Seanad debates

Wednesday, 22 November 2023

10:30 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Before I call the Leader to outline the Order of Business, it is my great pleasure and privilege, on my own behalf and all of our behalf, to welcome Mary Murray to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. For more than 19 years she has been taking care of all of us here in Leinster House. As you all know, she is a wonderful supporter of sport and, in particular, the red and green of Mayo, the green and white of Celtic and other teams. For 19 years, Mary has been a regular part of the Oireachtas, in the coffee dock, the self-service and the restaurant. She is always in good form. She always looks after us regarding our dietary requirements and gives us advice about what we should and should not eat. Also, she is a wonderful person. She is very caring and I have always found her to be immensely charming. She was very nurturing of all of us when we were new Members of the Houses. She has looked after us. She is joined by John Walsh, who is our catering manager. I know Mary is a big fan of Enda Kenny. She wants Mayo for Sam before she finishes. I wish her a happy retirement. I thank her for all her work, service, good humour and smiles. We will miss her. On my own behalf and on behalf of all of us in Seanad Éireann, míle buíochas.

I welcome guests of Senator Byrne, Emma Johnson, Yvonne Dempsey and Michelle Kennedy, who are here from the north Wexford school bus group. They are very welcome and I thank them for being here today.

Anois, an Ceannaire le do thoil.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach. I wish Mary every good success in the next chapter of her journey. She has been a lovely, friendly face from Mayo in the canteen for many years.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Agency Bill 2023 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to adjourn at 2.15 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Human Tissue (Transplantation, Post-Mortem, Anatomical Examination and Public Display) Bill 2022 - Second Stage, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and to conclude at 4.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes, those of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and time may be shared, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and time may be shared, and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 122, motion 8, Private Members’ business, regarding artificial intelligence and emerging technologies, to be taken at 4.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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On my own behalf, and on behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I, too, wish Mary all the very best in her retirement. I thank her for her support. I also thank my colleague Senator Kyne for allowing me to go ahead of him today.

I want to raise a very important issue that has been brought to my attention recently. For 20 years in the Department of communications, energy and natural resources, which is the Department of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, there have been six visually impaired telephonists. They work, answer the phones and ensure communication in the Department of communications is being done properly. Unfortunately, those six people were not public servants or civil servants, in spite of campaigns that have taken place over the years. At this stage, they should be hired at Civil Service grades, but that never happened.

The contract was with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, NCBI, for more than 20 years. The National Council for the Blind of Ireland had a contract to do the telephony work the Department of communications. It hired six blind and visually impaired people to service that contract. They have done it diligently for the past 20 years. The contract went up for tender recently and the National Council for the Blind of Ireland was not successful in retaining the contract. That is the way these things go and that is not the issue. The issue is that the six blind and visually impaired telephonists are not being transferred to the new company. The new company is refusing to take them, even though it is my view it is legally obliged to do so under the transfer of undertakings legislation. Either way, I am calling on the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to intervene in and resolve this situation without delay.

My ask of the Leader is simple. Will she communicate as urgently as possible with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to inform him that his Department is creating or facilitating a situation where six individuals who are people with disabilities are not going to have a job? This is in spite of the fact the Government’s policy is very clear: we promote equal access to employment. We have many grants and schemes to facilitate people with disabilities to get gainful employment. There is also a 6% quota within the Civil Service and public service to ensure people with disabilities are employed. To be fair, many Departments do it. Many Departments meet their quota of 6%. However, this is a classic example of bureaucracy and the tendering process going mad. A company is undercutting and not living up to its responsibilities under the transfer of undertakings legislation.

The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, can resolve this immediately by instructing his Department to hire these people full time. Outside of that, he has the responsibility to ensure these people do not lose their jobs and that the law of the land is respected.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I also join the Cathaoirleach and Leader in congratulating Mary on her service. I wish her the very best for the next chapter in her life. I also welcome Emma, Yvonne and Michelle to the Gallery. They have been doing enormous work in north Wexford to resolve the school bus issue, which I know many of us have to address.

There are a number of issues I would like to raise today, the first of which is the commencement of public sector pay talks, which is very welcome. As the Cathaoirleach will know, it has always been my hope that the section 39 organisations would be tied into any agreement that is reached around public sector pay and that any agreements would impact the retained fire services. It has long been our view that we should try to tie every element of the public services into these. I would appreciate if the issue of how we will be able to involve these organisations going forward could be clarified.

I also wish to discuss the Healthy Ireland Survey 2023, which the Department of Health commissioned. It is a survey of more than 7,000 people and looks at the health of people in Ireland. While we are generally a pretty healthy nation, I continue to have a significant concern regarding nicotine-inhaling devices. According to this survey, the use of e-cigarettes has risen to 6% to 8% of the population. Of particular concern is the fact that 20% of women aged from 15 to 24 are now using vapes. Many of these young women have never smoked before and are now taking up these nicotine devices. I appreciate we are moving as quickly as possible to introduce legislation prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to those under the age of 18, but we need to proceed with the second Bill as a matter of urgency. It will restrict advertising and points of sale.We also need an information campaign on the dangers of these nicotine-inhaling devices. These need to be communicated. As part of the debate on health I hope this can be arranged.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy and his family have very close links with Ireland and with County Wexford. We had an event to commemorate Congressman Brian Donnelly yesterday in Leinster House and the Cathaoirleach very kindly attended. The links between Ireland and the US need to be celebrated further. Sometimes we take them for granted. I suggest that at some stage we hold a debate on how Ireland can enhance our links further with the United States.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I join with the best wishes to Mary as she moves on to the next stage of her life.

On 8 November 1960 an ambush took place in Niemba in the Congo. On this day that same year the bodies of the troopers killed in that ambush were brought home to Ireland. I want to read their names into the record: Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson, 2nd Field Engineer Company; Sergeant Hugh F. Gaynor, 2nd Motor Squadron; Corporal Liam Dougan, 5th Infantry Battalion; Corporal Peter Kelly, 5th Infantry Battalion; Private Matthew Farrell, 2nd Hospital Company; Trooper Thomas Fennell, 2nd Motor Squadron; Private Gerard Killeen, CTD; Private Michael McGuinn, 2nd Field Engineer Company; and Trooper Anthony Brown MMG, 2nd Motor Squadron. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. The bodies of those men were brought along O'Connell Street after mass in the Pro Cathedral under Archbishop McQuaid. They were brought to Glasnevin Cemetery to be buried.

It is telling that many years later, in 1968, the then Chief of Staff wrote to the then Minister for Defence saying the Niemba case should not be reopened for it may open up questions with respect to the command and control that existed among the Irish troops in the Congo at that time. It is my view that this letter from the then Chief of Staff set in place what is now the reluctance on the part of our Defence Forces to honour brave men who died. It is rather sad. The Military Star was awarded in 1998, 38 years after the action, to give the soldiers in Niemba their recognition. I want to put their names and the action they were involved in on the record today.

For the few seconds I have left I want to speak about diabetes. I am a diabetic and diabetes needs more input. We are looking for a comprehensive national diabetes strategy to codify a direct policy through enhanced provision of diabetes care in the HSE. Diabetes is a killer. If it is not monitored a person's health can deteriorate very quickly. We need to see better outcomes for people who are diabetics. We need a national diabetic patient register. I will pass on an email I have received to the Leader and I ask her to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Health and ask him to consider the proposals that are laid out in it. Diabetes kills many people and brings with it many other complications.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Go maith ... I will start again. Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirleach. That is the effect of a Billy Bragg concert and being out a little too late last night I suspect.

I want to raise the issue of Shannon Airport. A very good report was launched several weeks ago. I attended the launch along with my colleague, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan. It is a report by Oxford Economics that shows the value of Shannon Airport. More important perhaps, it calls for a change in aviation policy. I understand from the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, who attended on the date, that there is a review of aviation policy. It cannot come soon enough. I hope the Leader will appreciate the point I will make about her local airport in Knock.

The report clearly calls out the fact that at present there is an unfair playing field with regard to Dublin Airport. It calls out the major resources Dublin Airport has at its disposal which means it can out-compete the likes of Shannon Airport. In a country this small we should not have our airports competing with each other. It does not make sense. We need a strategic policy to rebalance aviation in favour of the west. Anyone who uses Dublin Airport regularly, as many of us do, knows how congested it is. We cannot even get parking there. Meanwhile, there is great capacity in Shannon Airport and other airports in the west. Right now, when we have pitted Shannon Airport in direct competition with Dublin Airport, it is a winner-take-all scenario. It does not make sense, including for the people of Dublin. I call for a debate on this.

I am a little surprised that the Minister Deputy Ryan has not tackled this issue. There are great environmental benefits to transferring and rebalancing aviation to the west. It is an issue he has not been prepared to touch. Approximately three years ago we had a very good debate in the House on this topic. We reached agreement on the fact that it is something that needs to be addressed but we are still waiting for this to happen.

I pay tribute to James McClean, who played his last game for Ireland last night. He has 111 caps for Ireland and he has scored 11 goals. I remember when he transferred from Derry to Sunderland he was like a breath of fresh air. He plays, as he lives his life, with great courage. He never hides. He is a brilliant courageous footballer and leader on and off the field. He had to put up with abuse over the fact that on principle he would not wear a poppy and he still gets this abuse when he plays today. He has always carried himself with dignity. He has always made his case in the most principled fashion. He has earned the admiration of all of us. After a tremendous career with Ireland he bade it farewell last night. It is important that we recognise his work and the type of character he is. He has shown great generosity to many charitable causes also. He is a real ambassador for sport and for our country and I salute James McClean today.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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He has been exemplary. I liked his final comment last night that he had the time of his life. That sums up a wonderful career.

Photo of Aidan DavittAidan Davitt (Fianna Fail)
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I want to be associated with the words about Mary on her retirement and Paul's nice words about James McClean. He has been an exceptional winger from his time in Derry all the way through to Wigan and Wrexham at present. No one should have to endure all the abuse he has had to put up with because of his beliefs and his nationality.

I rise to speak about the serious concerns I have regarding the problems facing small business. Fianna Fáil has always been a party of small businesses. There is a slew of problems coming towards people running small businesses. The auto-enrolment for pensions is coming. It has just come out of the sky and it is just happening. There is no thought put into the cost and expense of getting it set up. There is also the raise in PRSI which we will be looking at for the next five years. We also have the minimum wage, which is increasing by 11% in the space of a year. There is also the VAT increase that will be detrimental to much of our tourism and hospitality industry. The interest rate rises is also an issue. Many of these businesses had been on business rates of 3% or 4% but now they are paying 7% or 8% and could be paying more depending on what type of arrangement or finance they have. I am aware of some that are paying 10%. There is no doubt that many small businesses will be closing the length and breadth of Ireland because of the costs. Some businesses that had been in trouble with their tax warehoused parts of it during the pandemic. I strongly advise that someone might think about all of this. It is great to sit and push new legislation on small business but unfortunately if they close there will be nobody left to employ people. We should redouble our efforts and thoughts in this regard.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome confirmation that the official opening of the Moycullen bypass will take place on 11 December.It will be performed by the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and the cathaoirleach of Galway County Council, Liam Carroll. I thank and acknowledge all the work by Transport Infrastructure Ireland and Galway County Council over the years. It is a project that has been talked about for more than 40 years. It will be a transformative occasion when the official opening takes place and Moycullen will become a safer, more pedestrian- cyclist-, and business-friendly location. It will allow people who want to do business in Moycullen to go in and it will remove traffic that does not need to be there as well as the hundreds of heavy goods vehicles that will now be able to bypass the village.

On that point, I welcome the fast-tracking of the Adare bypass and the announcement of that decision yesterday by the Minister, Deputy Ryan. I acknowledge also all the work of local politicians in the Limerick area on this very important decision to fast-track this, albeit for the reason of the Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup is great and it is important it takes place but people in Galway are wondering if the Minister, Deputy Ryan, could put as much attention and support into the Galway city ring road, which he has been adamant should not proceed. I believe roadblocks have been put in place on this project over a long number of years. As I have said in this House when I was taking the Order of Business a number of year ago, if the original proposal for a Galway city outer bypass had been built all those years ago, it would have allowed the transformative changes we all want to see within Galway city, which cannot take place because of the traffic congestion there. I regret that and hope the Minister, having supported the fast-tracking of the Adare bypass, could throw his weight behind the Galway city ring road, get that project built and get the transformation regarding public transport within the city that is needed.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I am calling for a debate on the latest report from the cryptic sounding Institute for Strategic Dialogue, entitled Uisce Faoi Thalamh: An Investigation into the Online Mis- and Disinformation Ecosystem in Ireland. While the parent institute was wholly unknown prior to the publishing of this report, the report enjoyed widespread media coverage over recent days in The Irish Times, Journal.ieand RTÉ, as well as featuring prominently on morning radio shows and in news reports. Little scrutiny was done by the media to authenticate the findings within the report.

Of course this report would receive widespread coverage as it issues dire warnings regarding the claimed increasing prevalence of the media's favourite bogeyman, against whom only it can stand in defence of Ireland and Irish democracy, that is, the ever-present shadowy and insidious far right. The report claims the influence of the far right is growing through its duel weapons of misinformation and disinformation, because truth is solely the remit of the left, and this was loudly and uncritically echoed by all major media outlets. This so-called news suits them just fine as the establishment media has long since been singing the hymn that it alone is the vanguard of truth and honesty and the sole purveyor of trustworthy news content, and that the apparatus of the State must defend it from attack and gift it millions of euro in taxpayers' money to defend the poor witless Irish public against ideas which may upset the status quo.

The report itself, of course, is not worth the paper it is written on. There is no discerned methodology beyond the trawling of social media accounts for keywords and a pervasive equating of misinformation with things the report happens to disagree with. This is the prevailing sentiment of the Government of the day. It is right; you are wrong. The Government's view and opinion is correct and anyone who tries to state otherwise is misinforming. It is important to discuss this report, considering the new national counter-disinformation task force may use this report for guidance. A word to the wise: it is not a charade that will last much longer. I hope the Government is ready for the collapse of this particular house of cards, where it is one rule for the mainstream media and the Government of the day and another one for everybody else.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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There are two issues I wish to raise. Yesterday, the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence, announced a detailed implementation plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. It is very welcome and goes into great detail regarding the 130 or so recommendations from that particular report. I ask that the Leader would organise a debate with the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence on this report and the timelines involved. We are all aware of the crisis in retention that is, in the main, in our Defence Forces at the moment and of the need for the implementation of this plan in the quickest possible time. We all hope the timelines which were announced yesterday will be achievable. A number of people and representative organisations have come out welcoming the plan, which we in the Labour Party do too. However, we are told it will be September 2024 when the blocks will be removed to allow those in the Defence Forces benefit from working time directive. These are timelines that have to be adhered to. We need the Minister for Defence to come before us and acknowledge that, for the future of the Defence Forces, these are timelines that need to be implemented. The implementation of radar is also something key to the defence of this country and is something contained within the report. I will finish this part of my contribution by quoting Mark Keane, who is the president of PDFORRA, when he says that this is "the critical next step in ensuring the speedy implementation of the project" which is a "once in a lifetime opportunity and should address the ongoing exit of staff from the Defence Forces". This is what the representatives of RACO and PDFORRA have said yesterday. We need a debate in this House on the report that was announced. It is to be welcomed but it will be the detail and the implementation dates that will be most key to the future of our Defence Forces.

The second issue I raise is regarding rail transport, particularly from Athy where a good friend of mine and a commuter, Maggie Owens, recently has a problem. It is not just Maggie. A number of commuters are raising with me daily the issue of overcrowding on trains, especially on services from Heuston Station to Athy. Regular commuters like Maggie are experiencing fierce problems related to seats on the train and the number of people standing on the train, which obviously they consider a hazard. They have been on to Irish Rail but it would be important to mention this to the Minister for Transport as well if he was in the House. Also key to this is that we were due the fare strategy for the Dublin commuter zone. The NTA said last week it would be announced today and now it is saying it will take another week. I was informed late yesterday that the strategy is not ready for announcement today, which is good. It is saying it is working on a detailed report on pricing and fare structures for train services in the newly announced Dublin commuting zone. It is important the Minister for Transport comes before the House. We need to find out what is behind those rail fares. I am told they will be announced next week. There are a lot of people in Newbridge, Kildare town and all the trains stations in the Dublin commuting zone who are waiting on that announcement. I look forward to that announcement but ask that we could also get the Minister for Transport in to discuss this with us.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I will continue for a moment on the rail issue because I want to go back to the issue of the Sligo to Dublin route, particularly the Sligo to Connolly Station route, though I know it goes from Longford to Pearse Station as well. We still have a situation where you cannot get a cup of coffee or tea on that line. It is very disappointing that, months after it was reintroduced in other parts of the country, it does not apply to this line. It makes people feel they are being treated as second-class citizens. I cannot see the reason Iarnród Éireann can roll this out in other parts of the country and leave the west and north west without it. If people get on a train in Sligo, or even in Longford, which is two hours away, it is a long wait for them who just want the basic thing of a cup of tea or coffee or a snack. We are not talking about any big deal. I know for these things to be put place takes time and effort but it is going on too long. We have to remember that many of those little shops that were at the train stations are also closed now. They are not open so nobody can pick up anything. A person getting on in Longford cannot pick something up there. The staff are fantastic. They are very helpful and they try to help at all times but it really is annoying people, especially from that part of the country, that they are being left behind in that manner.

I congratulate Enda Smith from County Roscommon on getting a GAA all-star. It is huge for Roscommon football and it was a very proud weekend. I also mention a lady called Sarah Keane, who won the All-Ireland Scór Sinsir singing competition. I again congratulate Elphin, the GPA, and everybody in Roscommon Scór. These people do this in a voluntary capacity for their clubs and their county. It is great work, it brings great pride to a county, and we should all honour those people and pay tribute when they have success like that.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I believe there should be a debate on local government and where we are going with this issue. Nine and a half years ago, we had really significant reforms and we moved away from the town council model. I spent most of yesterday meeting constituents in west Cork. Those reforms had a huge impact on west Cork because either town councils or UDCs were in Kinsale, Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen or Bantry. We had a network of town councils and UDCs and it was a mistake to move away from this model. The other model had the town clerk as part of it.Now, we have gone to the system where we have extremely large districts. An example is the Dunmanway-Clonakilty-Skibbereen district, which is nearly the size of County Louth. There is one district officer in charge of it. Let us be honest and admit that we are not going to have a major change in policy between now and the local elections. However, there should be a significant debate over the next five years about where we are going to go in the context of local government.

I fundamentally believe the changes made were wrong. I do not think this alteration has benefited society or the people on the ground regarding what is going to happen in future. I believe we should start this debate now, and it should be a significant one about trying to ensure the network of town councils in these areas is restored. The knock-on impact of this is that it would be better for local democracy. I fundamentally also believe local democracy is not being served well now. I refer to local democracy in these towns which are so far away from the county hall. Bantry is 90 km plus away from Cork County Council's County Hall headquarters. It is very hard for the people in Bantry to feel those in County Hall understand what is happening in the town. We need to move to a more locally-based model. Big government, in this regard, does not work. We need to move away from what has happened and learn from the mistakes.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry, but Senator Murphy had his opportunity. I advise Senator Lombard and all the Members of the House that the Seanad Public Consultation Committee formally and publicly commenced its work last Thursday-----

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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It is doing significant work.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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-----and I encourage all Members to not just leave its work to the Members of the committee but to participate themselves and raise the very valid concerns they have referred to this morning. Anois, I call Senator Boylan.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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I commend the representatives from the Children and Young People's Assembly on Biodiversity Loss who presented to the climate committee yesterday. They presented their report to the members of the committee, and I must say it was heartening to hear the depth of their knowledge on biodiversity and the range of topics they covered in the recommendations. I encourage everyone to read that report. Interestingly, one of the recommendations was on overconsumption. It coincides with the report from Oxfam this week, which has shown that the richest 1% of people are omitting as much planet-heating solution as two thirds of humanity. The carbon emissions of the richest 1% of people surged to 16% of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions in 2019.

It is not just a matter of billionaires and the rest of the population, because the top 10% of the Irish population by income level also emits as much as the bottom 50% of earners. We must have adequate data collection so we can inform policy-making to target these high-net-worth individuals and this overconsumption. We cannot do this unless we have the data. I have repeatedly called here for the need for the EPA and the CSO to collect the data so we can have the likes of wealth taxes, which Sinn Féin has repeatedly called for but the Government refuses to cost. I refer as well to taxes on private jets and private yachts, for example. All these could be introduced if we had the data to identify exactly how many individuals own these types of products. Once again, therefore, I call on the Government to heed this call and the call from Oxfam in this regard. If we want a just transition and to really tackle climate change, then we must tackle the people who are the biggest emitters, and these are the high earners and the high-net-income people and we need the data to do this. I again commend the young people yesterday on their call to target overconsumption as a key measure in biodiversity and climate action.

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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I raise the issue of regional roads and their ability to safely deal with the volume of traffic travelling on them. Specifically, I highlight the route along R173, the R175 and onto the R176 and right on to the Border in north County Louth. This road is the main access road to the Cooley Peninsula. There are several primary schools located on it, and one secondary school. It is a regional route but it has the traffic volumes found on a national route.

I, too, would like to get the Minister for Transport to come into the House to discuss how we can finance local government to enable it to be able to undertake the upkeep of these regional routes to a higher standard, to get traffic calming measures put in place and to get a different focus placed on these regional routes, something which might be akin to a super-regional road as opposed to a standard regional route. I say this because it will never be possible to raise it to a national road standard, so it needs extra resources and to be given a higher priority. Far too many lives have been lost along this route from the Ballymac roundabout to Cornamucklagh House at the Border. Basically, I am asking that we would have a new classification of regional roads to enable them to cope with the large volume of traffic, which is, as I said, far more akin to that found on national routes. This route in north county Louth is the main spine of connectivity for the entire populace of the Cooley Peninsula. Many people live there, there is a great deal of industry, with Greenore Port being on that peninsula, and it is also an extremely important tourism area. To achieve road safety and to prepare for the future, we need to have a new standard of regional routes.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I am here to ask that we have the Minister for Transport come before the House for a discussion on the transport and bus network in Dublin city. When I have submitted proposals for Commencement matters on this issue previously, I have been told it is not the Minister's issue, but the NTA reports to him and this organisation is bringing in major changes in this regard. From next Sunday, there will be eight route changes in Dublin city. In that context, the 17, 18 and 175 bus routes currently connect communities across Dublin city, including many people in south Dublin who attend UCD and the colleges in Dún Laoghaire. From next Sunday, though, those communities will not have this direct connectivity. People there will have to take two buses, when they only have to take one now.

The same thing is going to happen from next Sunday in Chapelizod. Last year, a decision was made to change the 25 bus route serving Chapelizod and to move it up onto the bypass or the N4 without the infrastructure to connect the people of Chapelizod and allow them to be able to get up onto the bypass to get the bus. There is now no bus stop. As a result, people in Chapelizod have had to take two buses. There is no secondary school in Chapelizod, so children there go out to schools in Leixlip and Lucan. There is no direct connectivity, so people have to take two buses. Equally, from next Sunday, the last remaining bus route that connects Chapelizod directly with Dublin city centre, the 26, is going to be utterly changed. For people who live in Chapelizod, it will now be necessary to take two buses to get into Dublin city. There will be no other means of doing so.

The changes to the routes have meant that people who are reliant on the bus to go to medical facilities in, for example, Nutgrove in the Dublin South-Central constituency, must now take two buses. This will mean there will be more car journeys. The last change made in Chapelizod resulted in 176 more car journeys being made weekly. This is not helping us to reach our climate targets and or achieve our ambitions in this regard, and the Minister for Transport needs to be answerable for this situation. I ask, therefore, that he be brought into the House to be answerable for the changes in the Dublin Bus routes.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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Many here will know Conrad Bryan. He is the director of the Association of Mixed Race Irish. This morning, an amazing exhibition, "Shame - European Stories" was launched. For anyone interested in running in the elections for the European Parliament, this exhibition is not just about Ireland but about Irish people and other people across the European Union. It has been produced to a high standard and includes the individual narratives and photographs of people. There was a meeting and launch at 12 o'clock. This exhibition will be on show only today and tomorrow in the Dean Art Studios on Chatham Road in Dublin 2, which is literally only across two or three laneways from here. It will close at 5 p.m. and only be open again tomorrow. It will then leave Ireland and tour various countries in the European Union.

Unfortunately, Conrad did not get what he wanted. He is of mixed race. He advocated for several issues and we brought these before the Houses. They were not supported, but he is not a bitter man. In the same way, I found that many of the people I met at the launch this morning have moved on. They have produced this wonderful exhibition and booklet, "Shame - European Stories", containing their personal narratives and where they intend to go with this project now. They are heading to Europe and the institutions and structures there to have their rights vindicated.I urge people, today and tomorrow - and we will have a fair amount of time on our hands tomorrow - to go to the Dean Arts Studios, Chatham Row, Dublin 2, to view the collection of approximately 22 photographs and narratives. The many people there would be particularly pleased to see and engage with Senators.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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I say "Well done" to the Cathaoirleach for pointing out to Members the existence of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, a forum with which people can engage. Some people here seem to have amnesia about who got rid of town councils and perpetrated that act of butchery. I proposed a Bill in the previous Dáil which was voted against by Deputy John Paul Phelan and everyone else in Fine Gael.

I rise to mention the ongoing issue at Tara Mines, where 700 workers have been laid off for 131 days. Negotiations between the unions and management broke down last night because management at Boliden has reneged on a commitment to an independent facilitation process to find a pathway forward for a reopening date for Tara Mines. These workers are in limbo. They have not been let go but have instead been temporarily suspended. Under a deal from the Workplace Relations Commission, they are earning €65 per week. That would not buy a round of drinks in the pub at the moment with the way prices have gone. Those workers are a month out from Christmas and cannot provide for their families. Boliden is standing over this. It was reported in today's Irish Independentby John Mulligan that Tara Mines' profits were more than €24 million last year. These guys are crying poverty. It is not a stand-alone mine. It is part of a mining network across northern Europe. The group is well capable of sustaining the impact on income due to a drop in zinc prices this year to keep those people in employment.

The issue has now been referred to the Labour Court because Tara Mines will not allow this independent facilitation. It has said it is working on a rescue plan. I ask it to publish that rescue plan. I ask it to publish the reopening date so that the 700 workers and their families, and the 2,000 people whose jobs are dependent on the mine, have a way forward and a pathway a month from Christmas.

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I raise the national broadband plan and suggest we have a discussion with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, about the advice given as to where builds take place. I will speak in particular about one area in south Longford, the town of Ballymahon, and the general area, which is where the largest tourist infrastructure project and investment in the country is located but the area is not included in the current build phase of the fibre network. A significant number of businesses are looking to locate in the area and this is becoming an issue. The Millennium business park is on the outskirts of town. It has 60 to 80 employees in it who are without access to basic broadband. The network runs along the public road but does not stretch to the businesses within the estate. We are now in 2023 and it is outrageous that we do not prioritise businesses that need that infrastructure to keep people in employment and allow companies to trade. We cannot even provide that basic requirement in a large urban town of more than 2,500 people. We need to consider where we are prioritising the installation of this infrastructure. We need to consider urban areas, particularly where there are businesses are struggling because they lack access to broadband.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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We heard yesterday about the proposed scrapping of outdated censorship laws. There can be no argument that where laws fall into destitution, they should be disposed of. However, I hope people realise that there are still ways in which literature, and not only literature, can harm people whether it is called evil literature or not. I only have to think of the concern among many parents about the highly inappropriate material available to children as young as 12 in some of our libraries. I do not think the Government has acted to resolve that yet.

I am also concerned about what seems to me to be a push to manage what people see and hear, to curate and condition the public mood by controlling what people see and hear. We are presented with a narrative that there are good actors. RTÉ and others talk about trust and public service broadcasting and so on, and suggest there are bad actors in the unregulated Wild West. There is some truth in that and the national counter disinformation strategy is looking at misinformation, disinformation and malinformation, whereby truthful information is used with an intention to deceive. What about when we are deceived by omission or when the so-called good actors cover up information? There was a very interesting piece by John McGuirk of Gript in recent days about what I thought was a shameful censoring of the victim impact statement of Ryan Casey, the loved one of a young woman whose murder transfixed this nation. Mr. Casey asked how someone can come to this country and get social housing and social welfare, not hold down a job of any description and not contribute to society for ten years. That statement was effectively censored across the mainstream media. Where it was put up initially, it was taken down.

There is an answer to that grieving question but the answer can never be to silence what people say. As John McGuirk stated in his article, there is a notion that without public funding, the country would be covered in a Vesuvian ash cloud of misinformation. That is the kind of omission and censoring of public utterance that is not healthy in a democracy. We need to have a discussion in this House about where we are going with respect to the flow of information in our society, who the good actors and bad actors are, and how we can have a careful and respectful debate on the issue. There are issues of major concern when publicly funded and other mainstream broadcasters, journalists, outlets and providers act in such a way.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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As the Leader knows, in recognition of stubbornly high energy costs, the Government last year introduced three universal energy credits of €200. In this year's budget, three further universal energy credits of €150 each, which automatically come off every householder's bill, were announced. This was welcomed across the board in my county of Waterford and across the country. It is an important measure.

I raise the issue on the Order of Business because I received a text this morning purporting to represent the Government. It states it is from, suggests I am eligible for a discounted electricity bill under the energy support scheme and tells me to apply for same via a link. Clearly, it is a scam. I have checked with a number of other people who received the same text. It is very serious that the message is purporting to come from the Government. It is obviously targeted at the most vulnerable people in our society. It is a very realistic scam and one could easily clink on the link, given the cost-of-living pressures everyone is experiencing. It is abhorrent, to be frank. Anyone engaging in that sort of activity should be ashamed of themselves.

I welcome the fact that the Garda made nine arrests yesterday in connection with two scams relating to the Waterford division crime hub. I hope those will be the first arrests of many. It is very important that people are vigilant when it comes to such scams. The energy support credits we have put in place do not require anybody to click on a link in a text. The credit automatically comes off energy bills and people do not have to do anything to receive it.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank all Members who contributed on the Order of Business. Senator Conway raised the important issue that the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, which has been doing work with the Department of communications for more than 20 years, lost out on a tender process. That was not the Senator's issue. His point was that six visually impaired staff members who have been doing that work for a long time will not be taken on by the new company that has the contract to do the work. The Senator believes it is illegal and that there should be a transfer of staff. He has asked for the Minister to intervene. I hope that happens and that those six staff members are looked after.

Senator Byrne raised a number of issues. He welcomed his colleagues, Emma, Yvonne and Michelle, who are concerned with the Wexford school bus issue, to the Seanad. He also raised the public sector pay talks and again called for section 39 workers to be tied into that agreement.He also raised a worrying Healthy Ireland survey showing an increase in the use of vapes or e-cigarettes from 6% to 8%. Very worryingly, 20% of women aged 15-24 now use vape products. The vaping Bill is progressing through the Seanad and much work is being done. Many of the vaping companies are the tobacco companies. They got out ahead quite early. It is a concern that there are vaping products or e-cigarettes that have certain flavours or colourful packaging. It seems they are targeting younger people and children, which is really insidious. We are making moves to address that. He also acknowledged that it is the 60th anniversary of the JFK assassination, a poignant date and one to be remembered in the House.

Senator Craughwell mentioned the Niemba ambush and read into the record the names of those impacted. He also called for the development of a diabetes strategy. I suggest that would be appropriate for a Commencement matter to the Minister for Health.

Senator Gavan spoke of aviation policy and welcomed the fact the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, is looking at that. I agree with the Senator’s remarks. There is clearly an imbalance. Those of us west of the Shannon would look to fly from Knock or Shannon if possible and Dublin is the airport of last resort because it is so congested. There is plenty of capacity. I understand the argument is often made that airlines look to get routes out of Dublin but perhaps if there was a more level playing field, the offer of a route from Shannon or Knock would be more attractive to those airlines. Much work needs to happen. It balances the regions and is better for the region. Airports like Shannon and Knock support jobs and industry in the region and there is scope to take pressure off Dublin, which would benefit Dublin and people travelling from Dublin as well. It is a win-win and we look forward to the review of the aviation policy. I concur with Senator Gavan’s remarks on James McClean, as did Senator Davitt. I wish him well in the next chapter, whatever that brings for him.

Senator Davitt spoke of the mounting challenges facing small businesses, including the proposed increases in PRSI. With the challenges of recent years, businesses are under pressure. There has been considerable financial support from Government, which is acknowledged by the business sector, but I take on board the Senator’s comments. We will look to get a debate on that issue in the new term, though it is unlikely with the amount of legislation coming through that we will get that debate in during the coming weeks.

Senator Kyne welcomed the Moycullen bypass and the fast-tracking of the Adare bypass. He has, unsurprisingly, posed the question for people in Galway of what is happening with the outer ring road for Galway city. There is considerable support for that. I acknowledge also that members of the Green Party, in particular, would be opposed to the development of that road. I can attest from personal experience, having lived in Galway and visited there regularly, it is choked with traffic and it is difficult to get to work, school or college. In my view, it is hampering investment and development in the city. The project has vast support. The majority of citizens and public representatives in the city and county support the fast-tracking of the Galway outer ring road.

Senator Keoghan spoke of a report on who is the master of truth. I take on board her comments. Sometimes there is a groupthink element to things that are published and maybe a lack of critical analysis of what is laid before us. Without any bad intentions, one media outlet might take a particular view and that can be replicated because it is the easier route to getting stuff out. Such is the way the media cycle has gone. That is not good for debate, discourse or making sure differing views are aired.

Senator Wall has asked for a debate on defence with the Tánaiste on the plan published yesterday by the Department to implement the recommendations for reform of the Defence Forces. I note with interest the plans to increase the number of women in our Defence Forces. I welcome that a plan will be put in place to reinvigorate our Reserve Defence Force, which at strength had probably more than 9,000 members but is down to fewer than 2,000 now. I welcome that there seems to be a renewed focus on addressing that. He also drew our attention to rail transport, particularly in Athy, and the fare strategy that was due to be published shortly but is delayed, which he welcomes because there is more work to be done, in his view.

In a similar vein, Senator Murphy spoke of the lack of the tea service that was always on the train on west or north-west services to Westport or Sligo. I listened recently to Jim Meade talking about this. They are looking for an external contractor to provide the service but have not been able to get that yet at an affordable price. He was honest in saying that what were quoted to Iarnród Éireann were extortionate prices. They reinstated the services on the Cork line; those were the first to go back. It is the intention of Irish Rail to get those services back up. It is a long journey from Westport to Dublin; you are talking three and a half hours. Along the way, you cannot even get a bottle of water, which is not an acceptable level of service in this day and age. I hope that is fast-tracked. He also welcomed the all-star heading to Roscommon. That is a good news story for the people of Roscommon. Congratulations.

Senator Lombard, interestingly, asked for a debate on local government, which we had in the Seanad Chamber last Thursday for the entire day. We had representatives from AILG, LAMA and their counterparts in Northern Ireland. Many Members of this House contributed to the debate and many individual councillors who had made submissions were also here. I urge the Senator to engage with that process because that committee, under its Chair, Senator Mark Daly, and its rapporteur, Senator Cassells, will put together all of that work and publish a report on what comes out of it. It has the potential to be transformative of how we develop local government policy. I agree with Senator Lombard that the abolition of town councils was wrong. I remind him a party colleague of his brought about that policy. That said, the establishment of municipal districts has had some benefits. In my county of Mayo, we had three town councils in Westport, Castlebar and Ballina. With the MD model, those towns are at a disadvantage because they do not have their own budget for the town but it is of benefit to smaller towns like Claremorris and Ballinrobe. There has been a more equal distribution of funds to those areas. Whatever model we choose, there needs to be greater scope to have councils for other towns, not just to reinstate what was there before. We can do better. There is a democratic deficit. We lost about 600 councillors from the system, or it even more than that?

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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It was more - 800.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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In one fell swoop with the signing of one Bill, we lost a huge number of public representatives at a local level. That has increased the workload for county councillors. Now people are retiring early and we are finding it hard to get candidates. It has created a host of problems. We can improve on the current situation. We will take a positive view. As Senators, for many of us our electorate are our county councillors and there is a responsibility on us to try to improve the situation at local government and to improve democracy at a local level.

Senator Boylan spoke of the children and young people's assembly on biodiversity and their attendance at committee yesterday. She commended them on the level of knowledge. They would outdo us every day because they are so fantastic in terms of their knowledge. Young people are leading the way in the climate debate and telling us what we need to do. It is remarkable to see democracy in action among young people. I take on board the Senator's point around data collection as well.

Senator McGreehan spoke of regional roles and mentioned three roads in County Louth, the R173, R175, and R176. She said that is a regional route that has national levels of traffic on it. We probably all have roads like that in our areas or counties. It is a good idea to explore the possibility of a new standard of regional road in cases where we can demonstrate a certain level of traffic. Currently regional roads are funded through local authorities, which often do not have the resources needed to look after such roads.

Senator Seery Kearney raised transport and the changes to bus routes in Dublin and asked for a debate on that issue. I will request that debate. It will most likely be in the new term.

Senator Boyhan drew our attention to Conrad Bryan's booklet "Shame - European Stories" on being mixed-race Irish and the exhibition taking place tomorrow in Dublin. He urged Senators to attend.

Senator Cassells spoke of his role on the SPCC and gave his views on town councils. Importantly, he raised Tara Mines and the 700-plus workers currently laid off. It is 131 days now. He put some important information on the record about the profitability of that company, still, and the fact workers are getting €65 per week. It is disgraceful that those families and workers have been left in limbo for that length of time, particularly in the approach to Christmas and with the pressure on all families at this time of year.It is a shame on that company for leaving it go this long particularly when its profits would suggest it could do more. I would certainly urge it to do more and think of those individuals who rely on it and also its employees.

Senator Carrigy asked for an update on the national broadband plan. I suggest to the Senator that a Commencement matter might be appropriate.

Senator Mullen made a similar contribution to Senator-----


Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I take the Senator's point on the flow of information in the public domain, what is censored and what is not, who makes that decision on behalf of all of us, whether they have the authority or the right to do that and what kind of rules or safeguards are there to make sure that censorship is in the public interest. Certainly, I thought Ryan Casey was entitled to make his comments. I do not know why that was censored. I have an idea or I could make an educated guess. However, he is entitled to make his views known and he has been through a very dramatic period and he has to live with what has happened as do the entire family. He is entitled to have his views heard by all of us because he is a victim in all of this. Well said, Senator.

Senator Cummins spoke about the energy credits and the scam that is going around. I have not received that but I understand some colleagues have. It is a very elaborate and clever scam on the part of scammers. People are becoming more aware of that, but the timing of this one is particularly clever. We will try to get the word out to as many people as possible to be careful with that. It would be very easy to click on that without realising because it looks and sounds legitimate. People need to be aware these days, particularly around this time of year. The Garda says that there are more online scams of this nature at this time of year because more of us are shopping online and we are on our phones a bit more. We need to be as vigilant as ever on these matters.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Before I ask the Leader to propose a sos, I welcome the Suir active retirement group from County Waterford who are here as guests of Senator Cummins. They are all very welcome to Leinster House and I hope they have a very enjoyable visit. I welcome to the Gallery the group from GTI in Galway, who are guests of Deputy Grealish. They are very welcome to Leinster House. Earlier I missed the two young women who are working with Senator Seery Kearney as part of their work experience programme, Lucy Reeves and Elle Lennox. They have done great work in the past week in Leinster House and I thank them.

Order of Business agreed to.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 1.03 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 1.18 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 1.03 p.m. and resumed at 1.18 p.m.