Tuesday, 14 November 2023
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
On a positive and celebratory note, today marks the centenary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for literature to William Butler Yeats. It was on this day in 1923 through a telephone message from The Irish Timesthat W.B. Yeats received the news of his Nobel Prize in literature, to be conferred on him in Sweden a month later. The poet and dramatist was a Member of this House from 1922 to 1928 when he received notice of the award on this day 100 years ago. As Members know, it is my intention that next week we will celebrate and pay homage to one of our literary greats in this Chamber. However, today on the day of the anniversary it is important to recognise his immense achievement. I hope all who can will join us next Thursday in the Seanad Chamber to participate in the celebration of W.B. Yeats and his literary legacy. I hope Members and members of staff can attend as well.
I now call on the Acting Leader to propose the Order of Business for today.
Following the Order of Business, I will move a motion for an expression of sympathy for former Member, Louis J. Belton.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the extension of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, Public-Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill 2023 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes and that of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and time may be shared and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and time may be shared and the Minister will be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate.
Another week has gone by, another week of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip. Countless thousands of lives have been lost in the seven days since we last addressed this issue. The footage on television on a nightly basis, of the dead bodies of infants and newborns unable to survive without electricity, heat and medical intervention is something one would not have expected from any modern democracy with any semblance of decency. One would expect that children who have never committed any wrongdoing against anyone would be protected.
It is an appalling situation there. We can blame Hamas all we want but it is not appropriate to collectively punish the Palestinian people for having Hamas as their leadership or as their government. Many people from Gaza had no input whatsoever in that decision. If there was a free and fair election in Gaza now, I suspect that Hamas would have no place. There is equal revulsion for the activities of Hamas among most of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, Israel has failed to accept that situation. The only way this can be described now is as collective punishment of the Palestinian people because Hamas happens to be the leader of the administration. We would expect more from a modern democracy, one that prides itself in upholding international standards. Israel cannot be allowed to continue with this campaign of collective punishment.
There is no point in trying to make excuses for Hamas. We know it is a terrorist organisation with an appalling vision and view of the world. We know it is a disgusting group of people in every respect, what they stand for, what they believe in, and the actions they carry out. However, it is not good enough to juxtapose Israel with Hamas. It is not acceptable and we should expect more from Israel. The world will have to speak in much stronger terms and make Israel feel that this collective punishment of the Palestinian people is unacceptable and must be paused without delay.
I ask that a debate be organised in the House about public service broadcasting. Today sees the proposed publication of the RTÉ plan for the future. I understand staff are being apprised of it over the course of the day. It seems fairly draconian. We are hearing of a potential 400 job losses, a much reduced organisation. This should be debated here in a careful and controlled way.
I join the Cathaoirleach in paying tribute to a former colleague, Seanadóir and Deputy, Mr. Louis J. Belton. I extend my sympathy to his partner Anita, sister Maureen, neighbours and friends. We will have an opportunity at another time to give more fulsome tributes but, on behalf of the Fine Gael group, I would like to be associated with the Cathaoirleach's comments today.
I acknowledge the great work of Galway County Council and first responders over the past number of days and at the weekend following the horrific flooding that took place in Galway city, Clarinbridge, Oranmore and other areas along the coast. An unprecedented tidal surge took place and, in some cases, the storm was in and gone again in the space of an hour and 15 minutes. There was a severe impact on businesses, particularly in Clarinbridge and Galway city. Unfortunately, in the case of the city, it is not the first time and dare I say, it will not be the last because of the timescales for the delivery of major flood works. These timescales are a bone of contention, including with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and perhaps we could get him into the House to discuss flood defence schemes again.
I welcome the work of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, on humanitarian aid for businesses that are uninsured and that suffered severe impacts. That was absolutely necessary and I welcome the speed with which that was done. I also acknowledge the work of all local councillors, including Councillor Eddie Hoare, the mayor of Galway city and Councillor Liam Carroll, Cathaoirleach of the council and Councillor Martina Kinane, who was on ground in Clarinbridge. It was a hugely difficult night, morning and day and it will remain so for weeks to come for business owners who were impacted. This calls into question the timescale of the delivery of some projects. Some of these incidents are flukes and cannot be predicted but there are schemes planned for Galway city that are going to take a decade to complete, according to what I was told the last time I raised this as a Commencement matter last year. That is the reality because of issues such as public consultation, design, applying for planning permission, possible legal challenges and court cases, the appointment of contractors, construction and commissioning. That is the timescale for major works. There are good programmes in place for minor works and I certainly hope that we can look at building coastal defence works in areas along the coast in Oranmore, where there was a breach of the sea wall. That could include some rock armour as well as other initiatives that might be able to protect other areas in Clarinbridge and elsewhere.
Again, I commend all of those involved in assisting with the Government response, including the local authority, the fire brigade, and first responders, in what was a difficult few days.
For most of us growing up, watching the Artane boy's band march in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day was something of great joy. However, for a number of people the Artane Boy's Band, its title, uniform, and everything about it conjures up nothing but memories of the abuse and butchery that took place in the Artane Industrial School. Councillor Mannix Flynn has managed to get a motion passed by Dublin City Council calling on the band to change its name and uniform and the House should support that call. The band has changed drastically from the one that existed back then but the uniform and the name are there to haunt those who suffered in that institution. It is really important that we would support Councillor Flynn and Dublin City Council.
The second issue I wish to raise is the appointment of the head of intelligence in An Garda Síochána. I am delighted that the Leader has taken exactly the same approach to this issue as I have taken. It is outrageous to consider a foreigner being appointed to this position. From what I understand, no current member of An Garda Síochána has applied for the position of head of intelligence in Ireland. We are unique in this county in that our police and our intelligence services are both under the same organisation, An Garda Síochána. We really have to stop the process until Irish citizens can apply for that position, something which is in the hands of the Government and the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform with respect to pensions.It is unthinkable that in any democracy, the intelligence of the State would be handed over to a non-citizen. A suggestion was made here that an Irish person headed up MI5. That is incorrect. A person of Irish origin who was a British subject headed up MI5. That is a vastly different thing. This is not something trivial. This is handing over the keys of the intelligence of the State to a foreigner who may or may not have access to other intelligence services around the world. That is unacceptable in any democracy. I ask the Acting Leader to make contact with the Taoiseach and with the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and stop this farce. This just cannot go ahead. We are the laughing stock of the world that we would even consider such a thing to happen today. I was accused of racism and I hope that those who accused me will apologise to me on the floor of this House, because it was not a racist comment. It was a perfectly natural thing to speak about. Nationhood versus racism are two very different things.
I want to bring up two issues that come up all too regularly in this Chamber, unfortunately, namely, the health service and housing. I will start with the health service and the drastic news of a further extended recruitment freeze across our major hospitals. We are already in crisis. I met workers from University Hospital Limerick a couple of weeks back and they told me they fully expect the hospital to effectively turn into a nursing home through the winter because of the freeze on home helps and the fact there are no available paths out of the hospital for many patients at the moment. On top of this, I also should mention that the staff turnover rate at University Hospital Limerick is 21%. Right now, when one in five staff are leaving, they cannot be replaced. They are already understaffed. We are already short 800 doctors in the service across the Twenty-six Counties. This is a disastrous decision and the latest sign of the complete failure on the part of the Minister for Health. A decision to underfund the health service is not just morally wrong, it is absolutely critical in terms of saving lives. To find your Government in a position where this is happening after three and a half years, I do not blame Mr. Bernard Gloster at all, I blame the Government for taking the deliberate decision to underfund the health service. The workers I spoke to at the University Hospital Limerick before this announcement last Friday were already at their wits' end in terms of understaffing and the challenges of getting new staff in. The message this sends to the nurses and doctors overseas is effectively that there is no point in trying to come back here, as there is a freeze on now. It makes no sense on so many levels and we need an urgent debate on the issue.
The second issue is housing. I will inform the House that the cost of rents in Limerick went up by 16% in one 12-month period. Those are the latest figures from Daft.ie. It is a consistent record of failure again by this Government. Sinn Féin has consistently called for a ban on rent increases and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have consistently refused to take that on board. We now have a position where it costs €1,800 for a three-bedroom house in Limerick. What working families can afford that? It makes life impossible for them to both afford rent and actually save any money towards buying a house of their own. It is not as if we have not been saying this for years; we have. Yet the Government has consistently felt that, no, it cannot interfere with the market and will leave it be and consistently, year after year and month after month, the situation has got worse. Now, we have young people not being able to leave their parents' houses and young people making decisions to emigrate because of the complete failure and breakdown of housing across our State. That is a 16% increase in one year and the latest abject figures of failure, on top of the horrendous increase in homelessness figures, which has been a feature of this Government from the very start. Again, I call for an urgent debate.
We are reaching a turning point in the bombardment of Gaza. This week we learned that two of the main hospitals have ceased operations because there is no fuel and because they are damaged beyond repair. In Al-Shifa hospital, there are newborns who are relying on life support and incubators that have been turned off. Three have died and babies are being left on the floor without oxygen and are just simply being kept warm. According to reports in the past six hours, trapped Palestinian people are digging mass graves inside Al-Shifa hospital to bury the bodies of those people who have been killed and murdered by the Israeli bombardment.Some 2.3 million people, half of whom are children, are trapped in Gaza and the most common age among those who have died is just five. Those five-year-olds are not members of Hamas. Neither are newborn babies or civilians. This collective punishment is disproportionate to the attack on 7 October and there is no justification for it. It is a war crime. It is not self-defence but represents massive breaches of international humanitarian law, disproportionate attacks and the murder of powerless children, including newborn babies. This ethnic cleansing is public and well documented.
The Irish Government's response has been excellent, from the responses of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to that of the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science just now in the Dáil. However, we need to be much stronger in trying to get the EU and our EU neighbours to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. We cannot stand aside on the international stage as we see so many children killed. It is a scar on humanity that this war is being allowed to continue. We are very supportive of the idea of introducing sanctions on Israel because it is the only thing the international community can do to stop the brutal murder of children in the Gaza Strip.
Before I call on Senator Paul Daly, I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on completing the marathon in Greece at the weekend. It took a Kerryman to go to Greece. He has completed a marathon in the home of the marathon. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis. We are glad to see him here today.
I would like to be associated with the Cathaoirleach's remarks congratulating my political cousin. There is no biological relationship but we can claim cousinship when it comes to politics. I have to admit, it was a great achievement for a man of his years.
I will raise what is a very serious issue for me and many others out there. We are fortunate that we had no fatalities on our roads on the back of Storm Debi over the weekend. I have no doubt that, if we had, I would not be the only one raising the issue of ash dieback in our roadside trees here this morning. It was through lucky fate that there were no fatalities. In my own area, a lot of trees and branches came down as a result of trees having died from ash dieback. There are thousands of such trees in our roadside hedges. While I have raised this issue on numerous occasions under the forestry brief in my role as agriculture spokesperson and while we have had discussions on it, this is an aspect of the ash dieback issue we need a debate on.
There are three Ministries involved. Forestry, trees and reconstitution under the planting scheme that is in place for people who have forestry affected by ash dieback come under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is probably also a transport issue but will most likely need to be dealt with by the local authorities, which come under the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I do not know which Minister should be brought in first although I believe we would need to start with the Minister for Transport.
There is no point in all of us coming in here the morning after a storm when there has been a fatality. That is closing the door when the horse is gone. I want to bring this issue to the fore immediately. Let us get the issue resolved. When affected trees die, they crumble. Even professionals say that cutting down such trees is an issue. They have grabs to put around trees and, if the tree has gone bad enough, they squeeze the tree and turn it to pulp, which then falls in the opposite direction from where the professionals had intended. It is not a thing that farmers or landowners can do themselves. There needs to be an evaluation of every roadside tree. This would probably be organised by the local authorities. There also needs to be some kind of grant aid or financial support for landowners to remove trees because, if there is not, they will not do it. As I have said, I do not want to be the one standing up the morning after our next storm if we have not done something about this and there has been a fatality and neither does anyone else here. I urgently request that debate.
I will raise two matters. First of all, I ask for a debate on health. At this moment in time, there is industrial action within the HSE but it is not getting an awful lot of publicity. It is not being talked about but there are real-life consequences. While I would not, for one moment, condemn industrial action, the reasons for it need to be discussed.The reasons for it need to be discussed and we need to have this debated on the floor of the House.
I am chair of a drugs task force and many of the other chairs around the country are experiencing similar issues to the one we do, whereby there is a freeze on acting up. There is an instruction that no one is allowed to act up. In light of the recruitment freeze, we cannot fill posts and people are not allowed to act up. There is a situation where the Government announces major funding in the budget and the money is there for drugs task forces around the country but in many cases, that money cannot be availed of because there is no one to distribute it in a managerial position in the HSE That is having serious consequences for the delivery of services on the ground. I am appalled that there is little publicity about this. We need statements in the House on this, on what is going on and on how this will be rectified.
I welcome the decision by YouTube, which was announced this afternoon, that it is bringing in a system whereby there will be regulation of synthetic content; that is, artificial intelligence-generated content. That is a major source of the spread of misinformation. Especially as we come up to elections, there is a probability that misinformation and false narratives will go out in such a way that will affect voter sentiment. YouTube is one of the major players in all of this that is finally taking actions and I commend that.
I was given a copy of the Trinity College Dublin student newspaper, the Trinity News, today. I note in it, to my sadness, that Senator Norris, a member of the Independent Group, has decided that he will be standing down as a Senator in January 2024. I ask that, given that the Christmas season will soon be upon us, adequate provision will be made in this House to signal our deep sense of loyalty and gratitude to Senator Norris for 36 years of service in these Houses. I was writing an article for tomorrow's edition of The Irish Timeson a different topic and I was including passages from the Supreme Court's judgment in the Norris case to emphasise that it matters who is on the Supreme Court and I was contrasting the majority decision with the minority decision. As I was reading the judgment, I was wondering how Senator Norris must have felt when it was handed down. The judgment effectively said that his constitutional rights of privacy were not to be upheld, and it took the European Court of Human Rights and a decision of the Dáil some 12 years later to render him justice. He fought his battle valiantly. I know we will do something more elaborate at some time in the future but since this will be in the public domain as of today, bearing in mind that journalists will have access to this interview in the Trinity News, I wanted to mark this occasion and express, on a preliminary basis, my deep sense of friendship, gratitude and loyalty to a member of my group.
I am glad the Senator said it was on a preliminary basis because Senator Norris has not yet informed the Seanad Office in writing of his intention to retire. It would be appropriate to mark that, given that the Senator raised it and that many of us were aware of the situation. We will pay tribute in future to the father of the House. Senator Norris has, as Senator McDowell has said, been a Member of this House for 36 years and he has been a champion of equality and diversity. As the Senator rightly said, Senator Norris took a court case when the issue was not popular and when it was a minority viewpoint. I owe Senator Norris a huge debt of gratitude. He is a person I have admired from afar and from working with him in this House. He has been a huge help to me in my political and personal life and many of us in the LGBT community owe Senator Norris a debt of gratitude that words could not adequately cover. I mention his bravery and courage in taking on the State and going to the European Court. His participation in this House and his help of many of us as younger Members of the House, will never be forgotten by us. We will pay tribute to him and thank him in a more formal setting.The Seanad and the Houses of the Oireachtas will be a poorer place with his retirement. He will probably not be retired for long from his many good acts but we wish him well and thank him for his many years of service. Anois, glaoim ar an Seanadóir Malcolm Byrne.
Like the Cathaoirleach, I wish to echo the tributes to Senator Norris. As he has not informed the Clerk officially, there may yet be time to persuade him to change his mind. In fact, some of the deserved glowing tributes might do that. Having just learned of the interview, as Senator McDowell has informed us, I would certainly support Senator McDowell's suggestion that we acknowledge not just Senator Norris's contribution to this Chamber but to Irish life generally.
I raise the Government's very welcome decision today to apply to join CERN, one of the world's leading research communities. As the Acting Leader will be aware, we have had statements in the House on CERN and I have introduced a number of motions on the matter. I have probably annoyed people more about that organisation than anyone else has. This decision sends a very positive message to Ireland's science and research community.
What we need is a CERN strategy now. Not only must we join CERN but we must look at ways in which Ireland can contribute to and benefit from it. Many people were involved in getting this decision over the line. I pay tribute to the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris, and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Dara Calleary, who was very supportive. This would not have happened without the work of a significant number of research students, the Institute of Physics and a number of our universities. I pay tribute to Michael Mitchell, Matthew Fenlon and many other research students who came together and pushed very strongly for Ireland to finally join CERN.
I welcome the Government's decision to apply for associate membership and move towards full membership. I ask that we invite the Minister, Deputy Harris, to the House to set out a strategy for benefiting from CERN membership.
I support Senator McDowell's call to provide time to do justice to Senator Norris. He is a great character. When in full flight in this House, there are none better than the Senator. He is so entertaining. I do not think this Chamber will see the likes of him again. He is unbelievable.
I compliment the Government on bringing forward an increased cost of business grant. I hope it will be brought in efficiently and will go directly to businesspeople. Many small businesses are in a lot of difficulty and going through a very difficult period. Significant extra costs have been imposed on small businesses over the last 12 months, some of which are kicking in now. Whether it the cost of an extra bank holiday, sick pay or whatever else, there are huge impositions being made on small businesses. I compliment the Government on bringing forward the increased cost of business grant. I hope the grant will not be eaten up by professionals and will go straight to the business community, whether through rates relief or in some other form the Government may decide. I hope the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coveney, will come to the House to set out the basis on which the grant will be provided. It is very welcome and the quicker it can filter down to the business community, the better.
I support Senator Paul Daly's comments on ash dieback, which is a huge problem throughout the country. I wonder how many of the trees that fell in the recent storm did so as a result of ash dieback.
I think so. There will be time to pay tribute to David. It is one of the greatest boasts of my life that I have shared a Chamber with him for 16 or 17 years, and we will have so much more to say about the great work he did.
I was given an opportunity last evening to meet the family of little Emily Hand - her father and her sister - and some other people from Israel whose families have either been slaughtered by Hamas or are currently being held captive by them. It was a very sad and poignant occasion. I was struck mainly by the dignity and the fortitude of the families. I have to say that, honestly, I did not witness any hatred or undue animosity against their adversaries. They were philosophical about it and all they really want is to see their people freed.
As Emily Hand is one of our own, as an Irish person, and we are always supposed to look after our own first, I would appeal to everybody in this country, no matter who they support. People are entitled to support Israel, as I do, or they can support Palestine, and even Hamas, if they wish - that is their call - but surely we can unite about the plight of an Irish girl who has now celebrated her ninth birthday in the horrors of a Hamas tunnel. God knows what condition she is in mentally and physically. I am appealing to everybody. I think we have had enough of protests of one sort or the other. It is pretty one-sided, and we know that. We know who is winning the propaganda war but, in the long term, what we need is peace - a peace that will last and a peace that will attain the security of the people of Israel, to which they are entitled.
I join with Senator McDowell. Senator Norris is a Joycean scholar who has brought so much colour to the Seanad. To have been in the Chamber to at least hear him speak has been a real honour for me as well. Everything that Senator Norris achieved and what he did by bringing his case to the European Court of Human Rights was crucial in changing legislation here in Ireland, and we can never forget the importance of that court.
What I want to speak about today is the report that has come from GREVIO, the group of experts looking at the Istanbul Convention around domestic violence in particular. I am raising this because I know that, locally, our Lions Club is holding an information session around domestic and gender-based violence. We should be able to hold these information sessions in small towns as well as big towns, and we should be able to engage around the four principles of the Istanbul Convention, one of which is prevention, which is around education policy and how we are delivering that in our primary and secondary schools.
There is a very good University of Galway programme, active consent, which rolls out workshops to secondary schools. I want to highlight that as one of the measures we are looking at in terms of protection and trying to ensure we are changing the behaviours that lead to bullying, cyberbullying or this type of behaviour that puts women and, at times, men in fear of aggression, abuse and violence, whether in the home or outside.
It is a great privilege to welcome to the Gallery members of the Muslim Sisters of Éire, an incredible group of women who will be known to anyone who has spent time in our capital city. They are some of the most selfless and servant-hearted women you could ever meet. They spend hours upon hours every week on the cold streets of Dublin, helping to feed those who are homeless. Every Friday night, they are on O'Connell Street in front of the GPO, providing hot meals, fresh fruit and water. It is no exaggeration to say that these women have saved the lives of countless Irish men and women. As the Koran says, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though they have saved the lives of all mankind.The sisters join a long tradition of essential aid being provided by those who are compelled to act by their faith. Br. Kevin Crowley founded the Capuchin Day Centre over half a century ago. It has been a lifeline for tens of thousands of Irish people. He headed it up until last year. Some people like to talk about the separation of church and State. It seems the separation is as follows: where the State fails, people of faith will step in. I am blown away by the work of these women. There are over 100 volunteers. They should rightly receive our thanks and praise, but they should not have to do what they do. This Government should not need to rely on the charity of its citizens to minimise the harms that result from its governance. I ask that we have the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage come to the House to debate the housing situation in 2023 before the year comes to a close. Let us see how much longer these women will have to look after the people on the streets.
I raise the issue of housing and pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, for the raft of measures he has introduced to try to encourage homeownership. It is fair to say that any reasonable assessment would conclude that we are definitely making progress and building momentum. We all know much more is needed.
One of the schemes introduced recently was the scrapping of development levies. That was an incentive to reduce the costs for young people who are trying to build their own home. Development levies paid to local authorities were scrapped and if people made their payment to Irish Water, the utility would reimburse them for the full amount. Unfortunately, that does not extend to group water schemes. As the Acting Leader knows, there are many of those schemes located throughout the country. I understand the scheme is due to be reviewed again in April. I request that the Acting Leader use her good offices and write on behalf of Senators to ask that group water schemes be included in the review, which is due to take place towards the end of the year. It is important that every possible incentive be given to young people to help them purchase and build their own homes. It is unfair that group water schemes have been left out. I hope they will be included in that review.
I very much welcome the most recent figures that show up to 500 first-time buyers are buying a property every week. I would like to see many more first-time buyers being able to do so in future.
I concur with colleagues in relation to Senator Norris. I will circulate a copy of the publication in question. The Senator has confirmed that what he said in the interview was correct and that is his decision. He has good plans. We wish him well and we will have another opportunity to celebrate. I thank in particular Senator Mark Daly and other members of the portraits committee. Despite huge opposition, as Senator Norris said, his portrait is hung high in Leinster House. I think he is one of the only active politicians in Leinster House to have his portrait on display in the House.
On another matter, today is the anniversary of the death of Vicky Phelan. We are all united, as people were then. Ms Phelan is dead one year today. On "Newstalk Breakfast" this morning, her friend and fellow campaigner Stephen Teap spoke about her life, her fight for women's healthcare and the impact she had on the country, which has been profound. Vicky Phelan will be remembered for her bravery and fighting spirit. I call on my colleagues in Seanad Éireann to campaign to end the restriction of cervical smear tests to women aged over 25 years and for all smear testing to be conducted in Ireland, as was promised. Women in Ireland deserve better.I have news of a woman who is a student and who yesterday had to pay €150 for a smear test. It is unacceptable. We should rally together, we should use our political might, our political force and our political contacts to have that issue addressed immediately but let us remember the courageous Vicky Phelan today, one year on. She did this State much service.
I thank the Senator. We do indeed remember Vicky Phelan.
I welcome Deputy Devlin, the assistant Government Chief Whip, to the Gallery. He is joined by Fr. Selva Raj, who is a member of the Salesians of Don Bosco, which does Trojan work in the Sean MacDermott Street area here in Dublin with the youth of the area. Father, you are very welcome thank you for being here. Indeed, I have many good friends in the Salesians, so it is good to have you here.
This afternoon, I would like to raise the issue of the European Commissioner for the environment, who will be visiting Ireland on 23 November. This is a really significant visit. He is coming here to Ireland to speak and engage with the Irish community about the issues regarding the nitrates action plan. This is a really significant issue for the agricultural community. Unless we get some major changes and leniency in the next few days and weeks, more than 40,000 cows will potentially be slaughtered, and the majority of those will be in calf. It is a huge issue in many ways, such as economic and social. It is just wrong, and that is the key issue here.
We need to make sure that this by the Commission is taken full advantage of. I firmly believe we need to make sure that the Commissioner looks in particular at the areas where we have proven that our water quality is sustainable in high stocking density areas. I mention in particular, and the Cathaoirleach knows this area quite well, Timoleague in west Cork. In this catchment area, Teagasc tests the water once every ten minutes. It has proven that the nitrates level in that catchment area has decreased dramatically in the past 14 years because of the good management practices that happen on the farms. What we do not want next Thursday week is for the Commissioner to arrive at Government Buildings, have a chat and leave again. He needs to put a foot onto the Irish farm and he needs to see how we do things differently. We have a unique model of farming compared with any other country in the world. There is no other nation that does what we do regarding stocking rates and our actual practice of farming. We are what we are; we are a world leader. I do not think there is a knowledge of that in the European Union.
I suggest that two things should happen. First, we should have a debate with the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine next week about this visit. Second, we need to make sure that he puts a foot on Irish farms. What we do not want is for nothing more than a photo call to happen and for him to come in and out. That will do nothing for the agricultural community that is depending so much on this visit.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his kind words in relation to me still being here after the marathon. I join with colleagues in remembering Louis Belton, who I heard about more than 30 years ago from Padraig Sheridan, the grandnephew of General Seán MacEoin. Louis Belton passed away, as the Cathaoirleach outlined, when he was just shy of his 80th birthday. He was one of nearly a dozen members of his family to serve in the Oireachtas, and it is quite an achievement for any family to give such service to the State. As the Cathaoirleach pointed out, he was elected to the Dáil. He was the first Deputy from Fine Gael to represent Longford, following in the footsteps of the previous Deputy from Fine Gael, General Seán MacEoin, who retired and left politics in 1965. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam, an Seanadóir agus an Teachta Dála, Louis Belton.
As the Cathaoirleach has also pointed out, it is the 100th anniversary of W. B. Yeats’ winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Obviously, he gave some great speeches in this House. His portrait is more remembered but, as Senator McDowell has quoted many a time when speaking about the issue of rights and responsibilities, on the issue of divorce he said how “We ... are no petty people”. He also spoke in debates here, during the fraught days of 1924, about the Irish Boundary Commission which was being established at that time. He spoke about the future of Ireland. At the time, he said he did not believe he would see a united Ireland in his lifetime, but he believed it would be won not because we would fight for it, but because we would govern ourselves well, unite people under culture and win the imagination of younger people.We look forward to celebrating the 100th anniversary of that great achievement by one of Ireland's greatest public servants, artists and writers.
I pay tribute to Senator Norris, the father of the House, on the announcement of his retirement. It is important that before Christmas, if possible, we invite him to the House to give people the opportunity to give him the praise he so richly deserves. I remember him talking about the fact that he often could not get people to second his motions on what was, for many at the time, the radical change that he brought to this country. He dragged this country into the 21st century and he allowed people to be who they are. For that service to the State, we owe him a great debt and a great deal of thanks.
I welcome the Friends of St. Patrick's Cathedral who are in the Public Gallery. I welcome Mrs. Irene Wilson Power, the Reverend Morton and Alice Leahy of the Alice Leahy Trust, who does huge work. They are guests of Senator McDowell. I wish them a very pleasant afternoon in Leinster House and hope they have a very enjoyable visit. I thank them for all they do on our behalf.
I also extend my welcome and that of the House to our distinguished guests.
We are all looking forward to the tribute to William B. Yeats next Thursday. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his kind invitation. I listened to RTÉ Radio 1 over the weekend, when the day William B. Yeats heard the news that he was the winner of the Nobel Prize was discussed. He had been nominated a number of times. He and his wife looked for some food to have a celebratory meal but all they could find was sausages. They fried their sausages, had a glass of wine with them, and celebrated their wonderful win.
Senator Dooley, along with other Members, spoke about another week of horrific death and destruction in Gaza. When we see the footage of children and babies daily on television, and in newspapers and on our phones, it is absolutely heartbreaking. When we consider that every seven minutes a baby or child dies, and every 15 minutes a woman dies, it brings it into very stark reality. By virtue of an accident of birth, children born in Palestine - they could have been born in any country in the world - are now under a death sentence. I heard somebody who spoke about the horrific situation saying that normally when children are asked what they would like to be when they grow up, they will say a teacher, nurse or politician, but in Palestine children say they will not grow up because they feel they have no future they can look forward to. We certainly should expect more from a modern democracy, such as Israel, than the collective punishment we have seen. There is no doubt that this is a holocaust by another name.
There is no doubt about that. The House re-echoes its call for a humanitarian ceasefire, the release of hostages, including little Emily Hand - I understand that the Tánaiste met with her family today - and for aid to be delivered to Palestine. That is with all collectively working towards a long-term solution.
Senator Dooley also asked for a debate on the national public service broadcaster. I understand from news reports that 400 redundancies are being sought and that Kevin Bakhurst is meeting with staff today. The Senator is correct that we need to have a debate in the House on a modern national public service broadcaster. We certainly will look for the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, to come to the House for that.
Senator Kyne extended his sympathies to the family of Louis Belton. He also spoke about the excellent work carried out by Galway County Council in response to Storm Debi, and commended the first responders, including the fire services and everybody in Galway County Council.He shared his concern about the ten years needed for a flood relief scheme and said there should be minor works we could be able to put in place before that.
Senator Craughwell spoke about the Artane boys' band and the memories we all have of Croke Park and the service the band has given. Councillor Mannix Flynn had a motion that was passed at Dublin City Council in terms of changing the name and uniform and looking for support. Obviously, that is not a decision we can take, but it is a noble call to make, absolutely.
Senator Gavan spoke by the situation regarding the HSE and the future recruitment freeze and concerns about the 20% turnover, in particular, in University Hospital Limerick. It is very regrettable, absolutely, that we are at this stage. I am glad that a derogation has been given for disability services. That is really important. However, it is a matter of huge concern to all of us. He also spoke about the issue of housing, and rent having gone up by 16% in Limerick. I have to disagree with the Senator, however. In terms of general housing, we had 22,400 houses completed in the first three quarters of this year and construction started on 24,000 and, therefore, it is unfair to say that nothing is happening in the housing sector in terms of all the new schemes that have been put in place to encourage homeownership, which is hugely important. I take his point, however. We have to help our renters as well. When we see rents going up 16%, that is something about which to be very concerned.
Senator Moynihan also spoke about the situation with hospitals and children in Gaza. She acknowledged the strong voice Ireland has and the strong voices the Tánaiste and Taoiseach have been using. She is correct; we need to bring huge influence to bear among all EU members on that. We will ask the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to do that.
Senator Paul Daly spoke about ash dieback in the thousands of hedges on our roads. In in my area in south Kildare, we have had so many electricity cuts over the past few months and they have all been because of trees falling due to ash dieback and taking down the wires. The Senator is talking about the wider situation in terms of road safety, however. He is right that we need to have a strategy and plan in place with the local authorities. We will ask the Minister for Transport to come into the Chamber and then, of course, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. That is important. We need to put a plan in place and we need to be able to support farmers with grants.
Senator Seery Kearney spoke about industrial action. I gather it affects the drugs task forces but I was not aware of it. There is a concern with the delivery of services that because people cannot act up, the task forces cannot draw down funding. That absolutely is a concern. We have to look into that because if there is support for a drugs task force, people need to be able to access it. She also spoke about YouTube taking action today with regard to misinformation, which is very welcome.
Senator McDowell gave us all a bit of a shock. It was a bit of a "pinch me" moment. Our thoughts are always with Senator Norris. As Senator O’Sullivan said, one of the most exciting things about joining the Seanad was thinking I would share a space with Senator Norris and, of course, with Senator McDowell. We absolutely wish him well. His bravery, courage, dignity and joie de vivre, in particular, have brought something to all of us. Even though we are obviously just talking about him and his wonderful and massive contribution to this House and society at large on a very preliminary basis, we will certainly be looking at organising something pre-Christmas or just after in terms of how we can honour that great man in the way he deserves to be honoured. I thank Senator McDowell for bringing it to our attention.
Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about the decision by Government to apply to join CERN. He has been a really strong advocate in that regard.It sends a very positive message to the science and research community. I thank the Minister, Deputy Harris, the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, and all the research students who have been involved. We will ask about a strategy either in the House or at the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
By all accounts, we will soon have a new name for Senator Paddy Burke. The Senator spoke about the cost of business grants the Government brought in. He is correct that there are a lot of them but we need to cut down on the red tape. We need to simplify these grants and ensure the money gets to where it is needed. Business owners are so busy trying to deal with HR issues and supply and demand that they sometimes do not have much time for administration and form-filling. We need to make it as easy as possible for them.
Senator O'Sullivan met the parents of Emily Hand. I cannot even imagine what they are going through. The Senator paid tribute to their dignity and fortitude. When we think of a nine-year-old girl in any country and in any walk of life celebrating her birthday, we think of fairy wings, the colour pink because all girls wear pink at that stage in life, the joy of picking out a birthday cake and the guests who can come. To think of a nine-year-old celebrating her birthday all alone in a bunker is shocking. We have to unite around her.
Senator Dolan spoke about a report from GREVIO in relation to domestic and gender-based violence and the Istanbul Convention. She also spoke about the active consent programme in UCG. We had representatives of UCG in front of the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science last week. They are doing terrific work, which is being extended to secondary schools. This is an important area.
Senator Keogan welcomed the Muslim Sisters of Éire to the Chamber and spoke about their important work and the work of Brother Kevin from the Capuchin services. Aubrey McCarthy and Tiglin also do a lot of work in the same area. I thank all of the volunteers who do so much. We had statements on housing last week, so I am not sure when we will be able to get the Minister back to the House. In terms of the wider issue, and knowing so many of the volunteers who do great work, it is important that we thank them.
Senator Gallagher spoke about housing, the raft of measures to encourage homeownership and the scrapping of development levies. He asked that group water schemes be reviewed in April and that supports be given for them. The Senator also mentioned that 500 first-time buyers are buying homes every week. That is a good number. We need to remember that. At a time when there is a lot of negative news, we need to look at the positives.
Senator Boyhan also spoke about his friend and colleague, Senator Norris, and noted it is the first anniversary of the death of Vicky Phelan. He spoke of the profound impact Ms Phelan had and said we should have free smear tests for all ages. In fairness, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has done a lot of work on women's health and brought in a lot of innovative policies to support women. We can certainly put this proposal on the Minister's desk but in light of the reduced funding to the Department of Health and the HSE, I am not sure how far we can go with it.
Senator Lombard spoke about the Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries visiting Ireland and said he should visit farmers. I have great faith, as many of us do, in the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue's handling of this no doubt difficult situation. It is unfortunate that some of the good farmers are being victimised. I have been to many of their farms in County Kildare. They have brought in many of the measures and have been working closely with Teagasc. It is unfair that they are being penalised because other farmers have not been as efficient as they are in this regard. The Minister may be able to arrange such a visit, time permitting.
I thank Senators for their contributions.
I welcome Eoghan Cafferkey, the grandson of former Deputy and Minister, Bobby Molloy. He is in transition year. He is very welcome to Leinster House. He is here with Deputy Noel Grealish, whom I hope he can learn from. His grandfather left a great legacy in Irish political life. I welcome him and thank him for being here.