Tuesday, 26 September 2023
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I thank the Cathaoirleach and welcome back all Senators for the beginning of our autumn session. I hope everyone had a good summer. We have a busy period ahead. I concur with the Cathaoirleach's remarks about our former colleague, Flor O'Mahony, and Damien O'Reilly. At the end of the Order of Business, I will move a motion of sympathy for our former colleague Mr. O'Mahony and propose a minute's silence for former Councillor Damien O'Reilly.
I extend our warmest welcome to Superintendent Barry Ryan, whose CV before coming to these Houses is very impressive. We are lucky to have someone of his calibre and experience in the Houses of the Oireachtas and we thank him for being present in the Chamber with us today.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding arrangements for the sitting of the House on Wednesday and Thursday, 27 and 28 September 2023, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the appointment of An Coimisinéir Teanga, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; and No. 3, Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of 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 welcome everyone back. A lot of families have had bereavements in the past while, so I thank everyone for their sympathies in that regard.
I highlight the investment that has happened in my local area and the importance of doubling the bed capacity in Portiuncula University Hospital. It has been crucial. Almost 12 beds have been opened in the hospital. The single capacity is being doubled, which is especially important coming into the winter months. About two years ago, the management team in the hospital fought to have an area within the hospital repurposed to provide single beds. There are about eight single beds, and two double beds, with en suite access. This is crucial for infection control, not least coming into the winter months, and it is crucial that we look at investment in these hospitals that are going to be under pressure, particularly emergency departments. I acknowledge we can ask the Leader to arrange presentations from either the Minister for Health or the relevant Minister of State, but I hope the Minister for Health will come before the House to speak about the winter plan. I reiterate that we are seeing investment through the HSE capital plan for an expansion of the emergency department in Portiuncula hospital.
I extend a warm welcome to our new Superintendent and assure him we look forward to working with him. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I would like to be associated with the condolences regarding Flor O’Mahony and thank the Cathaoirleach for his kind words about our colleague Damien O'Reilly. As he said, we were absolutely shocked when we heard the really sad news. He was an excellent colleague of ours, not just as a public representative in his own right but also in working here with Senator Davitt, as the Cathaoirleach pointed out. In his community engagement and his commitment and dedication to public service, he embodied the very best of public service. I express our condolences to his mum, Phil, his fiancée, Lisa, and baby Carly and Kyle.There are a number of issues I would like to raise. The first relates to news that broke in my town of Newbridge over the weekend that we would be playing host to 100 male international protection applicants. One point I want to raise is that as a Senator, and actually the only Oireachtas Member living in Newbridge, I did not receive any information. It was only Deputies and councillors who did. All of us as Senators deserve to get this information first-hand. When I was trying to field calls on social media, I genuinely did not have any briefing or anything. I subsequently got it but it took some time. It is important to note that we have a very strong community and positive response by way of Newbridge For All. I welcome the work that group is doing. The announcement has also caused an element of unease for some and it is vitally important that we listen, engage and have proper community stakeholder engagement. That is really important. We cannot demonise people who are concerned but of course there is a line and I certainly will not engage with anyone whose sole motivation is to be divisive or to fearmonger. I really believe there should be stakeholder engagement in all of these announcements that are made to make sure there is a collective community response.
Another issue I want to raise relates to the student accommodation sector. We all know it is a big issue this time of year. We all know how expensive it is to send a student to college, notwithstanding the supports that are there. There is a particular issue I want to raise, which is around deposits. I know of one case where a student paid €600 of a deposit to a well-established university. They unfortunately failed an exam and the university is refusing to hand back the deposit. That is simply not good enough. That is an issue that is important we raise in this day and age. I have been in contact with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science but it is something we need to take up.
On behalf of the Independent Seanad group I would like to warmly welcome our new superintendent, Barry Ryan. We look forward to working constructively with him and we very much welcome him to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I join with others in their tribute to Councillor Damien O'Reilly. What a wonderful colleague. What a pragmatic politician. He was perhaps one of the better politicians in Leinster House, although he was not elected to Leinster House. You would meet him on a daily basis manoeuvring and scheming, very constructively and very positively. I can say that Senator Davitt is certainly going to miss him because you can clearly see his hands all over the work and the communication of the Senator in question who he represented. I would say this to Fianna Fáil and to his family: Damien will be missed. He was a great colleague and a great friend to many people, particularly in the GAA.
I also want to acknowledge the loss and the sad passing of Flor O'Mahony. I indeed knew him. He sought election on numerous occasions in Dún Laoghaire, as he did in Dublin North, trying to take on the then famous Mr. Haughey in that constituency. He moved all around. He never succeeded in getting elected to the Dáil, having numerous tries, but he was a wonderful party administrator and he was a special adviser. He was very instrumental in Barry Desmond's pioneering work and he was of course elected to the local authority in the Dún Laoghaire constituency. I want to thank the Labour Party for his involvement in politics but also send our condolences to his wife and family. He was a true gentleman who sadly left this world too early in life. He was of course one of the youngest members elected, in 1967, to the then Dún Laoghaire Corporation.
Finally, I just want to acknowledge the protest today by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers. The organisation represents over 1,500 childcare providers and I want to welcome them. It is important in a democracy that we have protests outside Leinster House. If there is anything we can say about today, it is that there was a cogent, clear message and a clear ask. That is real political engagement; not the mob we had out roaring and screaming last week. We have predominantly women and some children here today but also men who are carers. It is about the importance of the child. The Jesuits used to say "Give me the boy from zero to seven and I will show you the man". I was reminded of that today and of the importance of early childcare education. It is not just minding children; it is education through play and interaction. I welcome them. I support them.We need to sit up and listen to them and use our powers, functions and contacts to make it a better place for children, for childcare and for their childcare supporters.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin group, I welcome our new Superintendent, Barry Ryan. He is very welcome here and I wish him every success in his role in the years ahead. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I also wish to extend our condolences to the Fianna Fáil family and Senator Davitt on the death of Damien O'Reilly. I also offer our condolences to everyone in the Labour Party on the death of Flor O'Mahony.
The lack of supply, much less affordable supply, of student accommodation has only worsened since the previous academic year. In 2018, the Government had a report that stated that by 2024, we would need an additional 21,000 student beds. Now we have learned from the Department that the current demand is in excess of 30,000 beds. In terms of university accommodation, this failure to meet demand means that the cost of education for young people and their families has only continued to increase. Apart from the University of Galway, all universities have increased the rent on student accommodation. Many have gone to the maximum 2% increase permitted. Dublin City University, for example, has gone up to €5,863 from €5,584. In University College Dublin, the cheapest private room to rent is now €7,767, reaching its highest ever level. In Trinity College, those staying in the complex on Printing House Square have to pay a total of €10,379. For many young people and their families, these prices are simply unfathomable. The lack of appropriate regulation of digs is of equal concern to young people and their families. Students far too often are faced with situations where they have little or no access to facilities, insufficient privacy and no recourse to the Residential Tenancies Board in cases of dispute.
We cannot continue to place the blame for the crisis in student accommodation on universities and private landlords. They are required to operate within the confines of a delivery model that is clearly broken. We need a new model of delivery of student accommodation that has affordability at its core. It is equally time to properly regulate digs. The Government should listen to young people and address this issue with the immediacy it deserves. I ask for a debate on student accommodation.
I wish to pass on my condolences to my Fianna Fáil colleagues on the death of Councillor Damien O'Reilly. It was unusual to see the outpouring of sympathy and grief last week from way across the political spectrum, particularly from colleagues in County Meath who worked very closely with him. Everybody who worked with him spoke so warmly of him. I want to pass on my condolences to his fiancée and his young baby. I also want to pass on my condolences to the family of Flor O'Mahony, a former Senator and Member of the European Parliament and one of the pioneering members of the Labour Party who was involved in the Brendan Corish Government and the New Republic document published in the 1970s.
I welcomed last week the announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan that €9 million is going to be allocated towards the stabilisation of the Iveagh Markets. I have raised this issue in the House on a number of occasions. While it is a very welcome gesture, it will not go far enough to save the Iveagh Markets. In 2018, a report was produced providing an Iveagh Markets dilapidation survey, which estimated that the cost at that time for very basic emergency and structural works was going to be €13 million. That was five years ago and we have only seen construction prices increase since then. The works are not going to start until late next year. I really worry that in the interim, the Iveagh Markets are going to fall into further structural danger. There has been an abandonment by the State and Dublin City Council in particular of the Iveagh Markets, a gem in the heart of the Liberties on Francis Street. We handed them over more than 20 years ago to a man who has let them fall into complete dereliction such that the Iveagh Markets are likely to fall down around him. In 2018, I had a motion before the city council when planning permission fell through that would immediately move to take back ownership of the markets. The case has been locked in the courts since then. The original contract given to the publican who took over the Iveagh Markets was that if works did not commence on his redevelopment, ownership would automatically transfer back to Dublin City Council.It was never fully handed over to him and the question of ownership should not be as contested as it is. As we have sat on our hands, the market has fallen down around us and fallen down for the people of Dublin. It can be restored and brought back to its former glory but the State needs to make a concerted effort, and €9 million is simply not good enough. We must have a debate in the House on the Iveagh Markets and our built heritage in Dublin, which we see falling further and further into dereliction.
It is good to be back. I hope everyone had a restful and restorative recess. I also wish the superintendent, Barry Ryan, good luck on behalf of the Civil Engagement Group. I wish him well in the new role. He did a great job last Wednesday, by the way. I had to say that.
I offer my deepest condolences to all the Fianna Fáil group on the passing of Councillor Damien O'Reilly, as well as to his colleagues and family. I cannot imagine the grief involved. He was far too young. I also offer condolences to the family of Flor O'Mahony on behalf of the Civil Engagement Group.
This week, parents all over Ireland, like the Leader, are scrambling to make alternative arrangements because their childcare providers are striking to protest what they say is inadequate Government funding. The Federation of Early Childhood Providers organised the action outside Leinster House today. I am aware a recent SIPTU report found some larger childcare providers are making bumper profits and have been paying out dividends that have been fuelled by Government wage subsidies. That must be said. Despite the increases in Government funding in recent years, childcare workers are chronically underpaid and many are leaving the profession they love because it is not financially viable for them to stay. This has led to staffing shortages across the sector, which makes finding childcare such a struggle for parents. If they can find a place for their children, parents still struggle with the costs, despite the Government's efforts to reduce them.
Subsidising private operators is extremely expensive, inefficient and is failing childcare workers, parents and their children. This is why I am glad to support the calls from the National Women's Council and Early Childhood Ireland for a public childcare system. A public system would put all parents and children on an equal footing and could provide staff with better pay and working conditions. There is no logical reason for treating the provision of early years education and care differently from the education and care of school-aged children. A public childcare system would also support women's economic, social and political participation.
I commend the childcare workers' trade union SIPTU's Big Start group for voting against the most recent pay agreement. A wage of €13.65 is not adequate for the skilled and dedicated workers who care for children. I request that we bring in the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth for a debate on the future of childcare provision.
Everyone is very welcome back. I wish to raise a matter I saw on the front of the Irish Mail on Sundaylast week. I was very concerned to read the front-page story about the €14 billion hole in the national development plan budget. I believe a memorandum was brought to Cabinet today by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, on this inflation-driven deficit. It is very concerning. The memo apparently indicated that projects such as the metro, DART+ and road projects would have to be recalibrated or scaled back and that there is even a threat to some of them proceeding.
The deprioritisation of key infrastructure projects is, I am sure, of enormous concern to everybody in the country but those of use in north County Dublin, who have been promised the metro since 2001, are devastated to hear of this. We have waited long enough for this €10 billion project. While that is a very large amount, it is going to deliver wonderful benefits for the country and the people living in north County Dublin. When the metro project is spoken about, it is always in the context of linking Dublin Airport with the city centre and facilitating tourists landing in Ireland.More importantly than that, it is for the people of north County Dublin. It is for people living in Rush, Lusk, Ballyboughal, Oldtown, Man of War and places like that which have woefully inadequate public transport links. We are absorbing the housing needs of the whole of Dublin at the moment. Thousands of houses are being built, and we welcome that. I welcome all of the additional housing we are getting but planning permission is being granted on the basis of having the metro in place for all the people who are joining our communities in north County Dublin. If we are looking at the project being scaled back then that is devastating. I would like a proper debate in this House on the delivery of metro north. We need a commitment from the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that this will not be deprioritised or scaled back.
I would like to be associated with the tributes to Flor O'Mahony. I did not know him but his reputation was one of dedicated public service. I would also like to pass on my sympathies to the family of Damien O'Reilly. I attended his family last Thursday, as many in the House did. I knew Damien, initially through Senator Davitt's office and through working with Senator Davitt. I subsequently got to know him well by meeting him at various different functions. He was bright and capable, and a committed public servant. He is somebody who will be truly missed by the political world, no matter what side of the political divide you are on. That was reflected in the personal vote he got in the last local elections and in the outpouring of sympathy across the political divide at his death. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.
It was by and large a good summer, although the weather was not great. There is a challenge in certain areas of the country, however, and the budget needs to contain a Ukrainian business disturbance fund, something similar to the business supports that were in place during Covid, because there are certain parts of the country where we are correctly responding to the war in Ukraine by providing shelter and accommodation to people from Ukraine. However, the unintended consequences of that are that there are some businesses that have been adversely impacted. I sincerely hope we will see a package of measures in the budget to help those businesses that have seen their income and turnover badly affected as a result of the displacement that has taken place in Ukraine. We will have a lot of budget engagements over the coming weeks but this is one that should get priority.
I too want to be associated with the sympathies for our friend and colleague, Councillor Damien O'Reilly. I would have known Damien from his time in Ógra Fhianna Fáil. He was part of the Mary Wallace team back in the day and he would have canvassed for me long ago, when I ran for the national executive of Fianna Fáil in 2007 and 2010 at the Ard Fheis. I would have known him and I would have soldiered alongside Damien for many years. He was a good friend and if you did not hear from Damien on the telephone twice per week, you knew that something was not happening. I will miss him greatly and many of my colleagues in Meath will miss him equally greatly. My sympathies go to his mother; his fiancée; Carly; and Kyle.
I am calling for a debate with the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, on the issue of crime, An Garda Síochána and national security. This month saw a 99% vote by rank-and-file gardaí to express no confidence in Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, with record turnout, over the ending of the pandemic-related emergency Garda roster from 6 November. Off the coast of Wexford, gardaí are investigating the possibility of millions of euro of cocaine bobbing around the Irish Sea. Our courts have heard that two weeks ago, a German tourist was waiting patiently outside the departure lounge at Terminal 1 in Dublin Airport when 51-year-old Kasonga Mbuyi walked up to him, stated "I am going to kill you", and began stabbing him in the side.
We learned this week that the Garda security services are monitoring members of an ISIS-offshoot group that is active in Ireland and is causing growing concern across Europe over its violent intent. In 2017 a deradicalised Irish Muslim woman stated to the Irish Independentthat Ireland is, "viewed as a 'soft touch' by UK radicals - who easily travel between the.. [UK and Ireland] via the North because they do not have to show any papers." She further said, "such radicals "laugh" at Ireland because they see us as being "backward and behind the times" in... [our] assessment of the threat of radical Islam."
It is customary at this time of the year for those of us in public life who operate constituency offices to be inundated with school transport issues. They normally get resolved in the first couple of weeks of September but this is the first time I have seen a situation where there has not been a resolution in most cases because there is a shortage of drivers. There are routes where there are students who have been given full connected tickets. They are not the discretionary tickets like in the past; they have an entitlement to a ticket. There are cases involving 40 and up to 50 students where no drivers are available for the buses. That is a serious situation.
We have a protest outside today with regard to childcare facilities. These facilities need to be in place to allow parents to go to work. Parents who are unable to go to work because they have to drop off their kids in the morning and pick them up are contacting me every day. Their employers are getting agitated because they are not showing up to work until late and they have to leave early. What are they supposed to do? In some cases, this is reaching an absolute emergency situation.
I would like a debate on this. It is not that there is necessarily a quick-fix solution, but we will have to find some methodology of drafting in some level of support to resolve these issues. There are four or five routes in Clare alone. I can only assume that we are not the only county that is left without drivers to provide services for routes that are identified and fully embracing under the criteria. I appeal for a discussion on this.
There is also the long-term issue of how we will address the shortage of critical skills in the workplace. It is an issue with respect to hauliers and their inability to source drivers. I know efforts have been made. We have it in the national car test, NCT, sector and with garages and mechanics unavailable. There is a wider debate, but there is a critical issue that is reaching emergency status at the moment.
I welcome the announcement made last week on the extension of the first home scheme to self-builds, which will be fantastic assistance to many young people looking to build their first home in rural Ireland. The issue of construction inflation has meant that many projects that were initially estimated to be of a certain budget, with mortgages approved for a certain figure, have gone much higher and therefore there was a gap that the first home scheme will now be able to fill up to a maximum of 20% or 30%, if combined with the help-to-buy scheme. More than 43,000 individuals and couples have availed of the scheme since it was introduced and about a quarter of them are for self-builds. Young people who have shovel-ready projects with planning permission but had a gap between their maximum mortgage and the build costs of that unit will now be able to avail of the first home scheme. That is a very welcome intervention by the Government.
In that context, I would welcome a debate with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on the overall progress of Housing for All and all of the various additional schemes Government has put in place to assist young and not so young people to be able to own their own home. I refer to schemes such as the affordable purchase scheme, the vacant property refurbishment grant, the first home scheme and the help-to-buy scheme – a whole array of them that many in the Opposition are fundamentally opposed to. I would welcome that debate being scheduled as early as possible.
First, I express condolences to our colleagues in Fianna Fáil on the very sad death of Damien O’Reilly.
I also wish a warm welcome to the Superintendent here today.
I am lucky enough to be one of the representatives in this Chamber in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In that regard, I have written two reports on the tragedy that continues to unfold in Nagorno-Karabakh.Most recently, at the June session, I highlighted the fact there was an ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor, which is the only corridor that connects the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh back to the country of Armenia. It has been blockaded since the beginning of the year. That was effectively an attempt to starve and intimidate people into leaving. When that did not work, last week, unfortunately, Azerbaijan launched a full-scale military assault on those people. Hundreds were killed and we now see tens of thousands of people evacuating.
What we are seeing is ethnic cleansing happening once again in Europe. I regret that the response of western countries in particular has been just to express some words that what is happening is awful, but there have been no actions whatsoever. I met some of the people who were separated from their families in the town of Goris earlier this summer, who had no means of return to where they and their families had lived for hundreds of years. We are now seeing mass evacuations and horrific reports of explosions in residential buildings, the explosion of gasoline tanks, and all sorts of intimidation designed to drive people out of Nagorno-Karabakh.
I ask for a debate on this issue and a much stronger Government response. The West should be calling for sanctions due to a horrific regime led by Ilham Aliyev, which has no regard for human rights whatsoever.
I am sure the Leader will join with me in congratulating Rosslare Europort on being named European ferry port of the year at the European Ferry Shipping Summit last week. She will know from the time we spent on the Brexit committee that one of the very few good things that came out of Brexit was the rapid expansion of Rosslare. This fantastic facility, led by Mr. Glenn Carr and the team, deserve our congratulations. This stresses once again, however, the point about the access infrastructure into the port, and the importance of completing the M11 motorway from Oilgate to Rosslare and upgrading the railway line from Dublin to Rosslare. It is to be hoped we will now have a debate on the all-island rail review and the issue of the rail corridor running from Dublin to Rosslare needs to be addressed but we also need to complete a number of our motorways throughout the country, including the one to Rosslare.
I also welcome the fact that the new succession planning advice grant for farming comes into effect this month. This is a grant of up to-----
It is one item per two-minute slot. I will be uniform in my application of that. I will give all Members an opportunity on the day, but I will employ this rule as many Members want to get in on the Order of Business.
I met recently with Macra na Feirme. It is very keen that we look, within the budget, at addressing the issues of succession planning within agriculture. We still have the challenge that more a third of farmers in Ireland are over the age of 65, more than half are aged over 55, and only 7% are under the age of 35. I would like a debate, which I have called for previously, on the question of succession in agriculture.
Tomorrow morning a big storm will hit Ireland, in particular the south west, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Thousands of acres of grain have not been cut. It is now 27 September. It is quite possible we will not save that grain, although most of it is lodged. I walked a 62-acre field of oats last Sunday that was not three inches tall. Maybe four or five weeks ago, this crop was the bones of 4 feet high. It has been bent over, tossed and destroyed. These farmers paid huge conacre prices and had high input costs at the start of the year because fertiliser prices were through the roof. They will lose their shirt in the next few weeks. Some of the crop will not be saved at all. In some areas, because of weather and soil conditions, farmers will not come out with 2 cwt per acre from the entire portfolio of land they have.I honestly think this is a once in a generational issue for the cohort of farmers who are caught, and it is only a cohort farmers. It is only the percentage who just could not get there because it was not ripe. The Minister should look at the farmers from this date onwards who cannot save their crop. A fund should be put in place because these guys will not survive unless they get some support. It is really unusual that on 27 September there is grain that has not been cut. In my part of the country, unfortunately, thousands of acres have not been cut. Unless something is done for these lads and women, there will be not be an opportunity for them to exist going forward. We should have a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine about the potential of stepping in for the cohort of farmers who are caught. It is a really small amount, but they are going to be devastated. They will be destroyed unless we step into the arena.
I want to talk about Traveller education. The reduced timetables for Traveller education are still very much alive today within our education system and our schools. At least 4% of Traveller children in primary school are on reduced timetables and more than 10% to 12% are on reduced timetables in second-level education. Then, in special schools, 24% of the Traveller community are on reduced timetables. From reading the report, my understanding is that some of the children are put on these reduced timetables and it is nothing to do with needs but more of a punishment. I encourage my colleagues to read the report that was launched last week on reduced timetables. I welcome the report because it gives us ground to work on, but I would like the Minister for Education to appear in front of the House to debate this and for all of us to get involved in talking about solutions for Travellers in our education system.
Also on the topic of education, the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 is nowhere to be seen. Once again, it is not on the work programme of the education committee due to a lack of communication and the Minister kicking it down the road and saying we will do it next term. I have been very patient for the past nearly two years in leading the Bill to Committee Stage but we need answers around this. There have been poor actions around the Bill and its implementation. The Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill is not going to educate Travellers around their own culture and identity. What it will do is educate children from the general population within our education system around Traveller ways of life and Traveller values and culture. It is important for Traveller communities and it is about time that Traveller children were valued within our education system.
Hundreds of early years providers and their staff are protesting outside today, and there are thousands more across the country who did not want to close their doors and others who did not believe they should have to close their doors, all of whom who are extremely frustrated with the situation in the early years sector.
Early years workers and providers are telling us they are fed up with the pay. A proposal of €13.65 per hour is on the table, which is simply not acceptable if we are to try to aim for a decent level of pay in the sector. They are fed up with the bureaucracy of four different agencies to deal with and no certainty as to when the money is going to come through. Money can also be docked if a child does not attend. They are fed up with the lack of changes and support for the early childhood care and education, ECCE, sector in particular, particularly the year one funding, which has not changed in many years.
The reality, and this is the sad thing about it, is that we have the good building blocks for the early years sector now in place. There is a framework for pay and there is core funding. I know there are some who are totally opposed to it but the vast majority of providers talk to would be only too delighted if the State could come in and pay their workers their wages, and if there was actually more support from the State. At the moment, however, we are in a situation where we need to have much more from the Minister and the Government with regard to improving pay in the sector and ensuring that the legitimate concerns of ECCE providers, in particular, and all those in the sector are addressed.
I also wish to convey my sympathies to the family of Damien O'Reilly, in particular his fiancé Lisa, his children, Carly and Kyle, and his wider circle. Damien was a friend, and a colleague of many of us. He was a really happy-go-lucky guy and he will be sorely missed around this House by his colleagues and everyone in the Fianna Fáil Party.
I also want to raise the issue of the childcare providers who are outside Leinster House today and who I had the opportunity to meet. From a parent's perspective, I am in the thick of childcare at the moment. Because of the dysfunctionality in the industry, parents are being advised to put their child's name down for a place even before they decide to have a child. It is such a lottery to get a place. If people get a place they are delighted because there is no choice out there. All these early childcare providers are leaving the industry. Many women with children and babies cannot get their baby into the baby room. Women I have spoken to have said that most of the baby rooms are not in existence anymore. The only option for a woman who has to go back to work is to get private childcare in her own home. That is not really covered at all in the budget. If a woman decides that the best option for her family is to get someone into her house to mind her children, there are very few incentives or tax credits to support that decision. There is genuine dysfunctionality within the industry. As my colleagues have pointed out, there are multiple agencies that people have to deal with. There is red tape and bureaucracy. In the ECCE scheme, for instance, young people working looking after our children, the most vulnerable, only get paid during term time. ECCE does not run during the summer holidays. We all still have to go to work during the summer holidays. It is a lose-lose for those in the industry and those who are relying on childcare arrangements. As others have said, we have to move somehow. Childcare providers need to see a plan of how the State can get more directly involved in providing childcare in this country because at the moment, it is not working. We need to see both a long-term and a short-term plan to help these professionals stay within the industry.
I want to join in the words of sympathy to the families and colleagues of Flor O'Mahony and Damien O'Reilly.
In deference to the recommendation that we raise one issue, I will attempt to do that and stick to one. It is an issue that I intend to raise repeatedly until we arrive at some level of satisfaction on it. This very serious issue is question of where are we at with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, CAMHS. In other words, what levels of waiting lists are there? What are we going to do about resolving them? If we do not intervene in time with young people in distress, or with whatever myriad of difficulties, then the problem is exacerbated and gets worse. I need to get clarity on this whether by bringing in a Minister or providing me with the detail as a starting point. We certainly need a starting point here. This is a very subtle way of bringing in another issue, but I am going to keep talking about this with the same repetitiveness as I did about gambling until there was movement there. I will be doing that throughout this term. I think we have a moral responsibility to not ignore issues of this gravity and I look forward to a response.
I would like to request that the Minister for Health come into the Chamber at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss ambulance response times. Last Saturday in Castleblayney in County Monaghan an under-12 soccer match took place between the local club and a club from Monaghan town. Unfortunately, an 11 year-old child fractured his leg in two places during the game. It was a horrific experience for him, and indeed for everyone there and thankfully, both his parents were present at the game. An ambulance was called to attend to this young man. Unfortunately, it took almost three hours to arrive. It was two hours and 50-something minutes before the ambulance arrived to attend to this young man who was lying on wet grass in the field in excruciating pain. It is simply not good enough in this day and age. I would like to make the point that this in no way reflects on the ambulance personnel who do an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. However, if a young lad is lying on the grass for almost three hours after breaking his leg in two places and no ambulance arrives then we have a serious problem.I would like the Minister to come in here so that we can identify what exactly the problem is, in order that we can try to find a solution to it. No young lad, or any one, regardless of age, should have to wait almost three hours for an ambulance to arrive. I am glad to report that the young man was eventually taken to Drogheda hospital where he went underwent surgery and, thankfully, is now recovering. It was an horrific experience for an 11-year old child to go through and indeed for everybody to witness. I would like if that debate could be organised as a matter of urgency.
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy in relation to the death of the former Senator and Member of the European Parliament, Flor O'Mahony. His public service speaks for itself, as does his work behind the scenes and in promoting the ideals of the European Union. That is something we should honour and pay tribute to on the 50th anniversary. I also pay tribute to our colleague Damien, who worked in the parliamentary community. I spoke with him at the Association of Irish Local Government conference in Sligo on that Wednesday, when we discussed boundaries, commissions and the future. Unfortunately, we lost him too soon. I would like to be associated with those remarks.
Many Members may have read a very interesting piece published in yesterday's The Irish Timesby a member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Matthew O'Toole. He used the literary device of a metaphor to make his point in respect of the poisoning of Lough Neagh.
The poisoning of the lough is partly a product of poor decision-making at Stormont over decades. But it is also a metaphor for the poisoned state of politics and governance in the North. The waters of democratic debate have been tainted for some time, and the huge optimism that surrounded the 1998 [Good Friday] Agreement can seem an awfully long while ago.
No one party should be allowed to hold the functioning of the democratic process in Northern Ireland to ransom by a boycott. There is a vacuum, and with a vacuum comes an opportunity, but also a danger if it is not filled. We saw only too well at the weekend an all-Ireland response on the sporting field in Paris, which shows us the potential Ireland has. People fought so hard for those democratic institutions. We must do more. I ask the Leader to consider asking An Tánaiste to come in to give us an update on where things stand, what is plan B if it is needed and when we intend rolling out plan B to fill the democratic deficit and to have a proper manifestation of the democratic process north of the Border.
Finally, I am delighted to see members of my local community in County Kildare from Naas, Eadestown and Two Mile House. What a pleasant and happy tonic to bump into them today. I hope this is the first of many visits. They are all very welcome.
I am glad Senator Martin got to welcome his group. They are very welcome to Leinster House. I hope they have a very nice, positive, enjoyable visit to the Houses of the Oireachtas. Glaoim ar an gCeannaire to reply to the debate.
I also want to welcome visitors to the Gallery. We have members of the early years sector educators from Mayo, who were at the demonstration outside. They are very welcome to the Chamber. They will be glad to know, as I said to them outside, that many Members here today raised the issue that they raised outside; namely, the challenges being faced by the early years sector. I will deal with that in my reply.
The first Senator to raise an issue this morning was Senator Dolan. She welcomed the additional beds in Portiuncula Hospital and the doubling of capacity there. Senator O'Loughlin spoke this morning about our former colleague, Councillor Damien O'Reilly. I concur with her remarks and thank all Senators across the House for expressing their sympathies to the Fianna Fáil family on the passing of a dear colleague. Damien was just 40 years of age. He leaves behind a fiancée and a young baby, and a very devoted mother as well.Among the parliamentary community and the councillor community, he was well known to many of us. He worked with Senator Davitt. We were all deeply shocked and saddened by his sudden passing. He knew all of us very well. Nothing happened in politics without Damien being aware of it and on top of it. He was a very esteemed colleague and we are still coming to terms with his passing. He will be sadly missed. I extend our sympathies to our colleague Senator Davitt, who is feeling the loss of Damien very keenly. I also convey our sympathy to Damien's partner, Lisa, his mum, Phil, and his daughter, Carly. It is a really sad and tragic event. Nobody could have foreseen such a young man losing his life in that way. I attended the wake, as did many others, which took place in Damien and Lisa's almost new home. They were just starting their life together as a couple. It is really sad. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Senator O'Loughlin also spoke about the ongoing challenges many communities are facing, including in Newbridge, where 100 international protection applicants will be located. She rightly made the point that it is really important that people are given information in advance. As public representatives, we are often the first port of call for people seeking information. Without information, there is a vacuum and that breeds trouble. I am glad the Senator highlighted this challenge because it is one we all face in our communities.
Senator O'Loughlin also raised concerns around the student accommodation sector, as did Senator Warfield and other colleagues. I have requested a debate with the Minister, Deputy Harris, on that issue. My understanding is that he will come to the House next Wednesday. We are just finalising that date and a time. He is keen to come before the House to discuss this challenge, which will impact on many families across the country.
Senator Boyhan spoke about the demonstration this morning outside Leinster House by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers, as did Senators Black, Dooley, Sherlock, Ardagh and others. The demonstrators were very clear that as a sector and as business owners, they are struggling to meet the costs of running their businesses. Particularly in the past couple of years, with the energy crisis and food inflation, their costs have gone through the roof, far beyond what anybody could have anticipated two or three years ago. We did not know we would be in the place we are in today. There is acknowledgement from the sector that we have managed to reduce fees for parents. The cost of childcare has come down by 25% this year, with €400 million put into the sector by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in the past three years and €221 million this year. A significant package for next year is being worked out for inclusion in the budget.
There has been significant investment in the sector but it has not addressed the challenges facing providers because their fees are frozen to allow for the subsidy to go straight to parents. That has meant they have not been able to increase their fees in line with the rise in their business costs. That is a particular challenge. As I said to providers earlier today, there will be a meeting between my party and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, this evening. Other parties will also be engaging with him to see what kind of sustainable and workable solution we can find for the sector to make sure providers can run their businesses. Sometimes, people are afraid to say they are running a business, not a charity. The providers do fantastic and valuable work that enables many working parents to get to work every day. That is the challenge this week. The providers are allowed to make a profit and a living. It is okay to say that. We have to acknowledge that they must make ends meet and make a living in running their businesses. That needs to be said.
In terms of childcare policy in the State, I have particular concerns about the direction in which we are going in that we are not facilitating ECCE providers in the same way we are funding those providing full day care. That may be something we need to reflect on and discuss. Ultimately, we want to ensure parents have choices. I have requested that the Minister come to the House for a full and substantive debate on this issue. As soon as I have a date for that, I will let Members know. It is a topic we all want to debate fully in the Chamber.
I have addressed the point raised by Senator Warfield regarding the student accommodation crisis.
I acknowledge the points raised by Senator Moynihan in regard to the Iveagh Markets. In fairness, she referred to the investment of €9 million announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, but rightly pointed out that because of inflation in construction costs, that provision is unlikely to meet the cost of the project. We will need to reflect on the fact construction inflation is impacting on the delivery of all public projects across the country. We need to get back to the table and try to address that.
Senator Black raised the childcare issue. As I said, I will come back to colleagues with a date for a debate on that issue.Senator Clifford-Lee spoke about the shortfall in funding to meet the national development plan commitments that was highlighted in the Irish Daily Maila number of days ago. I will request a debate on the issue. The Senator raised the issue of metro north and the connection to Dublin Airport, which other Senators have raised previously. We will have to look at the projects that were listed and see how we can pay for them. Significant tax receipts have come in and there is scope to increase spending on capital projects so there is room for manoeuvre. I think people will acknowledge that the increase in construction inflation was not something we could have foreseen but it is something we must deal with as a Government.
Senator Conway spoke about the impact on businesses of the significant numbers of refugees from Ukraine and other locations coming to the country. The fact that they have been housed predominantly in the hospitality sector, in budget accommodation, hotels and bed and breakfasts, is having a direct impact on businesses on the ground in terms of footfall. I raised this issue before the summer recess and we will continue to engage on that and try to seek a debate on it.
Senator Keogan spoke about the need for a debate on crime. The Senator will note that the Private Members' business tabled by Fianna Fáil for tomorrow concerns justice, crime and antisocial behaviour and challenges across communities, so there will be an opportunity to debate that issue tomorrow with the Minister for Justice. I congratulate the Senator's daughter Aoise, who was recently awarded the freedom of the City of London, which is no mean feat, at the age of 29 for her work in social enterprise and her business in that area. I am sure it is a proud moment for the Senator as a mother. Achieving that accolade and recognition for her work is a phenomenal achievement for Aoise at the age of 29 so well done to her.
Senator Dooley spoke about school transport, the shortage of bus drivers and the need to address that. Money has been provided and the Minister wants to address the challenges faced across all communities when we cannot get certain children who have tickets on to buses because we simply have no bus drivers. This is something we need to address. A plan needs to be put in place on that. We will engage with the Minister on that. Senator Dooley also raised the issue of childcare.
Senator Cummins asked for a debate on housing to get a progress update on the delivery of Housing for All, so we will request that debate. Senator Gavan spoke about his work at the Council of Europe, the Armenian people and the challenges there. I note the Senator's comments.
Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about Rosslare Europort. I agree with the Senator. A silver lining in the Brexit debacle has been the fact that Rosslare Europort has received significant investment and has grown at a significant rate to provide extra capacity for roll-on roll-off and connections direct to mainland Europe. It has adapted very well and capitalised very well on the opportunity in that business. The Senator is right about the need to invest in infrastructure and connections to the port because it has expanded. He very cleverly linked that, however he managed it, to succession planning in agriculture and farmers living in that area. On a more serious note, succession planning in farming is a challenge for us. The age profile in farming is certainly at a more mature level and younger farmers need to be supported because agriculture is one of our core industries. It is a key part of our economy that supports thousands of jobs across the country so we need to support it. I will request a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on that issue and the issue raised by Senator Lombard, namely, the harvesting of grain. As some farmers have not managed to do that this year because of the extreme weather we have had in terms of heat and wet weather, I will request a debate with the Minister on that.
Senator Flynn spoke about Traveller education and the report on the use of reduced timetables for Traveller children, which is a really important issue to bring before the House. I suggest the option of tabling a motion on the issue in order to have a debate in the House but outside the Chamber we can discuss how the Senator wants to proceed to get a debate on the issue. It is very important that this House deals with the issue and puts it on the record and I thank the Senator for raising it and for her work on the joint committee as well.
Senators Sherlock and Ardagh raised the issue of early years providers. Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the lack of availability of baby rooms. As somebody said to me very recently, the ratios for babies mean it is often not sustainable for a business to have a baby room because the cost of running it does not equate to what it gets in fees, which is a challenge.
Senator Joe O'Reilly spoke about the need to deal with CAMHS. It might be worth tabling a motion on this issue to get a more substantive debate in the House and a full update but I can discuss it with the Senator afterwards in terms of the information he wishes to get hold of. This is one option we could look and I would be very happy to table a debate.
No problem - we will work on that.Senator Gallagher spoke about an 11-year-old in Castleblaney who was waiting three hours for an ambulance. That is an outrageous wait time. It is unacceptable. I am not sure how that happened but I imagine, as it has happened in my own area, often ambulances are dispatched to certain calls in the full knowledge they will never actually get there but they meet the dispatch time requirement. This takes away from having an ambulance close by when there is a real need for one. We will certainly request a debate on that. As there was a request for a debate on health and the winter plan as well, we will try to get a debate on health more generally to cover those issues.
Senator Mark Daly expressed his condolences to the family and friends of Flor O'Mahony as Leas-Chathaoirleach, and to Damien O'Reilly, as did other colleagues.
Senator Martin concluded the Order of Business by raising the issue of Loch Neagh and requested a debate with the Tánaiste regarding the political situation in Northern Ireland. I will make that request and will try to organise a debate at the earliest opportunity. I thank all Members for raising issues today.