Seanad debates

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

12:30 pm

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Criminal Justice Act 1984 (Treatment of Persons in Custody in An Garda Síochána Stations) (Amendment) Regulations 2023, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the orders of reference of the Joint Committee on Autism - extension of reporting deadline, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion regarding referral to committee of the proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2022 (section 4(2)) (Scheme Termination Date) Order 2023 - extension of reporting deadline, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, Patient Safety (Notifiable Incidents and Open Disclosure) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, to be taken at 2.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 4.45 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the 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, with the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 5, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2022 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Today, 6 March, is part of Seachtain na Gaeilge but it is also the start of the Oatlands College, Stillorgan, transition year students' musical. I commend the boys who are taking part in it and their transition year colleagues from Rockford Manor, who were in this Chamber two weeks ago. I hope the three nights' performance go well.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the European Union. There is a photographic exhibition in the National Centre for Contemporary Photography in Ireland in Dublin.It is on the female Members of the European Parliament, MEPs, just 26 of whom have represented Ireland, North and South, in the European Parliament. I am proud that a quarter of them were Fine Gael or European People's Party MEPs. The exhibition was opened by Ms Frances Fitzgerald last Thursday. It is well worth a visit in this anniversary year for Ireland, as a member of the European Union.

I also welcome the tremendously important announcement by the Minister for Justice, Deputy Simon Harris, that he intends to double the number of refuge spaces available to victims of domestic violence, both male and female. All of us in this House have argued for this for a long time and it is great to see action being taken on it. In Dún Laoghaire we have fought for a long time to get a refuge and there has been a real paucity of provision of domestic violence refuge places for people in the area. I look forward to progress on that issue, which goes hand in hand with our criminal justice system. All of us in this House have argued in favour of a robust system that makes sure those responsible for that most pervasive of crimes, domestic violence and the things associated with it, are held to account before our criminal courts. At the moment, there is a real problem with that because of the pay available to the barristers and solicitors who act in the courts in the context of criminal legal aid. That applies as much to the defence as it does to the prosecution because the two sets of fees are linked and are necessarily on a par all the time. There has never been a restoration of the rates for lawyers practising under the criminal legal aid scheme since they were reduced fairly significantly at the time of the financial crisis. The law is the only sector for which it has not been restored. This has led to hardship and to lawyers no longer practising in the area of criminal law. They tend to go to more lucrative areas. If we want that system to function, we must invest in the people who make it function. If we do not have people choosing to go into criminal law and practise in an area that is vital for the security of our citizens, the system will suffer and the victims will suffer as well. My understanding is that provision was made in the budget last year for the Department of Justice to make that change. The Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery, and Reform has to sign off on that and it is high time it did so. There is already talk of industrial action by lawyers, which is unprecedented. Let us not let it get that far. I ask for a debate on the provision of proper pay for people who do good and important work in the criminal courts.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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I also congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on the work he has done. Anybody who knows Senator Mark Daly knows who Thomas Meagher is - that is for sure.

The issue I raise has been raised by a number of Senators in recent weeks and is very topical at the moment. It relates to the short-term letting legislation that is before the House. It would be no harm for the House to have a broader debate on that legislation and the impact it is having. I come with a background that is balanced, having served on the housing committee in the previous Dáil. I was also the first person to raise the impact short-term lettings are having on the homeless crisis. As somebody who was born, bred and lived his whole life in the hospitality sector, I also understand the importance of the industry, specifically in rural areas. Is this legislation required? Absolutely. I have fought for its introduction and believe it should be introduced from a tourism product point of view in that any tourism offering should at least be registered, if nothing else. More important, what impact is it having on the housing crisis? Some 75% of homeless are living within 15 km of this Chamber. Homelessness is a city crisis rather than a rural one. That is why the blunt instrument of the rent pressure zones in this legislation will not work. It must go much deeper than that.

There is also a hospitality and tourism crisis when it comes to accommodation availability. That is helping short-term lettings to grow because more than 35,000 hotel beds have been taken up by either homeless people or refugees. That has a significant negative impact on the hospitality market. The last thing we want from a hospitality point of view is to take out additional accommodation in short-term lettings where these are needed. There are locations far outside of cities that will be ruled not to be viable under the new legislation. They are in no man's land, the depths of rural Ireland, and they are an integral part of the tourism product. They are in the depths of rural Ireland and are an integral part of the tourism product. Fáilte Ireland has a critical role to play. It must gauge each application on whether it is a genuine tourism product that offers added benefit to the hospitality sector or whether it is having an impact on the housing crisis. It must focus solely on the cities where the crisis is at its worst and where short-term lettings have the greatest impact. Sometimes committees get very focused on a very narrow brief. I believe this House could have a broader debate on the impact that short-term lettings are having on the hospitality sector and the homeless and housing crisis in Ireland. There is a connection between the two issues.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome Blaithnaid Keogan-Farrelly who is all the way from Cavan and is a niece of Senator Sharon Keogan. She is doing work experience in the Seanad all week. Do not worry, you will be working very hard.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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You could sing that, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Fáilte romhat a Bhlaithnaid. Last week I asked that we would have debates with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Education about the very sensitive area of gender dysphoria and how the Government is dealing with the issue in its various Departments.

I feel I must ask for this again all the more urgently in light of the latest comments from the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, in response to a simple letter from school managers to the Minister of Education, Deputy Norma Foley, and the Minister for Children, Equality Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman. The school managers expressed their concerns, while emphasising the need for and the practice of treating every child with respect, including those who present with gender dysphoria issues. They pointed out that there is no scientific consensus on the cause of gender dysphoria and indeed there is an intense international debate on the appropriate treatment of children in this situation.

The school managers also expressed the view that it is neither prudent nor age-appropriate to attempt to teach primary schoolchildren about "what it means to be transgender". The fear is that in with all of the many issues that are mixed in there, there may be an element of social transmission. What we got was the Tanaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, coming out and saying that a letter is not the way to deal with such concerns. Who is he to tell any stakeholder in education that they may not express their feelings in a letter - a sensitively written letter at that?

This is the second time Deputy Martin has tried to close down debate on this issue. He referred to a debate that took place on Liveline as "toxic" when people were, as far as I understand it, quite respectfully expressing their views and concerns about this important issue. Deputy Martin would prefer that this be left to the teaching of the RSE programme in schools. This completely ignores the concerns that have been expressed about the NCCA sponsoring or in some way recommending completely inappropriate materials in some of the books being pushed at children in schools. These materials include references to cross-dressing and boys wearing lipstick and all sorts of stuff that has parents around the country sitting up and questioning what the Government is at.

What kind of groupthink has taken hold, not just of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, whose views on this have been well known for a long time? The Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, wants self-identification for children as young as 16 or 17 according to recent comments at a time when this approach is being questioned in several countries. We have perfectly responsible stakeholders in education saying they are concerned about this not being the way to care for children and that they are already dealing with the issue very sensitively in our schools. We have the Taoiseach glibly saying everything must be talked about.

Not every fact is appropriate for a young child in school. We have Deputy Martin trying to close down discussion before it even starts. This is not a democratic impulse coming from the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach. This is a totalitarian mindset, in small letters and it must end. There must be a healthy debate where people get to communicate their ideas separately and sensitively and where all of these issues are gone through very carefully and where people are not coerced into silence by a Government that does not want to answer hard questions.

Photo of Vincent P MartinVincent P Martin (Green Party)
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On 28 February, Ireland lost a very valued friend when former Congressman Brian Donnelly passed in Massachusetts. He was a renowned Democrat with strong west of Ireland connections. He came on board to support the John Hume school of thinking and the consent principle, which was very important at a moment in time when Irish America needed leaders. Probably most significantly, along with Tip O'Neill and Ted Kennedy, he was instrumental in forming the bipartisan congressional approach to Northern Ireland with the Friends of Ireland. Only last year, a bipartisan congressional delegation visited us. The head of that delegation, Congressman Richard E. Neal, addressed this Chamber. Considering American politics is so fractured, it is an amazing lasting legacy to unite Republicans and Democrats and never turn what is known as the national question into a political football. President Clinton later appointed Mr. Donnelly as ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, where he served with distinction.

Congressman Donnelly is probably best-known to a whole generation of Irish people - I was a student union leader at the time - for the Donnelly visas. More than 25,000 Irish people were either thrown a lifeline through papers received under that programme or had undocumented papers suddenly regularised. He was also a fierce advocate for and supporter of seeking justice for the Birmingham Six, which was a huge travesty of justice. He was one of those brilliant Irish-American friends we truly valued. I am delighted to say he returned to Ireland when his health improved. The American ambassador to Ireland gave him a reception, where he was greeted with huge and richly-deserved warmth.

I say thank you to Brian Donnelly. He served his native country very well. We are forever grateful to Congressman Donnelly and many others of his ilk. They were instrumental for us at a different time in Ireland, when it was so needed. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I join with the Senator in extending the sympathies of the Seanad to the family and friends of the late Congressman Brian Donnelly who, as the Senator quite eloquently outlined, did so much for Ireland, especially through the visa programme but also through his work in Northern Ireland and in bringing peace to this island. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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It will be no surprise that I will raise the matter of the announcement that the eviction ban will not be extended. Many families, including pensioners and young people, found the safety net had been ripped from under them when they woke up this morning. People who have been given eviction notices woke up to the news that this Government does not care, does not want to protect them and does not have an issue with the fact we will now see an increase in rough sleeping. We again will see families being told, because there is no emergency accommodation left in this city and that is the reality for anybody dealing with people who have eviction notices, to present at their local Garda station. That is where they will be told to spend the night.

We all know the eviction ban was not going to fix the homeless crisis. We have had ten years of Fine Gael in government that has got us to this point, but the one thing we knew was the eviction ban gave people a sense of security that they at least had a roof over their heads, and time and breathing space in the hope the Government would get its act together on this. We saw at the time the eviction ban was brought in that action was not taken. We are now in a situation where the thing has not got any better. The situation is no better for those people than when the eviction ban was introduced before Christmas and it is now being taken away. We of course want to see this Government extend the eviction ban but we also repeatedly have stated that for an eviction ban to be effective, you have to put in place all the emergency measures and pull out all the stops.There is a need for that crisis thinking to try to stop people becoming homeless when the eviction ban is lifted. For example, local authorities should be allowed to purchase private rental properties that have housing assistance payment, HAP, or rental accommodation scheme, RAS, tenantsin situ. Sinn Féin has been saying that for a long time. The Minister says he has done it but he has not. It is being applied inconsistently across the country and is taking too long. The houses are being sold and tenants are being made homeless. In addition, Sinn Féin has called for an extension of the scheme to approved housing bodies to allow tenants who are not eligible for social rental but are within the income limits for cost rental to remainin situ. In Dublin city, we have the example of Tathony House, where more than 30 families are about to be made homeless. That building could be bought and used to provide a mixture of cost rental and social housing. Sinn Féin has also called for the introduction of emergency planning and procurement powers, such as those in place during the Covid-19 pandemic. It beggars belief that none of those things have been done yet the Government is going to be so heartless as to lift the no-fault eviction ban. These are people who are paying their rent. They are being evicted through no fault of their own and they are going to be made homeless. I call on all members of the political parties of the coalition to oppose the lifting of the eviction ban. I commend Deputy Hourigan on what she said on radio. It is time now for people to stand up within their political parties because they all know this eviction ban being lifted will mean more children and pensioners being made homeless.

Photo of Lorraine Clifford-LeeLorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fail)
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I rise to discuss the imminent sale of Nazi memorabilia at auction in this country. I am sickened, horrified and shocked that such items are being offered for sale and that people will profit from the sale of items connected with the most murderous, disgusting and appalling regime that has ever been witnessed. Millions of Jewish people were murdered, tortured and terrorised, as were gay people, Roma people, those with disabilities and those with mental illness. They were targeted through a prolonged period and millions of people were wiped off the face of the earth. Now an auction house thinks it is acceptable to sell these items. Many countries, such as Germany, Austria and Poland among others, have banned the sale of such items. We need to take action. We know there has been a rise of the far right in this country. Some people cling onto these pieces of memorabilia in some sort of honour of these regimes and derive inspiration from them. We should not be allowing the distribution or sale of these items. I listened to Oliver Sears speak on this issue on radio yesterday. His mother, Monika, survived the Holocaust. She is still alive. There are Holocaust survivors living in this country. Sons, daughters and grandchildren of those who suffered the trauma of that disgusting Nazi regime live in this country. It is difficult to believe that a business is selling these items. If it thinks the items are of historical significance, it should donate them to a museum and let proper historians assess their historical benefit, if any. These items should certainly not be allowed to be distributed or sold in this country or people be allowed to make money on the back of the most disgusting and murderous regime in history. We should send a strong signal from this House to the relevant Minister that legislation to ban the sale and distribution of Nazi memorabilia should be introduced without delay.

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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I wish to discuss the "RTÉ Investigates" programme broadcast last night. It was distressing for anyone who has put trust in a psychologist. Psychology, whether it is in the private sector or the public sector, is not regulated and that is leading to a violation of sensitive personal information and circumstances. The programme rightfully depicted the impact this has on the families of children who are desperate for assessments of need.They are paying for assessments with their own money. They are vulnerable to rogue operators. They are languishing in a system that is not working for them and are then being taken advantage of because the protections of regulation are not there.

Anybody can set themselves up as a psychologist and start up shop. CORU and the Minister have agreed to a dual-phase approach. They are doing this through the Psychologists Registration Board and have worked on it since 2017. They have agreed priority will be given to certain specialisms within psychology and that, over time, the title of psychology will be protected. That is not enough and is not happening fast enough.

We need to protect all people from the open field that psychology is. We will have gaps if we start with specialism. We need a timeline to deliver that. I pay tribute to the psychologists who are qualified to work and have gone through a rigorous training system to be verified and qualified. They have a tough job as it is. I also pay tribute to the Psychological Society of Ireland and AsIAm, which are picking up the pieces. We need a register to know people's qualifications and protect the title.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I would like a debate with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Simon Coveney, on the sweeping global layoffs in the tech industry, what measures can be taken to reduce the impact of such on Ireland and, more broadly, how we can address the structural vulnerability of the economy on account of its reliance on a small number of large firms. Recent research carried out by the Central Bank has revealed job losses of 2,300 in the tech sector. A whopping 18,000 people are employed by Amazon in this country, which has announced global staff layoffs for the first time in years. The presence of tech companies in Ireland has been much discussed over the past three years, and for good reason. They contribute a substantial amount of the State's corporate tax receipts and the sector employs more than 164,000 people in Ireland, a figure which has increased by 29% since 2019.

Globally, the increase in layoffs from the tech sector between 2021 and 2022 amounted to 649%, according to a report from American global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. This level of workforce downsizing has not been seen in the tech sector since the dotcom bubble in the late 1990s and the trend is set to continue into 2023. Given the tech industry's oversized presence in Ireland and its integral position in our economy, we must assume that we will feel the effect of this more than other countries. This is not the first time we have heard from financial bodies that our reliance on large-scale multinational tech corporations makes our economy disproportionately vulnerable to any form of downturn in the sector. Efforts should be made by the Government to address this and plan for such eventualities. I ask that the Minister come to the Chamber and we decide how best to go about this.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to be associated with the tributes paid by Senator Martin and Leas-Chathaoirleach to the late Congressmen Brian Donnelly on his contribution to Ireland generally, in particular in the context of the Donnelly visas and his and his family's support for the peace process and building relations between Ireland and the United States.

I also want to praise my colleague, Senator Martin, who raised the question of the Antarctic Treaty. The Shackleton Museum is located in Athy and the treaty is important to the museum. Antarctica is a very vulnerable part of the world.It is important that the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, gave a commitment to this House in December 2021 that Ireland would look at joining the Antarctic Treaty system. It speaks to our multilateralism and to the fact that many other European countries are members. I ask that this issue be raised with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin.

I also raise a question about a report in the Irish Examinerby its defence correspondence, Sean O’Riordan. In fairness, the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, Deputy Micheál Martin, is committed to expanding the Naval Service. However, I am deeply concerned about the figures now becoming available. At present, the Naval Service has personnel numbering about 770. To be operational it should have a minimum of 1,094 personnel. Apparently it now only has four ships that are operational and at times there is only one ship operating in our exclusive economic zone in order to defend Ireland’s exclusive economic zone, which is ten times the size of the country. We need to take the question of national security seriously. As I have stated previously, we are not in a position to defend our country by air and sea or if there is a cyberattack. We need to have a detailed, evidence-based debate on national security. I am particularly concerned about the current state of our Naval Service. I ask that the Leader facilitate such a discussion as soon as possible.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Having watched the "RTÉ Investigates" programme last night, I had intended raising the issue but my colleague, Senator Currie, did so competently and eloquently. All I can say in that regard is that I fully agree with her. It is such a serious matter to have rogue practitioners in psychology, above all disciplines. We do not need them in any discipline but in psychology it is a horror given the vulnerability of the clientele and all that goes with that. The programme was excellent and conveyed the reality of this issue.

This raises another question. I am proud of how this Government dealt with Covid-19 and Brexit. We are taking on housing and will do more in the future. However, we also have to take on as a priority the whole question of waiting lists for the whole range of assessments for autism and for psychological services, including educational psychologists and so forth. While the programme rightly identified the rogue issue, the elephant in the room is that we have these waiting lists. Vulnerable people can be preyed on in those conditions. There has to be an all-out Government assault on waiting lists soon. Thankfully, as a country we are in a position to do that, in many respects due to good management in the past. We need to do it as a priority.

Two points came out of the programme. First, the rogue psychologists have to be rooted out and CORU has to speed up the entire operation and be assisted to do that. Second, there should be no waiting lists beyond a couple of months so that this question does not arise in the first place and there are no vulnerable people to prey on.

Photo of Aidan DavittAidan Davitt (Fianna Fail)
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I raise the issue of planning permissions. Under some of the catch-all legislation that was brought in recently, the duration of planning permissions can no longer be extended. Planning permission is valid for five years, and that is that. Heretofore, during the previous recession and briefly during the Covid pandemic, a planning permission on which a person did not get an opportunity to act could be extended by five years. The intention of the recently introduced catch-all legislation was to force developers to build on sites with active planning permission.However, the unintended consequence was for guys who had one-off houses. They were building their own private home. They have seen the cost of building go exponentially through the roof and have had difficulty trying to get some of these workmen and whatever else, in addition to going through two-and-a-half-odd years of Covid. They have fallen under this legislation as well. One-off housing is a serious issue in rural Ireland. I know this is something close to the Leas-Chathaoirleach’s heart and he spoke about it here on a number of occasions. I would emphasis that the Acting Leader might speak to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and the powers that be on this, particularly on one-off housing. There has to be a bit of leeway regarding one-off housing. We have done this before because we have separated how many units are included in a development and how many are not for social housing. We are able to differentiate. I would appreciate that.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I raise the issue of illegal pushbacks across the European Union and the devastating effects they are having on the victims themselves but also on the values that we so often hear proclaimed regarding the European Union. I want to quote directly from a report from the Greek Council of Refugees that was published two weeks ago and has not made any news on this side of the media. Regarding about 37 Syrians, including 17 children, who were effectively abducted by the Greek coast guard and Greek police, it states:

Once again the people were separated into a group of women and children and a group of men. They were ordered to take off their clothes, under wear and shoes. The women and men were mocked and harassed by approximately four men in military uniforms who used a stick to scratch their genitalia. Afterwards, they used the same stick to rape the men, while they used their fingers to rape the women in front of the children. Subsequently, they assaulted them by throwing ice cold water on them. A woman in police uniform led the women and children inside the building and ordered them to put their clothes back on quickly. They never got their shoes back. The men got back only their clothes, and were taken inside the building to a small room with a squat toilet, which could not be used. Soon after, men, women and children were locked up in one room. Everyone was asking desperately for water and food, but to no avail.

It is a horrific example but there are a host of more examples in this report. I confronted the Greek minister for migration directly in September in Athens. He used the phrase “fake news” regarding the appalling abuse. We should also remember our fellow Irishman, Seán Binder, who remains there on charges.

What is happening across Europe is absolutely disgraceful. It flies in the face of the values that we all claim to believe in. I ask for an urgent debate on the issue. I also would request that the Acting Leader would write to the Greek ambassador. Someone has to cry “Stop”. Someone has to cry “Halt". I feel confident that everyone in this room would be equally horrified by what I have read into the record today. The problem is it is going on and no one is saying anything about it. It is time that we cried "Halt" to these horrific abuses of our fellow human beings.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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I support Senator Gavan’s call for that debate. What he read into the record is horrific. I think all Members would support such a debate as soon as possible.

I also support Senator Malcolm Byrne. The Acting Leader will be familiar with the Defence Forces issues. She raised them a considerable number of times. I support Senator Malcolm Byrne on the navy shortages experienced at the moment. It is time that this House got the chance to the debate the commission’s report and also talk about the working time directive, which I and others in representative unions believe is affecting the number of people who wanted to join the Defence Forces. There is also the issue of retention in the Defence Forces. I support Senator Malcolm Byrne on that.

I want to bring up the report published last week by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, SVP, on energy poverty entitled Warm, Safe, Connected. The report draws on CSO data as well as the experiences of SVP members. The SVP is supporting households facing bills they simply cannot pay or are finding it impossible to keep the meters turned up. The SVP reports that requests for help with energy are 40% higher in 2022 than they were in 2021. The reason I bring this up today again is that in my own clinic on Monday last, I dealt with two pensioners. One's bill was €970 and the other's was €1,050.When I rang one of the energy providers, the best I got from the staff member, after 40 minutes of discussion, was a suggestion to contact the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS. That is simply not good enough. That pensioner was not in a position to spend 40 minutes on a phone call to be told at the end that the best they could do was contact MABS. Can we invite the Minister to appear before the House to discuss this? It is happening more and more regularly in the clinics I hold throughout my area and I am sure other Senators are having a similar experience. It is not good enough.

I raise also the recent abuse of referees and match officials that was reported over the weekend. Will the Minister of State with responsibility for sport come before the House in order that we can discuss the matter? We are all, no doubt, looking forward to a summer of sport, but if the officials and referees are not there, it simply will not happen. This is occurring in all sports and something has to give. We need to talk to the Minister of State and we need intervention from the Government in the form of a campaign to stop this behaviour. I ask the Deputy Leader to ensure that will happen.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the organisers of the Tricolour celebrations in my county, Waterford, over the weekend. It was fantastic on Sunday to have seven ambassadors in Waterford city, along with the Taoiseach, to celebrate the first flying of the Tricolour at 33 The Mall in Waterford city in 1848 by Thomas Francis Meaghar. There was also an event in the SETU Arena, a fantastic occasion where the Leas-Chathaoirleach presented the Tricolour to schoolchildren from throughout the country. The meaning, the understanding and the respect in which we should hold our Tricolour were emphasised by the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Seán Clancy, at a dinner on Saturday night, when he spoke about its importance and that of the lineage of Óglaigh na hÉireann, and some Members of this House and the other House might want to take a history lesson from him in that regard.

I acknowledge the significant work that over recent years went into the North Quays project, which I have spoken about on a number of occasions in this House. Yesterday, the groundbreaking ceremony was held in Waterford and the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and Transport attended. There is a €170.6 million investment in that project to unlock that site for a further €300 million in private sector investment, something that will change the face of Waterford city for the better over the coming years. It is a fantastic vote of confidence in Waterford. I acknowledge we had a debate on Project Ireland 2040 last Wednesday but, unfortunately, I could not be here. It would be useful if there were a quarterly debate in the House on Project Ireland 2040. There are many moving parts and many Departments are involved, so if that could be taken on board as a suggestion, I would appreciate it.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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As we are coming into spring, it is a beautiful, sunny day today. In April, the Tidy Towns clean-ups will begin throughout the country. I was out and about last weekend and it was amazing to see families come together to take part in keeping our towns and villages clean and tidy. Although it is chilly out there today, it is going to be great in the next few weeks to have our towns and villages shining.

I highlight the role of CCTV footage for our local authorities. That legislation is now in place through the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2022. Will the Deputy Leader call on the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to come to the House to speak about how CCTV is being used by local government to tackle litter? It has always been a huge issue but the legislation was not in place until recently. How can we now support local authorities to use CCTV cameras to tackle blackspots, not least around our bogland landscapes and all our heritage areas? There are areas where people are prone to dumping rubbish. Local authorities put a lot of measures in place at civic amenity sites. It is now possible to recycle, for example, mattresses. Many places take in products that can be refurbished and reused. How can we highlight this issue, especially as spring approaches?

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I want to support Senator Cummins and it is important that we do regular reviews of Project Ireland 2040. There are too many schemes within that which struggle to get off the ground due to funding or whatever it may be. If a quarterly check was done on it in these Houses, we would see more schemes progressing.

Any of us who watched "Prime Time" last night were abhorred by what we saw, namely a situation where people are proclaiming themselves to be psychologists and carrying out assessments of need for parents who are struggling to get assessments of need through the HSE. A thorough review of that needs to take place. I feel strongly about the following point, which is an important one. We had a meeting of the Committee on Autism between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Nearly every group and organisation we meet has a core ask for the committee to review the Disability Act 2005. We are reviewing the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. It makes sense that both Acts would be reviewed simultaneously because of the strong crossover there is. I want to put that on record in this House. I said it at the public meeting of the Committee on Autism which we had last Thursday. I want to thank the Seanad Office again for facilitating that. We need to review the Disability Act 2005 and we need to start that process now, and in conjunction with the review of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I want to acknowledge the role of the Leas-Chathaoirleach in remembering our flag and the super work he has done in that regard over the years. It is critically important that people understand the background to it.

I was at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA, yesterday. It was a special meeting to commemorate the Good Friday Agreement and there was a lot of positivity and hope for the future at it. I hope that the deliberations the parties are engaging in will not take too long and that they will conclude in a positive way.

Last Friday I was in the Leas-Chathaoirleach’s county of Kerry and I visited what will be Disability Sport Ireland, which is headquartered in a magnificent building at the Munster Technological University in Tralee. I would like a debate on the funding of disability sports. I know this will be close to the Acting Leader's heart. We have some fantastic people with disabilities involved in sports and the Paralympics do enormously good work, as do the Special Olympics. There are tens of thousands of people with disabilities who are not paralympians or elite athletes and who would not benefit from the Special Olympics. These people should and can live an active and healthy lifestyle by being involved in sports. It is my contention that disability sport is badly funded in this country. The elite and special sides of it are funded but when it comes to disability sports, being active, encouraging people to be active and encouraging sports clubs and leisure centres around the country to be active, accessible and inclusive, we have a long way to go. We also have a long way to go when it comes to Government funding. Sports capital grants should only be given to clubs that can demonstrate that their facilities are accessible. Irrespective of what the grant is for, they should be able to sign a charter or statement setting out not just that their facilities are physically accessible to people with disabilities, but also that people with disabilities are welcome to participate in a full and active way in the sport. At some stage it would be lovely to have a debate on people with disabilities being active, included and involved in sports.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Ward spoke about Seachtain na Gaeilge, which is important. We should all learn from Paul Mescal and use a cúpla focal, agus mise freisin.

Senator Ward mentioned the exhibition pertaining to the 26 females who are or have been MEPs, which was opened last week by Frances Fitzgerald.Obviously we should support that and take the opportunity to see it.

Senator Ward also mentioned the number of refuges for victims of domestic violence and welcomed the good news that Dún Laoghaire is about to open one. I know that when Councillor Mary Hanafin was mayor last year, that was one of her priorities. That said, while it is welcome that the number of refuges will double, we will still only be at 50% of the capacity per head of population that is outlined in the Istanbul Convention. It is good to see progress but we have nowhere near the number refuge spaces we should have.

Senator Ward also made a plea for an improvement in the rates paid to lawyers working in the criminal courts. He said that the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform needs to make a decision on this forthwith. I have no doubt the Senator will raise the matter with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe.

Senator Casey, along with Senators Conway and Cummins, spoke about the importance of the Thomas Meagher flag and how wonderful it was to see the celebrations over the weekend. They all complimented the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his work on this. Senator Casey also raised the issue of short-term letting legislation and argued that it is important to have a debate on it. He outlined the link between tourism and accommodation, both of which are intertwined, and made the point that the short-term letting legislation could be useful in cities but that rural Ireland is different. He called for a debate on dividing the country vis-à-visthe short-term letting legislation. He said that Fáilte Ireland has a critical role to play but that the focus should be on cities. We will try to arrange that debate, which is important, and will contact the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media regarding same.

Senator Mullen called for a debate with the Ministers for Health and Education on the new proposed relationships and sexuality education, RSE programme. He asked "Who is he?" in reference to the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin. He is a former Taoiseach and a former Minister for Education who actually introduced the very first RSE programme over 20 years ago. As we know, the world and society have changed since then, not always for the better, so it is important that we have an updated RSE programme.

One of the best things I ever did in my life was volunteer with the Samaritans many years ago. The training course I undertook taught me an awful lot about respecting and understanding difference and about being non-judgmental. We all need to respect difference. We do not always have to understand it but we should try to treat each individual with respect and dignity. I happened to be in a home recently where transgenderism and cross-dressing came up on the television and I heard the parent of two primary school daughters speaking about it in a very natural way. I attuned my ear to the conversation because it is something we are all concerned about. We want respect in the debate we have. I certainly have no issue with the House having a debate as long as there is sensitivity, respect and tolerance. We will ask for that debate.

Senators Martin and Malcolm Byrne spoke about Congressman Brian Donnelly who was a true friend to Ireland. He worked in a bipartisan way to support peace and was a very strong advocate for Ireland, not least through his work on the Donnelly visa.

Senator Boylan spoke about the eviction ban and said that this Government does not care about those in need of housing, which is certainly not true. She did acknowledge that the eviction ban was not going to solve all of the problems with housing.According to an announcement made last night and again this morning, new measures have been rolled out, including introducing 1,000 targeted leasehold units, securing 1,500 tenant in situpurchases in 2023. More than 9,100 social housing units will be bought this year, which is huge. A new opportunity to buy will be put in place to give tenants the first right of refusal on their home and a cost-rental backstop will be put in place to allow approved housing bodies, AHBs, and local authorities buy units for cost rental where the tenant cannot buy or qualify for social housing. According to the figures, almost 30,000 units were built in 2022. That is the highest number since 2008. That is very significant and something we cannot lose sight of. Almost 7,000 social housing units were built over the past 12 months. Though it is a disgrace they were empty in the first place, 1,500 empty council houses were returned to use.

There were other victims of the eviction Bill. I raised the issue of a young couple through a Commencement matter only last week. This was only one particular couple of the many who had come to me in this regard and who made many sacrifices to be able to try to buy a house. They bought a house, went sale agreed but because of the eviction Bill, they could not take ownership of the house or draw down their mortgage. Their mortgage had gone up at this stage by €200 a month and if the eviction Bill was to go on beyond April, it was going to rise by another €100 a month. That was a situation where they were a victim and ended up going back to their parent's homes. It was a difficult situation, and I am sure it was a difficult decision for Government to make. There is the scenario where some people may decide to sell or whatever, but there will be many people in rented situations who have good relationships with good landlords and they will be able to continue. It is always important to say that.

Senator Clifford-Lee raised the imminent sale of Nazi memorabilia through which people could profit from the most horrific human rights abuse of the past number of generations. It is wrong that an auction house in this country is making money on the back of an instance of the most horrific human rights abuse. Holocaust survivors live here. The next generation following the Holocaust survivors also live here and as we all know, trauma passes through generations. The Senator is correct that nobody should profit from what happened and legislation should be introduced. We certainly will contact the Minister in that regard.

Senators Emer Currie Joe O'Reilly and Michael Carrigy spoke about the "RTÉ investigates" programme. It was shocking. I did not see the whole programme; I saw a little bit of it. It is dreadful to see how this area is unregulated. People are putting their trust in so-called professionals and it has a huge impact on people. CORU and the Minister have made an agreement to phase regulation in. It is not happening quickly enough. I also spoke here recently about Therapists for Change because psychotherapists also want regulation. They want to be involved in CORU and they should be able to help with much of the work that is needed but at the moment, they cannot because they are registered. It is quite shocking to see that those without any qualifications whatsoever are being used. We will speak to the Minister on that.

Senator Sharon Keogan called for a debate with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on the tech industry. The Senator is absolutely right. It is very concerning when we see what is happening around the world and its impact on Ireland. We will most certainly look for that debate.

Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about the Antarctic Treaty and the Shackleton Museum. We welcome him back from his recent trip there and look forward to hearing more about it. We will write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, regarding the Antarctic Treaty and ask about that. As regards the report the Senator mentioned and concern about the Naval Service in terms of both operational ships and the number of naval recruits, we will look for that discussion. We had quite a long discussion in December on the Commission on the Defence Forces but we will look for another one. Senator Joe O'Reilly also looked for some comfort with regard to waiting lists and assessments of those who are waiting. Covid unfortunately exacerbated this. We will speak to the Minister of State and see if we can have a debate on that.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Maybe we could get some up-to-date figures.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Davitt spoke about the planning legislation, which is a catch-all, and the fact that people cannot extend planning permission for more than five years. While I think we all understand that this was targeted at those hoarding land to get higher prices, it has unintended consequences for rural Ireland and one-off houses. We all know that with the costs associated with building and trying to get builders, it is very difficult for those who have planning permission for a one-off house. It is a serious issue for rural Ireland and we will bring that to the Minister's attention.

Senator Gavan spoke about the pushback against refugees in Europe. What he quoted earlier was absolutely shocking in terms of the world we are living in now with the disrespect for human rights and human dignity. We spoke about Nazism earlier but what the Senator described goes right back to the concentration camps. The degradation of humans is shocking. We have to use our voice. We support the Senator fully. I know he has a huge interest in this and works on it in the Council of Europe in a very committed way. We will call for a letter to go to the Greek ambassador on that and will look for a debate with the Minister.

Senator Mark Wall also spoke about the working time directive and recruitment to the Defence Forces. He mainly spoke about the recent Society of St. Vincent de Paul report on the energy directive. It is certainly not good enough to be told by an energy company just to contact MABS. MABS runs an excellent service and we often hear Michelle O'Hara, a good Milltown woman, on the airwaves giving good advice but it is certainly not good enough that an energy company, now the prices have come down, is just telling people to contact that organisation. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications's energy poverty action plan has provided a new fund to provide supports to people in or at risk of energy poverty. It is important that that is used properly and appropriately. Senator Wall also mentioned the attacks on officials in sport. He is right; we need a debate and we need intervention.

Senator Cummins also spoke about the tricolour and the North Quays project. I was with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, this morning out in Harold's Cross hospice and she was glowing in relation to this investment. It is wonderful for Waterford.

Senator Dolan spoke about the Tidy Towns clean-ups and looked for more information on how CCTV is used by local authorities in tackling litter. She is right. The dumping we see is absolutely horrific. We need to be able to tackle black spots in heritage areas and to highlight civic amenity places. We will look for a debate with the Minister on this to highlight the very good actions that are taking place at both national level and local level.

Senator Carrigy looked for a review of the Disability Act along with the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs, EPSEN, Act. I think this is the last week submissions can be made on the EPSEN Act. We will certainly look for that review. He is right that the two reviews should complement each other.

Senator Conway spoke about being at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meeting yesterday and said it was very positive. That is good to hear. It is good that relations are being restored and that we are looking to see Stormont restored. He also spoke about disability supports and the funding of not just elite disability sports like the Paralympics and Special Olympics but the need to ensure genuine inclusivity and access in local areas. I find the local sport partnerships are really good. Syl Merrins, Eddie Hennessy and Donna Berry do a terrific job in Kildare in trying to ensure all sports clubs are inclusive and accessible.That may not be the same everywhere. We may look for a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, to ensure that disability is one of the criteria for sports capital funding.

Order of Business agreed to.