Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I also welcome the Bulgarian ambassador as well as the children and the teachers from Booterstown National School. They are very welcome to the Seanad this afternoon.

The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion regarding appointment of member to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, European Arrest Warrant (Amendment) Bill 2022 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to adjourn at 3.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 131, motion 3, Private Members' business, a motion regarding community safety and investment to be taken at 4.p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I support the Order of Business, as outlined, and welcome our guests. I want to talk first about two very positive events which I attended. It is really down to the power of parents doing good things for their children. Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to attend a coffee morning organised by Kathleen Murphy and the Kildare branch of Down's Syndrome Ireland which was held in McDonald's in Newbridge. I saw the level of support and joy. There was dancing with Johnny Peters and his band and the Cahill family also provided music throughout the day. I had to leave early to be here but there was lovely food supplied by McDonald's and quite a significant amount of money was raised. It was just wonderful to see people and communities coming together to do something very positive.

The second event I want to raise was one I attended on Saturday in Lucan. This was a conference organised by an organisation called Finding Charlie's Voice. This was set up by Will and Evelyn Byrne who are such wonderful advocates for their son Charlie who has verbal dyspraxia. The conference they organised was for children and young adults with language and communication needs. My colleague, Senator Barry Ward, was in attendance as was the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Daithí de Róiste, who opened the conference, and Councillors Shane Moynihan and Vicki Casserly. It was incredible to see the level of support there. What Finding Charlie's Voice does, as an Irish registered charity without any State funding, is incredible and it has organised communication boards which now reach 170,000 children through different schools. It has formed a partnership with Dublin County Council, having already done so in Kerry, Leitrim and Tipperary, in the rolling out of these communication boards. It is very important that this organisation would receive State and financial support for what it does. This charity has terrific advocates and I wanted to give them a shout out here.

I mention the Town Centre First plans. As we know, the first 26 towns have come through the process and the next set of 26 towns were announced yesterday. For south Kildare, Castledermot has been chosen. It is great to see that town being identified and approved for funding under the next tranche. Town regeneration officers have been appointed in every local authority and the work they can do can very much help the towns which have been identified. For Castledermot to be socially and economically viable into the future, it is very important we all work together through consultation with those who live, work and play there in order to have the best possible outcome.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the publication yesterday of the school transport 2030 review of the school transport scheme - phase 3 report by the Minster, Deputy Foley. I call for a debate on this matter. There are some positive issues, some I still query and others which have not been dealt with at all in this report.

First, there is talk that eligibility will no longer be judged by the nearest school criteria. That is certainly a welcome change. The need for an annual ticket charge was proven when the fees were scrapped the year before last, which led to a huge influx of people. It was well-intentioned but I do not think it worked or was the right approach. That is welcome.

The reduction of the eligibility down to 1 km and 2 km for primary and post-primary schools, respectively, is a positive for those who will benefit but it will raise a whole new cohort of people who will be just short by perhaps a few metres from the 1 km and 2 km limit. That will raise a new cohort of people who will be asking why the scheme cannot be extended to them and we should be conscious of that.

The other issue I wish to raise, which has not been addressed, is the age of drivers. This has been talked about on numerous occasions. Drivers have to give up school runs at the age of 70, yet they can continue to provide to do runs to sports clubs, swimming, rugby, GAA or to wherever. It does not make sense. If they were prohibited from driving a bus full stop, one could understand but obviously and thankfully they are not. They are fit and healthy and pass all of the medical tests, eyesight tests and so on. They should be given the option, if they so wish, to drive for Bus Éireann. That would alleviate many of the problems. Many of the problems we have experienced of late have been because of an inability to get drivers. It is not about eligibility or concessions but the fact there is not even a bus or a driver to bring students. That is a problem.

I know there is discussion about a recruitment campaign and new training incentives for bus drivers. That is all very positive but in the short term, to alleviate the issues from this September, there should be a little bit of leeway, even up to 71 or 72 years of age. That would provide a new cohort of drivers nationwide to solve those issues and even to provide relief. Bus drivers get sick.Suddenly, a driver is sick or out of work for a few weeks or even a month, no driver can be found and transport companies are scrambling to find drivers. We have seen that. Thankfully, some of the issues have been resolved but it has taken months. A bus route in Galway was off the road for four months and another is almost the same. I hope it will also be resolved in the coming days. I welcome the report and call for a debate.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Before I call on Senator Boyhan, I welcome to the Public Gallery the brother of our colleague, Senator McGreehan, Matthew McGreehan, who is joined by expert social farmers, Jimmy Hanlon, Peter Paul McShane and Gerry O’Callaghan, who are all from County Louth. We will not mention that Louth beat Cork a few weeks ago. They are very welcome. I thank them for being here this afternoon. I hope they have a pleasant visit and that Senator McGreehan will take them to lunch or at least for a pint in the bar. Céad míle fáilte.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I wish to raise two issues this morning. One relates to strategic housing developments, SHDs, introduced in 2017 to deliver houses. Yesterday, I received from An Bord Pleanála a full schedule of all the properties and developments that are stuck in An Bord Pleanála or have not been processed, many of which date back to 2022. They are in Dublin, predominantly near the Minister's homeland of north County Dublin, which is an interesting observation. There is a large development in Bishopstown, County Cork and ones in Meath, Wicklow, Wexford and other places. This amounts to 22,000 homes being stuck in an SHD system that has been scrapped. The previous Government told us it would be the panacea for all our problems. Now we have a situation where SHDs, introduced in 2017 and subsequently abolished, include many homes. We need to focus on them. I have an opportunity through the housing committee of which I am a member. It is a serious indictment of all the people involved. It has an impact on our housing delivery, economy, construction jobs and investment. This is a crisis. While we have a national housing crisis, we have 22,000 homes sitting on the drawing boards in An Bord Pleanála when we have been reassured that there are additional resources and a new chair. I will leave it there, but we should exercise ourselves on it.

Before I came to the Chamber this morning, I received two phone calls, one from an employee of St. John of God in St. Raphael's, Celbridge, County Kildare, and one from a family, a member of which is a member of staff at the St. John of God services in Drumcar, County Louth. The great news conveyed to them is that St. John of God Community Services has withdrawn its notice to exit the services. That is powerful. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for their ongoing negotiations behind the scenes. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, was in the House and we debated the matter. It is great news that the board of St. John of God has withdrawn its decision to withdraw from services and will re-engage. However, that any organisation should be charged with responsibility for more than 8,000 service users raises serious issues. We were left vulnerable on this occasion. Some issues may not have been completely resolved. I am not privy to that. It raises the issue of how we care for people in our communities, rather than in institutions.

In the meantime, a crisis has been averted and I convey my sincere thanks to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, and St. John of God for working together in a constructive way to get this issue resolved.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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I will raise a few issues with the Leader today. I have just come from the social protection committee where I once again raised the matter of the housing adaptation grant. The reason I raised it is that I have dealt with three cases in the past two weeks. In one case, a woman has just come from hospital where she spent six months. Thankfully, Clare County Council has approved a grant to her. Unfortunately, it is €30,000 short of what she needs to be able carry out the necessary housing adaptation work to maintain her in her home, where she and her family want her to be.

I have been told by the Department of housing that the review I mentioned previously in this House is currently with the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform and that it will be published shortly. I have been hearing that response for six months. Will the Leader write to the Department and ask that that happen shortly for those three people? I am sure other Members also have examples of what is happening. We want to keep people in their homes. It is a great grant, as I have said continually. I would appreciate if a letter could be sent.

The other grant I will speak about is the Croí Cónaithe grant. Again, it is a good grant, but unfortunately, I am coming across example after example of people having to look for bridging finance. Unfortunately, builders are now saying they will not start the build unless they are paid upfront. In one case, which happened in the past week, an individual went to the credit union, but because there is a diagnosis of cancer in this case, that person will not get the bridging finance. We need bridging finance or stage payments to be made under the Croí Cónaithe grant for those who need it. Many builders are stressing the fact that they will not complete the work unless they get money upfront and building costs have risen.

I will raise a final item today. Last night, I was in Wicklow town for the launch of the local election campaign of a good friend of mine, Councillor Paul O'Brien. At that election campaign launch, I met a great campaigner, a lady called Chris Daly. She has worked on defibrillators and automated external defibrillators, AEDs, which I have mentioned in this House numerous times in the past. Unfortunately her husband passed away a year and a half ago. Her request is that all new builds would have to have an AED as a condition of their planning permission. It is a reasonable request. It should be incorporated into the new Planning and Development Bill, if possible. As Ms Daly said last night, 70% of cardiac arrests happen at home. Every minute there is a delay in acting, it reduces the person's chances of survival by 10%. If every new housing estate included an AED, we would increase the survival chances of many people. I ask the Leader whether that can be discussed with the Minister for housing and addressed when the Planning and Development Bill comes before this House.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I move an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 9 be taken before No. 1. Today we are seeking leave to introduce the Air Navigation and Transport (Arms Embargo) Bill 2024, which is emergency legislation that would ensure Ireland is not complicit in arming Israel and would help to curb the flow of weapons being used in Gaza. Since Israel began its relentless bombardment of Gaza, arms exports to Israel have dramatically increased. In November, the United States organised a €14.5 billion military aid package for Israel and has since approved a further €14 billion military aid package, just this month. In 2023, arms exports from Germany to Israel increase tenfold on the previous year, with €32 million worth of arms in 2022 and €303 million worth of arms in 2023 exported from Germany to Israel. These are both countries that have consistently blocked or opposed calls for an immediate ceasefire.

The calls for the halt to the supply of arms have come from the highest level. Some 30 UN independent human rights experts have called for an immediate stop to arms exports and warned that any weapons or ammunition transferred for use in Gaza are likely to be used to violate international law. Calls have come from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and this month a Dutch court ordered that the Netherlands halt the export of F35 fighter jet parts to Israel. The court found there was a clear risk that parts would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Currently exemptions can be granted for flights that may carry arms through the State. Our Bill provides that no exemptions would be given for arms going to Israel or coming from or going to countries that are exporting weapons to Israel. It also provides for a regime of mandatory inspections. More that 1,000 exemptions for the transfer of weapons were granted in 2023 alone. Since at least 2020, no inspections have taken place, so in many cases we do not know the end use or the detail of the kind of weapons that are being transferred.

I urge colleagues to support this emergency legislation, which would ensure Ireland is in line with international law and not complicit in potential breaches of international and humanitarian law and indeed of common decency. I hope this legislation will help to curb the flow of arms to Israel. Senator Ruane will second its introduction shortly.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I wish to bring the attention of the House to a report on inclusion in sport that was launched yesterday morning by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media. I hope Members will get a chance to read the report and the House will be able to have statements on it as soon as possible. The report is ultimately bound up in creating a better supporting environment for everyone.

As was pointed out by an audience member yesterday, inclusion in sport needs money. It needs EDI money, and not just from the dormant accounts fund, which has reduced this year compared with last year. It also needs capital money in terms of facilities. I know the Leader referred to the work by the Government that has been done in respect of gender, women in sport and facilities and that is welcome but capital and EDI money are required to fund inclusion in sport. Racism is increasing. Sport can address that issue. We are a wealthy nation but we have social challenges. Sport can do things that cannot be done in other areas. Money for diversity and integration can help in that regard. Homophobic attacks are increasing, as are attacks on LGBT people. Homophobia does not just affect LGBT people; it affects everyone. It can result in everybody moderating their own behaviour. People who are not gay can endure the most ruthless and sustained homophobia which can turn them off sport. There are many great recommendations in the report. I hope it will be a valuable resource for the Department. I refer to a piece on the visibility of women and the women's game, but also visibility of diverse and marginalised groups. My experience of visibility in sport was probably Dónal Óg Cusack coming out as gay. I was a goalkeeper, he was a goalkeeper-----

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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Was he good?

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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Is he good or am I good? I am brilliant, although I did not keep a clean sheet at the weekend. Visibility is very important and there are good recommendations in the report. I look forward to a discussion on the report in the House and inviting the views of other Members.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for his visibility in sport. He is not a bad goalkeeper, in fairness, or so his manager tells me.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I join the Cathaoirleach in welcoming the Bulgarian ambassador and wishing the very best to the people of Bulgaria on their national day on Sunday. I know they will be celebrating in Ireland on Monday, 3 March. On 1 March, Moldovans will celebrate a tradition known as Mrior. I am convenor of the Moldovan-Irish friendship group. For the month of March, Moldovans wear a small brooch, keeping it close to their heart. I wish Moldovans in Moldova, as well as the many in Ireland, a very happy 1 March. They have done an enormous amount of work in the context of what is happening in Ukraine and taken in many people in spite of limited resources.

I would like the House to revisit the sad and difficult topic of road safety and road deaths. Unfortunately, the situation is not improving this year. According to the RSA, the four biggest risk factors are young people, driving at night, particularly at weekends, and on rural roads. Those are the four highest risk factors. We all need to get that message out to everybody. Every single death is one too many and there have been far too many of them. There was a tragic death in the Leader's constituency recently when a man saved his niece but lost his life in the process. It is a tragic situation. We all need to realise that when we are driving a motorised vehicle, it is a dangerous weapon and we must ensure we are driving in a manner appropriate to the road conditions. When it is dark or wet or the car is heavier or full of people, it may be different from negotiating the roads when the car is lighter and only has one person in it. There are many factors, including speeding and the use of drugs, alcohol and mobile phones. We need to revisit the issue. Every debate we have on the matter and every bit more publicity we bring to it is very important. I urge the Leader to arrange for a debate on the issue as soon as possible.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I might come up with something unusual this afternoon. I am seeking a debate on a report that has been published by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking Community. Is it appropriate to bring the Cathaoirleach of that committee before the House to debate the report it published in early February? The report had some very unusual findings. It states that the exemption available for dyslexic kids should be taken away. That is a very serious issue for the parents and families of dyslexic children. They are outraged and angered, to say the very least, by that proposal. It is appropriate for the Cathaoirleach of the committee to appear before the House and put the report before us and for Senators to debate the issues aired in the report. I attended and contributed to the hearings of the committee. I do not think the report took into consideration what I said about dyslexic kids and what they need going forward. Frustration among these parents is bubbling at the moment. They are advocating for their kids day and night. They are doing what they can. They are working in a situation where they need more help, but now the media is saying the exemption needs to be taken away. That is not fair on these families or on society. We are trying to give these kids a head start in order that they can go forward in life. We are trying to make sure they can work and survive in society. So much has been done, but this report is a step backwards. I believe the Cathaoirleach of the committee should come before the House to debate exactly what he is talking about in the report, which displays a complete lack of understanding of what is involved in this matter. It is an issue I have raised consistently. I am not jumping on a bandwagon. I have been on this issue for 15 years. I am outraged at the publication of the report. I propose that the Cathaoirleach of the committee come before the Seanad and put the report before the House and we set aside time to debate it.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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In fairness to the Senator, he has been raising the issue for a long time.

I welcome the students from Our Lady of Mercy school in Waterford to the Seanad for the Order of Business. I am not sure whether they are in transition year, third year, fifth year or sixth year or doing work experience, but they are very welcome. I thank them for being here. I hope they get homework off tonight from a myriad of teachers in all their subjects. I wish them good luck in their exams if they are doing exams this year. I thank them for being here.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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At the outset, I record my sympathy to the family of Councillor Pat Hynes in Galway, who sadly passed away this morning. Pat is the uncle of Geraldine Donohue, who works here with Senator Boyhan. I would also like to remember Corporal Tadhg Quinn, one of the Jadotville heroes denied a medal, who passed away today.

Yesterday, there was an attack on me in the House about having my photograph taken with the Israeli ambassador. I was told by a colleague from Sinn Féin that I should be ashamed of myself for standing for a photograph. I have been a man of peace all my life. I have never wanted conflict. I support what the Civil Engagement Group is doing with respect to limiting weapons going out to destroy lives in Gaza. There is only one solution in Gaza, and that is a two-state solution. I will not be lectured by somebody who would not be in this House but for the fact that people were willing to talk to terrorists in Northern Ireland. I am speaking specifically about the Provisional IRA. People were willing to bring them to the peace table and allow Sinn Féin to come into parliament in the Republic and in the North of Ireland. I have many friends in Sinn Féin and there are many great people in Sinn Féin who work in this House, but the Provisional IRA terrorised my family morning, noon and night throughout the early part of 1974. Some of these people were shouting at me because I stood with an ambassador who is the only conduit we have to express our opinion directly to the Israeli Government. Was that wrong? I do not believe it was wrong but I will not be lectured by people who stand with Hamas and Hezbollah and have their photograph taken with them. At the end of the day, I want to see peace in the Middle East and Ukraine. I want to see people living together but I will not be lectured about how I behave in my business.Having a photograph with the Israeli ambassador recognises the fact that she is the only contact I have with Tel Aviv.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senator Craughwell has made his point.

Photo of Erin McGreehanErin McGreehan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome my big brother, Matthew, to the House. He is the one who indulged my interest in politics, brought me to cumann meetings, comhairle Dáil ceantair meetings and other Fianna Fáil meetings all over the country. I would not be here today without him. I also welcome my other guests, Gerry O'Callaghan, Peter Paul McShane and Jimmy Hanlon. They are fantastic representatives from County Louth with us here today.

I want to raise an issue concerning Mandy Kelly, a Dundalk-based mammy whose children Zayn and Kareem were abducted two years ago by her Egyptian husband while on holiday. These boys are Irish citizens. They are being held against their mother's will and against the judgment of the Irish courts. We are currently at a standstill. I cannot even imagine the torture this woman is going through. She has not even seen photographs of her young boys, who are growing up without her.

I want to highlight this case today, but also to highlight that we need the Irish Government to intervene and put pressure on the Egyptian ambassador and the Egyptian authorities to release those Irish citizens and bring them home. We have a history of diplomacy and working to get Irish citizens back home to this country, and it should be no different in the case of two abducted young boys who are growing up without their mammy. I would love if the Minister, Deputy McEntee, could meet with this mother and discuss the possibility of securing an international arrest warrant and getting those children home safely.

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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I also welcome Senator McGreehan's brother. If, as she claims, he is responsible for her having an interest in politics, then I blame him for the arguments I have with her in this Chamber, although we are meant to be on the same side.

I welcome the news today from the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, on the plans for the town centre first programme right across the country. It has been announced today that towns in every county in Ireland will be prioritised by the Government for investment to deal with dereliction and vacancies. Carrick-on-Suir in Tipperary has been selected and given priority. Each local authority will have a person who is in charge of making sure that those jobs are completed on time. For as long as I have been alive, there has always been a feeling in Carrick-on-Suir of the town being neglected by politicians and the Government. In the past 12 months, that is no longer the case for Carrick-on-Suir and for representatives in the town. It has been chosen for the town centre first programme by the Government. The town also received €17 million in funding under the rural regional development fund, which will transform the town. It is the largest amount of funding received by any town in Tipperary. It would not have happened were it not for the mayor of Carrick-on-Suir at the time, Councillor Mark Fitzgerald, who did Trojan work to make sure that application was successful and that it would get over the line. The work is now starting, which is the most important thing, and to have that along with this announcement today from the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, means the Carrick-on-Suir has a bright future going forward because of the decisions that have been made by the Government over the past 12 months.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I second the amendment to the Order of Business. Often when you travel as a politician internationally you can come back feeling a little bit dismayed at the response of some countries to talk of a ceasefire to halt the destruction of a people like we see in Gaza. Even though we can always do more - we need to do more - and that is what this legislation can do, Ireland has a real role in continuing to push the agenda internationally so that the international community acts. The arms embargo is one way of doing that.

We know that Israel received about $3 billion annually in military aid from the United States in the past 50 years. That figure has been adjusted for inflation. Germany is the second largest exporter of arms to Israel. Calls for a halt to the export of arms have come from the highest levels, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the EU High Representative, yet those who profit from war and the destruction of people have continuously blocked calls for a ceasefire.

In the Irish context, regulations ban the transfer of munitions. Article 5 provides that the Minister for Transport may, by direction, exempt any class of aircraft from any of the provisions of Articles 6 or 7. More than 1,000 such exemptions were granted in 2023 alone. The authors of a 2009 comparative study commissioned by the French ministry of defence highlight that the limited information requested by the Department makes it very hard to properly assess the risk of munitions being carried. It also identifies that attack helicopters were previously transferred from the US to Israel through Ireland. This legislation is another step forward in Ireland setting the standard internationally in terms of what needs to happen to end the bombardment of the people in Gaza.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the guests of Deputy Noel Grealish, namely, Simon, Kyle and Kim, to the Public Gallery. They are visiting from London and are very welcome. They are in bad company, but I am sure they know that already. I hope they enjoy their visit to Leinster House. I thank them for being here.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I will start by echoing the call by my colleague Senator Fintan Warfield for a debate on the Report on Inclusion in Sport compiled by the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, otherwise known as the "RTÉ committee". We do a lot of other work, including that which we did in respect of the report. The report contains a number of very effective recommendations. It would be useful to have a debate with the Minister on the recommendations and the findings from what is a very collaborative piece of work. My colleagues Senators Carrigy and Cassells were involved as well.

I also seek a debate on rural roads and funding for local roads. I am sure the Leader is very familiar in her part of the world with the fact that a lot of our roads are in shocking condition. When there is a series of bad winters, they end up in worse condition.

I am very supportive of the investment that we see in active travel. In our major towns and cities we see investment in cycleways and footpaths, but the state of the roads in many rural communities means that it is not safe to walk on them. It is certainly not safe to cycle on them. I would like the Leader to ask that we would look at devising a comprehensive programme of investment in local roads. It should not just be done through small levels of discretionary funding on the part of local authorities or indeed through measures such as the local improvement scheme. We need a systematic approach to address some of those challenges. I would appreciate a debate on that issue as soon as possible.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the announcement of the school transport review yesterday, but there will have to be a realisation that significantly more money will have to be invested in the provision of buses if we are going to extend the criteria in the manner that was proposed in the report. We are also going to have to create a culture of thinking outside the box. Where buses supporting the Ukrainian community are half empty, they should be able to bring schoolchildren to school. Bus Éireann should be able to bring children to school. There needs to be an overarching approach to the issue of school transport. Ultimately, we need more drivers and more buses. We need creative thinking and thinking outside the box.

This week is rare diseases week. As the Cathaoirleach knows, many of the medicines produced in this country are exported. We have probably 90% of the main pharmaceutical companies based in this country, mostly around Dublin. They export vast amounts of medicines on a daily basis, yet when it comes to rare diseases, orphan medicines and new medicines, we are slower than any other country to introduce them. There was a provision of €20 million in the 2023 budget for orphan drugs but no provision was made in this year's budget.As the lead exporter among all European countries of pharmaceutical products, we should be leading the way in supporting and making available orphan drugs and new drugs. We should not be a laggard, as is the case now.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I am sure colleagues will join me in congratulating Professor John Crown, who will receive the award for outstanding contribution to cancer medicine and research from the Irish Association for Cancer Research. This is an award that he richly deserves after decades of service and groundbreaking research. His work has been recognised internationally, but it is always important to be recognised by your home country. I am standing here because this is where John used to stand when he was a Senator. He served here for only one term and he found it all very frustrating because of course, in cancer research, you can get things measured and you know what outcomes are whereas in politics, it is quite a bit slower and more laborious than he was used to. However, he made a huge contribution in his time in Seanad Éireann. It is great that he is being recognised and given that award.

While he was here, John led the way on the legislation to ban smoking in cars in which children are present. That legislation came about on foot of one of the loopholes in the smoking laws. He led the campaign, and I was lucky enough to be a sponsor of the Bill. To see him in action was quite something. He became only the seventh Opposition Senator in the history of the State to have legislation passed, which underlines what an impact he had and the contribution he made. John also contributed in so many other ways. It is important that we recognise our former colleague, and as I used to address him when he was here, he was "Professor Dr. Professor Senator" John Crown.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am sure Senators will all want to be associated with the remarks about John Crown, who is an extraordinary and pre-eminent person in the field of cancer research. I thank the Senator for bringing that matter to our attention. Professor Crown was a very valuable member of the Oireachtas health committee when he served here. I know he found being here frustrating. Senator Daly mentioned the legislation. We should also remember former Senator Jillian van Turnhout, who was involved with that legislation as well, and, indeed, the former Minister for Health James Reilly, who was a pioneering member of the then Government in the context of the legislation in question.

We congratulate John Crown on his wonderful achievement. He is a wonderful person. He has done a huge amount of work to raise awareness of issues relating to cancer. He has cured and given the gift of life to so many people. We thank and congratulate him today.

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I concur with the comments welcoming the report on school transport. While I welcome that we are extending eligibility to more people, we are still going to have the same issues, including a shortage of people to drive buses. We have the simple issue of people - because tickets are free in some cases - applying for tickets even when they are not being used, and then we are leaving other kids on the side of the road unable to access the transport they needed. Much more thinking needs to be done in respect of the school transport plan.

I would also like to ask the Minister for Education to write to every education and training board, ETB, regarding Youthreach. I served as chair of the board of Youthreach in Longford from 2009 to 2014. It was one of the most rewarding positions I have held. A new directive was issued in October of last year with regard to payments for youngsters who are on the scheme. We had very high attendance numbers on those courses due to the fact that if someone did not attend on a particular day, there could be a cut to the payment that they were getting for taking part. What happened when it was changed was that youngsters started only coming in one day or possibly two days each week rather than four or five days. They were still getting the full payment. I do not think that sends out the right message. I know the Minister, Deputy Harris, sent a directive when this became known to him asking all ETBs to revert to the old system, which was working well and which provided an incentive for the youngsters to attend. That is what we want them to do. That directive was sent out, yet some ETBs are still not implementing it. What has happened is that the attendance rates in Youthreach in those ETB areas has fallen. I ask that it be communicated to the Minister for Education that she should write to all ETBs and ask that they implement the directive passed down by the Minister for further and higher education about going back to the old system.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I rise today to highlight the plight of small businesses. In the past day or two, we had the Habit coffee shop and retailers closing with the loss of 22 jobs. My real concern relates to small businesses and the hospitality sector. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment needs to look at small retailers and hospitality enterprises as stand-alone concerns. Reports are showing - and I know from talking to those in industry - that bigger businesses such as engineering firms have not been affected but that smaller businesses have been affected by auto-enrolment, the increase in PRSI and the minimum wage increase. There have been so many increases implemented all at the one time, and in the leanest months of the year, namely, January and February. Many small businesses are looking at closing. Hospitality and small retailers are the backbone of society and our towns, villages and cities. We really need to look after these retailers because the difference between them and larger industry is that they have so many full-time and part-time employees, so there are increased costs for everybody. The Department needs to do something quickly before we lose more businesses. I hope the Leader will support writing to the Department. I have written to it already, but I would love if the Leader could support me in that regard.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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Many of our athletes are still in the qualification process for the Olympic Games in Paris this year. I wish all of them good luck and I congratulate those who have already qualified. I am thinking in particular of Jack Marley, a boxer from Monkstown, which is in my area. We do not hear enough about these athletes and what they have already achieved in qualifying for the Olympics. We also do not hear enough about the fact that the Paralympic Games will follow the Olympic Games in Paris later this year. I am thinking of people who are still in the qualification process, particularly para-archer Kerrie Leonard from Meath, who is still in the process of qualifying and who, I think, will be competing at the world championships in Dubai shortly. There is a huge wealth of talent out there. Beyond that talent, there is ambition, effort and commitment from athletes both for the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. They deserve our thanks and the credit for the work they do, which is obviously in an amateur capacity as well. It is a huge commitment and achievement. I look forward to as many as possible of our athletes and para-athletes qualifying and competing at the highest level in Paris. We look forward to their success as well.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I concur with the Senator's remarks and thank him for raising that very important issue in what is an Olympic year.

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Senators who contributed to the Order of Business.

First was Senator O'Loughlin, who wanted to draw our attention and pay tribute to the power of parents, and in particular Kathleen Murphy in Newbridge who hosted a coffee morning, and also the Finding Charlie's Voice initiative, which assists children with verbal dyspraxia. The Senator also welcomed the town centre first plans and the announcement today, as did Senator Ahearn, and they congratulated those towns. My town of Killala in County Mayo was also listed, as well as other towns like Tubbercurry and Carrick-on-Shannon. It is a significant investment from the Government into those towns, and importantly, it as a result of local communities being consulted. It is the vision of local communities for their own area. That is really important. It is from the ground up that these plans are being development, and now funded by Government. I wish those towns very well.

Senators Kyne and Conway raised the issue of the school transport review. I commend the Minister, Deputy Foley on her work in this regard. The review was long overdue. There may be teething problems, but there has been a real push on the part of the Government to extend school transport to as many children as possible. Even the required distance from schools has been reduced. You no longer have to go to the school closest to you because that was proving quite difficult as well.It is a really transformative review and will be hugely welcomed by school communities across the country.

Senator Boyhan spoke about the strategic housing development and the 22,000 homes he says are tied up with An Bord Pleanála. We are in the process of overhauling the planning system. The legislation in that regard is passing through the Dáil and will hopefully come to this House before the end of this term. There is an acknowledgement that the planning process needs to be changed, streamlined and made more efficient. This is a priority for the Government and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of St. John of God Hospital and welcomed the fact that the suggestion to suspend services there has been rowed back on and that this was as a result of significant work by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte.

As he has done on many occasions, Senator Wall raised the issue of housing adaption grants, the shortfall that is often there when someone is approved for a grant and what it costs to actually have work done. There is a review due from the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform. I can follow up to see where that review is at. Certainly, there is a bridging aspect involved.

The Senator also raised the issue of Croí Cónaithe. This scheme has been very much welcomed. Many homes that were vacant and derelict are coming back into use, which is great. It is €50,000 for a vacant home and €70,000 for a derelict house which is a significant sum of money from the Government. You have to have the work done up front and claim the grant back afterwards. The initial outlay is proving challenging for some individuals. We are looking to make sure there is bridging finance available. The Senator made a suggestion that every new build should have an AED as part of planning. That is something that would have to be weighed up against the overall cost benefit of every single estate, but I understand his intentions and where that remark came from.

Senator Higgins proposed an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 9 be taken before No. 1. The amendment was seconded by Senator Ruane. I am happy to accept the amendment. I commend both Senators on introducing the Bill and look forward to debating it in the context of the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Of course, we hope and continue to pray for peace and a ceasefire now in the region but we take on board the comments around arms and who is profiting from their sale, distribution and delivery. That would be a very worthwhile debate to have in this House as we continue to shine a light on that conflict and others around the world.

Senators Warfield and Malcolm Byrne raised the issue of the report launched yesterday by the tourism and sport committee. Senator Byrne wanted to point out that the committee does other work besides discussing the challenges or issues facing RTÉ. We will try to schedule a debate with the Minister for sport on that really important work that the Senators have done. It is great to see that so many Members of this House have been involved in that important work on inclusion, diversity and visibility in sport. The Minister for sport has been quite good in looking at the diversity issue. In particular, Senator Warfield acknowledged the work done in respect of women in sport and that for the sports capital grants that will be announced later this year, sports clubs have to ensure the facilities are equally accessible to men and women. This is a really good and positive policy change. I obliges clubs to do better. We will continue to fund and support sport throughout the country.

Senator Horkan acknowledged that Moldova will be celebrating on 1 March. He also raised a really important issue with regard to road safety and the number of road deaths in the country in the year to date, which is in and around 30 at this point. We need to get those numbers down. The Senator stated that the biggest contributing factors are young people and driving at night, particularly at weekends, and on rural roads. There is another element to that at which we have to look, namely, the response of the National Ambulance Service and the air ambulance service. Are we doing enough in the context of treating trauma at the roadside? Other countries appear to do things slightly differently and there is scope there for looking at how we treat people before we even get them to hospital and what kind of interventions are being provided at the roadside. We can do better and I have concerns around the way the air ambulance is being conducted in the country and what type of team is available on board. There are types of interventions being provided at the roadside in the UK and in other countries that are not currently being provided here. Perhaps that is another aspect at which to look because we are always looking to reduce speed, deal with substance abuse in driving and the state of our roads. However, how we treat traumatised people is also part of the picture.

Senator Lombard asked for a debate on the Irish language in the Gaeltacht and the report on the Irish-language exemption currently allowed to children with dyslexia. I have not had an opportunity to look at the report. I am aware of the issue only because of what the Senator has raised in the Chamber today. We can look at organising a debate on that but at the outset it might be worth tabling a Commencement matter to get the Minister's response to that report as well and we can see what we can do further on that.

Senator Craughwell raised a personal issue. I was in the Chamber yesterday for the comments that were sent his direction, if I can put it that way. The Senator has defended himself well and put his perspective on the record. I do not propose to deal with that matter any further.

The Senator also wanted to acknowledge and pay his respect and sympathies to the families of Councillor Pat Hynes and Corporal Tadhg Quinn, who both passed away recently.

Senator McGreehan raised the plight of Mandy Kelly and her two children who are currently in Egypt with their father. Despite a court order here, they have been taken by their father and she has not been permitted access. We certainly want to see that issue resolved.

Senator Ahearn raised the issue of town centre plans, which I have dealt with.

Senator Ruane spoke about the arms embargo and also the Bill that is being brought forward by the Civil Engagement Group. We look forward to the debate on that issue.

Senator Malcolm Byrne has asked for a debate on rural roads and funding of roads. There is probably a challenge in this regard in that there is a commitment to spending on active travel vis-à-visspending on roads. That may be posing a challenge for the Department but, ultimately, the roads are part of our transport network and need to be properly funded. It is an ongoing challenge and councillors right across the country will say how the list of roads they get given on an annual basis compare with what they can actually address in terms of funding. The list they cannot do is longer than the list they can work on and that is consistently a problem at local authority level.

Senator Conway raised the issue of orphan drugs and suggested that Ireland should be a leader in that area. I agree with him.

Senator Mark Daly flagged the significant achievement by a former member of this House, namely, Professor John Crown, who has been acknowledged for his extensive work over many decades in cancer research and the lives that have been saved by his work in Ireland and abroad. He also mentioned the accolade given to Professor Crown by the Irish Association for Cancer Research. It is a hugely proud moment for John's wife Orla, his children and the research community. We wish Professor Crown very well. It is a great endorsement of this House to have had a colleague who served here now reach those heights in the medical community, not just in Ireland but further afield. I listened to the professor's interview this morning with Pat Kenny on Newstalk. It was a fascinating interview detailing the level of work involved and how he first began his work in cancer research. He acknowledged how much has been achieved in breast cancer research and the survival rates, and how that has been really turned around from a point where so many more people were dying and today we see so many people surviving. There are far better outcomes and treatments are tailored to different cancers. I congratulate Professor Crown on his achievements and wish him and his family the very best.

Senator Carrigy raised an issue regarding the Minister for Education and the ETBs. It might be worth a Commencement matter as it is quite a specific question on that front but I take on board the comments the Senator raised in the House today.

Senator Maria Byrne again raised the issue of small businesses. There are significant challenges facing such businesses. The Government has responded quite well, and there has been an acknowledgement that a great deal has been levelled at businesses this year in the form of auto-enrolment, the increased minimum wage and statutory sick leave. There has been much change in a relatively short period with which businesses are dealing. There has been the increased cost of business grant of €250 million that has been a significant investment. We have asked for statements with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in the House and are probably looking at April now at this stage with the schedule and the calendar we have coming up. However, the Minister has agreed to come to the House to discuss that matter and so we look forward to having a wider debate to raise issues for particularly small businesses across the country.

Senator Ward spoke about those who are currently qualifying for the Paris Olympic Games and acknowledged the fantastic work and how proud we are as a country of our Olympians and Paralympians of the work they do in representing Ireland. He wished those who have qualified the best and also those who are still trying to qualify. It is a big deal for somebody to be putting themselves forward at that level of sports and we wish them well. It is something the country should acknowledge on a more regular basis. I thank Senator Ward for raising the matter.

Order of business agreed to.