Seanad debates

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

2:30 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh na Seanadóirí ar ais. Guím athbhliain faoi mhaise dóibh go léir. I also welcome to the Gallery, Councillor Karen Coakley. On her first official duty, I call on the Leader to outline the Order of Business for today.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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At the outset I pay tribute to and thank my predecessor, Senator Doherty, who, I think we can all agree, did a fantastic job over the past two and a half years in this position. It has been a pleasure to work with her. We are still working as the same team. It has been great to have such a smooth transition thanks to her office in the past few weeks in particular.

The Order of Business is No. 1, the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) (Amendment) Bill 2022, Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. 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 the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome you, a Chathaoirligh, to the Chair officially at the start of the season. I also welcome the new Leader and wish her well for the term ahead in the next two and half years or so.

On numerous occasions I have raised the issue of Inland Fisheries Ireland. I thought I would not need to start the new year talking about Inland Fisheries Ireland, but unfortunately I do. Last year there were three resignations from the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland, including the chairman. Already this year there have been two resignations from the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland, including the interim chairperson. It is safe to say that when any board has five resignations in the space of eight or nine months there are questions to be asked. The Minister must ask these questions of the Department officials. Why have those who have day-to-day responsibility for the running of the fisheries section within his Department not advised him to appoint members to the board?

Section 19(2) of the Inland Fisheries Act 2010 states: "If an appointed member resigns, dies, ceases to hold office (other than on completing a term of office), ceases to be qualified for office or is removed from office, the Minister shall as soon as practicable appoint a person to fill the casual vacancy so occasioned". The Minister is very busy and has considerable responsibilities. However, certainly his officials have day-to-day responsibility in the Department for the running and oversight of Inland Fisheries Ireland.All public servants and State agencies must be accountable to a board. I am calling for a debate on the matter of Inland Fisheries Ireland. I also ask the Minister to make emergency appointments to the IFI board to allow it to carry out its duties and all the requirements of oversight. The oversight provided by boards is important in respect of the higher echelons of the agency for which they are responsible. Boards also have a role to play in liaising with the Minister, policy, implementing the corporate plan and every other responsibility they have. There are issues in respect of the appointments to the board. It is important. One hears things on the grapevine in these Houses and I am concerned that the Minister may now be advised by his officials to dissolve the board and start again. That is not going to solve the issues. Those issues and problems are not with the board. The board is doing its jobs. It was investigated by Mr. Conleth Bradley, senior counsel, last year, which was reported. Mr. Bradley found nothing adverse in that regard. The board is not the problem. The Minister needs to know and accept that. The board is not the problem.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an gCathaoirleach agus leis an gCeannaire. It is lovely to be back here.

The problems we had in 2022 did not go away during the Christmas recess. I will speak about the ongoing attacks on members of An Garda Síochána. The situation is becoming very serious. We should remember that an attack on a member of the Garda not only affects the victim but also affects the community he or she serves. A garda out of action because of an assault means one fewer gardaí who can provide policing services in the local area. More important is the garda's family. I can tell the House about the traumatic effect on the partners, wives, husbands and children of gardaí who have been attacked while protecting communities. It is causing severe upset and hurt to many families. It is scaring children and other people. We must speak out and be strong on this issue.

I welcome the fact that the interim Minister for Justice, Deputy Harris, met Garda management yesterday morning to discuss recruitment in the organisation. There are plans to recruit an extra 1,000 members in 2023. The important issue is that the funding is there to recruit those gardaí. I checked this morning. Money is also available to recruit extra staff. It is important for all of us that those 1,000 extra gardaí go to Templemore and come onstream as quickly as possible.

We must protect all front-line workers. We have all heard about healthcare staff and others on the front line who are being affected and I will speak about them another day. My clear focus today is on the treatment of members of the Garda by an aggressiveness that is increasing, day by day.

I have used strong words in describing attacks on members of the Garda. We need to continuously review and look at the relevant legislation. We must ensure that the Garda has every back-up possible.

The Government is committed to the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022, which I understand will be brought through the Houses this year. The maximum penalty available for the offence of assault causing harm will be increased from five years' imprisonment to ten years' imprisonment when the Bill comes onstream.

The issue of body-worn cameras is controversial. I want to ensure that the public are happy about the situation. I believe gardaí need those cameras. We might need to make decisions in that regard. Some people may have worries about the cameras and require reassurance. Perhaps at some stage we could invite the Minister to the House. I know the Government is committed to protecting our gardaí and creating the opportunity for more gardaí to be appointed. Perhaps the Minister will come to the House to discuss the matter in the not-too-distant future.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Leader on their appointments. The changing of the guard seems to have been seamless, which is great. I will see what I can do to disrupt that as time goes on.My colleague was speaking about An Garda Síochána. It is finding it extremely difficult to recruit people, as are the Defence Forces. The problem is the 2013 pension. There is no incentive for anybody to join either An Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces, leaving aside the pay and conditions and the assaults that take place. There is no pension worth talking about at the end of their service. I would ask the Leader to organise a debate in this House on front-line workers and how they are not similar to every other public servant. We might organise that in the near future.

Rarely do people approach my house on the issue of what goes on in this House. Rarely do people speak to me about what goes on in this House. Anyone who follows my Twitter feed, and I know everyone in here does, will know that this weekend I was particularly preoccupied about what is going on in the Dáil today with the Minister, Deputy O'Donohoe. People ask me: "Have you guys nothing better to do than to pull each other's houses down?" We have attacks on the Minister to explain his electoral expenses and on Sinn Féin to explain its €7,000 in polling or whatever. People are sick to the back teeth of it. They do not want to hear it. Give the Standards in Public Life Commission, SIPO, the power it needs to do the job it needs to do and let us stop wasting Oireachtas time.

I am two and a half years talking about search and rescue services in this House. Recently, I got the accounts of the company that provides helicopter services. It claims that it lost €6 million over the last two years. Does anybody want to talk about that in this House? Not yet; nobody has risen to support me on that. The national children's hospital has gone way over budget. Does anybody want to talk about that? Not really, apart from the odd grand speech. We should be carrying out detailed oversight of what is going on. I know that the Cathaoirleach has supported me at the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on the need for greater oversight and things like that. We need to start doing the job we are being paid to do. I would ask that people refrain from this petty squabbling that is taking place. It is unseemly for all of us. If there is something to be done then let us get it done and get it over with.

My good friend and colleague, Battalion Quartermaster Sergeant John O'Brien, and Orla Kettle are with us. BQMS O'Brien is from the 27th Infantry Battalion, which is the battalion in which Private Seán Rooney, who sadly lost his life in Lebanon, served. BQMS O'Brien was on duty that night. It is my great honour to have him here today. I would ask that we remember the risk our soldiers and our police force put themselves at on a daily basis.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Craughwell. On behalf of the House, I welcome Battalion Quartermaster Sergeant John O'Brien and his partner, Orla Kettle, to the House. As we did at our final sitting before Christmas, we remember Private Seán Rooney and send our best wishes to Private Shane Carney. We thank them. We welcome Mr. O'Brien and thank him for his service. We hope that he and his colleagues remember that we are very grateful for what they do on our behalf both at home and overseas.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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The Cathaoirleach is very welcome to the Chair. It is lovely to see him sitting there. I congratulate Senator Chambers who I am sure will do a fantastic job as she did as Deputy Leader. I very much enjoyed working with her and I know that I will continue to work well with her. I also wanted to welcome BQMS O'Brien and Ms Kettle. I thank them for coming in. It is very important that we have that meeting between the legislators and people who are impacted by the work that goes on here. It is very important.

I wanted to raise the really important and shocking situation in emergency departments in our hospitals around the country. I found myself in an emergency department in recent weeks. We talk about waiting lists and people's concerns but I wanted to say that the staff are doing a job that we all feel is one of the most important jobs and they are doing it seamlessly. I spoke to staff when I was there who were working 13-hour days with two breaks. One nurse told me that she did not like to take her final break because she hated the thought of people waiting for her to come back.Thirteen hours a day is an awful long time for her to be on her feet and surrounded by people who have been waiting hours to get in to see her.

Something needs to be done. I have a concern that we have an ageing population and we are failing to see that forward planning in many instances. University Hospital Galway has a catchment area with a population of 1.1 million people, which is huge. We are seeing some changes there as we see a new emergency department is on the cards and it has got the approval of Cabinet, but we are still a way off that. Even to sort out that one issue is not to sort out all of the issues around staffing. That is the number one issue that doctors, nurses and all staff across the hospital are telling us about and it needs to be resolved. It would be appropriate to speak to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and that we would have him in the House to discuss forward planning across a number of areas, in particular forward planning between him and the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, on how we can get that workforce and ensure that people stay in the country, given over half of our doctors are leaving the country. That is an urgent debate that we need to have in the coming weeks.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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It is great to see Senator Buttimer in the Chair and to see the new Leader, Senator Chambers. I wish them all the best for the coming term.

I want to raise an issue which probably will not surprise people, given it is about dog welfare. I put this down as a Commencement matter and I will appeal the decision taken because I think the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a role in this case. It is in the Cathaoirleach's own county. Cork County Council issued a closure order on a puppy farm in Doneraile over the Christmas month, having sent improvement notices and flagged a number of different issues with the millionaire heiress, Ms Broderick, who owns the puppy farm. It issued that closure notice in January. When the council vets inspected it, they came across 218 animals that were confined to undersized kennels in sub-zero temperatures, without any bedding or heat source. They were lying in their own faeces and, in some cases, the dogs were not groomed. They were displaying all of the behavioural signs one will see with dogs that are under stress, such as repetitive movements and eating their own faeces.

We then see those behavioural issues playing out when people bring the dogs home. They are coming out of puppy farms but they are not properly socialised, they are under stress and they are reacting. We then wonder why we have an increase in dog attacks.

This closure order was very welcome. As I said, there were 218 animals. Ms Broderick had a licence for 50 breeding bitches onsite but there were over 200 dogs when the vets inspected the site and they issued the closure order. A concern has been raised by a number of different animal welfare organisations that the notice for closure stated that it is now up to Ms Broderick to rehome or resell those animals that were onsite. It is very hard to get a closure order in that there has to be a direct threat to the life of the animal, so the bar is very high. If Cork County Council felt the bar was met in issuing that closure order, I cannot understand how it can leave those animals on the property of the person who is responsible for inflicting that harm on those animals.

I think that is an issue for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which is why I put in a Commencement matter. I will appeal the decision. There is an animal welfare issue here. Those animals are not safe and they are not on the property of somebody who cares about their welfare. A precedent was already set in regard to the Myshall puppy farm that closed in Carlow, where 340 dogs were seized. When that closure notice was issued, the dogs were taken and rehomed, so I would ask why Cork County Council has not seized these animals. The other question is whether it is because the pounds and shelters are completely at capacity. I was flagging in advance of Christmas, before the Christmas dogs are due to start arriving at the pounds and shelters, that they are already over capacity. Those dogs need to be taken out of that premises.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an gCathaoirleach agus leis an gCeannaire. Beir bua leis an obair. I express solidarity with all those colleagues who have been subjected to appalling acts of hate and harassment over recent weeks and, indeed, a longer period. People in both Houses, and our local authority colleagues, have been the subject of shocking acts over recent weeks. This is not new, but we have seen new lows. I am thinking of my former colleague in Dublin City Council, Councillor Vincent Jackson, who has given a lifetime of commitment to people in Ballyfermot. To be subjected to that harassment is, frankly, appalling. People in this Chamber and those in local authorities have also been subjected to awful acts. I express solidarity with them.

These acts are not just confined to the political system. Many people, including those who are new arrivals in this country and who are living in refugee centres, have been subjected to intimidation and harassment. From talking to Dublin City Council officials, particularly housing officials, they say that the past six months have been some of the worst they have ever experienced in terms of the abuse and threats that have been made by people. We see members of the Garda talking about a new low. At the weekend, part of the hand of a garda was bitten off. These events are truly shocking. There are no easy answers, but conversations need to take place about how communities can either tear each other apart or how we work together to better the services that are needed. We all get that there are frustrations, especially as regards the lack of housing and other services, but we need to do something to end these awful lows we are now seeing.

I ask that the new Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coveney, come to the House. Just over 27,000 workers work with some of the biggest employers in this country. They face huge uncertainty as to whether they will lose their jobs because their employers have said they will cut jobs across their global workforce in the coming months. At least 2,500 jobs have already gone. We know the temporary business energy support scheme is not working for quite a number of companies, with very viable restaurants having to close. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister come to the Chamber for a debate on that matter.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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It is great to see the Cathaoirleach in the Chair. I congratulate the Leader on her new role. I hope everybody had a very peaceful and restorative break over the Christmas period.

I am sure that many in the Chamber will be familiar with the disturbing findings in the most recent report on child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, from the Mental Health Commission. It paints an absolutely stark picture of the state of CAMHS in this country. The report describes a disorganised, patchwork system operating in a chaotic and dysfunctional manner despite the best efforts of overstretched and exhausted healthcare workers. It is a system that is desperately in need of a radical overhaul to ensure that children's rights to dignity, safety and the highest standard of medical care are vindicated.

So many alarming issues are revealed in this report. I do not have time to go through them all but I will share some of them. The lack of proper case management is truly shocking. The revelation that children are being put on anti-psychotic medications without the proper medical monitoring in line with international best practices is deeply troubling. Have lessons been learned from the major scandal in south Kerry CAMHS that emerged just a few months ago? The report outlines how hundreds of children have been lost in the CAMHS system due to a failure to follow up on their cases. The lack of care taken with these children is horrifying. It should make us absolutely outraged and inspire action, a desire for change and accountability. These services are seriously and dangerously understaffed. Some of them are based in inadequate premises and an overwhelming number of them do not have access to online case-management and record-keeping software. Without adequate staffing, resources and infrastructure these services are being set up to fail.

As previous speakers stated, our healthcare system is deeply dysfunctional. It lurches from one crisis to the next. I fear that we are getting to a stage where this kind of perpetual crisis has become normalised.That is worrying. I worry the public will become so pessimistic and cynical that they will stop expecting anything better. A roadmap is needed for the root and branch revitalisation of CAMHS. Ring-fenced funding, minimum staffing levels, further legislative regulation in the Mental Health Act and a tangible benchmark that progress can be measured against are needed. This can no longer be waved away with promises and good intentions. We have to remember the Proclamation of the Irish Republic contains a promise to cherish "all the children of our nation equally" and here we are more than a century later with families at their wits' end with worry, struggling to access help for their children's mental health issues. We are in a crisis. This is not a feature of a functioning republic. It is a sign of a failed state, to be honest. I ask that Minister of State, Deputy Butler, address the House about her plans for CAMHS and her response to this report.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate Senator Buttimer on his appointment as Cathaoirleach and wish the new Leader, Senator Chambers, the best of luck for the coming term.

I will raise the issue of the evolving relationship and partnership between Coillte and an English investment fund, Gresham House, their formation of the Irish strategic forestry fund and the role that is being played in this process by the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. There is a lot of concern among the farming community, landowners, rural dwellers and the public about where this is going and what its consequences will be. The €1.3 billion investment in the forestry programme before Christmas was welcomed across the House. However, that was in the belief at the time that this money would be used to incentivise farmers to develop forestry on a smaller scale and be more sporadically distributed throughout the country. Now we believe it will be investor driven and that a large proportion of the €1.3 billion will go to investors as opposed to landowners and the farming community. Investor-driven afforestation will be larger and more concentrated in specific areas. Many concerned citizens and public representatives have contacted me about this. There are many more questions than answers. I ask the Leader, and indeed plead with her, to invite the relevant Minister to the House for a debate as soon as possible. This is an evolving issue which we must have the opportunity to discuss with the Minister at his earliest convenience.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to see Senator Buttimer in the Chair. I congratulate him on his role and wish him the very best. I also congratulate the new Leader. I look forward to working with both of them.

However, I am beginning their tenure with a complaint that the Commencement matter I tabled this morning stating the need for the Minister for Health to provide a timeline in bringing the amendments to the Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill 2022, which relates to international surrogacy, to the Select Committee on Health, was ruled out of order on the ground that the Minister has no official responsibility in the matter. If the Minister has no responsibility in the matter, who does? He was able to come out on the Plinth to make a big announcement last December, following the report of the joint committee last June, that the Cabinet had agreed the amendments on international surrogacy and to legislate for same. The Minister had the responsibility and glory of making that announcement, yet he is not responsible for the delivery of the drafted legislative amendments. I do not understand where that comes apart. This is not a victimless delay. Tomorrow a case will be heard in the High Court. It is a further adjournment of a case to tomorrow's date where a man is potentially terminally ill and the mother of the children needs a legal status regarding their children. Last week, I spoke to a woman on the phone whose ex-husband had weaponised the children to such an extent, that because she had the temerity to lodge a maintenance request with the courts, he called the An Garda to the house. He can seize her genetic child at any moment because of the lack of legislation governing international surrogacy.It is not acceptable for us to say that it is out of order because the Minister is responsible for overseeing his Department's drafting of legislation and is accountable for that. I dispute that assertion. We will have the same thing with the apartment defects. There are real people whose lives are affected by this every day. If this decision stands, I want a debate on how the Standing Orders of the House work and operate. It seems to me that if a Minister has the glory of announcing a Government decision, he must be accountable for delivery of the associated legislation.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for her contribution and her extraordinary work on this particular matter. While not aiming to strike a discordant note, as I explained in my communication to the Senator, this is predominantly a matter of scheduling. The Minister is not answerable to the House in respect of his schedule. The committees and the Houses of the Oireachtas set their own work programmes. I am happy to talk to the Senator further to see how we can progress the matter she has raised rather than having a discordant debate and difference of opinion here. The Senator raises some pertinent points as to how we can progress work as the Houses of the Oireachtas. In this case, I have adjudicated on the matter. The Minister should not have to respond specifically on scheduling, which is a matter for the committee. I am happy to talk to the Senator further on that matter.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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With all due respect, it is not about the scheduling of the committee. It is about the delivery of the draft amendments. There is a difference.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I appreciate that. We can talk again.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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Perhaps it is a question of semantics.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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We can talk about it further.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for her work.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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It is good to see the Cathaoirleach in the Chair today. Having come back from our Christmas break, we should waste no time beating around the bush. We need to address the single most important issue in this country at the moment: the Government's unsustainable immigration policy and what the Government's response will be to the public's reaction to its failure. As protests continue across the country, the Government must decide what its response will be. Will it double down, insisting that the policies in question are correct and above reproach, and have the State's media dismiss dissent and denounce concerned citizens as unwitting victims of brainwashing by nefarious overseas forces, or will it listen to the concerns of the people, engage in dialogue and be willing to at least entertain the notion that something it is doing might be wrong?

There is an entire generation of Irish people who have never known this country not to be in a housing crisis. Every week, you see tweets from young people saying that all of their friends are emigrating, most citing a lack of housing as the primary, if not the only, reason. At the same time, more than 70,000 recipients of temporary protection have entered the country, having been invited by a Government that refuses to cap the number of applicants in denial of the country's logistical capacity to accommodate them. Some of these people ended up sleeping in tents in military camps. Those who flagged this ahead of time were decried as being uncaring, unsympathetic and even xenophobic. Over roughly the same period, from 2021 to 2023, the number of people living in international protection accommodation services, IPAS, direct provision accommodation has more than doubled from 7,000 to over 19,000. The vast majority of these applicants for international protection are from Georgia, north Africa and sub-Saharan countries that are not engaged in any international conflict. In 2021, the Government said that it would end direct provision. Last week, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, stated-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I am nearly finished. Last week, the Minister stated that Ireland will not be able to find accommodation for all of the refugees and asylum seekers arriving here in the coming weeks. A few months ago, this fact would have been viewed as dangerous-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Thank you.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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-----right-wing rhetoric. Will the Leader please let us have a debate on this issue in the House so that it can be openly debated? Let us look after the people who have come into this country.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Like others, I welcome the Cathaoirleach and the Leader to their new roles. I echo the comments of Senator Paul Daly, who expressed some of the concerns around what has been happening at Coillte and the lack of transparency there. I support his calls for a debate. Today's announcement of Oscar nominations is welcome. A record number of nominations are Irish or related to Ireland. It is particularly positive for the Irish content creation and film industries. We have sought a debate in this House on the future of the film industry, particularly with regard to the withdrawal of the regional uplift, before. I ask that the Leader consider asking the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, to come to the House to debate that issue.

In recent weeks, many of us will have attended the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.It is a wonderful exhibition and I commend BT on continuing to sponsor it, and Mari Cahalane for organising it. Shane O'Connor and Liam Carew from the Abbey School in Tipperary town won with a really interesting social science project about the impact of second level education, which I think can be used to inform adolescent life. A project that grabbed my attention was by two Wexford students, Leanne Mahon and Aimee Farrell from FCJ Secondary School in Bunclody, who studied the impact of vaping on young people. I know this has come up in this House before and we are to bring forward legislation to deal with it and restrict the sale of vapes to under-18s. What stunned me about part of their project was that vapes are now being sold alongside sweets and chocolates in supermarkets and grocery stores. It is a serious problem. I know from talking recently to Tidy Towns groups and committees that vaping litter is now one of the biggest problems in our towns and communities. I welcome that the legislation to deal with this is being prioritised by the Government. I hope it will have cross-party support in this House.

Photo of John McGahonJohn McGahon (Fine Gael)
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I call for a debate on social welfare offices across this country. Before Christmas, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, outlined some of the extra supports she has put in place, such as the ability to move staff from other sectors of social protection into our social welfare offices to try to process applications as quickly as possible. The reason I am raising this matter today is because in my home town of Dundalk, people are now waiting seven, eight, nine or ten weeks for basic financial and emergency assistance. That assistance comes in the form of, for example, the white appliances allowance. Everyone in this House will know that when someone gets a new council house, they can apply for kitchen appliances like a cooker or a washing machine, for flooring or for other items like bedframes. This basic stuff is needed to move into an unfurnished house. In previous times that application might take a maximum of two weeks. People who were offered brand new homes in the first week of November put these applications in at that time but they have still not been processed. It is the same for those who apply for emergency funding for a deposit. They need €1,000 or €1,200 for a deposit straight away but they are now having to wait four, five, six or seven weeks. It is not the fault of staff in social welfare offices either. They are simply being overwhelmed by the huge volume of applications coming into them. I would like to call for a debate to find out exactly what the Minister's plans are to cut down these times, as she outlined before Christmas. I had a Commencement debate earlier today about work permits and the work that was done in the Department to cut dramatically the timeframe for processing applications. There is certainly a way to resolve and fix this. I would really appreciate if we could have a debate about that and what the Minister intends to do about it. To put it bluntly, it is simply not acceptable that someone has to wait a minimum of two months for a basic emergency funding application to be processed. We need to fix it. We need to figure out how to fix it, and we need to streamline those applications to get them across the line as quickly as possible.

Photo of Eileen FlynnEileen Flynn (Independent)
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I am looking forward to the new year, working with the new Leader and the new Cathaoirleach. Hopefully I will have as good a relationship with both of them as I had with the previous two people in those roles. I know I often get up to speak about the inequalities that the Traveller community faces within Irish society. For many years we have been the subject of hatred. We have been told that people do not want Travellers living in certain locations. We have seen Travellers' houses being burnt. We have seen lots of hatred towards our community. What is happening to refugees now, and what is happening in a lot of working-class communities, is fear-mongering and hatred. I know many a person from my community and beyond who is homeless. A few of them are single mothers, and some of them are desperate and in need of human rights and equality and for their needs to be met around housing or services within society. I just want to flag that. Not all of the people taking part in these protests are bad people. We have to understand that they are driven. I know that oppressed people can sometimes become the oppressors. According to bell hooks, "being oppressed is the absence of choices". I think it is up to this Government to take responsibility.We are not dealing with the housing crisis in the way we should be and there is no harm in saying that. It is not people's fault and the people who are here, be it men, women or children, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I am an Irish citizen, born and reared in Ireland, and have often walked down the street and been called a scummy knacker. I have often heard them say "you don't belong here". So who is Ireland's own? I want to put that message out there because by God it is not the Travellers. People come here and my own experience is that two of my children were delivered by Muslim doctors. We need to be very mindful even in labelling people as racist as well. I am trying to get that out there. We need to be careful with our language because a lot of people do not know what they are getting themselves into. They do not know what they are driven by and that is hatred and fear. This Government needs to take responsibility that it is the problem regarding the homeless crisis, not other refugees.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I support the Order of Business and I know we will have a debate on the crisis in the healthcare system regarding trolleys. I think that is an appropriate debate for the House this week and I look forward to it. I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and offer him best wishes for the months and years ahead.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I look forward to working with him and I thank him again for his work and his courtesy to me since I took office. Míle buíochas.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach and also the Leader, Senator Chambers, for coming today. It would be inconsistent if I did not raise the march last Saturday in Limerick of more than 11,000 people, and the concerns around the hospital. We will have the opportunity to discuss that situation during statements later in the week. However, I want to raise the issue of 140 children in community healthcare organisation, CHO, 3 in relation to the child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, has done an awful lot to try to turn services around, but we need to go a lot further. My concern is that in the interim report CHO 3 was the worst area. I know the main report is not due until the end of the year but to find that 140 children's cases had not been followed up, that many of them had no appointments, that many of them were on medication for longer than they needed to be, and that some of them were left to wait in accident and emergency departments to see a psychiatrist is really not acceptable. While I know the majority of those children have been reached out to at this stage, it should not have come to this. It should not have come to the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, had to ask for the report and that this is how this situation came about. This involves 140 children, which is quite a large number of children. These children did not receive the services that their families were reliant on. I would like to have a further debate on the issue because it is not just an issue for CHO 3 but a larger issue also. Would the Leader ask the Minister of State to come to the House in the near future to debate this issue?

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I wish the Cathaoirleach well as he takes up office. I also wish the Leader, Senator Chambers, well. We have already had her as Leader for parts of the last while. I wish them both well. They will be a formidable team and we are lucky and privileged in the Seanad to have people of their calibre. I genuinely say that and I genuinely mean that.

I want to raise the issue of thalidomide. We have had engagements with various representatives from the thalidomide action group both in the Dáil and Seanad. It is a travesty and it is difficult to believe that it was in 1961 that this drug was found to have caused birth defects. I was born in May 1961. I thought when I was writing a few notes today that strangely that is the year I was born and that I was lucky that my mother was not subject to this and that I was not subject to this. The drug was withdrawn in 1961 which I thought was a particularly interesting date as I read up about it again today. The action group and the people involved in it seek a fair and equitable compensation package to ensure their medical and social provisions can be looked after. I think that is reasonable and fair. They have heard a lot of promises and have placed a lot of store in meeting the Taoiseach last year and other people. For some reason we do not get beyond this point.They have had a lot of promises and have placed great store in meeting the Taoiseach last year and meeting other people. For some reason, we do not get beyond this point, despite all the deputations and all the engagement. I ask the Cathaoirleach and anyone else in the House who has contacts to use their good offices to see what we can do for these people. There are not too many of them left. It is really important we get a reasonable, fair compensation package, which is what is due to these people. Let us be fair and just in how we handle the legacy of this terrible issue.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and our new Leader on their new terms. I wish them both very well.

I am delighted, with my colleague, Senator Crowe, to introduce the Remuneration Information and Pay Transparency Bill. I would like No. 18 to be taken before No. 1.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Are you proposing an amendment to the Order of Business, Senator?

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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Yes, I propose that No. 18 be taken before No. 1. The Bill obliges employers with more than 50 employees to publish the salary scales of the job positions they have on offer. There will be some form of redress in the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, using the current employment infrastructure. The Bill will also prohibit employers from asking potential employees about their salary histories. I am delighted to introduce the Bill. My colleague, Senator Crowe, will second the proposal.

I also wish to mention what many Senators have stated today. Senator Seery Kearney, who has left the Chamber, and I went to the Drimnagh for All United Against Racism rally on Saturday. It might be an idea to have a debate in the House on this matter because people are conflating the issues of homelessness and the refugee crisis. A big war is happening. It is not being called the third world war but it is the biggest war on our doorstep as a member of the EU. The war is still ongoing in many parts, and people are fleeing here for refuge and a safe haven. I am delighted we are giving them those. There are people driven by fear and hate, and those driven by hate are wrongly getting the support of those who are perhaps driven by fear. Perhaps the Seanad could lead on this because it is a conversation happening in every household in the country. It is so easy to see black and white in this, but it is a lot more complicated than that. We should lead on it to try to ensure that we are a bit more peaceful and that we talk about it a little more.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I thank our new Cathaoirleach. I am part of the Ballinasloe Says No committee. It is really how I got involved in being a community representative. It is a community group that challenged the inappropriate location of a waste transfer station in Ballinasloe, in low-lying floodplains. We received news this week that Galway County Council has noted that the planning permission has lapsed for the proposed site. It was inappropriate and unsuitable. This is such a win for Ballinasloe. As a community, we said "No" to hundreds of 30-tonne trucks coming through the centre of our town, the air pollution and the impact on our environment and waterways. I wish to thank a number of people. So many have been involved, but I thank my brother Brian, who started all this. There was an objection based on the outcome of a 1999 High Court order, whereby families all around fought against this dump without proper infrastructure. In December 2017, five years ago, we came together, a committee with a chair, Vincent Parsons, Eamonn O'Donoghue, Mick O'Neill and treasurers Niall Donnellan and Darragh Dolan. Our family and friends went out knocking on doors, in snow and ice, like this time of year five years ago. We knocked on every door. More than 500 people came to our public meeting on 10 January. Among our public representatives here, Senator Eugene Murphy was very supportive. Other public representatives and councillors attended. Thousands of submissions were signed as we challenged permits over the past five years in the High Court. Our amazing volunteers who had to organise fundraisers, everyone in our community, the clubs and businesses that donated - all gave of their time. There were all our musicians and artists who helped us with fundraising nights of music in our hotels, Gullane's and the Shearwater, as well as table quizzes, raffles, floats and golf classics. We did everything to raise funds. We did everything to fight this battle. I thank our legal team of solicitors and barristers. We know, as a committee, that every step, motion and action in the past five years brought us to this step.

We will review future developments in this area. I just wanted to acknowledge this incredible achievement. It has spurred an awareness of the stunning landscapes on our doorsteps. There are so many positive things about it. We have a cycleway coming to Ballinasloe. I thank each and every person involved and Members of this House for their support.

Photo of Ollie CroweOllie Crowe (Fianna Fail)
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I wish the Cathaoirleach well in his term over the coming months and years. I also wish the Leader, Senator Chambers, well. There is no better lady for the job. This afternoon, with my colleague Senator Ardagh, I will bring the Remuneration Information and Pay Transparency Bill 2023 before the House. As Senator Ardagh outlined, the purpose of the Bill is twofold. The main aim is to significantly reduce the gender pay gap. We are all familiar with that issue, which is discussed week in and week out. The Bill seeks to have salary scales and ranges published when companies advertise jobs on a consistent basis. It is important to highlight, as Senator Ardagh outlined, that employers will not be in a position to request details of current or previous salaries of applicants. This is welcome legislation and I look forward to working on it with my colleague over the coming weeks.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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This morning, the National Transport Authority, NTA, officially announced the new greater Dublin area transport strategy, which extends until 2042. This follows Cabinet approval of the document last week. One of the first projects listed by the CEO of the NTA, Anne Graham, is the Navan rail line. Having represented the town of Navan and having fought for this project for a long time, I am delighted it has eventually become part of a multibillion euro package. I pay tribute to the people of Navan, who made their voices heard in this process. Of the 4,000 submissions the NTA received on all the projects across Ireland, some 2,000 of those, or 50%, came from the people of Navan and were for this rail line. That made the NTA sit up and listen to what we had been saying for years, namely, that the fastest growing town on the eastern seaboard, Navan, was the only one without rail connectivity.

I am glad this project is firmly part of the transport strategy but I want to ensure we have a debate with the Minister for Transport on the entirety of the plan, including on the Navan rail line. This must be kept on track from a planning point of view. I have been here before with major projects such as the M3 motorway. There were many lads and lassies up trees or down rabbit holes protesting that project. There were more lads down holes along the route in Meath than we saw in Fantastic Mr. Foxand they delayed the project by a significant number of years, adding €150 million to the price. They did so for naught because the objections were flawed. I want to make sure the people of Navan, who are enthused about this news, get a swift planning process to make sure this project becomes reality.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted to congratulate and address the Cathaoirleach, whom we called the Leader in a previous Seanad. I wish him the best. This is my first chance to do so since his elevation to high office. I also congratulate Senator Chambers on her appointment as Leader and thank Senators Mark Daly and Regina Doherty who previously held leadership positions for their work.

The following point may have been discussed already and, if so, I apologise for raising it again. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on which the Cathaoirleach recently worked. I ask for a discussion on where we are with the national car test, NCT, system. I will not say the NCT is beyond repair but it is out of control. For example, the earliest appointment available in Deansgrange on the NCT system is on 4 September.It is not exclusive to Deansgrange. It is the same all over the country. I have looked at other places. Whether it is Carrigaline, Clifden or various other parts of the country it is months and months away. I can go in at any hour of the day and look for slots and I might find one because somebody has cancelled one in April or one in May, but that is it. There are not big blocks being released at any time. We need to bring in the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to ask him what is going on. We are bringing him into the transport committee but I believe there are many more Senators than those who are members of that committee who have issues relating to the NCT. It is everyone's responsibility to be in possession of a car that is roadworthy, but it is a condition of driving that one has a valid NCT. All over the country, we have people driving who are kind of okay because while gardaí will not turn a blind eye, as long as the car looks roadworthy, they will let them off, but the reality is the system is not fit for purpose, there are enormous backlogs and we must deal with it.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank all Members who contributed to the Order of Business today. Senator Kyne spoke and has mentioned Inland Fisheries Ireland on a number of occasion. You will be aware, a Chathaoirligh, about the sensitivities around that issue. I will request a debate on the issue with the relevant Minister and see if we can get it scheduled, albeit that might be a challenge.

Senator Murphy spoke about An Garda Síochána. We all concur with his remarks about the awful attacks on members of An Garda Síochána. Senator Craughwell also raised issues relating to the Garda and the Defence Forces, including retention and attracting people to the force. I will request a debate with the Minister for Justice, Deputy Harris, on An Garda Síochána, to deal with not just the issues concerning their safety and well-being but also pensions and the retention issue that is now plaguing the force, as we have already seen with the Defence Forces for the past decade.

Senator Craughwell also spoke about the ongoing debate in the other House about the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. We will await the outcome of that debate. I do not want to get into the ins and outs of that particular issue.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly spoke about hospital emergency departments. A debate with the Minister for Health was also requested by Senators Mark Daly and Maria Byrne. The Minister for Health is in the Chamber on Thursday for statements on health and emergency department waiting times.

Senator Boylan spoke about dog welfare issues. It is disgraceful to hear the situation. I cannot understand it. I appeal to Cork County Council to remove those animals without delay. They should not be in a facility where it has already been adjudicated upon that they are not safe. Those animals should be removed. I can only assume they are still there because there is nowhere to move them to, but that is simply not good enough. Plans should be put in place immediately to find somewhere safe for those animals. I hope that the full rigours of the law come to bear on the individual concerned because we need to send a strong message about animal welfare and safety in this country. Those types of facility have no place in this country. Nobody wants to see animals coming out of such facilities. I thank the Senator for raising the matter and for providing such great detail on the floor of the House on what is happening in that situation. I am sure it is not an isolated incident. We can be damn sure there are other such facilities across the country. A message needs to go out that they will be closed down and that proper action will be taken. I object to the idea that the individual would be asked to sell those animals and make a profit from them. In my view, the company is not entitled to any profit from those animals.

Senator Sherlock spoke about the ongoing debate in both Houses and in wider society about the abuse meted out to politicians. I concur with her remark that all of us at some stage or another have been subjected to commentary that we should not have to deal with. Unfortunately, it is becoming part of the job, which is probably something we must push back against. It is welcome to see the issue being discussed and debated beyond these Houses as well. All we can do is continue talking about it and try to stop matters escalating.

Senator Sherlock also requested a debate with the new Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coveney, on the jobs already lost in the tech sector. I believe she was referring to the tech sector and to the challenges in that space. The Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, has also spoken about that issue, in terms of the readjustment that is happening in that space. Many new jobs were created in it during the pandemic but they are not being sustained. We will request that debate at the earliest opportunity.

Senator Black spoke about the CAMHS report. We all share her concerns about the report. Senator Maria Byrne raised the issue as well. A debate is scheduled with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, for Wednesday, 1 February on that report, and the entire area of child mental health. We will have that debate next week.

Senator Paul Daly spoke about forestry and Coillte. The issue was also raised by Senator Malcolm Byrne.That debate has been scheduled for 14 February with the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. We will have the debate in the coming weeks.

Senator Seery Kearney spoke around the issue of surrogacy. I commend her and others in this House, including Senator Ardagh, who have worked tirelessly on the area of assisted human reproduction with regard to the challenges and very real families and people who are behind those issues, and on the need to advance that legislation. I know the Senator will liaise with the Cathaoirleach on that Commencement matter. It is a matter for him to deal with.

A number of Senators raised, in slightly different ways, the issues with regard to international protection, individuals coming into the country and Ukrainian refugees. They referred to the challenges and strain that is putting on some services and the protests. Senator Keogan raised the issue, as did Senators Flynn and Ardagh. There are many angles to the issue. We have scheduled a debate with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for Wednesday, 15 February, to address all of those issues. It is a lot to fit in one debate. Future debates may require scheduling but, at least, it will be a start for Members to put their views on the floor of the House. I appreciate there are different views on different parts of that issue.

Senator Malcolm Byrne seconded the request by Senator Paul Daly for a debate on Coillte, which has been scheduled. He also requested a debate with the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, on the future of the film industry. We will request that of her. The Senator also spoke about a project from the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition by two students in Wexford on vaping. I concur with the Senator's remarks. It is a worrying trend and good to see the legislation is progressing. It is not surprising the tobacco companies are the same companies promoting vaping. They looked to move from one product to another and obviously have targeted children and young people. What would one expect really, other than that type of behaviour? Thankfully, our legislation is moving in that regard.

Senator McGahon has requested a debate on social welfare officers with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. We will request that debate at the earliest opportunity.

Senator Flynn spoke on the area of refugees and the conversations and language being used. We have scheduled the debate for Wednesday, 15 February.

Senator Mark Daly asked for a debate on emergency departments, as did others. That is happening on Thursday.

Senator Maria Byrne spoke, as she often does, about Limerick hospital. That debate is scheduled for Thursday. She has also spoken about the CAMHS report. That debate is happening on 15 February.

Senator Boyhan raised the issue of thalidomide sufferers and has asked that the few remaining survivors be accommodated with regard to the compensation package. I know the Government is working hard to resolve that issue. I do not have a further update for the Senator except what is already in the public domain, but it may be worth a Commencement matter to see where the issue is at.

Senator Ardagh requested an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 18 be taken before No. 1, which was seconded by Senator Crowe, to introduce the Remuneration Information and Pay Transparency Bill 2023. I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business and I commend both Senators for bringing the Bill to the House. It is very important legislation. Companies of a sufficient size and scale should be in a position to publish full information and not try to have a race to the bottom with regard to pitting candidates off each other, which can often happen where the salary is unknown and a candidate is asked about a previous salary. Anything we can do to empower employees and people in the jobs market is a very worthwhile endeavour. I look forward to debating that legislation at the earliest opportunity.

Senator Dolan spoke about Ballinasloe, as she very often does. I think we are all very aware of everything happening in the community of Ballinasloe; good, bad and in between. I commend the Senator and others who worked on that campaign. I know it is a very proud moment for any community, when a campaign that is backed by such passion and support is successful and the community wins out. It is important to acknowledge the work done by all the team.

Senator Crowe spoke about the Bill and the need to progress legislation with regard to pay transparency and remuneration.

Senator Cassells spoke about the National Transport Authority. I commend him for many years of work on advocating for the Navan rail line. He gives those of us who are campaigning for the western rail corridor some hope that, eventually, we may get there. It is very welcome and long overdue. Navan is a huge town and commuter area. It is a very difficult place from which to commute because of the lack of public transport. It is welcome that finally, at long last, the rail line is being advanced by the Government. I commend the 2,000 citizens who took the time and made the effort to make a submission. That makes the difference and this is evidence of it. The community has won today. It is great to see that announcement coming through and I commend Senator Cassells on his long work on that issue.

A debate on rail is scheduled for Thursday, 23 February. We will debate the Navan rail line, the western rail corridor and any other rail matters the Senators wish to raise.

Senator Horkan spoke about the NCT system. It might be worth a Commencement matter to see whether we can get an update. I know there are challenges throughout the country. It is affecting younger people who are trying to get on the road.I know there are challenges across the country, especially for younger people who are trying to get on the road. It is a big issue in rural parts of my area, Mayo, where people are trying to get driving. It is essential for getting to work or to college. Many students commute. It is a big issue that is not being sorted. We would welcome an update on that. If the Commencement matter does not yield the information that the Senator requires, we will look to schedule a debate on it at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Seanadóir Catherine Ardagh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 18 be taken before No. 1". It was seconded by Senator Crowe. The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.