Thursday, 25 May 2023
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on conclusion of the Order or Business, without debate; No. 2, Regulated Professions (Health and Social Care) (Amendment) Bill 2022 – Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and adjourn no later than 1.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 18 be taken before No. 1. This will be seconded by Senator Dolan. The Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023 is being brought forward by the Fine Gael Group. Its purpose is to formally put spiking on the Statute Book as a stand-alone offence under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act. Until now, an allegation of spiking is generally dealt with under poisoning and under sexual assault if it results in sexual assault. However, we believe that this is so serious it deserves to be a stand-alone offence. I pay tribute to Young Fine Gael, which has done a lot of work and advocacy in this regard. Last year, notifications to An Garda Síochána of spiking went from ten to 106. I think 106 is a drop in the ocean in terms of what is going on. I think of work done by people like Noeline Blackwell, who says that the drug of choice for spiking is giving people more alcohol than they think they are taking. This includes masking, where a person at a social occasions may think they are taking one shot when they may actually be given three. This disables and disarms them for sexual exploitation and assault, physical assault for theft, or sometimes just for the fun of it. It is not funny to disable somebody to such an extent that they have no control over themselves, no knowledge of what happens and no memory of it the next day. It masks all sorts of assaults. The HSE has an incredibly useful website, which gives advice to people. It is important that we support an information campaign to ensure that, when people are out socialising they are aware that there are actions they can take if they find themselves to be in a more drunken state or a less inhibited state than they had anticipated. They should get themselves to someone of safety, for example An Garda Síochána. They should borrow someone else's phone if their phone has been stolen, and they should never leave a premises with somebody they do not know. That may invariably result in sexual assault. In many instances, when we talk to people affected by this, we find they have never made a report to An Garda Síochána. They are too embarrassed that this happened, and carry some sense of culpability when they have none. This is an assault on someone, hence our desire to make sure this is a stand-alone offence on the Statute Book. The mere fact of its being there becomes a deterrent to people doing this as a joke, or for more sinister reasons.
I commend the motion being put forward by my colleagues Senators Seery Kearney and Dolan. It is important because parents right across this country are terrified at night when their kids go on a night out. Girls, in particular, are pretty good at sticking together. Young lads, or not so young lads, being young lads get up to all kinds of things. It is a terrifying situation now, particularly for families that have kids going out for the first time. There are so many worries. I would say the spiking of drinks is becoming a pandemic in places. I commend the motion to the House.
Today I raise the issue of policing in County Donegal. The new alignment of policing means that Donegal will be policed with superintendents in stations in Letterkenny, Buncrana and Ballyshannon. In essence, that means two thirds of Donegal will be without that level of service. In geographical terms, that means areas of Donegal equivalent to the counties of Sligo and Leitrim together. That cover is not good enough. It is not sufficient. We are losing our superintendent in Milford and we request a meeting with the Minister for Justice relating to service provision in Donegal. The population of all of west Donegal from right down at the bottom to Sliabh League, and right up to Horn Head and Fanad Head really multiplies during summer months and holiday seasons. The cover is not sufficient and we need a debate on that sooner rather than later.
Go raibh míle maith agat a Chathaoirligh agus a Threoraí. Over the past few weeks we have been drip-fed plans by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, to hold a series of public consultations in June on neutrality and joint security arrangements, but, we are assured, not on joining NATO. However, I think reasonable people have a right to be suspicious about Government talk about consultations with the public these days.The consultation prior to aspects of the new well-being curriculum in schools does not seem to have captured the general will of the public, for example. Nor did the prior consultations on the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022, which is currently drawing unprecedented negative international attention to our blind spots around free speech. Consultations or talk of them can often be a fig leaf. They often take place after the decision has been made on important issues. We saw this recently in Inch, County Clare, when a Government spokesperson indicated that any prior consultation might have given the local community an opportunity to disagree with the Minister's plan on the accommodation of migrants. We should all shrink from populism but that was very revelatory of a very unhealthy and undemocratic impulse within Government in these times.
These consultations on neutrality appear to be happening at a time of increasing and enforced globalisation. This goes alongside a diminution of the sense of nationhood which has held our country, or at least this part of it, together for the last 100 years this week. One hundred years of peace has been helped by our policy of political alignment allied with military neutrality. Rather than bargaining now whether to trade our politically aligned neutrality or erode the triple lock on our military involvement in international peacekeeping, we should think about better ways to use and deploy our neutrality. I may not be quoting Frank Aiken quite accurately but a statement attributed to him from 1957 captures a sentiment I want to express today. He said that our policy of neutrality is not based on fear but on courage, not on evasion but on initiative, not on apathy but on concern for the future of mankind. We need courage today to tell our European neighbours when enough is enough. Our initiative is called upon now to help to solve an unwelcome war which, yes, involves unjust aggression from Russia, but a war which is haemorrhaging Europe. We have talents in spades for this work as evidenced by our encounter with the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, this week in this House. Concern for the future of Europe and mankind requires that this initiative be seized from the hawks on both sides. Make no mistake, Bakhmut is Europe's modern Somme. The thousands of young lives being sacrificed in the tunnels and streets of that place are crying to heaven for angels of peace. Ukrainian and Russian families are being destroyed by a conflict which can never have a winner. It is a conflict being urged on by leaders far from the battlefield. Now is not the time to be cosying up to NATO or questioning our neutrality. It is the time to exercise the power of our neutrality by being tireless about peacemaking efforts, just as we were tireless about seeking a seat on the UN Security Council a couple of years ago. That would be a much better use of the considerable talents of our Department of Foreign Affairs. Away with fear and evasion, and let us put our diplomats on the highways in pursuit of peace.
To begin with, I am going to say something I do not say very often. Well said, Senator Mullen.
Today I want to raise the issue of the State pension. A key commitment in the programme for Government is that the State pension should be benchmarked to 34% of average earnings in the State. This was a very welcome commitment, one that I think all parties would support. The problem of course is that we are nowhere near that figure. Right now, the pension is €265 per week. If it was at the benchmark of 34% of average earnings, it would be at €318 per week. We are €53 behind. We all know pensioners who have come through a horrendous winter of high energy costs and bills. They have suffered enormously from social isolation because they simply do not have the money to go out in the way that they used to before the cost-of-living crisis. They are battling against inflation rates for food of over 12.5% at the moment. People are really struggling. It is interesting to note that in a week when Fine Gael was kite-flying on tax cuts, the Taoiseach was asked where he stood on his commitment over the 34% average benchmark and he said he could not remember it. That is what he said. He said he was not sure if it was in the programme for Government. What does that tell us about the commitment, or lack thereof, from Fine Gael, in particular?
I very much welcome the new pension promise campaign launched by my own union, SIPTU, in conjunction with Age Action Ireland, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and Active Retirement Ireland. This campaign is calling for the Government to deliver on its promise to benchmark our State pension. This will ensure that people have an adequate living so they can not just pay their bills but go out and socialise and continue to have an active and fulfilled life. I am calling for a debate on this matter because we really need to have a conversation about what the priorities of the Government should be. I am firmly of the view that the priority should not be tax cuts for the well off. The priority should be to ensure that our vulnerable older people get the pension they deserve. Equally, I want to endorse the call from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions this morning for a €2 increase in the minimum wage. One of the principles we should all be able to agree on is that people who work for a living should be able to earn a living. We know that in the current cost-of-living crisis, that simply is not the case for too many low-paid workers. I remind everyone that we have one of the largest proportions of low-paid workers of any state in Europe. It is time to talk about priorities ahead of the summer and ahead of the budget in October. I very much endorse the pension promise campaign by my union, SIPTU, and I am calling for a debate on the issue.
I too want to support Senator Gavan's call for a debate on the level of the national minimum wage. Yesterday in the Dáil, Labour Party Deputies brought forward a motion highlighting the appalling situation of children with additional needs being left to wait for years for an assessment of need. As we all know, getting an assessment is one thing but trying to access the services can be an enormous struggle. The situation on the north side of Dublin in the community healthcare organisation, CHO, 9 area is the worst in the country, with 2,428 children waiting 12 months or longer for an initial contact. I know progress is being made and it is important to acknowledge that, particularly in the inner city with the City Connects programme, but we need to see some much more of this type of initiative. Yesterday was an example of politics working well involving the inspirational campaigner, Cara Darmody, my Labour Party colleagues and, to be fair, a Minister and a Minister of State. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, have put commitments in place that if by 1 August we do not have the six regional hubs for these assessments, which are vital for children, there will be funding in the budget. The solutions are far from perfect. Contracting to the private sector for the assessments, for example, is not ideal. I know that on the north side of Dublin it is nearly impossible to get on a waiting list for a private assessment, let alone the public list, where there is a wait of two to three years. Weeks and months are vital in a young child's life and we cannot wait. If there is any spare capacity, it has to be used.
We cannot take our eye off the ball on the issue of recruiting and retaining psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and all who work within the children's disability network teams, CDNTs. Our health and education systems have to get smart about they operate. Let me tell you the story of Tristan, who is autistic and has been attending services for years. With the support of his parents, he is due to go to secondary school in September. This is a fantastic achievement for him but it was not without much heartache and stress in trying to find that place. His parents spent most of last year trying to secure this. The family now faces a fresh hurdle. That is the very basic ask of securing assistive technology for Tristan. We have a crazy situation whereby in order to get assistive technology within the school system, there has to be a report from within the CDNT by an occupational therapist, who in turn sends the report to the special educational needs organiser, who in turn sends it to the Department of Education. As the local CDNT does not have the resources or the wherewithal to produce that report, Tristan is being prevented from securing the assistive technology he was getting when he was in primary school. I know the National Council for Special Education has said that it is looking to move to a system where it will grant funds to schools as opposed to individuals. We need to get smart about how our system operates, particularly with the resourcing issue.
I welcome the inspired appointment this week of the new chair of the North East Inner City Task Force. The new chairperson is none other than Mr. Jim Gavin, who will be familiar to everyone in the House. Jim is a Dub and a very successful GAA manager.He brought the Dubs to no less than five All-Ireland championships. He is also the director of operations at the Irish Aviation Authority. My hope and ambition for him and the north-east inner city is that he brings his professionalism, precision and winning ways to that area.
I welcome the opening of the new community grants for 2023 in the north-east inner city. This year the grants have a theme of physical realm, environment and streetscape improvements. The grants are available. Applications are open and being accepted until 2 June. I encourage all community groups in the north-east inner city to avail of the grants and take the support that is there for them.
I formally second it. It is the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023. I thank Senator Seery Kearney for introducing it on behalf of all Fine Gael Senators. I thank Senator Doherty and acknowledge the work we have done with Young Fine Gael. This is a terrible experience to happen to anyone, especially when they are enjoying themselves on a night out. I encourage people to come forward, report this to the guards if they feel it has occurred and to talk with trusted people. It is shocking to think there is such a high incidence, particularly when people are coming back out to enjoy themselves after lockdown. After years in which young people were not able to go out and enjoy themselves, to hear this is increasing is shocking. People should be safe when they are out and that is what this Bill is about.
I was flicking through the channels last night and got to see "Gaelic in the Joy". It is the story of young men in Mountjoy playing Gaelic football and their coaches. Seeing the training, the ice-cold baths, the mental strength it took to withstand them and the coaching involved made me laugh. It showed the importance of sport to help people find a better path and give them mental strength. In Castlerea Prison last year, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, opened an equestrian centre, which was all about how we engage with people in prison, particularly around sport and empathy with animals. We will have a big contingent. That group will play in Croke Park but the west will be playing in Croke Park this Sunday against Dublin. We have both Roscommon and Galway. Galway is in there at 2 p.m. for hurling and Roscommon at 4 p.m for football. There will be a big contingent from the west in Croke Park this weekend. I am looking forward to it.
My colleague, Deputy Dillon, has spoken on GAAGO. We need to look at how this is available to people. The Roscommon match is on GAAGO and not being televised. This is a huge issue that needs to be tackled.
Yesterday we got the news that Private Sean Rooney is to be honoured by the United Nations with a medal for his bravery in the loss of his life. This is a wonderful thing for the Rooney family, for the medal is a tangible remembrance of that man and the life he gave in the service of peace. I make a plea today, and asked the Acting Leader and Cathaoirleach to support it, that the Rooney family should be at United Nations headquarters to collect that medal. We should not hand it to an ambassador and let the ambassador send it home to the family. The man gave his life. It is the very least we should do.
Speaking of people who gave their lives, 91 people from the Irish forces have given their lives in the service of peace since 1958. It breaks my heart when I think of Billy Kedian lying in a cold grave in Ballyhaunis and three or four plots away from him Bob Gallagher, who was a United States serviceman, lies in the same graveyard. Gallagher is to have a corvette named after him in the United States navy. He has been honoured by that navy. Billy Kedian has never been honoured by the Irish State, nor have the men of Jadotville or the many others who have given their lives in the service of peace throughout the world. I ask that the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence order a complete review of every soldier engaged in an act of valour from 1958 and ensure the State remembers them and what they gave. The families of the 91 have nothing to show. The military star has been awarded to one or two but I get a military star if I get a heart attack and die overseas. It is not good enough. We have to go back and do that.
It is important we recognise the tribute that the Senator has paid and that the United Nations is giving posthumously to Private Rooney and his family. I am sure the Acting Leader will respond but I will talk to the Senator privately about that. I thank him.
I welcome the students from St. Attracta’s National School in Charlestown, County Mayo. I see they have the "Mayo for Sam" jerseys on. We wish them a happy day in Leinster House and, in keeping with the tradition of cathaoirligh, I will say to their teachers that it is a no homework day. I cannot say the west will be awake next Sunday but Mayo had a good win last Saturday.
As a Corkman, I hope they will not deprive us of winning an All-Ireland but the country would not begrudge Mayo an All-Ireland at this stage. Senator Gallagher from the province of Ulster might have a different view on that.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. The Acting Leader is welcome to the seat this morning. Following on from comments by my good friend, Senator Gavan, on kites, I have decided to locate myself at the rear of the Chamber and will remain here until the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, gets to his feet to announce the budget in order to avoid being struck by one of the kites from my good colleagues from Fine Gael.
On a more serious note, in times of emergency we depend on our emergency service workers. They are always there in our moment of need. One such cohort is firefighters, of which there are about 2,000 throughout the country. Unfortunately, firefighters will say they feel let down in relation to pay and reform. It is vital we listen to this cohort because in an emergency we depend on them. I do not know whether we need a discussion on pay and retention. That is a big issue. Firefighters will say people are joining all right but they are coming in one door and, after a year or two when they discover the terms and conditions, they are going out the exit door. I would be grateful if the Acting Leader could arrange a meeting with the Minister as soon as possible in order that we can have a discussion on fire service personnel and how we retain, let alone recruit, them. That may involve incentivising employers to employ them. I take my hat off to employers who employ fire service personnel because it is an inconvenience to them but is for the civic good. Alternatively, we may have to increase the pay. We need them. That much is certain. They are not happy and are talking of strike action. We do not want to get that far. I would be grateful if the Acting Leader could arrange for the Minister to come in here as soon as possible to discuss this vital service.
I raise the shambles that is going on at Dublin Airport because there is not enough car parking in the short term. For our national airport to advise passengers to get lifts from friends is something I do not think I have ever heard before. If it is bad now, it will be bedlam during the summer. This is not about increasing the car parking spaces at Dublin Airport; this is because there is a car park that has 6,000 spaces but which is closed. One fifth of car parking spaces are not available. The Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, is trying to purchase that car park but it is under review by the CCPC, the consumer watchdog. That is fine but what is not fine is that this squeeze and shortage will have such a detrimental impact on passengers, because of headaches and hassle, and consumers, because of escalating prices for the car parking that is there.What is not fine is that this is an issue that has been well flagged for a year now. The Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, is telling us that it cannot do any more without ministerial intervention and it cannot lease the 6,000 car parking spaces in the interim. The Minister for Transport seems to be turning a blind eye to this. He is not minded to get involved to run communications campaigns. Connectivity to our national airport is a national issue. The following are some options that I have. Can the 6,000 car parking spaces be leased in the interim while that decision is being made by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC? Can we look at temporary options in the vicinity of the airport? Can the Minister get onto the National Transport Authority, NTA, about introducing new bus routes that are planned under BusConnects and to manage the spiral costs that consumers will have to pay this summer at the airport?
All politics is local and the issue I raise today is a local one in many ways. We have an unbelievable scenario in Ballinspittle where there are two wonderful beaches. Garrylucas is one of them. Garrylucas has now lost its blue flag because there is no recycling on the beach itself. It is 20 m away at the next beach in Garrettstown. It has recycling and blue flag status. We are stuck in a scenario where An Taisce, in its wisdom, has declared that one of our beaches in beautiful west Cork, with the weather shining, is not now up to blue flag status because the recycling facility is not in a location within a 20 m of the beach. What in the name of God are we doing? The weather is beautiful, with sunshine like we have never seen before, and An Taisce has obviously done a desktop study. Its representatives have never put a foot on the beach because if they did, they would have seen that these two beaches, which are actually joining, have a recycling centre right in the middle of them.
What I am asking for today relates to the unbelievable powers regarding blue flag status we have given An Taisce. They are now determining who gets a blue flag status. We now need to reel them in. We now need to have the Minister, who we have heard in another contribution is not willing to engage at some level, come on board to make sure that logic prevails when it comes to our beautiful natural resources. I cannot understand what the Minister has done here. An Taisce has lost the faith of the public in Cork over this issue and it needs to be brought to task. They need to be brought in by the Minister. I appeal to the Acting Leader to use his good powers to write to the Minister to intervene immediately to make sure that this beach, which is a wonderful beach that the Acting Leader knows well, is made an appropriate bathing water standard. It should get the designation that it always had.
The Chair should not intervene but, as somebody who uses Garrettstown beach every summer and in the middle of winter as well, it bemuses me that it has lost its blue flag status for the reasons the Senator outlined. I will not make any policy comment but it beggars belief. That is why I support the Senator on that.
What you say makes complete logical sense, a Chathaoirligh.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney.
I would also like to raise an issue that I have raised on many occasions, as have many other colleagues across the House, which is University Hospital Limerick, UHL. I welcome the announcement by the Minister yesterday that enabling and foundation works will commence straightaway for the second 96-bed block unit in the hospital. It makes absolute sense that the contractors there now would do the enabling and foundation works for the second block. I am told that type of work involved in constructing the 96-bed unit is substantial. I call on the Minister to outline the timelines and to sanction the business case for the second 96-bed block. We all know it is needed. There has been underinvestment in capacity in UHL for decades. We had reconfiguration that was an absolute disaster. That should never have happened. It was a classic example of putting the cart before the horse. We are in a situation where reconfiguration did not happen in other parts of the country after the disastrous experience that the people of the mid-west, in particular, Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary, have suffered. That policy decision at the time was a disaster and the fact is that people's lives have been impacted. People's health has been impacted. People have had horrendous experiences on trolleys as a result of it. It is incumbent on the Minister to sanction the business case for the 96-bed unit and give us the timeline. I welcome the fact that the first 96-bed block unit will be up and running by the end of 2024, which is a year and a half away. Surely to God another year should see the second 96-bed block built.
Will the Acting Leader organise a debate on the Irish horticultural sector? It is a critical sector. I discussed it briefly with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Martin Heydon, through a Commencement matter this morning. Some of our lowest-paid workers are in the fruit picking business and in the meat sector. I am not talking about the meat sector here, but agriculture and horticulture. This is an area in which there are a lot seasonal workers, yet we have people here who are waiting for their status to be processed. We have asylum seekers. We have people willing and wanting to work. We should have a relaxed regime for those who are able and willing and have been processed to some extent that they can work. There are enormous challenges for the workforce in relation to harvesting, packing and picking - all of the bits related particularly to the fruit sector.
The other aspect and challenge for horticulture is, of course, the residential zoned land, RZL, tax. I particularly reference north County Dublin. I have received a number of emails regarding the challenges around horticultural farmers who are already under pressure in growing crops such as salad crops, cabbage and potatoes, and now these lands have been identified for a potential tax. We are going to run people off the land. There is this constant disconnect between the national policymakers and agriculture, rural Ireland, horticulture and forestry. I would like a focused debate on the horticultural food sector, including the mushroom sector, which is part of that and the challenges around peat.
I thank the Senators for all their interventions on the Order of Business. I will go through them from the top down.
Senator Seery Kearney moved an amendment to the Order of Business relating to the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023 – First Stage. I want to indicate that I am accepting that amendment. In moving it, the Senator made a compelling case around the issue of spiking, the risk of sexual exploitation, the bizarre idea among some people that it could be fun and the need for an information campaign. I completely agree with her that it is a very serious matter. People should not leave a premises with somebody they do not know. She is absolutely correct in all the points she makes and she made the case strongly. As a father of three children, I totally get this. It is one of our great fears. The Senator has a daughter who is in a different age category, but it is a fear of any parent that his or child could be the victim. It is an idiotic parent who thinks his or her child is in some way immune from normal social practices, in some way wiser than everyone else and will spot these things. The Senator is absolutely right. I support this entirely.
The Senator also mentioned, as did Senator Dolan in seconding it, the role of Young Fine Gael in this. They deserve great credit for pioneering this. The Deputy Leader, Senator Regina Doherty, has displayed a great personal interest in this and has run with it strongly. She merits recognition in this regard as well. I thank Senator Seery Kearney for that.Senator Seery Kearney will certainly have my vocal support when it comes to the floor. Senator Blaney supported the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill and referred to the issue as terrifying. I agree with him. It is good to see the Bill is supported across the House because it is in the best interests of society that we deal with this immediately both in terms of an information campaign, education of people in this regard and in terms of the penal system.
Senator Blaney raised the issue of policing in Donegal. What he raised is extraordinarily serious in that on a desktop analysis it can look like the right way to go but we need the input of people such as him who realise what it is like on the ground and the implications. He said two thirds of Donegal could go without a proper policing service. That is unacceptable and should not be the case. It occurred to me that the specifics of this might be a subject for a Commencement matter. However, that is for Senator Blaney’s experienced self to evaluate. I support him entirely and will convey to the Leader that there is an interest in a debate. A regular debate on policing and justice is important and should be feature of the programme of the House. I will make the Leader aware. I thank Senator Blaney for raising this important matter because we need a proper policing service. The fact that people are dispersed is not a rationale - indeed it is far from a justification - for denying them proper policing.
Senator Mullen raised the question that has come into extraordinary focus with the illegal, wrong war and barbaric invasion of Ukraine and the horrors that go with that. Our hearts, minds and prayers are with the Ukrainian people. In that context, the Senator raised the question of neutrality. I get what he is saying. My party colleagues will be aware that I spoke about this at our parliamentary party meetings. I get the idea that we can be a moral force as a neutral state but we can use that neutrality for peace. Senator Mullen might be overly cynical about the forum that has been established. I attended a briefing on it at the foreign affairs committee. From what I observed at the briefing and the detail of who will address it, the format and so on, and the fact that any of us here can be present, there is a genuine effort there to tease out the issues. We could dismiss it too lightly. Having said that I understand the points the Senator made. It is the case that polling data still supports neutrality in the country. He cited the illegal war.
Senator Gavan cited the need to continue to increase pensions. Being the generous man that he is, he will acknowledge that my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and her predecessor, Deputy Regina Doherty, have consistently increased pensions. That has to continue. I am not saying this in any partisan sense, the current and previous Administrations created the conditions with the corporation tax and others to bring in international investment and created the stable economic conditions to make it an attractive option. We have a good education system. There are so many things right. We got the foreign direct investment, FDI, and, thank God, with that a bountiful supply of money. There might be a debate in the media that misses the point. That is not the fault of Senator Gavan. The debate in the media at the moment suggests it is an either-or situation in that we either reduce taxation or we deal with social welfare and services generally. Actually, thankfully the situation is such that we are in the happy position that we will be fit to do both. We will be able to increase pension rates - the Senator is right, they should be increased and I congratulate him on raising the issue - and, we will be able to improve services, which we will come to that later with all our contributions, and we will be able to deal with the tax issue. That is the happy position we are in. Pensions must be a part of that. He is also correct about the minimum wage. There is a recommendation today on that. We have progressed and should go on progressing on the minimum wage. This ties into the point on horticulture. The minimum wage has to increase and I hope that will be a feature of the budget. I accept the points that Senator Gavan raised.
Senator Sherlock also cited the minimum wage issue. I agree entirely with her and feel passionate about this myself. The Cathaoirleach will recall that I raised this in the House a few times. We need much more rapid assessments for children with special needs. We need major investment in this regard. There is a problem with supply of professionals but we need to attract the professionals. I agree with her it is not ideal to privatise these services. That should not be a policy position; that should be a desperate response in an desperate situation. The idea is to get the professional staff, psychologists and back-up people. We should speed up the services. Grant-aiding the schools may be a method that has to be considered. The assessments are too cumbersome and detailed. There has to be a scientific basis. I know practising teachers, and the Cathaoirleach was a teacher himself for many years, and a good one, in the career guidance field. The Cathaoirleach will be aware that most teachers are fit to diagnose these conditions themselves but they have to get the official sanction. The system is far too cumbersome and needs investment and movement. I agree with Senator Sherlock on that.
Senator Fitzpatrick rightly welcomed Mr. Jim Gavin to the chair of the north-east inner city task force. He will bring the qualities of leadership to it that he brought to the Dublin football team. He did great things on that and there is no reason to doubt he will bring that special quality of quiet leadership. He has a unique personal style of quiet, low-key leadership. It is needed. I am proud that my former colleague features in the newspaper today with a rock star from the south. Enda Kenny was involved in setting up this task force at the outset with Deputy Paschal Donohoe during the previous Administration. I am pleased about that. Senator Fitzpatrick is a huge supporter of this and I support her. We welcome Jim Gavin and wish him well. I support Senator Fitzpatrick in any effort to give cash, help and direct involvement to the inner city. She is not wrong about any of that. We need to prioritise it. She is a fearless champion of the inner city.
Senator Aisling Dolan eloquently seconded the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Spiking) Bill 2023. She is correct about the "Gaelic in the Joy" programme. It is heart-warming, heart-rending and wonderful to watch. It is a great joint initiative of the GAA stars involved and RTÉ. She made the broader point that it poses the point about the need for a rehabilitative prison system. That is necessary. We are in a happy position in this country now where we can do more on this We definitely need a prison system that is rehabilitative, bringing new empowerment to people, giving them a new focus on their lives and a new confidence, purpose and vision for themselves. Prison should be as much about that as anything else. There has to be the penal dimension sadly but there should be much more focus on rehabilitation. This is an example of how well it works.
I would be in great domestic trouble if I did not support her good wishes to Roscommon on Sunday. I have more than a passing interest there. I am married to a member of an extraordinarily strong GAA family in Roscommon. They are fanatical. Their first love is sport. They live for sport and the GAA. I could not go home if I had not seconded that, in case some of them are watching. They are also very hard-working people so I doubt they are watching, but who knows? In case one of them spotted this, I had better congratulate Roscommon.
If I can move from that happy note to Senator Craughwell, I could not agree with him more. Senator Blaney indicated support as well, regarding Private Seán Rooney and the family. The family should go to the United Nations. I believe the Cathaoirleach indicated that he might take initiatives in that regard too.I totally support Senator Craughwell in this. It should be done. The family should be centre stage here. It is enough to have the tragic loss of Private Rooney without just sending them something in the post. I fully agree with that and it should be done. The Senator is right in drawing attention to the 91 people who lost their lives in defence of the State or in defence of the value of peacekeeping internationally, which is incompatible with the neutrality that was discussed earlier.
The Jadotville issue is very important. In my own village or town of Bailieborough, Sean Gregory, who was a veteran of Jadotville. is recently deceased. He is from a great Army family. His son Tony went on to be a distinguished member of the Army after him. Sean Gregory was one of those people who were forgotten, mistreated and demonised after Jadotville, when in fact they were brave and good soldiers. Senator Craughwell is correct and we should be honouring the people involved in Jadotville and their families in every conceivable way.
My constituency colleague and neighbour, Senator Gallagher, raised the issue of the firefighters. I could not agree with him more. We need to keep them, particularly in these days of labour shortages. One of the happy and unintended consequences of economic success and prosperity is a huge issue with labour shortages. We must make it attractive to be a paramedic or a firefighter, and to be in all of the services which keep us going on a day-to-day basis. We cannot be without our firefighters and there should be reform in general terms to support their wishes. However, there should also be an increase in their pay. Senator Gallagher is right there. I think he has a particular appreciation of the need for the emergency services from his professional background many years ago and I agree with him on that.
Senator Currie is absolutely correct about the car parking at the airport. It is lovely to see people on the move and all of that and it is lovely to have people in that place where they are travelling again. It is shocking and I agree with the Senator that it is bizarre that we are not able to access the 6,000 parking spaces. Senator Currie thinks outside the box. Those of us who work closely with her know that. She is right that the DAA should lease the car park as an interim measure pending all the other things. Certainly, that should be conveyed to the Minister. I suggest the Senator considers tabling a Commencement matter on this so the Minister could come in to answer it specifically.
Yes. The Senator's point is well made and every time it gets aired in public, it is a help. She is right that the obvious thing to do is to try to lease the car park and it is an initiative we should be taking. I will certainly support her in any practical way we can.
Senator Lombard displayed a level of parochialism, as indeed did the Cathaoirleach himself who intervened to support the Senator. However, we are all guilty of a level of parochialism and it is a healthy thing. Those who elect us expect it and it is one of the strengths of democracy. Maybe Irish democracy is based around that localism and particularism. It is shocking that the beach is not open in beautiful west Cork. Any of us who has ever had a holiday in west Cork still has a vivid memory of it. Those of us who have not had one aspire to having one.
It is an absolutely beautiful place. It is shocking that the beach does not have this status and I do not see the logic that it is due to a lack of recycling facilities in the area. It escapes me why they could not have the blue flag up and the beach open. I strongly support Senator Lombard in that matter, and indeed the Cathaoirleach's own intervention. An Taisce cannot be so arbitrary. People have a right to their beaches. It is a beautiful tourist area and there is a strong case here. I think it is the Garretstown beach if I am pronouncing it correctly.
It is important to put that on the record.
Senator Conway, who is a good champion of the mid-west and University Hospital Limerick, wants the 96-bed block to be built and sanctioned by the Minister. I fully support that. I think the Senator will not object to me saying that Senator Maria Byrne and indeed Senator Gavan have been strong advocates of this too. I support Senator Conway's view that we need to move on it. There is no logic in the delays. It is part of the new brief of the Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, that he is watching the timescale of delivery of these projects. It is quite bizarre that a project can be approved today and then it is completed five years later. That is not on and it should not be the case. We should move on with the beds, the building, and the whole thing very quickly. I know there are processes but there is no need for bizarre Byzantine processes that go on interminably. I could cite a case in my own town. I was harassing the then Minister, Alan Shatter, for ages on this. We had sanction for the building of a Garda barracks in the town in 2015 and I think they are only now on site for the past eight months or so. It might finish sometime next year. That is quite crazy. If it was sanctioned in 2015, it should have been built by 2016 or even late 2015. I agree with Senator Conway on that.
Senator Boyhan raised a very important point. I will convey the need for a debate in the House on it to the Leader. There is an issue with the impact of labour shortages on the horticultural business. This supports the view of Senators Gavan and Sherlock, which I share, that we need to increase the minimum wage and keep it increasing each year. There is a problem here. The Senator is right. I can never understand this. I may be missing something in the rationale for this, but why does it take so long to get our new Irish who want to work in the system - asylum seekers or people who come in from Ukraine and are stuck in hotels - into the workforce in places like the horticultural sector? It is quite crazy. It is bizarre and it should change. There is no point in engaging in some sort of ridiculous politics about this. If Senator Boyhan is right, he is right. The truth is that we need to deal with this or otherwise we will have a crisis here. Like Senators Gallagher and Wilson, I come from mushroom land. We have a lot of mushroom processing in our region. I do not refer to the wild mushrooms but to the properly produced ones. My colleague Senator Seery Kearney thought I was talking about the other ones.
We have a mushroom industry there and it is very difficult to attract workers now. It is an issue. Certainly, people who are in hotels and various facilities around the country would love to get out into the workplace. I have spoken with these people. I met a woman waitressing recently in the Farnham Hotel in Cavan who said she was thrilled. She is from Ukraine but it has made her life better. She was a financial controller or something in Ukraine but she wants to be out doing something and wants to be active. It is bizarre that we have people locked up in rooms and facilities around the country while there is a shortage of workers. That needs to be addressed. As Senator Boyhan says, an unintended consequence of the residential land tax is that it can hit people in the horticulture sector. While it is a necessary tax to get land moving and get houses built, these things are difficult to square up. I agree with Senator Boyhan on this.
I thank all Senators for their contributions which were very worthwhile and interesting. As I said, we are accepting the amendment.
I thank the Leader for his wonderful reply to the Order of Business.
Senator Seery Kearney has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 18 be taken before No. 1". It has been seconded by Senator Dolan. The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.