Wednesday, 15 November 2023
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Agency Bill 2023 – Second Stage, to be taken at 1.15 p.m., with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and time may be shared, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and time may be shared, and the Minister to be given no less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, Garda Síochána (Recording Devices) Bill 2022 – Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage, to be taken at 3.15 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 1, whichever is the later, and to adjourn after two hours, if not previously concluded; No. 3, which is No. 120, motion No. 8, on today's Order Paper, Private Members' business, motion regarding vacant and derelict buildings, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 4, motion regarding the earlier signature of the Energy (Windfall Gains in the Energy Sector) (Cap on Market Revenues) Bill 2023, to be taken on conclusion of No. 120, motion No. 8, without debate, subject to agreement by the Dáil to the amendments made by the Seanad to the Bill.
We have all had emails this morning about protests this afternoon and there is an unprecedented number of emails regarding Gaza, There is no question that the savagery on all sides there has been horrific since 7 October. I want to raise the point that, throughout this, when I go through the newspapers, I notice every day where Ukraine appears in the newspapers. It is falling further and further back in the headlines and it has certainly been way off the front pages for quite some time. It is appalling that, right now, on a daily basis, there are killings in Ukraine and people dying in Ukraine, there are increased missile attacks and, in the background, the people of Ukraine are still suffering and facing into a winter where Russia has already started to target their infrastructure.
I had a conversation with the Ukrainian ambassador yesterday in this regard. In all of this, when we talk about Gaza, we talk about the Israeli ambassador and we have spoken in the past about the Russian ambassador. What are we saying about the Iranian ambassador? What are we saying about those who pull the strings in the background, who supply equipment, arsenals and all of the rest in all of these wars and to all of these protagonists? We are saying nothing about the Iranian ambassador. The fact is it should equally apply to the Iranian ambassador and we should have calls on the credentials there and the veracity. It is not that long ago since we got a complete and utter piece of propaganda sent to all of us from the ambassador, telling us a different version of events - their version of events - when it came to the killing of a woman.
I mention that and wish to say that we still stand with Ukraine and that we still remember Ukraine. There is a narrative creeping in, and I heard it in this House even yesterday, of it almost being an irritant, rather than the fact that people are suffering in the name of democracy and holding the bastion of democracy on behalf of all of us against a Russian aggressor that thinks it is all right to completely set aside a nation-state and the boundaries of a nation-state. I want to bring that to the attention of the House and to make sure we remember that, although that is not to diminish in any way the horror that is going on in Gaza and the children who are dying every day there and how awful that is. However, we need to remember, because they are being lost in the news cycle, that, as a Parliament, we still stand with Ukraine.
I welcome the news this morning that as many as 30 Irish citizens will be released from Gaza today. It is absolutely good news to see the first set of Irish citizens leaving the enclave of Gaza since the horrific events started on 7 October. For those living in Gaza, it is every person’s nightmare and the thought of Emily Hand spending her ninth birthday there is horrific.
I listened this morning, as many of us did, to Ibrahim Alagha talking about that bittersweet feeling of himself and his family leaving but knowing they are leaving 2.3 million people behind. I am also glad that Aymen Shaheen and his family have had the opportunity to leave, but I am thinking of Khalid El-Estal, who I listened to on KFM last week. His children, a four-year-old and a one-year-old, are not on the list. Their mam sadly was killed along with his brother, his father and his best friend's wife, and all of his first cousin's family were wiped out. They are not on the list today and we absolutely need to make sure they are on it quite soon.
I want to make a point regarding the ongoing diplomatic realities in the background. There have been some calls for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. That would obviously lead to the expulsion of the Irish ambassador in Israel, who is central to trying to get our Irish citizens out. I want to make clear that I absolutely condemn the actions of Hamas and the barbaric response of the Israeli armed forces. However, open communication and diplomacy between our Government and the relevant authorities and ambassadors are key to protecting and securing the safety of Irish assistance. If I believed for a moment that expelling an ambassador would lead to peace, a ceasefire or the release of hostages, I would support it, but the reality is that that is not the case. Cutting all diplomatic ties, as has been called for, would leave our citizens in Gaza in an even more precarious situation.
As the Leader knows, we had a meeting earlier with representatives of the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA. It is worth saying again and again that local authorities in Ireland play a very significant role in housing, planning, roads, environmental protection and fire services, both in a policy and legislative way and in an advocacy and representative way. We have 1,949 elected councillors, who play a very important role in the functioning of their community and their society. Unfortunately, we have one of the most centralised system in any country in the OECD. It is important that we hear their calls both in terms of supporting those who are elected members regarding their gratuity and regarding their representation on the boards that are relevant to all of us and to the working of good government.
The first thing I want to mention today is the reading room downstairs in this building. I circulated the Members of both Dáil Éireann and Seanad Eireann, asking them to express a view as to whether the reading room should be restored to its previous state. I am glad that a very clear majority of Members of both Houses have responded favourably to my suggestion.
The reason I mention it is I ask the Leader in particular to consider whether the wishes of the Members of the two Houses in Leinster House should be taken into account and that agendas that are not shared by them should not be progressed. All one has to do is look at the current state of that reading room, which is a crying shame compared to what it-----
No, I am coming to that. It is not the Leader’s role to do that; of course, it is not. However, a Chathaoirligh, it is her role to provide time in which we can discuss all of these matters, and that is what I am asking for.I am asking that we have a real discussion so that we can articulate very clearly what we want to do on this matter, rather than have people decide the agenda in distant places and then confront us, post-Covid, with the wrecking of a decent institution in this House. It is a sad scene, if one looks at it now. It looks as if IKEA has a back office downstairs. The floor has been changed and carpeted with poor tiling. It is very sad to see what has happened.
In saying this, I hope I will not be regarded as divisive. The idea that Ireland should expel the Israeli ambassador is nonsense, for the reasons that have been mentioned. I want to make this very simple point to anybody who will listen. If that is the kind of international diplomacy that one particular party in this House wants to conduct, think of the damage it will do to foreign direct investment in Ireland if such a step was taken.
I thank Senator McDowell for giving us a brief overview of his next column in The Irish Times.
I raise first the electricity security review. I welcome that the Government is supporting a non-commercial liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal as opposed to a commercial one. That is very welcome for our carbon emissions targets.
My main focus and the area I would like to address is the revelation shared by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, yesterday at my request that almost one quarter of households relying on gas are now in arrears and a staggering 56% of businesses in the State that use gas are now grappling with late payments. The period from July to September saw a doubling of companies falling behind. What is even more troubling is that these costs will be inevitably passed on to consumers because most of the non-domestic gas users are those who are in hospitality and retail. This will translate to an increased financial burden on hard-working families, whether they directly rely on gas or not.
The situation in the electricity market is much better, with 12% of households and 15% of businesses in arrears. While the Government may point to the energy credits as its solution, the statistics I have received paint a very different picture. The credits do not apply to gas customers, and for electricity customers, despite the payments, there are now thousands more households in arrears compared with the same period last year. The credits were simply too little for many households. It is a concerning trend. It is a step forward but two steps back.
In a lack of awareness by the Government, the energy credits are now smaller this year, even though we are by no means out of the crisis when it comes to the cost of energy use. Ireland is among the countries where those energy prices are coming down slowest. We cannot escape that fact. Energy prices are still exorbitant. Energy companies are still reaping massive profits and enjoying windfalls. The legislation we will approve today for early signature does not adequately tax that windfall because it does not go back to the point when the really excessive profits were being made. We have excluded that period. The Government's decision not to accept our amendments to capture those excessive profits was highly regrettable.
The other thing we need to do is in the long term. Ever since Ireland liberalised its electricity and energy markets, we have seen prices go up. We have gone from being one of the cheapest to one of the most expensive countries in Europe for energy. We urgently need an energy regulator that has the teeth to bring the big energy companies to heel. I encourage the Government to adopt Sinn Féin's legislation to bulk up the regulator and give it additional powers to oversee hedging and investigate instances of anti-competitive behaviour.
I raise the issue of public service broadcasting. Finally, we have the strategic vision for RTÉ. There are probably lots more questions than answers in the 30-page document we got yesterday. What is clear is that we are going to have a much-reduced organisation over the next five years. Certainly, taking one in five workers out of RTÉ is going to have a drastic impact on content and the operations of RTÉ. In saying that, the independent sector needs to be supported. There are recommendations to ensure the sector plays a greater role in broadcasting in Ireland. I want to see that there are good jobs in that area. It is important to put that on the record.
The issue for Members of the Oireachtas is that while RTÉ has been forced into a corner to make these cuts because it was effectively given no choice by the Government, we still have no clarity on long-term funding for public service broadcasting in this country. We had commitments in the wake of the Government rejecting the Future of Media Commission's recommendation on the future financing of public service broadcasting. There was an interdepartmental group but we do not know who sits on it, where it is or when it will report. What we heard yesterday is that it will be 2025, as opposed to 2024, before we see a new model for the long-term financing of public service broadcasting in place. The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, must be asked to come into the House to explain the Government's position. As I see it, public service broadcasting is now operating in a vacuum with regard to its long-term future.
Yesterday, a number of members of the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science met with representatives of the Holy Family School for the Deaf, Cabra, both the primary and secondary school. Senator Fiona O'Loughlin also attended. I have worked with the school to try to save its speech and language therapists following the introduction of the progressing disability strategy. I will read a letter from the students of the Holy Family School for the Deaf.
Dear Members of the Oireachtas Education Committee,
We really need Irish Sign Language Interpreters in our school. We want interpreters who understand us and we understand them from age 3 to 18. We've had many, but only a few can understand. We want to be like all kids, having equal access with in-house interpreters. Please support us; remember the ISL ACT 2017 and the 1916 Proclamation about cherishing all children equally.
Students of Holy Family Deaf School
It is important to note that this legislation, which was spearheaded by Senator Mark Daly, originated in this House. The Department of Education is refusing to provide additional supports to a special school. It expects a special school to provide these supports out of its existing capitation grant. That is not good enough. The Seanad needs to respond by saying that special schools deserve and require those additional supports from the Department.
I note and commend the comments made by the Taoiseach that Israel's response is "approaching revenge" and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris's description of Israel's actions as a "war on children". Those comments show that they understand the extent of the violence unleashed on civilians in Gaza and the depth of the Irish public's revulsion at Israel's war crimes.
I want to address the motions from the Social Democrats and Sinn Féin in the Dáil today and yesterday on the situation in Palestine. Both are very reasonable and proportionate responses to the barbarity of Israel's attacks on Palestinian civilians, and both should be uncontroversial to anyone following the situation as it unfolds. I am very disappointed by the Government's opposition to these motions, and I will outline why I believe that is a disastrous decision. The International Criminal Court investigation into the crimes committed by the Israeli apartheid state and Palestinian resistance groups has been active since 2014 but because of Israel's refusal to co-operate, and threats from the US, basically no progress has been made. The current chief prosecutor has not made Palestine a priority and seems to be cowed by US resistance.
The Government is using the fact that an investigation is already ongoing as a flimsy excuse to vote down the Sinn Féin motion. Referral by member states is not necessary.The International Criminal Court can act alone but when dozens of countries, including Ireland, referred Russia to the court after it invaded Ukraine and pledged financial support to an investigation, it demonstrated solidarity and set the court's priorities and agendas. Referrals are needed to ramp up the pressure on Israel and emphasise the urgency of the situation. If Ireland refers Russia but not Israel, we are hypocrites and we are complicit in undermining the legitimacy of international law. We will lose standing among the nations of the global south, which will hurt efforts at international co-operation for global development and decarbonisation. If we do not take tangible action to pressure Israel, we are complicit in the degradation of international law. The undermining of the legitimacy of international law increases global polarisation and instability and, let us face it, makes us all less safe.
Palestinians are being murdered en masse, babies are dying in incubators and children are suffocating under mounds of rubble. They need action, not empty rhetoric and hand-wringing. The scale of the horror means no one can hide behind technical jargon or political excuses. Every Member of this House and of the Dáil needs to make a choice. What matters more, their soul or their party Whip; their career or their humanity? I urge colleagues to fight for a free vote, rebel and do whatever they can to be on the right side of history, or live with the shame of knowing they could not find the courage when they were called upon to take a stand.
I agree with the remarks by Senator Seery Kearney concerning the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the horrors that continue to be inflicted there. I have proposed on a previous occasion that we have statements on this matter with the Tánaiste. It is critical at this juncture that we do not forget about that horrific conflict.
I agree with Senator McDowell that we should not be dismissing or expelling ambassadors. At all times, we must keep diplomatic channels open. I am probably one of the most critical in this House of China and some of the ways in which it oppresses the Uyghur people. I put forward a Commencement matter today on the situation in Hong Kong. However, under no circumstances, even though I am very critical of the Chinese Communist Party, would I ever suggest that we should expel the Chinese ambassador. Given there are Irish citizens trying to flee Gaza and an eight-year-old Irish citizen, Emily Hand, has been held hostage by a death cult for more than a month, it is critical that we maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.
On a slightly more positive note on the diplomatic front, I welcome the appointment of 14 ambassadors yesterday by the Department of Foreign Affairs. In particular, I note the appointment of John Concannon as our new ambassador to Canada, whom I wish well. It is a very important appointment that follows the appointment of Martin Fraser. Those appointments show it is not necessary to be a career diplomat to be appointed as an ambassador representing Ireland. I have suggested in the past that we need to look at opening up some of the senior posts within the Department of Foreign Affairs. They should not be political appointments and they certainly should be competitive. There are opportunities there to appoint people who have excelled in other walks of life. I wish all our new diplomats well in their postings but I also call for a broader debate around such appointments.
I welcome to the Public Gallery Jack Fagan and Alex O'Brien, transition year students from Ardscoil Phádraig in Granard, who are here for the day to see what goes on behind the scenes in Leinster House.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 9 be taken before No. 1.
I pay tribute to a former friend, colleague and political adviser of mine and of all of us in Fine Gael in Longford, Louis Belton, who passed away last weekend. The slogan back in the 1980s when Louis was campaigning to regain the Fine Gael seat in Longford that had not been held since the time of the great General Seán MacEoin, whom we commemorated last weekend in his home village, was "Give Longford a Say, Vote Louis J". Louis was involved in politics since 1979, with a family involvement that went back to the foundation of the State. He served on Longford County Council and various boards. He was elected as a Deputy, served as a Senator and subsequently regained his seat in the Dáil. He was a friend to us all, including me and a number of other members of the local authority in Longford. He was my first port of call as a political adviser. He sometimes rang me even before I got to ring him to discuss whatever issue it might be. He was a good friend to everybody in Leinster House. Any of the ushers and other staff who knew him and to whom I have spoken have said that. He was a fantastic character and very witty. He was a great sports person and a great GAA person. Only four weeks ago, he stood in Pearse Park in Longford along with Shane Doyle, the captain of his local GAA team, as the team accepted the intermediate championship cup, having beaten my home team. Louis's team had been waiting 40 years for victory and my team was waiting 33 years. We have another year to go but I am delighted Louis was there to see his team's victory. It is important that we remember the great service he gave to our community in Longford, whether his constituency was Longford-Roscommon or Longford-Westmeath. He was a Longford man through and through. I express my sympathies to Anita, his sister, Maureen, and all the Belton family.
I welcome to the Public Gallery guests of Senator Horkan, Julie Birch and Eileen Deely. Julie is a daughter of Eileen, who is married to the iar-Chathaoirleach, Senator Denis O'Donovan. Julie and Eileen are great friends and are very welcome. They are in the good company of Senator Horkan, who I hope is buying them copious amounts of lunch, dinner and alcohol. I hope they have a very pleasant day.
I call for the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to come to the House and answer the question of whether it is finally time to talk about immigration to this country. Is it finally time for all of us to talk openly and honestly about this, the most important issue in the country today? Is it time for everyone to come together and hash out some semblance of a workable plan, a logical way forward or anything approaching a coherent and consistent approach to how this country, and the Government, is going to handle the unsustainable level of inward migration we have been experiencing for the past two and a half years? Is it time to take the handling of this issue out of the hands of the Cabinet and the Departments and into the hands of the Houses of the Oireachtas, where ideas can be put, debated, scrutinised and can live or die on their merits, where there is accountability, with anyone being able to look in and see exactly what is being said and who is saying it, and where the public does not have to figure out what its own Government is doing from Cabinet meeting leaks or mealy-mouthed departmental press releases?
Is it possible for this country to have a coherent approach to immigration? We all know how much Irish Governments love to engage in boom-to-bust cycles, but the sheer brazenness of the Government's complete lack of foresight on this issue is mind-boggling. It apparently made zero connection between unlimited inward immigration and eventually having nowhere to put people, which saw it then trying frantically to turn off the tap. Everyone else made this connection; just not the Government. I would love for any Minister to tell us how that happened. I know we will not get an apology and we will never get ownership, accountability or any recognition of the truth. We are used to that by now. However, I ask that we have a debate on the issue in these Houses.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Carrigy.
I join the Senator in paying tribute to Louis Belton, a man with whom I was very friendly. We did not agree on politics but we had many good meetings and greetings. When I would slag Longford, he would always remind me that I was born in that town. He was never long in telling me that. He was a dapper dresser, as people around here would knew, and always to be seen dressed to the nines. Louis was a really nice man and I express my sympathy to his relatives and friends.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health or one of the Ministers of State at that Department to come to the House to address the issue of sepsis? It is not that we want to frighten anyone but the fact is that 3,000 people annually are losing their lives in this country as a result of sepsis. It is affecting 15,000 people every year. Communities in this country are not tuned into the danger. When we meet the families of young children and others who have lost their lives from sepsis, we see the utter heartbreak it causes. People can develop sepsis very quickly. I am seeking an update on the issue. The HSE has created a prominent public awareness campaign but we need to do a lot more.I ask that the Minister come in to give an update on what is happening and to ensure that all of us know about the dangers of sepsis and how we can deal with blood poisoning, which really challenges the human body.
I remind the House of the situation that confronts hundreds of disabled children who are still languishing on waiting lists for complex spinal surgery in Temple Street and Crumlin hospitals. To add to this injury, there is the assertion that they will not be referred abroad for treatment. We rightly raised the issue of the children who are suffering in Gaza, thousands of whom are dying, but there are children in this country who are being left to languish and are deteriorating. Some of them have become permanently paralysed since these surgeries were suspended. There does not seem to be any urgency when it comes to restarting surgery. I received an email that is typical of the emails I have been receiving from parents of these children. It stated:
I just don't want time to run out on my son. They will not refer my son to Great Ormond Street simply because they do not want them to see what's happened to him in Ireland. It's an absolute national and international disgrace.
This is what the parent of this young boy said: "They need my son to pass away quietly". That is what we are putting parents through. What makes these children the only cohort of citizens in the Republic who are not receiving this treatment is the fact that they are disabled. I have said it before and I will say it again; we do not value the lives of our disabled citizens in the same way we do those of other citizens.
There are also ongoing reprisals against the whistleblowers - the two surgeons who came to this House and gave evidence at the Joint Committee on Disability Matters and the Joint Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth about the problems that are being caused. A misleading article published in The Irish Timeswas clarified in subsequent articles. The reprisals against whistleblowers and the targeting of surgeons have to stop for us to get to the root causes of the problems. I hope the Chief Medical Officer of the HSE, Dr. Colm Henry, has no role in setting out the terms of reference of the independent inquiry. Having learned from the mistakes of previous independent inquiries, the inquiry must engage with the parents, the Scoliosis Advocacy Network and others and not repeat the mistakes of the past. Think of these children and their families and the suffering they are undergoing at the moment.
I begin by calling for the release of all hostages in Palestine, especially Emily Hand. The fact that children are imprisoned is one of the most horrific aspects of all of this. I remind colleagues not to forget the 173 children being interned by the Israeli authorities. That was the latest figure I could find this morning from the B'Tselem Jewish human rights group. A total of 173 children have been interned with no charges brought. They have just been imprisoned so let us remember them as well.
I want to address the issue of the Israeli ambassador. I appreciate that it is a difficult issue. It is in only the most exceptional circumstances that we should call for the expulsion of an ambassador but I have to be frank. We are witnessing genocide. I do not think anyone really disagrees with that. Indeed the Deputy Leader used the word "holocaust" yesterday, which is justified in terms of what we are witnessing. In these circumstances, when the Israeli Government makes it clear that it will not listen to anyone and continues carpet bombing and mass murdering children, women and innocent civilians and the death toll is up to 11,000 or more, we have to do more. What I am calling for is a coalition of the willing in this respect to stand up because if we do not take this action now, history will reflect very poorly on all of us. The question I ask the Leader today, if she does not agree with taking those steps and I understand that she does not, what consequences is she proposing for Israel because from what I can see, no consequences are being proposed by this Government? In light of genocide taking place, the mass murder of innocent civilians day after day and week after week, no consequences are being proposed by the Government. How can that possibly be good enough?
Very early this morning, in a packed Aviva Stadium, the Taoiseach launched a seminar on agriculture and climate change and the challenges around it. I thank the Ministers who were present and acknowledge the level of organisation and the impressive line-out of speakers. The seminar will be on all day. I acknowledge the work of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and his two Ministers of State. Listening to the presentations this morning and the high-level engagement with people, it was clear that we have a lot to learn. We have an agricultural panel in the Seanad but we do not discuss agriculture enough. This is about agriculture and climate change. I ask that we provide some time to discuss the issue. The previous Cathaoirleach had a trial run of having panel discussions in the House. It is an idea we might look at again because it is a good one. I ask that we have a discussion on agriculture and climate and the connectivity between them?
There are major challenges for agriculture, the environment and our rural communities. Let us not pretend that great difficulties do not exist. There are great difficulties that must be overcome. We have to see how we can incentivise landowners, farmers, growers and producers to embrace new technologies that will assist them. These issues are being discussed at the conference today. It is really important that we set aside some time in the new year to look at that. Perhaps we could look at having panels. We have been elected to various panels in this House and we could discuss topics pertinent to them in the future. I ask for specific designated time to be provided for the House to deal with issues around climate change and their interactivity with agriculture and food production.
I cautiously welcome the news that some Irish citizens are to be released from Gaza. I wish the leader of Fianna Fáil, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, well and offer him the support of this House and the Irish nation in the work he is doing to try to secure the release of Irish citizens, a ceasefire and a pathway to re-establishing some level of humanity for the Palestinians, the Israelis and all of the people in the Middle East. Every right-minded Irish person utterly condemns the depravity and brutality that was visited on the people of Israel and is being visited on the people of Palestine. No amount of motions in this House will make much difference to people who are so detached from basic human values so we need to stop this false debate. It is insulting to the people whose real humanity is being attacked and destroyed. We need to recognise that there are methods and ways of dealing with such atrocities and to ensure that our Government does everything in its power to exercise those powers. Israel has already been referred to the International Criminal Court. We need to pursue that but, more than anything, we need to use all of our collective power to secure a ceasefire and some pathway to some form of restoration of peace and humanity for the people of this region.
I thank all Members who contributed to the Order of Business.Senators Seery Kearney and Malcolm Byrne spoke about the situation in Ukraine and the fact that events in the Middle East have somewhat eclipsed what is continuing to happen in Ukraine. I have requested a debate with the Tánaiste on the situation in Ukraine. We will get that scheduled at the earliest opportunity to keep the issue on the agenda here.
Senators O'Loughlin and Fitzpatrick spoke about the Irish citizens who are making their way through the Rafah crossing as we speak, which is welcome news. I, too, listened to the interview on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning and heard the person describe the bittersweet feeling of getting out and getting his children out but leaving behind family and friends who are not in that fortunate position. It must be a very difficult position to be in.
Senator O'Loughlin also spoke about the situation regarding the Israeli ambassador, as did Senator Gavan, and the need for diplomacy. There is a live situation in Gaza. An Irish citizen is being held hostage by Hamas and there are Irish citizens we are trying to get out of Gaza and the Middle East. Not having that connection and diplomatic link, to which Senator McDowell also referred, would make the job of getting our people out almost impossible. While it may be popular to call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and I am sure it goes down well with many people, the reality is the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Government are actively trying to get our people out of that area. If the Irish ambassador to Israel were to be expelled, which would happen if we expelled the Israeli ambassador, it would make that job almost impossible. That would be unconscionable. It is not realistic or a pragmatic approach. As Senator O'Loughlin rightly pointed out, if we thought for a second that expelling the Israeli ambassador would bring peace and a ceasefire and save lives, we might be inclined to do something like that. In reality, it would have no positive impact on the situation, however. I can only assume those advocating for it believe it would be popular with some people and might go down well. It is not something any government could do when they are trying to deal with a live situation, however.
I have no difficulty defending that position.
Senator O'Loughlin also spoke about the meeting with LAMA this morning. Most political groupings met with LAMA today to deal with some of the issues it is raising. I concur with the Senator that the role of a local councillor has developed, expanded and become more demanding in recent years. They have the same safety concerns that we, as Oireachtas Members, experience. They are dealing with the same issues with which we are dealing. It is a full-time job but it is almost categorised as a part-time role. All political groupings are finding it difficult to get people to stay in the job of a local councillor and to find candidates to contest elections. That indicates we have a problem with local government, one that will worsen if we do not address those concerns. I thank LAMA for its work in engaging with all political groupings today, keeping those issues live and on the agenda and representing the views of councillors throughout the country. We also engage with the Association of Irish Local Government. It is important that we hear that directly from local councillors. Most Senators served as members of local authorities and we know very well the challenges of being a local councillor.
Senator McDowell spoke about the reading room. Many Members have supported his call to reinstate the room. There seems to be a conflict behind the scenes between the view of Members of the Houses and what the Oireachtas tends to implement. It seems to have been exacerbated during the Covid period. Many changes came through under Covid and were not undone or things were not reinstated to the same level as before the Covid period. Obviously, there is the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, on which Members are represented, and those views are taken back. Give that a clear view has been expressed by Members of both Houses to have the reading room reinstated, I see no reason why that should not happen. That is the express view of Members of both Houses. It would be a sorry state for our national Parliament, the Oireachtas, not to have a facility in which Members can read and keep abreast of what is happening. It speaks to being an informed Parliament. If we are not using those facilities, why are we not using them? That speaks to a broader issue. I concur with the Senator's remarks in respect of the Israeli ambassador.
Senator Boylan welcomed the electricity security review and highlighted challenges that are still being faced by many citizens - individuals, households and businesses - in terms of arrears with their gas bills. The Government has done a good job in the past two budgets in supporting people with significant cost-of-living packages. A huge amount of money has been spent through electricity subsidies and supports for businesses. The Government will not be found wanting in continuing to support businesses and households to deal with high energy prices, which seem to be stabilising and coming back down but are still very high. That is acknowledged by the Government and borne out in its response in the past two budgets.
Senator Sherlock spoke about public service broadcasting and the recently published strategic vision for RTÉ. She highlighted concerns in respect of the reduction in staffing numbers proposed by Kevin Bakhurst in terms of seeking voluntary redundancies. I watched the "Prime Time" programme on which Mr. Bakhurst appeared last night. He was clear the redundancies sought would be voluntary and that efficiencies would be made. We will see greater investment in the independent sector. We have to see how this plays out. It is a welcome move by RTÉ to put to bed issues with which we dealt during summer and move to a new chapter in the national broadcaster's journey. We look forward to the strategic vision being implemented by RTÉ.
Senator Sherlock also spoke about the Holy Family School for the Deaf and the need for additional supports to be given to special schools.
Senator Black spoke about the issue in Gaza. She referred to the business of the other House in terms of a motion, which is not under my remit. It is a matter for the other House. I do not understand why some politicians are seeking to make the situation in Gaza a divisive issue for this country. Listening to Members across both Houses, there is a unified position in wanting a ceasefire and peace and to save lives and stop the killing. This is not and should not be a divisive issue for Ireland. There is a somewhat competitive element to the comments of some Members, as though they have a greater humanity or care more about those losing their lives or about peace. Nobody has a moral authority or a monopoly on caring more about what is happening in the Middle East. We should be united on this issue. It should not be a divisive issue. There is something of a gotcha element to it. It is as though if a person does not say a particular thing in a speech or put it in a tweet, the person somehow does not care about the situation. It is unfortunate that we are having a divided Seanad and Dáil on motions when we all really have the same position.
Senator Malcolm Byrne spoke about the issue in Ukraine, as well as the appointment of 14 new Irish ambassadors across the world. He welcomed the latter expansion and wished the appointees well in their new jobs.
I will accept Senator Carrigy's amendment to the Order of Business. The Senator spoke about Louis Belton and his level of service to his community. Those observations were eloquently put. We wish his family well in their time of grieving.
Senator Keogan called for a debate with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. I will request that debate. I do not think people are shying away from the immigration issue. I tabled a Commencement matter this morning in respect of its impact on the hospitality and tourism sector as a result of the number of bed nights contracted by the State. That is having an impact on related businesses downstream. The issue has been discussed extensively in the Chamber and the Government acknowledges we are struggling to deal with this issue due to the numbers coming in. There is, however, support generally from the public to help people who are fleeing war and in times of need. It is about how we strike that balance. We have not always got it right and there is a realisation that this issue is here to stay. There will be no reversing of engines on the issue but there are moves to deal with the social welfare and accommodation elements of it. The Taoiseach has referred to the pull factor, that is, whether we are offering too much of a package and making it attractive to come here rather than go to other countries. Concerns have been raised regarding the percentage of people who may have sought refuge in another member state but decided to leave it to come to Ireland. That should not be happening. It needs to be addressed and is on the Government agenda. It is acknowledged, however, that we are doing our best to deal with what is an extraordinary and challenging situation, and we are feeling the pressure of that. That is happening across all sectors of society. Broadly speaking, we can be proud of our response in helping those most in need. The Irish public support that position. As I stated, I will request that debate.
Senator Murphy asked for a debate on health and the issue of sepsis. He pointed out that approximately 3,000 people annually lose their lives to that condition. It might be worth the Senator first tabling a Commencement matter to see how he gets on. We will have debates on health, probably not this term but in the new term. A Commencement matter might be a quicker way of getting an answer on that issue in the next couple of weeks.
Senator Clonan raised, as he has previously, the challenges faced by children awaiting complex spinal surgery. That situation is unjustifiable. The Minister is doing everything he can to expedite those waiting lists and get the surgeries done. Senator Clonan put on record very well the fears, anxieties and pressure parents are under in dealing with that issue.
I have addressed the issues raised by Senator Gavan regarding the Israeli ambassador.
Senator Boyhan asked for a debate on agriculture and climate change. We will try to find a way to deal with that debate.It clearly comes under two different Departments and, when we request a debate, the request has to be made to a particular Minister. We could ask both Ministers to come to the House for different debates to deal with the aspects that relate to their Departments, but perhaps there is another mechanism we can use to try to get a debate that will cover both issues under the one umbrella.
Senator Fitzpatrick also spoke about the Irish citizens released from Gaza today and commended the work of An Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, in the Department of Foreign Affairs, and all of his officials, who have worked day and night to get those people through Rafah and on that list. There is more work to be done. The Tánaiste and the Government have done a very good job in their diplomatic approach to this extremely challenging situation that is moving almost by the hour, and which is a very sensitive issue, to try to get people to safety. I commend the Tánaiste, all of his team in the Department, and our ambassador in Israel on their work in getting those people out. We only hope we can do more in the coming days and weeks.
Senator Carrigy has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 9 be taken before No. 1." The amendment has been seconded by Senator Murphy. The Leader indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.