Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

An tOrd Gnó (Atógáil) - Order of Business (Resumed)


10:30 am

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I also extend a welcome to our parliamentary friends and their friends from Malawi. I hope they have a very successful trip to Ireland. I would also like to be associated with the support for East Belfast GAA.

I wish to raise the issue of jury service. I have come across something I have not encountered before, namely, what happens when a person who is moving from one job to another is called for jury service in the interval between jobs. There is no obligation on the employer to pay the person who has finished with it but the person has not started the new job because he or she must do jury service and will not get paid or get social welfare. Here is a person who may be of a young age with a lot of financial commitments and who is at a financial disadvantage because of having to do jury service. Some provisions should be put in place by the Department of Social Protection or the Department of Justice to resolve those anomalies where somebody is changing jobs or there are other issues. The person in question outlined their position to the people in charge of jury selection but they would not accept the details with the result that the person had to do jury service, lost a week's wages from the new employer and did not get any social welfare even though they paid their PAYE and PRSI for a long number of years.

I seek a debate in this House on transport hubs and transport within towns such as Castlebar and similar-sized towns throughout the country. There is no doubt but that public transport is growing at an awful rate and the use of it is growing at a significant rate. In towns like this, provision should be made for public transport within the town itself.I would like a pilot scheme to be set up in a similar sized town to see how the public transport system would work. I refer to how the paving and road infrastructure would be integrated. It would involve Local Link, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, rail and links to airports. We should have a pilot scheme. I seek a debate in the House on the issue because it is a problem every town of a similar size will face in the near future and provisions must be made in that regard. If a standard was set in a town through a pilot scheme it would be very beneficial for the country.

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Leader for a debate on inclusive sport and how the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, Gaeltacht and Media is going to encourage and support sports clubs all around the country to welcome people with differing abilities. I raise this after an incredibly successful event last Sunday when my club Glenmore Athletic Club had a come-and-try day for the second year running. Volunteers in the club worked for weeks to make sure that we had an accessible and fun day for everybody. We focused on people with Down's syndrome this week but we run courses and training sessions all the time for people with different needs and abilities. If we are serious about welcoming all members of the community, we must be able to ensure that is the case in local sports clubs dotted all around the country. Athletics is my thing. Because I know it, I am aware it is such an inclusive sport. Anyone can run, jump or throw. I saw that on Sunday. Children from a very young age were doing the turbo javelin and the long jump, and they were running and sprinting. Parents who thought their children would never even be able to run 50 m were running 200 m. A club member, David O'Hare, has represented Ireland internationally. He happens to have Down's syndrome but he has represented our club in mainstream sport because he is that good. We must believe that children with all needs are that good and that they can compete, complete and enjoy sport with their families.

One fantastic thing about what we did in our club is that parents who brought children to our inclusive sports day were able to bring their other children for other types of training. For the first time in their families' lives the parents were able to bring their entire family to one sporting club and everyone was welcome. Clubs need funding and encouragement for that. We need each sporting body to be very positively discriminatory towards people with disabilities.

Photo of John McGahonJohn McGahon (Fine Gael)
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One of the points I want to talk about is renewable energy and some of the attached benefits that we can initialise with renewable energy to encourage more people, in particular people in the farming community, to get involved. One of the issues I want to highlight in that regard is something I have raised in the Seanad before. It is about the abolition of the 50% rule, whereby no more than 50% of any holding can be made available for solar farming without the entire holding losing its agricultural status to qualify for agricultural relief. Essentially, what that means is if I have a field and I put solar energy on more than 51% of the field it then loses its agricultural value and reliefs. Therefore, there is no incentive for somebody to put solar energy on more than 50% of a particular field. That could be initiated by a quick change in the Finance Act towards the end of the year. If that were done, it would go a long way towards encouraging more people to get into solar farming and to increase the level of solar farming.

That is just one example of some of the ways we need to go about it. It is about introducing as many incentives as possible, perhaps through tax breaks, to encourage a drive into renewable energy. By the end of this decade and beyond, Ireland has the ability to become a renewable energy powerhouse, not just for itself but for the European Union, where we will be able to sell excess energy back to our European colleagues. Small tax breaks such as I have outlined would go a long way towards encouraging and incentivising people to get into solar farming. I would appreciate a debate on it at some stage in the future.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I too welcome our friends from Malawi. I hope they enjoy their time here.

A new practice has grown in recent months, or perhaps the last year or so, where we are now lobbied with blanket emails. If someone sends such an email to me I will dump it without reading it. If people want me to do something they should send an email to Gerard Craughwell, Craughwell, or Mr. Craughwell or whatever the hell they want, but they should not send me one of those blanket, standard letters that are passed on.

The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill is about to come before this House. All of us have received emails on it. Those emails have found their way into social media. There is a level of intimidation and disgusting comment coming from those who oppose the Bill, with which I have serious difficulty myself. They are trying to intimidate me. A member of my staff replies to the emails and thanks people for them. One guy felt it within his power to publish her name on social media. That is disgusting behaviour and we should never tolerate it. I will be asking the IT department to stop these blanket emails that are coming to everybody. People have the right to lobby us to take a particular decision but in this world, it is not the way to go to use intimidation to try and force us to go a particular way.

In exactly the same way, recently the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform approved funding for the security of our homes. It is a sad state of affairs when we as elected representatives have to consider the security of our families. The same situation arises for members of local authorities, however, and that facility should be extended to them. We are now living in a country where people have no respect whatsoever for public representatives. I am sure everybody in this House would agree that our local authority members are entitled to the same protection as Members of the Oireachtas. I ask the Leader to write to Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform on behalf of all Members of this House and ask that it would do that. I ask that you would support it as well, a Chathaoirligh.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I too welcome our friends from Malawi. I wish them a céad míle fáilte.

While the fine of €1.2 billion for Facebook is the largest fine ever imposed under the general data protection regulation, GDPR, the size of the fine masks a number of issues with GDPR itself and with the Irish Data Protection Commission, DPC. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties, ICCL, has said that 75% of decisions by the DPC have been overruled by its European counterparts. This fine was forced on the DPC by Europe. As the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice has said, if the DPC continues to emphasise guidance over enforcement then the fundamental rights of citizens are at risk and big tech will be emboldened.

Tomorrow marks five years of GDPR, which presents a moment for us to reflect, and so I call for a Seanad debate on data protection. When it comes to data, we must remember that citizens have a right to privacy and a right to data protection, but we also have a collective right to use and control our resources. Surely it is not acceptable for big tech to claim the de facto ownership of the most valuable resource in history.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I wish to raise an issue of which you are probably very much aware, a Chathaoirligh, which is the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, in the Cork-Kerry region. Unfortunately, more than 600 children are waiting for more than a year for an assessment by that service. Nearly 1,000 people are on a waiting list in the region. The Cork-Kerry region is totally out of synch with the rest of Ireland when it comes to CAMHS provision. Currently, some 40% of the waiting list nationally is in the Cork-Kerry region. There is a frightening lack of services for young people there and I am deeply concerned about it.I am very much aware that this is a staffing issue. The vacancy issues in the service are quite shocking, according to the HSE. It is appropriate, now more than ever, that we have a significant debate with the Minister of State on this issue of how we can attract staff into the service and retain them, and, more important, on her long-term plan, particularly to deal with the Cork–Kerry region. That this region accounts for 40% of the waiting list of the entire country is frightening. I realise there have been significant issues on the Kerry side regarding child and adult mental health services over the past few years. The interactions I have had with young people in the past three or four weeks have frightened me. We need to do something urgently because I am fearful of the consequences of the lack of services on the ground.

Through the Leader's good offices, she might organise statements in this House with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, on this issue so we can try to find a solution for children who want access to services. A young girl, a 16-year-old, talked to me about this matter yesterday. She said she has been on a waiting list for bereavement services for nine months but has no appointment yet. Hers was a really powerful contribution. Usually, the parent is the advocate but now there are kids talking about the lack of services. If the Leader could find space for debate, it would be appropriate.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I realise I am meant to be impartial in the Chair but I must say to the Senator, as a Member of the Oireachtas, that the situation in Cork that he has outlined is pretty poor.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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Yesterday, The Wheel, the charities association of Ireland, held its conference. A key message from it was that section 39, section 56 and section 10 organisations are on the brink of collapse. The issues, relating to recruitment and retention and the very significant disparity between the pay of the State and that of the various organisations, are not new and have been evident for years. The affected workers are in disability, homelessness, rape crisis and community services. They are providing vital services to the most vulnerable. They work for the State but are not paid by it. They are on the sharp end of a funding system that has meant many of them have not received a pay increase in well over a decade. We have had years of campaigning to get the Government to concede to a process to consider pay in the organisations. This process commenced in the past month. It is very welcome that there is a process but it will cover only the 300 largest organisations. We know that there are well over 1,400 section 39 organisations in the country, and there are nearly 2,000 affected when section 56 and section 10 organisations are included. There has to be a sense of urgency regarding the organisations. There is no point in our talking about the need to support disability services or rape crisis services if we do not ensure that we have the right people, properly paid, in place. Ultimately, we need a single pay framework for all those working in care in this country, regardless of whether they are employed directly by the HSE or employed by one of the other organisations. We have done it for the early years sector and now need to do it for the care sector.

Photo of Eileen FlynnEileen Flynn (Independent)
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This morning, I want to bring it to the attention of the House that the Traveller committee will be set up officially. I thank Members for supporting it. The one positive thing is that when I am long gone as a Member of Leinster House, the committee will still exist. It will have the power to hold the State to account and bring about good, meaningful, positive, life-changing and lifesaving changes for our community. That is really welcome.

On that note, it is three years since we had a proper debate on Traveller accommodation. I talk a lot about the fact that responsibility should not be put on the shoulders of one Senator, or maybe a few, so it would be good to have the Minister of State responsible for Traveller housing here to debate the matter before the recess. Unfortunately, Traveller accommodation and living conditions are getting worse, if anything. We tend to be swept aside and nobody is held accountable regarding the drawing down of the money, etc. It would be interesting for us to have the discussion in this House before or even after the committee is set up. I thank the Ceann Comhairle, Cathaoirleach and Members of both Houses for supporting the committee and, most important, for wanting to bring about positive, meaningful change for the Traveller community.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the Senator on that significant outcome and wish the committee every success in its deliberations. I am smiling because I know that she showed us yesterday a photograph of herself as a young student with former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. Perhaps she thought little on that day of the work and the good she would do between then and now. She should take a bow this morning. On behalf of all of us, congratulations.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I want to touch on two issues. The first is to welcome the decision yesterday by the Cabinet. I commend the Minister for Justice, Deputy Harris, on introducing changes to increase the sentence for assault causing harm to members of the Garda and emergency personnel. Anybody who assaults a police officer or somebody in emergency services who is doing their best to serve and assist the public should be duly sentenced for that crime. I certainly hope the increase of the maximum sentence from seven years to 12 will be a significant deterrent.

The other issue I wish to raise concerns the Irish Rail freight strategy for 2040. I call for a debate on this with the Minister for Transport. In line with the plan developed by Irish Rail, there are significant opportunities to increase the number of boxes transported by rail across the country. There is a significant link between Ballina and Waterford port. Waterford port is the only port that has lines that go directly to the quays, where containers can be transferred directly to ships. It is being underutilised. There is a great opportunity to take some of the excess capacity in Dublin Port and to have direct links, via Naas, to the Port of Waterford. This subject is very topical and a debate on it with the Minister for Transport would be welcome.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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I want to raise the matter of the Energy Charter Treaty. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, announced last Friday that he would not grant a lease undertaking for the oil and gas prospecting due to happen off the Cork coast. This is, of course, the right decision. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, has said we can have no new oil or gas fields and that no more exploration should be conducted if we are to have any chance of staying under the 1.5°C target for warming. However, it has now been confirmed in the newspapers that the 20% shareholder in the Barryroe oil project, Lansdowne Oil & Gas, a British company, has decided to initiate legal proceedings under the Energy Charter Treaty against the State. It is seeking to sue Ireland for $100 million. I have repeatedly flagged that the Energy Charter Treaty is a toxic treaty and a relic of the past, that investor–state dispute settlement, ISDS, has no place in the legal system and that we have our courts, which are independent, yet I have been stonewalled by the Government. There has been no risk assessment of energy policy in this country and how exposed we are under the treaty. Multiple European countries have announced that they are going to withdraw from the treaty, yet Ireland continues to obfuscate and state it will hang on and see whether it can be reformed. Now the chickens are coming home to roost because this is the first time that Ireland has been sued under the ISDS mechanism. It will not be the last because, as we know and as the IPCC has flagged, fossil fuel companies are using the treaty to put citizens on the hook for their stranded assets because they know their days are numbered.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The next speaker is Senator Dolan. I apologise to her again for the mix-up with her Commencement matter this morning.We are endeavouring to rectify the matter for tomorrow.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach. I want to highlight the opening of the tennis courts in Ballinasloe. There was very welcome sports capital funding for the Ballinasloe and District Tennis Club. It means three new tennis courts will be available in the town for children and adults. The club is great at bringing along beginners on Saturday mornings. When I was a child, we played on the road when Wimbledon was on. We see real excitement about this and it is open to all. This Sunday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. there will be fun and games for juniors and free coaching. All ages will be welcome. I urge families throughout the area to come along and find out about tennis as great sport. It is a great way to stay fit. It is very accessible for many people. There are not big costs involved in playing tennis.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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Colleagues are fully aware of the situation in Inch, County Clare. I welcome the lifting of the blockade. I have always believed the blockade was wrong and I was not afraid of calling it out and saying so. That said, I also have an issue with a bar, blockade or delay in information and communication from Departments. Every county in the country will have to step up to the plate and assist in the humanitarian crisis facing our country. As a result of what is facing the world, our country has to step up and play its part. With this in mind it is proper and appropriate that there would be clear protocols in the dissemination of information from the Government to communities. It is not good enough for NGOs, council officials and local and national public representatives to become aware of the opening of a direct provision centre through the media. These are people, by and large, who want to help. NGOs, local authority officials and public representatives are there to help. I seek a debate on the dissemination of information pertaining to new direct provision centres and for the Minister to come to the House to provide detail on the new protocols. We are advised the protocols are with the Department of the Taoiseach to be advanced and escalated from there but this is time-sensitive. Direct provision centres are needed urgently throughout the country. I believe 220 people slept on the street last night and will do so again tonight because we are not in a position to accommodate them.

To be fair, the Government is doing everything it can to find properties and it will find more properties. The problem is that the far-right is identifying vacant buildings and putting videos on social media announcing there will be direct provision centres in such locations. This happened in my area last weekend. This results in protests, scaremongering and a lack of clarity and information. Communication on this issue is critical. It would be very useful if the Minister could come to the House to outline his plans and how he proposes to go about them.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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The Leader will remember that I brought forward legislation on the effective use of CCTV to combat illegal dumping in our communities. Senator Wall brought forward similar legislation. I was very happy at the time that many of the recommendations in the Bill I brought forward were folded into the Circular Economy and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill brought through the Houses by the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and enacted. As part of this process it was agreed there would be engagement between the Data Protection Commissioner and local government agencies, the Local Government Management Agency and other organisations. All of this was supposed to have been done by last Christmas. Codes were to have been distributed to local authorities in order that they could effectively use CCTV and other technologies to track down those people dumping in our communities. There were problems in the past because of data protection concerns but this was to be the new regime. A framework was put in place by the legislation. The code was meant to have been drawn up.

Since then I have twice raised this issue as a Commencement matter. On both occasions, I got the exact same reply. There has not really been any progress. We are starting to see dumping again and I am concerned. Even though wonderful work is being done throughout the country by all of our Tidy Towns committees and community development associations, we still see the scourge of illegal dumping. It is not only in rural areas as it is also impacting on urban areas. I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, the question of why there has been a lack of progress in this area. I detect no urgency on the part of some of the civil servants in the Department. I also ask that we have a debate on how we can support the work of Tidy Towns committees throughout the country and how we can finally tackle the scourge of illegal dumping and littering throughout the country.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Before I call on the Leader to reply to the Order of Business, it is important for us to remember that this day 100 years ago marked the end of our Civil War. We remember today all of those who died and suffered in that Civil War. We think of them today.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank all Members who contributed to the Order of Business. Senator Murphy spoke about the increasing numbers of motorcycle accidents and fatalities on the roads. It could be in the region of eight fatalities so far this year which is a significant number. It might certainly be an issue to raise as a Commencement matter with the Minister for Transport.

Senator Murphy also commented on how the budget should be prepared. I certainly agree with him that budgets cannot be written through opinion pieces. There should be cohesiveness in the Government on how budgets are worked through and progressed.

Senator Boyhan called for a debate on the residential zoned land tax. This comes under the Department of Finance but it is an agricultural issue. I am very aware of it. It has been raised with both Ministers. The difficulty is that town plans took in certain areas that included land that was zoned residential but was being actively farmed. There is an option to opt out and revert it back to being agricultural land but that would reduce its value. The optimal solution is that if it is being actively farmed, it can remain as it is. This poses a challenge because the request is to maintain its zoning as residential and treat it as agricultural. I am not sure whether this can be facilitated but it is being examined. Certainly the Minister is very aware of land that is being actively farmed and that it is an anomaly. It was never intended to be the subject of the tax. We want to prevent land hoarding where people speculate on land that could be developed for residential purposes. There are large contractors who own large swathes of land. We want to make sure they either develop it or sell it on and let others develop it. We need that land for housing. This is the intention of the tax. It has brought into the net individuals and farmland that we did not want in the net. We will request that debate. I am not sure which Minister would take it but we will request the debate and see where we go.

Senator Ó Donnghaile spoke about a particular issue regarding East Belfast GAA. I condemn absolutely any sort of threat being made to the club. It is regrettable that an investigation had to happen where there was potentially a suspect device at a GAA pitch where children play. I do not think any community would support it. There will be widespread condemnation of such activity.

Senator Ó Donnghaile also raised an issue with the Passport Office not accepting the Northern Ireland identity card used to go to polling stations. Senator Ó Donnghaile has asked that it be accepted as part of a passport application. I suggest tabling a Commencement matter on the issue and I know the Senator has indicated that he will table a Commencement matter next week. This may get the issue progressed in some respect.

Senator Wall spoke about the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017 initiated by Senators Gallagher and Wilson. It was adjourned early. It is on Committee Stage. We can liaise with both Senators to see when we can resume Committee Stage and continue to progress the Bill.

Senator Wall also spoke about a motion in the Lower House on autism and disability services. He made a very good point on carer's allowance and the need to address the rates being paid to carers

Senator Burke about jury service. There is quite the anomaly. Many Members called for jury service will find that judges are sympathetic to an unusual situation. Those called for jury service often turn up to the court but are not selected.It is open to such persons, given that they have been already called and it is unlikely that there are any supports in place, to make the judge aware of their difficulty on the day and the judge may be willing to allow them to step aside. However, this is not guaranteed. It is important that such anomalies are addressed. It is unusual to have someone in between jobs being unlucky enough to be called.

A debate has been requested with the Minister for Transport on pilot systems and transport hubs. We will request that debate. It can be challenging to get a debate at short notice with that particular Minister in the House. It may be the case that we will not get the debate until after the June recess.

Senator McGreehan has asked for a debate on inclusiveness in sport. She spoke about Glenmore Athletics Club and the "come and try day" that was held for people of all abilities which was a great success.

Senator McGahon spoke about renewable energy and the need to make a change to taxation that allows for people to farm solar energy and not be at a financial or tax disadvantage.

Senator Craughwell spoke about the intimidation that he and his staff member have received in relation to the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022. Lobbying and taking representations are elements of the job but it is regrettable that the Senator's parliamentary assistant's name was published online. This is not really a space we should be going into. He also made a call for security for Oireachtas Members to be extended to councillors. That call was also made by a number of Senators, including Senator Keogan, last week. I agree with that. On that topic, the grant is only 50% and I wonder if this discourages some Members who could use additional security from getting it in. It is not an issue for me personally but I think any Member who has a security issue and where the Garda make an assessment and decide there is a security issue, that should be taken care of. That is of the utmost importance.

Senator Warfield spoke about Meta and the €1.2 billion fine. He asked for a debate on data protection and privacy. Senator Malcolm Byrne also requested such a debate last week. We have been promised that we will get a date. I do not have a date at the moment but hopefully we will firm it up later today. I am hoping to have the debate in the next couple of weeks. I know the Minister is keen to come to the House on that issue and the area of emerging technologies, AI and data protection. It is a big space but having a debate here would be a good starting point.

Senator Tim Lombard spoke about CAMHS and the staffing situation and vacancies in Cork, in his own area.

Senator Maria Sherlock spoke about the Charities Association of Ireland and the ongoing challenges there with recruitment and retention and the pay disparity. She acknowledged a process has been initiated by Government to look at the issue and get the pay levels up to where they need to be. It is a challenge, not just for the charity sector and community services, but right across the board. We are at full employment, which is fantastic but it makes it challenging to attract workers in certain sectors and we are feeling those pressures.

Senator Flynn alerted the House to the establishment of the newly formed committee that will look at issues affecting the Traveller Community. I wish the Senator well and I commend her on her work. I look forward to seeing the committee in action and its report. I have no doubt it will make a big difference. It is fantastic to have a joint committee, across both Houses, that will debate in detail issues affecting the Traveller community and hold Ministers and Government to account on those issues.

Senator Cummins spoke about the Minister for Justice advancing the legislation to increase the penalty for assaults on gardaí and emergency workers. The Minister was in the Chamber yesterday speaking about the matter. To give him his due, he credited Senator Robbie Gallagher with the legislation. Senator Gallagher first initiated the Bill in question many years ago. It is finally being incorporated into a Government Bill and we are seeing that legislation advanced. It is great to see the work of one of our Senators making it into a Government Bill and becoming law. Our emergency services personnel deserve that extra protection. It sends a strong message to any potential perpetrators.

Senator Cummins also asked for a debate on the Irish rail freight strategy. We had a debate on rail not that long ago so it may be some time before we get the Minister back into the House on it. However, if we are having a broad debate on transport, it would be an opportunity to raise the issue.

Senator Boylan spoke about the Energy Charter Treaty. It is a challenge. There has not been the focus on the issue that there needs to be. This is probably because it is run from a European level, from Brussels and the European Commission, on behalf of the EU. There does need to be changes to that. We are in a different space now when it comes to energy. It is regrettable the company is taking an action against the State. Perhaps that will be the push that we have needed to reassess our position within the treaty. There also needs to be debate at EU level. I am sure that all parties will work towards bringing about those changes. The treaty was drawn up and we signed off on it but that was in a different era and things have changed and moved. I commend the Senator's acknowledgement of the Minister in terms of not granting certain licences. We are in a different space now. We have come a long way in being able to say "No" to that. The focus is on renewable and clean energy and going green. It is a big challenge for us but at least Government policy is moving in the right direction. That has been a significant change for the country.

Senator Dolan welcomed three additional tennis courts for Ballinasloe and the funding and the benefit to the community.

Senator Conway spoke very passionately about the situation in Inch. I am sure we can all acknowledge, as public representatives, how difficult that situation has been for the public representatives on the ground there. They got information very late in the day. Reasonable concerns were being raised by the community. There were unwarranted attacks on very decent members of that community from people who are not living there and have no knowledge of the area. They had no business putting their noses into it, to be quite frank. As I said last week, space needs to be given to the Minister, the local community and the public representatives to find a resolution. That has happened and it is moving forward. This will be an ongoing challenge for us as a country as we deal with extraordinary numbers of people coming here in a very short space of time. It is putting pressure on all systems and all communities. It is important that the Minister sticks to what he has said. He is trying his best to inform public representatives at the earliest possible opportunity. It has been a challenge in some situations. It is proving difficult, in particular, to get accommodation for international protection applicants as opposed to Ukrainian refugees. There is a different system in place for the two groups. We are well aware of that. There is also a different reaction in communities to people from different places coming in. That just makes it a trickier situation to manage. I commend the Senator on his very balanced commentary on what was a very local issue for him and all the public representatives in County Clare.

Senator Byrne asked for a debate on the Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022. In fairness, I think the Senator tabled that Bill over two years ago at this stage. Illegal dumping and dog fouling are big issues in communities, towns and villages across the country. It is a big issue for councillors because they deal with it on a daily basis. There seems to be very little sanction. Unless people are caught in the act, they are pretty much guaranteed to get away with it. That needs to change. There is a greater public awareness of the issue but ultimately, we need to be able to prosecute. A number of prosecutions and momentum behind that will change behaviours very quickly. We will request that debate at the earliest opportunity. It is important for Tidy Towns to be supported in the fantastic work they do in our communities on a voluntary basis which makes everywhere we live look its best.

Order of Business agreed to.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the students from St. Augustine's School in Blackrock who have very patiently waited today to be welcomed to Leinster House. Thank you for being here and for your patience. I hope you have a very enjoyable visit to Leinster House. I hope the visit is a success. The end of school term is almost upon you. Beir bua libh go léir. We will grant them a no homework or project day.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 12.28 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.51 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 12.28 p.m. and resumed at 12.51 p.m.