than €217 million has been allocated to the Northern & Western Regional Assembly under European regional development funds. The Southern Regional Assembly takes on the southern area and there is also an assembly for the east, but the counties in the north and west have been designated a region in transition. The European Commission has indicated that, per capita, supports in that region are lower than in the rest of the country. The stimulus package is about building a more competitive region, smart specialisation and regional enterprise plans. It is also about energy efficiency. It will cover the retrofitting of homes. We know already that the west has some of the oldest housing in the country. The funding will support sustainable regeneration. All the elements, including Town Centre First, urban regeneration and rural regeneration, are crucial, but the funding will really support the Atlantic Technological University, with a focus on bringing industry, enterprise and jobs to the west. We want to see more people choosing the west as a place to live and work because it has the best quality of life. I thank the Northern & Western Regional Assembly, its director, Mr. David Minton, its chairperson, and Galway county councillor Mr. David Collins. The funding represents a fantastic achievement, so needed to help boost enterprise and our area in the west.
I support the comments of my colleague Senator Kyne on the national children's hospital.
I would like a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on supports for the sheep sector, which is in very difficult circumstances. A wool feasibility report recommended the setting up of a wool council, but that has not happened. The reality is that we need further direct supports to restore confidence in the industry. Could we have a discussion with the Minister on the future of the sheep industry in Irish agriculture?
I have to hand a copy of a report of the Joint Committee on Autism on the summer programme for 2023.The report was passed at our public session earlier. It relates to changes we feel need to be made for the summer programme for 2023. The reality is that 36 out of the 130-odd special schools offered a school-based programme last year, which meant that only 14% of the children in our special schools got a school-based summer programme. We had situations where we had parents nearly advertising their kids online to try to get someone to do a home-based programme. The vast majority and a significantly high percentage did not get that programme and it is needed. We published this recommendation. I would ask that this would be debated prior to Christmas, if possible, in both the Dáil and the Seanad, because it is to be laid before both Houses. We need to discuss this now, with both Departments and with the Ministers of State with responsibility for special education and inclusion disability, Deputies Madigan and Rabbitte, respectively. We need these changes made in order to ensure that every child, and particularly the children with the highest level of need, get a school-based programme in 2023.
In response to what Senator Davitt said about money resting in accounts, as we know, it does not always earn interest. Fr. Ted Crilly was a great man for saying that money was resting in his account.
I wish to make two brief points. First, I do not believe that mandatory sentences are the way to deal with violence against police. The people who go to jail on mandatory sentences will get six months or a year at Mountjoy and their life is ruined as a consequence. Financial penalties are sometimes far more effective than putting some young fellow into jail.
Second, I refer to a certain type of case that has arisen in the past. I remember a case involving a Sinn Féin supporter called McIntyre who got substantial damages after being prosecuted for assaulting gardaí when he proved to a jury that he had been the victim of the assault. There has to be a fair approach to all of this. Sending people to jail on a kind of American basis where there is no hope for them and they have to go to jail is not the answer to the problem. Nobody is more supportive of the Garda than I am, but I just do not think it would achieve its stated purpose.
On what was said about the motion in the names of Senator Boyhan, me and others, I do not think Senator Boyhan wants to deprive anybody of the opportunity of discussing the matter. If the Leader were to indicate that some time would be made available to discuss this issue at some point in the future where everybody in the House could have an opportunity to put their tuppence worth, we could arrive at a happy solution rather than put the matter to a vote.
Every November we mark the gender pay gap in Ireland and across other European countries. The reality is that in Ireland, women workers on average earn almost a quarter less compared with their male counterparts. The latest available data is for 2020. We know that women, on average, earned 22% less on an annual basis. This is not the hourly basis that one often hears quoted; this is annual basis. Some 22% less is a shocking figure. That is in spite of significant growth in full-time female employment during the pandemic years of 2020 to 2022. We will see the legislation on gender pay gap reporting, which is very welcome, kicking in at the end of this year. However, it is important to note that is only one measure. Until we have proper collective bargaining rights in this country and proper transparency as to how jobs and promotions are advertised, we will not have any hope of trying to narrow that 22% figure.
The other issue I just want to briefly reference is regarding the disgraceful scenes that we have seen in East Wall over the past few days. It is important to say that from talking to people in East Wall, because I live not that far from it, many are very hurt that the name of their area has been dragged through the mud and they are being depicted as racist and anti-immigrant.The reality could not be more different.
There can be no excuse for protests. No matter what pressure there is on local services, there can never be an excuse to intimidate people or make them feel unwelcome. This is a co-ordinated effort on the part of certain individuals to try to rouse up a crowd outside of the old ESB building in East Wall. I support what Senators Hoey and Ruane spoke about earlier but it is important to say that there is an enormous strain in the north inner city, in that there is a massive shortage of services in health, education and early years services. The Government has to step up. As things are already under an enormous strain, the Government has to step up and put those services in place so that it does right by both the 380 individuals and families going into the old ESB building and everybody else in the community as well.
I have four minutes and four full pages of notes on what was presented to me so if I do not get to everybody I apologise but I will try to touch on the main topics. I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator O'Loughlin and I will take up her offer too. We will withdraw her amendment and I will come back and see if we can find time to debate it if that is okay with the Independent Group.
One of the biggest topics that was raised is our support for An Garda Síochána. What we witnessed the other night is hard to understand and comprehend. What is even worse is it is not an isolated incident; these incidents are being presented to our gardaí week in and week out. That is not just happening in the areas we hear about on the television because there are bad apples in every single community and it is not fair to name Ballyfermot, Ballymun or any of the places we come from because there are bad apples in every barrel in every part of Ireland. I do not make the following point in any disrespectful way towards anybody who made contributions today or to any Minister, current or former. It is easy for us to stand up and say we support the Garda. We value our policing by consent because it makes for an Irish model. Irish society is changing, however, and I am not sure I can stand here and genuinely say I agree with the point about sentencing instead of fining. I am supportive of early intervention and providing services for children and young adults who might otherwise be led into certain types of lifestyles but we have an element of pure evil in our society that no amount of €1,000 or €5,000 fines will fix.
I do not know what the answer is and I am not standing here saying I do but Senators will agree with me that the morale in the Garda is as low as I have ever seen it. When I was younger and we were getting work after school and college, a number of members of my family, as in all of our families probably, went into An Garda Síochána. We felt pride for them and we still do but I am sorry because I would not let any of my children consider being a garda today because their morale is so low and the conditions they are working under are so different to what they were before. We say we support them and yet we are doing little to show we support them.
That is what we need to concentrate on, not just at our level but at every level of society and in the Government, particularly our Ministers and the Cabinet. A young man is in hospital today with staples and stitches in his head from being beaten with his own torch the other night. Two female gardaí who were in Cherry Orchard a couple of weeks ago have not gone back to work yet and there is no sign of them doing so. The Garda in Balbriggan is down nearly 10% on the quota of its employment figures because its members are sick and they cannot come to work. The stress they are working under is palpable and we need to do something about it and stop talking about it. That is my tuppence worth.
The other thing that was brought up by many Senators is the ugly scenes we saw in East Wall the other night. They are not unique and we have seen them in other parts of the country in recent years. Senator Ruane talked about how difficult it is to have those conversations with people you care about because there is a growing sense among people and not just those - and I do not know who they are except maybe two or three personalities who we know from the media - who we call the far right, as if there is some looming group over there. There are individuals but their sentiments are creeping into what we would call normal society. The responsibility on changing, challenging or fixing that has to be borne by all of us. I do not know how to have those conversations either, except, as Senator Ruane said, by doing so quietly with the people you love and care about. One must explain the point to them, no matter what their anger or issue is with the State or with a lack of services.Many communities have for many moons had difficulties and issues that need to be addressed. It is not the fault of the men who got off the bus in East Wall the other night, however, or the people who live in counties Sligo or Clare who have come to our shores because they flee circumstances that some of us maybe cannot even comprehend. While life is difficult in Ireland, it cannot be anything remotely as difficult as having to get on a boat or train to leave a country thousands of miles away. We all know the difficulties of some of those people who have come here. We need to challenge ourselves as to how we have that conversation to make sure the hospitality and heart we know Irish people have is maintained in our welcome.
The other main issue today was raised by Senator Buttimer. I have always been a huge fan of football. Over the last number of years, we have seen both the power and the demise of FIFA as an organisation. We have seen how men who were giants in our eyes for donkeys years have been crumbled by corruption. What I saw this week, however, was one of the weakest organisations I have ever seen. What I really do not know or understand is why. We are all well aware of the horrendous reputation of Qatar. A figure of 85% of the people who live there are immigrants, and it is not by accident. It is absolutely by design. I really do not understand how smart people who are at the top of their game managing an international sport could have allowed what happened this week to happen. Even worse to my mind is that the entire world is looking on with this elephant in the room. While we all say it is disgraceful, it will still carry on. We still have play-offs, semi-finals and great matches and festivities. In the meantime, however, people are being marginalised because of who they are and we are doing nothing about it.
One of our colleagues today spoke about the bravery of the Iranians who stood up for the people of their country yesterday. At the same time, we as a country are going to reopen our embassy in Teheran in the next couple of weeks. I really do not know what is going on in international communities when we think it is okay to reward people who have disgusting human rights records, which is exactly what we did with Qatar. Even on smaller levels, however, we all have a contribution to make. To my mind, opening our embassy in Teheran is absolutely despicable.
Senator Fiona O'Loughlin has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 22 be taken before No. 1." This has been seconded by Senator Malcolm Byrne. The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.
Senator Victor Boyhan has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 128, motion 5, be taken before No. 1, without debate." Is the amendment being pressed?