Thursday, 13 July 2023
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The ambassador is very welcome.
Today is our last Order of Business before we break for the summer recess. I acknowledge the hard work and dedication of all the staff who look after us in this House, be they ushers, catering staff, those who clean our offices or those who keep us in check. I thank everyone for their hard work in the year to date. I wish colleagues a happy summer, a good rest and a lot of time in their constituencies.
The Order of Business is No. 1, the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 – Message from Dáil Éireann, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
I join the Deputy Leader in wishing colleagues a very good summer holiday and time for important recreation so as to be able to come back with renewed vigour in the next term. I wish the staff of this House, led by Mr. Groves and Ms Doody and who are excellent and so supportive of us all, a good summer holiday. I also wish the ushers of the House a good holiday. They make life around the Houses so easy, and we do appreciate that.
In the context of wishing people a nice summer, it is worth mentioning that the summer always throws up tragedies such as drownings and various kinds of accidents. I appeal to people to be careful to swim in designated areas and to be careful in other respects over the summer. I appeal to local authorities to ensure the requisite staff are in place to give warnings, etc. It is a tragic reality that we confront tragedies every year, as in my community a couple of years ago.
Since we are entering the summer and a new academic year thereafter, I want the Deputy Leader to arrange early in the new term a debate on student accommodation. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, is very committed in this area and doing a lot of work, but we need to know where it is at. As a joint venture on every college campus, there should be accommodation, and it should be a lot cheaper than it is. This can be achieved through building using long-term loans. There is money available for this kind of thing. Every campus should have student accommodation. There are many educational reasons for this. What parents are paying to accommodate their children in Dublin and on campuses around the country is just criminal. It is reducing access to education and leaving many students with no option but to commute, meaning they lose out on the holistic experience of university. This needs to be addressed in a radical way. There are many sources of funding that could be explored. It should be done as a priority. I realise there is work afoot but it should be accelerated. Will the Deputy Leader consider making a debate on this one of our first items when we come back? It will be really seasonal. We are all negligent in that we should have been addressing this matter, although I did refer to it a few times.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I extend a warm welcome to the ambassador and his wife. We very much appreciate having them here today. I look forward to seeing them tomorrow evening.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach referred to Patrick Sarsfield. I remind him that Sarsfield was born and grew up in Tully, County Kildare. We have our own claim.
I thank everybody who works behind the scenes to ensure the Seanad and the rest of Leinster House work. I thank Mr. Groves and all in the Seanad Office, the ushers and all those who work really hard behind the scenes to make sure Leinster House is cleaned and is hygienic. I thank all the catering staff, from those in the coffee dock to those in the self-service restaurant and everywhere in between. I hope they all have a good recess.
As we are now approaching our summer break, we have to think about the right of passage of the many children who will be starting early learning, primary school or secondary school in the next term. There will be students receiving their leaving certificate results and hopefully going on to third level, apprenticeships or the world of work. We must think about our whole education system. I congratulate the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, on all the work she has done with the Minister for Finance on easing back-to-school costs, including those of primary school books and transport, and on the allowance for those who need it and the roll-out of school meals and DEIS.It is really important that we do more. We need to finally grasp the nettle that is voluntary contributions. I honestly believe that capitation fees should be raised for primary and secondary schools, thereby allowing schools to scrap voluntary contributions once and for all. Their abolition is something I have been lobbying for, and I would like to see it implemented. I also want to welcome the publication by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment of the draft specification for senior cycle social, personal and health education, SPHE. It is vitally important that our young people and children have access to the information and supports they need to navigate all aspects of life, including making healthy and safe choices about relationships and their own lives, and respecting one another. There is a three-month consultation period and I would like to encourage everybody who has a view on this to make a submission.
Finally, I am glad that the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, Deputy Micheál Martin, has announced a number of important actions to progress the recommendations in the report of the independent review group on dignity and equality issues in the Defence Forces. I understand that work is under way on terms of reference for the tribunal of inquiry, but we also have the terms of reference published for the external oversight body of the Defence Forces in line with the recommendations of the independent review group. This is really important work. Once again I support and commend the Women of Honour on all the work they have done to ensure we got to this point.
The Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme Act 2023 was signed by the President this week, the day before yesterday, thereby completing the cycle of this very important legislation. It will be no secret that I am committed to campaigning for further aspects of issues we touched on in this regard. It was disappointing that we could not secure any support from the Government Members of this House for amendments relating to two or three issues I will single out today, the first of which is the drug trials that were carried out illegally on children within State care. In many cases, they are still alive and cannot understand why they have been denied some form of justice. Second, many children, who are now grown-up men and women, were farmed out, sometimes illegally, as child labourers - slaves - in this country for agriculture. Again, we can nod our heads and we can shed a tear, but we did nothing about it. Amendments were put before this House on these issues. I wish those who will benefit from the scheme genuinely well because many aspects of the scheme are excellent. I acknowledge the important work of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. He did sterling work in getting this legislation over the line. My ask, to which I will commit during my remaining time here, is that we try to revisit the recommendations made by the children's committee. We should look at using some other track or some other legislation to support the people who were farmed out and the people who were exposed to drug trials. I am a pragmatist. We all must work together. I hope we can somehow look at some other scheme for them.
I thank the Cathaoirleach's office; the Leader's office, particularly Ms Orla Murray; and Martin and his team - the Clerk and Clerk Assistant of the Seanad - for the way they conduct the orderly running of this House and provide the supports necessary for us to do our work. I also want to put on record my thanks to the amazing Library and Research Service. Like most of us here, I simply could not do my job without the backup and support of the Library and Research Service team in this House. I hope we will continue to have a Library in this House in the current building it is in. I know there is a suggestion that this may change and I will strongly resist it. We need to stand up and be supportive of our Library and Research Service people, who are central to the parliamentary life of this House. We need to support them and demonstrate that support. I wish everyone well. I know that everyone will have loads of reading. I am particularly looking forward to reading the Electoral Commission's report on boundaries at the end of August. That will determine the political career of many people in this House and in the Lower House. I extend my best wishes to everyone for a very good summer.
I wish the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader, the Deputy Leader and all of our colleagues a good summer after what has been a fairly intense year. I thank them all for their courtesy and patience at all times. I thank the staff, including Martin, Bridget and the whole Seanad team, for the incredible job they do. I include in that all of our ushers and the huge team of support staff who enable us to do our jobs here. I wish all of them well.
I also want to acknowledge the particular help the Deputy Leader gave in relation to the Rehab dispute in Limerick, which has come to an end now that we have a settlement to that dispute. It is not everything it should be but it is a good settlement. I want to acknowledge the support the Deputy Leader gave on that issue and thank her for that.
On this last day before summer I request that when we come back we have a debate on the whole issue of a wealth tax. There was an excellent report by Mr. Jim Clarken of Oxfam in the weekend newspapers but it did not get any coverage because of everything that is going on with RTÉ and so forth. Mr. Clarken pointed out on behalf of Oxfam, which has done a huge amount of work on this, that there are approximately 21,000 people in Ireland who have a net wealth of €4.7 million, excluding the family farm and the family home. Oxfam has calculated that if we put a wealth tax on those people - do not forget that those with less than €4.7 million would not pay a penny - we could generate approximately €8 billion in additional revenue in this State. Think of the transformative effect that would have in terms of all the conversations we have each week in this House about investment in housing, health, and education. The potential is absolutely huge. We need to talk about this. Mr. Clarken is suggesting a citizens' assembly. I think a debate, in the first instance, would be very worthwhile in this Chamber so we can tease out how this could work. Mr. Clarken makes the point that the richest 1% of the population globally have gained 70 times more wealth than the bottom 50% in the last ten years. He also makes the point that the International Monetary Fund, which is hardly an organisation of the left, has pointed out that half of the inflation we are enduring as part of the cost-of-living crisis is caused by corporate profits. It is just greed that is driving so much of this. That is a fact we need to consider. Perhaps the starkest fact is that one person dies of hunger every 28 seconds across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan. Mr. Clarken points out that over the last two years, the windfall profits of the largest 18 food and beverage corporations in the world were €14 billion. The funding gap we need to bridge to make sure people do not die of hunger is €6.4 billion. The current system is not fit for purpose. We need to talk about how we can implement wealth and windfall taxes at home and across the world to ensure justice and to ensure people actually live a decent life. It is a debate well worth having when we come back in the autumn. I wish everybody well.
I closely associate myself with the warm remarks made by fellow Senators as we approach the summer vacation and as the Seanad rises today. So much work goes on behind the scenes. It always looks like a seamless operation but I have no doubt that it involves countless dedicated hours of work, led by Mr. Martin Groves who sets an exceptionally high standard. The respect for process and procedure can be seen to reverberate among all his staff. I am sure he is very proud of them. We are very proud of the staff. We should also commend ourselves on respecting and having such a good mutual constructive relationship with the people, many of them faceless, who make the inner operations of this House carry on so seamlessly on a daily basis.
I was delighted to see the father of the House in the Chamber yesterday.He spoke about the evil of cluster bombs and said some of them do not detonate immediately. A child could easily think these are toys. It has been proven that these munitions cause fatalities and, in some cases, almost instant death. This House should be united and loud in our opposition to cluster bombs. We can do that and fully support Ukraine in its battle against the tyrant who has waged this unprovoked brutal war. I commend our neighbours in the UK on having said "No" to cluster bombs. I hope we can use our influence with our good friends in America to have them also say "No" to cluster bombs. This war can be won without going there.
I commend the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House on facilitating a debate on the latest tragic unfolding of events last week in Jenin in the West Bank. The Israel Defense Forces once again, in a unilateral and unprovoked display of aggression, went in there. There was only going to be one result and there have been casualties and fatalities. The resulting loss of life included 12 Palestinians and one Israeli. As is always the case in war, it is the young people who suffer. In this case, the majority of those who lost their lives last week were aged between 16 and 23. Israel is clearly in breach of its international humanitarian law obligations. This House must do everything in its power to influence our Government, the EU and the UN to say "No" to such unprovoked acts of aggression that killed people and mostly innocent people.
I raise the issue of apartment defects. Before legislation was to be introduced, we were promised an interim relief scheme in January this year. I met Sam and Odette Doran and others from Park West yesterday. Many on the northside are facing bills of thousands of euro this year and are waiting for this relief scheme we are yet to hear of.
Turning to the specific issue I came here to raise this morning, I refer to the Judge Haughton scoping exercise into the death of Shane O'Farrell in August 2011. He was killed by a man about whom serious questions have been raised in the context of the failings of the State in respect of its responsibility concerning this man, who had persistently breached his bail conditions having been let out. We could spend an hour detailing the litany of failures on the State's behalf. We understand that this man was on bail for at least six offences at the time of Shane's death. This same man had previously committed 30 offences while on bail as a result of various District Court and Circuit Court hearings.
In January 2011, Judge O'Hagan told this man that if he messed up again he would be brought back before the court. Yet he committed 11 more offences between January 2011 and August 2011 before the night on which Shane O'Farrell was killed. We have other accounts of an unmarked Garda car coming across the man who killed Shane O'Farrell an hour before he died. With all this evidence existing, Shane O'Farrell's family has been undertaking a campaign for 12 years to get justice for their son. The 400-page report from Judge Haughton gives the impression it is comprehensive. What it does, effectively, however, is to blame Shane O'Farrell.
I am a cyclist and have been caught many times on the road at night without high-visibility clothing or lights. It was inadvertent and I never intended it. I take extreme care. From everything in Shane O'Farrell's character, we know he would also have taken extreme care. Yet the bottom line in the judge's report is that Shane O'Farrell is to blame for his death. Someone on bail for one offence should not, of course, go to jail. We do not have space in our jail system to take in everybody who commits an offence. The man concerned in this incident, though, was on bail for having committed multiple offences and the Garda system did not pick this up. It is important that we say here today that while we now have the outcome of the scoping exercise undertaken by Judge Haughton, this cannot be the end of the matter. We need justice for Shane O'Farrell and his family.
Before I call Senator Ardagh, I welcome our visitors from the University of the Third Age, U3A, all the way from Dún Laoghaire. I thank them for coming to Seanad Éireann today. I am sure they are all very active and many of them might still be in work, but those who are retired and may have wisdom concerning how to spend time without spending money might pass those insights on to all of us. I call Senator Ardagh.
I welcome the visitors from the university to the Public Gallery. I also join with my colleagues in thanking Martin Groves, Bridget Doody and all the team in the Seanad Office. People always describe the Seanad and the rest of the Oireachtas as being like a swan going along gracefully while underneath there is much going on that we do not see. I thank all the staff of the Oireachtas, including our ushers, caters and cleaners, who make this a beautiful place and a wonderful environment for us to work in. I thank everyone.
I call for a debate on the funding of high-tech drugs for cancer and rare diseases. We have procedures, systems and offices in place in this regard, such as the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, NCPE, and the corporate pharmaceutical unit, CPU, in the HSE. Ultimately, however, these offices and the systems in place to assess high-tech drugs are archaic and need to be reviewed in light of the technological and scientific advances that have been made. In a quote I love, Dr. Mike Ryan said during the Covid-19 pandemic that we need to be fast and have no regrets and that if we need to be right before we move, then we will never win. Many stakeholders in this context, when they are talking to us, tell us the NCPE is taking months to look at new applications for drugs. By the time the centre gets around to even looking at a drug, another has been developed. Cancer and rare disease patients, ultimately, are missing out on life-saving opportunities. After a potential new drug goes through the process with the NCPE, it then goes to the CPU of the HSE for a price to be agreed. This unit, though, is also underfunded. This is similar to the situation with many of our offices around the country which deal with applications from citizens and drug companies. It is important that we have a root-and-branch reform of how we refund and reimburse high-tech orphan drugs.
I will quickly refer to a request from a rare disease organisation. We are far behind when it comes to genetic screening in Ireland. This organisation is calling for six genomic resource associate staffing roles to be put in place as part of the Children's Hospital Ireland, CHI, group. It is important we do this. Once we spot a genetic condition, such as the BRCA gene, for instance, there are treatments and people will also be able to get assessed, monitored and live longer as a result. The request in this regard then is to allow people to live longer and healthier lives.
I join with other Senators in thanking Martin Groves, Bridget Doody and everyone else in the Seanad Office and all those in the Houses of the Oireachtas for their work and diligence over the last months. I wish them well over the summer break.
I acknowledge the plans by the Saolta University Health Care Group in the west to submit the preliminary business case for a new accident and emergency department and paediatric and maternity building to the Department of Health in the coming weeks. This is another step forward in a long process of delivering vital infrastructure. We saw the strategic assessment report, SAR, approved in January 2023 and planning permission granted for the demolition of the old accident and emergency department granted by Galway City Council. This is now another step in this process. We hope the Department of Health will turn this application around and allow for further steps to be undertaken in the delivery of this vital project for Galway and the region on the grounds of University Hospital Galway.
I also express concern regarding the ongoing delays in the planning process for a new ambulance base in Recess in Connemara. The team there lobbying for a new ambulance base has been carrying out that work diligently. Unfortunately, there have been more delays in the delivery of this project and the lodging of a planning application.I certainly hope and wish that the all-Ireland rail review will be finalised and published by the Ministe for Transport and the Northern Ireland executive, which I believe will recommend the reopening of the line between Athenry, Tuam and Claremorris. This is a vital piece of infrastructure for the west. It has been talked about for a long time. There have been ongoing delays. It is time to get the plan published and work started on this project.
I would like to be associated with the various good wishes to Mr. Martin Groves and his team, who frequently work late into the night after we go away to have stuff ready for the following morning or day. It is truly appreciated. They also keep an eye on those of us who might stray into areas we should not every now and then.
I welcome the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence's tribunal of inquiry. One of the things it might do is clear up what should never have gotten into the public domain from the independent review group. The independent review group's report could have been one sentence: "We found prima facieevidence, which requires a sworn inquiry." Instead of that, we had a report, which was extremely detailed, based on untested facts. Hopefully, the tribunal of inquiry will deal with that.
With respect to the oversight body that has been put in place, I am absolutely appalled that the Department of Defence is represented on that. Neither Defence Forces senior management or the representative bodies are on that particular oversight body. The Department stood down the original oversight body without any discussion or debate when it was doing good work. The Department is as culpable as can be in the failure to deal with some of the allegations that have been laid bare by the independent review group. It is effectively bringing the fox into the chicken coop. It is just wrong in every sense of the word. The Secretary General of the Department should recuse herself. She stood step back from it and say she cannot be a party to this because her Department has to be examined just as the Defence Forces have to be examined. It is wrong in every sense of the word. I have written to the Tánaiste on it. I have spoken about it on social media and said this is not right. No man can be a judge in his own court. That applies to the Department of Defence as much as anybody else. If we want a clear, transparent process, the Department has to be subject to the inquiry and oversight, not a part of it. It is absolutely appalling. Once again, and I am sorry to say this because the Clerk of the Seanad is present, it is the Civil Service driving the situation to suit itself. It is wrong and it needs to be addressed by the Tánaiste. I ask the Deputy Leader to write to the Tánaiste to say that I brought this matter up this morning.
I wish to raise an issue of grave concern in my part of the country, which is the quality of service, or lack thereof, by Eir to its customers. What is arising at the moment is that landlines, particularly to senior citizens, are breaking down and there is no chance of getting them fixed for weeks. We must always remember that with regard to those landlines, there is a security aspect whereby many of them are linked up to alarms. If there is bad mobile coverage, those security alarms do not work and, therefore, householders need a landline.
I ask the Deputy Leader to help me in this regard. Would it be in order that we could write to Eir? I acknowledge it is no longer a semi-State body and that we can no longer invite its representatives in here. We could invite them to appear before a committee, however. It really is a matter of grave concern to people. Quite a number of people have contacted me. I must say, when the Eir staff eventually come out, they are courteous and helpful and do a good job. However, it is simply not good enough that people can sometimes be waiting for eight, ten or 12 weeks, particularly when the alarm is so important to them. I am hopeful that we would be able to get to Eir and that it would improve the service in our area. Some of the staff tell me the issue is just lack of staff. The staff who are there are trying to cover a huge area and they simply cannot do it. In some cases, even on Saturday mornings, some staff actually go beyond their duty of care and what they are responsible for to try to look after people who have been waiting for a long time to get their telephone lines repaired. The service is just appalling at the moment and Eir has to do better. Maybe the Leader could write to them.
I acknowledge the staff of the House and the volume of work they have done. I wish them a very happy break; it is well-deserved.
I wish to raise two issues. A review of school transport was started in September 2021. It is still not complete and has not been published. I am fearful of what August will bring. August in my office is the busiest time of the year with school transportation having been the top issue for the past five years. We will again have a scenario where we will have the big debate about concessionary tickets versus people who were on the bus previously and all this chaos. I am deeply concerned that we will have the same chaos and, therefore, I ask the Deputy Leader, through her good offices, to contact the Minister for Education to see whether we can get clarity about this review to make sure we do not have the chaos at the end of August we have had for the past few years.
On a positive note, I acknowledge that 200 special classrooms have been allocated starting next September. It is a really positive story to have 200 special classes, nine of which are in my constituency. Not alone that, Bandon Grammar School, a secondary school that had no special classrooms, the campaign for which I was very much involved, is now getting two starting in September. Major strides are being made regarding special classrooms. We need to sort out the school transportation issue sooner rather than later, however, or else we will have a chaotic August and September like we have had previously.
I thank all the staff in the Seanad and across the Houses. I hope everyone has a restful summer break.
I want to briefly bring up the documentary that was shown on RTÉ about dairy farming about which there has been much discussion. It did not just cover dairy farming, obviously. It also covered live animal exports. There were scenes of young calves that were kicked and thrown from their trailers. There were really difficult scenes involving calves that were exported live. Some of these very young bull calves went for 21 hours without milk to mainland Europe. There are supposed to be mandatory rest periods. That is EU law. There were also examples of drivers themselves breaching their own takt time, which even from a workers' rights perspective is an issue.
We have had a real intensifying of dairy farming practices over the past few years since the abolition of quotas. I come from a farming background so it was really difficult to watch this. We have a tillage farm now, but it was incredibly difficult. I know there are other farmers who found it very difficult to watch. It also came back that many of those bull calves are seen as practically worthless. We are not seeing the sustainable just transition we should see. Money was found for vast dairy expansion a number of years ago and I wonder when or if we will see the money to help and support farmers to encourage sustainable, renewable agricultural practices. We need to have a debate in this House on live exports and whether they should be banned - there is a global movement towards that - and a debate on the sustainable future of farming here in Ireland. The footage that was shown on Irish television screens was both horrific and absolutely, utterly immoral.
Like everybody else, I thank Mr. Martin Groves and all the staff in the Houses of the Oireachtas for their ongoing courtesy, decency and hard work in supporting the work we do.
I have a couple of issues. I raised a number of months ago through a Commencement matter the long-awaited and committed to pilot sewage schemes from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. It was going to identify at least one scheme, if not two, in a number of west of Ireland constituencies that have been waiting for decades at this stage for improved services. I think specifically of County Clare where Cooraclare, Broadford, Doolin and Carrigaholt are all waiting for upgraded sewerage facilities.It has been going on for years. In Broadford, in particular, no development can take place until the sewage scheme is upgraded. There is no sign of the upgrade, even though it has been committed to and promised. Some representatives even said that it would happen within six months, but it has not.
I want to make a point on the RTÉ fiasco. We need to keep things in perspective. I have known Ryan Tubridy for 30 years. We soldiered together in UCD. Back then, he was a fundamentally decent person and I think he is a fundamentally decent person today. Whatever the facts are surrounding the contract and so on, I, for one, sincerely hope that he is back on the radio in RTÉ doing what he does best.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Cathaoirleach for running this House so smoothly over the last six months. I thank Martin Groves and Bridget Doody in the Seanad Office, and the Library and Research Service and the Bills Office for helping me out this year with the Gradam an Uachtaráin Bill. Although the Government might want to see me go away with that Bill, I will probably try to get it into the House before Christmas. I thank Alan Ruane and his team of ushers, and Julie Lyons, John Walsh and the catering staff who make life around this House easy for us all. I thank Gráinne, Mark and Robert in my office for all the support and help they give me, and all my colleagues in the Independent Group, who try to keep me on the straight and narrow and sometimes fail. Nevertheless, I still try, as do they.
There a few items that are coming up next term, including the hate speech Bill, which really is the cornerstone of our democracy. I really hope that my colleagues in the Chamber will scrutinise the Bill and bin it, as such. Before we finish up, I also want to highlight the allegations that were made in a report recently about the grooming of children in care. The issue was not debated by the children's committee before the summer recess I am hopeful that will happen in September or October.
This is a watershed moment for RTÉ and for everybody in politics. It is all about trust at the end of the day. People trust us to run the State correctly. They trust organisations in State corporate governance. We are the guardians of that. It is most important that we stand up for trust in this House. If we learn nothing else about what is happening downstairs, we have to learn that that is the cornerstone of what people want us to do. They want to trust in us, and we have to have trust in the organisations out there that are doing what they are supposed to be doing for the people of Ireland.
I concur with the comments made by others. I thank Martin Groves, Bridget Doody and all the staff across the House for their courtesy and help over the last term. It is an honour to walk in the front door of the House every day. It is something that I feel privileged to do. I wish my colleagues of all parties well. I know it is not going to be a quiet summer. There is lots of work to be done. I concur with the comments made by Senator Lombard in relation to school transport. If the issue is not addressed, we are going to have a very busy August with issues on the ground.
The Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2023 came before the House on Tuesday. My strong view is that we need to review the Disability Act 2005. I have said it on numerous occasions. We have discussed the matter in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Autism over an 18-month period. We have met with various representative groups, including parents' groups. This review needs to happen and we need to make it happen. We have waited too long for it. I ask the Deputy Leader to take that request back to the Government, because the issue needs to be dealt with now. We need to carry out a review of the legislation and make the changes that need to be made to ensure that children, in particular, get access to the services they are entitled to.
Another issue that I have raised on a number of occasions, and highlight again today, is one that involves a minimal cost, namely, the introduction of a heel-prick test for spinal muscular atrophy, SMA. I have raised the issue on a number of occasions. The cost of adding it into the existing heel-prick test is roughly €300,000. Looking at the list of conditions covered by the test, at a European level we are one of the lowest in terms of identifying conditions that could be detrimental to a child in later life. We need to review the number of conditions that are tested for in the heel-prick test. For a very small amount of money, we could make a positive change for many families, who would not have to suffer in later life.
I, too, want to be associated with the words of thanks to all our staff throughout the Oireachtas and wish them a happy break, not just away from us. I hope they actually get a break and take a bit of time for themselves. I agree with Senator Kyne on the All Island Strategic Rail Review, and the importance of that report being published. I appreciate and understand totally the issue with the lack of institutions in the North, but I think there is a willingness and understanding, right across the board, of the importance of the review being put out into the public domain in order for it to be worked on. It is important that we restitch our once-fantastic rail network across the country, which has fallen badly into decline. We have a really fortuitous opportunity to restitch our country through the rail network, with all of the economic and societal prosperity that I feel will flow from that. Following the publication of the report, and I hope it happens sooner rather than later, I ask that we set aside time for its discussion and analysis with the relevant Minister.
I also want to reflect on the Bill that passed Second Stage last week, which was drafted by my colleague, Senator Boylan, the Ban on Dumping New Products Bill 2022. I know everyone says his or her own legislation is important, and are right, but the fact that corporations are dumping and incinerating millions of new, perfectly good unused or returned items, sending them to landfill or incineration, is grotesque. France has shown that EU member states can act on this issue and can ban such practices. We need to work collaboratively across the House on the issue. It so time sensitive and of such importance that we have to get the legislation through the House. I hope we can do that in the new term.
In my capacity as Government Whip, I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Cathaoirleach, Leader and Deputy Leader for their courtesy throughout the year. I thank Martin Groves, Bridget Doody and Orla Murray sincerely for their assistance throughout the year. I thank all Members for their assistance and co-operation in trying to get business done throughout the year. I wish them a happy and relaxing summer as far as possible.
On a more serious note, I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Deputy Éamon Ryan, to come to the House, perhaps in early September, to discuss what can only be described as a go-slow approach in relation to roads funding throughout the country. There is a section of road along the M2, between Castleblayney, County Monaghan, and Ardee, County Louth, that is one of the most dangerous pieces of roadway in the country. In the past ten years, 17 people have lost their lives on that road and 23 people have lost their lives there since 2007. They are statistics but behind the statistics there are broken families. Monaghan County Council has applied for an upgrade of the road. To date, it has received €600,000 for design. Since last February, it has been looking for approximately €1.2 million to complete that design project and to date, that funding has not been forthcoming. I will reserve my comments today, but clearly, it is not good enough. I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange an urgent debate on the issue when we come back in September.We are talking about life and death. If a Department cannot see its way to releasing €1.2 million funding to save people's lives, the person or people responsible for decisions like that need to answer for them.
I identify with the remarks of Senator Gallagher about the Leas-Cathaoirleach, Cathaoirleach, Clerk and Clerk Assistant, and all members of staff. I wish them a happy holiday and thank them for all the work they have done.
In the autumn, we fully expect to see the Taoiseach here to deal with the question of Seanad reform. I note the Supreme Court has yet to adjudicate on the application made by the Attorney General for four years to implement even the reform of the university seats, which was a somewhat relaxed timetable. There was no mention of doing anything else of what the Taoiseach, when he was Taoiseach previously, promised us here. That was to bring forward proposals for the reform of this House. It had not been done, which is astonishing, but that is the way things are. It will eventually catch up on them.
One thing local authority members can still do is decide whether, in their functional area, people can run amusement arcades with slot machines and the like. It is a power they have under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. Dublin City Council revoked any such permission 30-something years ago, yet in the city centre there is a vast amount of these places operating illegally and nobody is doing anything about it. I know there is a promised reform of gambling law but these places are effectively manipulating and exploiting the poorest people in our society. Something should be done about it. I ask that the Minister for Justice come the House in the autumn and say what the Government proposes to do on illegal use of gaming arcades in the city centre.
I join Senators in expressing thanks to the staff of Seanad Éireann, the Clerk, Martin Groves, the Clerk Assistant, Bridget Doody, and all the people behind the scenes who make the House work, including Alan Ruane and the ushers, and John and Julie of the catering staff. I thank the Leader and the Deputy Leader and all the members of all the political parties and of Seanad Éireann for all their work. I hope they get some break but there are always issues that keep the phone going during the summer. I hope Senators' staff get a break. I thank Grace and Ellie from my office for their hard work. We will hopefully see you in September.
For Senator McDowell's information, the Taoiseach is coming in to hopefully talk to us about Seanad reform on 27 September, arising from the invitation issued last week by the Senator’s colleague, Senator Boyhan. I note Senator McDowell's request for a debate on illegal gambling and slot machines. He explained this to me before. I will ask the Minister to come in for a debate but, as we are to get the gambling Bill, I assume she will tell us that Bill is coming. We might put down joint Commencement matters to ensure the Minister comes in beforehand to talk to the Senator. I will request a debate, as there is no harm doing so.
Senator Gallagher asked for a debate with the Minister for Transport on allocation or non-allocation, as the case may be, of funding for our roads. We had representatives of the National Transport Authority in front of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications a number of weeks ago. I was astounded when they told me the NTA's remit, other than building and maintaining roads, was to reduce the number of cars on the road. How do you reduce the number of cars on the road? If you do not maintain the roads or build new ones, that is one way of doing it. There is a lack of funding going to projects that have been much needed for many years. I will ask the Minister for a debate in September.
Senator Ó Donnghaile welcomed the call of Senator Kyne for the all-Ireland rail review to be published. I will organise a debate on that in the House once that has happened. I acknowledge the Amazon Bill produced by the Senator's colleague, Senator Boylan. I spoke to Senator Boylan on this before. I did a master’s dissertation on Amazon and the disgraceful behaviour it engages in. It is not the only one. I wish the Senator good luck on the Bill and hope it gets passed sooner rather than later.
Senators Carrigy and Lombard spoke on the school transport review and asked for it to be published. I will contact the Minister and ask for that. Senator Carrigy asked for a review of the Disability Act. I will ask the Minister for that. It might be something for us to do in the public consultation Act, given it is such wide-ranging legislation. The Senator also asked for a review of the tests incorporated in the heel-prick test because there is far more that we could be testing for.
Senator Keogan spoke of the need for a debate on the shocking report into children in care. It probably should have happened this week or last but was overtaken by other events, which is a real shame given the serious allegations made. I will make sure it is done within a week or two of getting back in September. We will look for a briefing document from the Department on the current status of that response so we are well prepared for the debate. The Senator spoke of her displeasure, which I know other Senators share, with the hate speech Bill. I do not think that legislation will be back before us until October so there will be plenty of time for amendments and, hopefully, meetings with the Minister beforehand.
Senator Conway spoke of the need for the pilot sewage schemes to be sped up and said he was looking forward to welcoming Ryan Tubridy back on air.
Senator Hoey spoke about the horrendous programme on RTÉ on Monday night. I do not have a background in farming. I viewed it as a horrendous way to treat a young animal, with such disrespect and no sign of dignity. I do not understand the fact there is no value in a life because there has to be value in every animal. If there is not, we have to find it. The disrespect was hard to watch. I am not sure I blame the men, even though they obviously are the actors in it. I blame the inspectors in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We have a significant number of them and if this practice is going on continuously, we should have caught it before now. We should not have needed RTÉ to go in. I wish the Garda well in its investigations and thank the Senator for raising the matter.
Senator Lombard spoke about the 200 extra special classes for our children which will be open in September. That is welcome news.
On Senator Murphy’s point, I do not know how to fix this other than by writing to the CEO of Eir to highlight the issues and maybe we will also highlight them to the Minister for Transport. It is concerning that older people’s security pendants will not work if they do not have a landline. I will raise that issue.
Senator Craughwell spoke on the tribunal of inquiry. I welcome the Tánaiste’s decision to have a public inquiry. The Women of Honour have had all of their dealings, negative or otherwise, in secret in the past ten, 20, 30 years. It is about time they got their day in the public eye to be able to say the truths of their experience and receive justice.
Senator Kyne welcomed the expansion of facilities in the Saolta hospital group. Senator Ardagh asked for further funding for high-tech drugs and that the speed at which they are approved increase.
Senator Sherlock brought up the Not Our Fault campaign, which is outside the doors of Leinster House week in and week out looking for the money promised in February, which shows no sign of coming. I extend my support to that. She also spoke of the need for a public inquiry into the death of Shane O’Farrell. The saddest thing about Judge Haughton's report was that he laid responsibility on Shane for his own death. That is the most hurtful and saddest thing to hop out of the 400 pages and it cannot be left on the public record.
Senator Martin spoke about the Palestinian war. Senator Gavan spoke about the good outcome in Rehab, for which I am glad. What is sad is how the people in question were treated in the first place. They probably would not have got the outcome only for intervention of people like the Senator. Well done and thank you, Senator.
Senator Boyhan spoke about mother and baby homes and I have no doubt he will continue to fight for them. I thank him for raising that issue. Senator O’Reilly sought a debate on student accommodation and reminded us to stay safe if swimming in the summer.
Senator O’Loughlin talked about the new senior cycle SPHE, which was published this morning. We have public consultation for a couple of months and we will have a debate in the autumn. The Senator also spoke of the need to scrap voluntary contributions in all schools.