Seanad debates

Wednesday, 19 June 2024

10:30 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Before I call the Acting Leader to outline the business, I welcome the other group of students, from St. Columba's School in Glasnevin, who are here with us. They are very welcome. As I said to the other group, one of the special powers the Cathaoirleach has is to give homework off. I know it is the end of the term, but can I give you homework off for the rest of the week anyway and hope that it can be transferred to the future? I also thank your teachers for the great work they do. Thank you and welcome to Leinster House.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I got to meet some of the students as I was coming in. It was lovely to get a chance to say hello and now to formally welcome them to the Seanad. I hope they have an interesting day and learn a lot.

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Protocol No. 21 opt-in to regulations on a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on international protection, asylum and migration, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude at 3.45 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to the opening remarks of the Minister not to exceed 15 minutes, group spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, time may be shared, and the Minister to be given no less than 15 minutes to reply to the debate; No. 144(2), Private Member's business, motion re national cancer services, to be taken at 4 p.m. or on conclusion of No. 1, whichever is the later, with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; No. 2, Automatic Enrolment Retirement Savings System Bill, Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 6 p.m. or on conclusion of No. 144(2), whichever is the later, and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by Government.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted to introduce the health (postponement of certain leave) Bill, colloquially known as the leave our leave Bill. I would like to have No. 10 taken before No. 1. The campaign for this Bill has been driven by the Irish Cancer Society and patient advocates like Erica Tierney. The Bill is supported by my colleagues in the Fianna Fáil group and I hope it will get cross-party support. Every year, more than 60 women receive a cancer diagnosis and commence treatment during their maternity leave. This Bill proposes a mechanism to postpone maternity leave for those receiving treatment after a cancer diagnosis. The statistics rarely change. Every year, we are failing 60 women with their new babies by not allowing them to postpone their maternity leave. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. We have addressed postponement of leave when it comes to the hospitalisation of premature babies and the associated leave for the mother, so it can be done.

As a former chair of the cross-party group on cancer, I have raised this issue with the Minister in this House, along with my colleagues and many others. In 2023, the Minister committed to legislation, but to date nothing has passed through this House. I note the Minister is now in the middle of a leadership campaign, but I hope that he considers this Bill urgently and allows it to pass this House and the Dáil. We know how precious the early days are as a new mum and cannot imagine how much harder that would be when going through treatment and possibly being separated from your baby for periods. I want to be a voice for these women.

I got an email from Erica Tierney, who is one of the primary advocates of the leave our leave campaign. She wrote an email to us all, stating:

Dear Senators,

I have been campaigning for this matter since the birth of my beautiful daughter Róise, who is now four, with the Irish Cancer Society. We know this issue affects 60 women a year and we have been promised reform since 2023. I am very anxious that another year does not pass without the reform so that mothers like me are not failed again each week that goes on and it really adds to the trauma.

I have cancer again and I am undergoing chemo again, but I have to keep campaigning on this because I cannot bear that it is still happening to other women. Please support the Bill passing through the Seanad and support it in the Dáil too.

Best wishes to you all and thank you for listening,


I personally want to thank Erica for being so brave. She is undergoing chemotherapy at the moment but she is not letting this go. Her fight continues. I commend her, from all of us.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Well done to Senator Ardagh.

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I commend Senator Ardagh on her Bill. I cannot see anyone not supporting it in its entirety.

I have just come from the Committee on Autism's first year anniversary meeting, in which it listed its recommendations and the progress thereon. I want to first reflect on the fact that there is never a case here where a committee sits, produces a report and has a progress report a year on. That is fantastic. Many Members of this House participated in that committee.I pay particular tribute to Senator Carrigy, however. Any of us who are in the parliamentary party with him will know we get weekly reminders and progress. It is our privilege, and mine in my spokespersonship, to support him completely. He is a tenacious advocate. Progress happens because of many things and much hard work by many people, but Senator Carrigy in particular has taken this and absolutely run with it. He leaves no stone unturned. I want to pay tribute to him.

Yesterday, I had a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton. I have always worked very closely with the Ministers of State, Deputies Rabbitte and Madigan, and now with the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton. It is great to see progress. I see the terrible frustration of parents. I sit daily with parents who are trying to find school places, trying to get support services and trying to get speech and language therapies and all those things all of the time. All progress is to be celebrated, but no matter how far we go, there is still a long way to go.

Having that co-ordinated effort under the Taoiseach's Department and with the special new committee, we can see the momentum where nobody can be siloed anymore. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, cannot be isolated anymore and told she will not get co-operation. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, cannot be told that because the Taoiseach is chairing a committee that sits weekly to ask what the progress is, what the impediments are, how we get over them and how we deal with them.

One of the frustrations or one of the things on which there has certainly been progress, and on which the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, has made real progress, is this idea of the role of special educational needs organisers, SENOs. Any of us who have been at public meetings with organisations like Involve Autism and the Dublin 12 autism advocacy group would be horrified by the fact it has been the experience of parents to apply up to 20, 30 or 40 schools. They are given a list of schools and that is the extent of the support in many instances. It is good to see progress. Intensive training of SENOs is going on and, therefore, from September, that will not be the case. It is to be hoped this will be the last year where parents are tearing their hair out to the extent they are. I do not understand how there is not a central portal. My ask of the Leader is that we have statements in this House for a year-on update, exactly as we saw happen downstairs. Why not for Senators? Senators in this House have advocated passionately on behalf of autism services. Can we have statements in the House on it?

Photo of Tom ClonanTom Clonan (Independent)
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I want to begin by wishing the Minister, Deputy Ryan, well after his decision not to run for re-election. I wish everybody who ran in the recent local and European elections well, those who were elected and who failed to be elected. It is such an important part of our democracy. One of the things the Minister spoke about yesterday was about some of the ill feeling and negativity that has crept into the online space. It is very reassuring to hear so many public representatives say that was not the case among the real people on the doorsteps during the campaigning, which is very reassuring to hear.

We have had a lot of drama over recent weeks but I want to raise the issue this morning in the House of a very grave situation that is developing in the Middle East. We have 120 or so Irish men and women who represent us and the international community in south Lebanon as peacekeepers with UNIFIL. Unfortunately, Benjamin Netanyahu has since 7 October threatened to invade south Lebanon to confront Hezbollah fully. In fact, he gave an order on 8 October that south Lebanon be invaded, one day after Hamas' appalling genocidal attack on Israel. That was vetoed by Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, two former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. In the past week, both Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot have resiled and stepped back from Netanyahu's war cabinet, which now gives him free rein to invade south Lebanon, as he has repeatedly threatened to do. As we speak, the Golani Brigade and the Nahal Brigade are assembled and ready to go across the border. This day last week, Hezbollah fired more than 220 missiles into Galilee, setting place like Qiryat Shemona and places just north of Tiberias in Galilee on fire.

I ask that we think in the coming days and weeks of our fellow Irish men and women who are out there and who are basically human shields between Hezbollah on one side and Israel on the other. I am conscious that perhaps we in this jurisdiction do not pay enough attention to what our troops are doing overseas on our behalf and on behalf of the international community. We must also think of the people of south Lebanon. The last time the Israelis went in, they massacred Lebanese civilians indiscriminately all over Lebanon, particularly in Qana. They also murdered UN observers in Khiam. I would be concerned, especially in the context of the absolutely pejorative language that is being used by Israel with regard to our foreign policy position on Palestine, that it might view the Irish in a very negative light. We need to give them all of our support.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I want to raise the issue of Palestine and read into the record just some of the letter that was published in the Irish Examiner yesterday. It states:

My name is Samia.

You do not know me, but you may have seen my picture.

I know that you have seen so many photos of my home and my people that it may be hard to recall one from another.

But, there is one picture of me you should remember, because I am holding the dead body of my niece, her tiny little frame swaddled in plastic.

Her name was Massah.

She was two years old.

Now, she is dead.

I could not hold my sister Samar because her body was in pieces.

So was Massah’s big sister, Lina, who was four.

Their dad, Dr Luay Khudair, my sister’s husband and somebody who was like another brother to me, was killed too.

Blown to bits.

I am still alive, though there are so many days I wish I was not.

I am going to move on because of the pressure of time. The letter continues:

When I heard Samar’s family home was bombed by the Israelis, it was one of the most difficult nights of my life.

Can you imagine? Your home? Your source of safety? Falling down on your head. Killing you. Tearing you apart, into pieces.

This is what happens daily under the Israelis. And the silence of the world encourages it.

In the morning hours, as the bombing continued, I walked through danger to reach the hospital.

My screams were heard by everyone there, but not by those who I wanted to hear me.

The beautiful Lina, who was born after a long period of suffering and waiting, after several miscarriages for my sister, she was killed.

But I did not find Massah, nor her mother ... not her father, not her aunts.

Everyone was underneath the rubble.

I headed to their street. I did not recognise their house.

Rubble. Stones. The smell of death, terror, and fear.

They took out my sister in pieces.

And Massah flew from the force of the Israeli missile, over the roof of the neighbour’s house.

She was the only one that remained whole, and not torn into pieces like the rest of the family.

I embraced her tightly. Her little body. So still. So cold.

I whispered in her tiny ear, asking her to tell my sister, my mother, that I love them dearly, and yearn for our reunion.

She goes on to write:

How many little Massahs have been murdered since? How many Linas? How many Samars have been blown to pieces?

Do you think I deserve this? Did my sister? Did her husband, who was a doctor? He devoted his life to caring for people.


I am no different to you.

Only, I feel abandoned.

If you choose to ignore, know that it is you who has abandoned me.

Love, Samia

It is quite an incredible letter.

In other news, we have all been invited to celebrate Independence Day on 8 July in the US Embassy. I, for one, will not be going. I ask everyone here to reflect deeply on the genocide that is happening and on the fact the US is delivering the bombs and guns that deliver that genocide. We should take the clearest possible stance, not just against Israel but against the US, very clearly, for its part in the genocide that continues, even as I am speaking this morning.


Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senators. We are on the Order of Business. Members will have a chance to speak in their own slots and they can disagree or agree, whichever they choose.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I am rather surprised at Senator Gavan. I assume he will also be calling on his leader and others within Sinn Féin to refuse to attend the $1,000 plate dinners they have been having in the United States and that there will be no Sinn Féin representatives attending any US function. The hypocrisy of Sinn Féin on some of these issues really is outstanding.

In a more positive vein, I certainly support my colleague, Senator Ardagh, in the Bill she is bringing forward today.Like Senator Clonan, I would also like to wish the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, well following his decision to move to the next chapter. I thank him for his service.

I want to again raise the question of graduate education medicine, which I have raised in this House before. Bank of Ireland pulled the only private way of financing a graduate education medicine programme two years ago, so there is essentially no real way for students to get a loan to pursue this course. Those students are not eligible for SUSI. They tend to be older students, so they mostly stay within the country when they graduate. They may go away, but only for a year or so. This course was to encourage diversity, but because it costs nearly €18,000 per year - and I appreciate this is not the full economic cost - it is a very expensive undertaking. This means that the socio-economic profile of those students is not as broad as it should be.

Earlier in the year, the Government rightly took the decision to fund a number of students from the State to study at Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University. Effectively, we are subsidising those students to do that yet we do not have the same level of support for those who are in graduate education medicine. The Cultural and Educational Panel has a longstanding motion to be debated before this House. It is on the socio-economic profiles of those who are studying law and medicine, and I ask for that to be moved. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Patrick O’Donovan, to the House to have a debate on medical education in Ireland.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I rise today to welcome that it looks like Limerick will now be included in the world cross-country championship rallies. There was doubt about whether Limerick, Kerry and Waterford would be included in backing from the Department of sport, but I understand that negotiations are under way. It is not quite clear about which year this will happen, but it is most welcome news that the Minister of State, Deputy Thomas Byrne, is in the throes of a negotiation, which looks like it is going to be successful. I welcome that news and I wish that rally all the best. It will either be in 2026 or 2027. We will wait and see. It was meant to be 2025, but hopefully it will work out.

I know that Shannon Airport is expanding its portfolio. The other day I was looking at a video of somebody reminding people that they could spend 20 minutes in their car to get to the airport and then get on the plane. This is a message that we in the mid-west need to send to people. One still hears of people queuing in Dublin Airport who are finding it difficult to find car parking spaces. We therefore need to look at expanding our regional airports and supporting them. I call on the Government to support our regional airports in a more beneficial way through funding.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I would like to raise the issue of independent councillors who have been elected to local government and the co-options of their positions. Sometimes in local governments and local county councils there is a gentleman's agreement that that councillor will be allowed to co-opt another independent councillor into that position but some councils do not have this. It is grossly unfair when there is a power grab by political parties for those independent seats in local government and the same happens in here in the Seanad. I will be tabling legislation to amend the Local Government Act in that regard. It is a fair way to deal with those co-options within local government. I will look forward to the support of my colleagues for that amendment to the local government legislation and I will hopefully bring it forward before the summer.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I first want to commend Senator Ardagh on tabling the Health (Postponement of Certain Leave) Bill 2024. I want to second that item. I have to commend her on lobbying all her party colleagues and I am sure people throughout this House will support this. It is really well done, and I hope it will be successful in this House.

Like others, I want to wish the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, well. We had many conversations and I know he will still be a Minister. I did not always agree with him, but I did agree with him on some things. One thing actually hurt me, and this is going back a few years, although I said nothing about it. I recall the incident when the Minister, Deputy Ryan, was joked at and laughed at because on one occasion he seemed to be very fatigued in the Dáil. I knew of his circumstances and of the dedication he and his wife have to their special needs child. I thought it was terrible that some politicians in Leinster House mocked and jeered at him. Maybe some of them did not know what it means to have a special needs child in one's family. I have two within our family circle - they are two lovely young people from different wings of our family. This is 24-7, 365 days per year. The sheer nonsense that some people go on with when they mock people in such circumstances shows a lack of understanding. They can claim they did not know about it, but they should know their stuff before they make such comments. I said that if I ever got the opportunity to say it, I would. You may agree or disagree with Deputy Ryan, but I commend him and his wife, as I do many other parents, on what they do for their special needs children. I will always be 100% behind him on that and I would never mock such people.

Finally, on a very positive note, there is just transition funding for our region, and for the county of the Acting Leader. It is massive for Country Roscommon and involves a number of projects. I want to commend Minister, Deputy Ryan, and the Government on that. We will be getting more funding as well. It is so necessary following the demise of the ESB and Bord na Móna. The Government is delivering and will deliver more in that region because of the knock-on effects of the loss of Bord na Móna and the ESB.

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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Today I want to speak about the updated procedures that were announced last week by the Minister, Deputy Foley, on the use of school buildings, including sports facilities, outside of school hours. It has come up in this House quite a lot and I have raised it myself frequently. If we have public sports facilities in schools, they should be accessible by the community outside school hours. This is also the case for childcare, after-school care and school-aged care. I appreciate that the policy has been updated. It has given clarity to schools that might want to take this step but perhaps do not know how to go about it. There are schools that do know this but that do not want to open their doors. I am concerned that the policy does not have the teeth to deal with that. We are at a turning point where there is a crisis of supply in childcare. Our sports facilities need to be used as often as possible and must be as open and accessible as possible, because we are investing a lot of money in them. My suggestion relates to how the sports capital grant incentivises schools to open their doors to the community, but there is not the same provision when it comes to childcare. I think we need a similar fund for the schools that are hesitant to share their facilities in the afternoon. Could grants be available, for example, for a prefab that needs updating, but that the school is not going to pay for? The school is probably not going to use it and will probably not apply for emergency works when it may have work to do elsewhere. What about a grant for childcare supply similar to the sports capital grant to deal with that? The Department of Education also has to overcome barriers, such as leases for sports facilities. There is a new supply management unit in childcare, which I think could own that fund.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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We have had a number of discussions in this House about migration and its implications for this country, but it would be timely that we have another discussion, particularly about some of the accommodation issues.A situation has developed in Shannon where an old office building was converted and upgraded during the height of the Ukrainian crisis to accommodate up to 100 Ukrainians, mainly women and children. The Department has now decided not to renew that contract and move those families from Shannon to Lisdoonvarna, which is quite a distance. Many of these people were integrated into local schools and working environment. The move has a very considerable negative impact on their lives. Let us consider that the move is in addition to some enormous trauma these people have gone through and I think the upheaval is unnecessary.

I wish to make a secondary point which is worth noting. This is a contracted office building. They are moving, as I understand it, to a hotel. I understood we were trying to get hotels back to providing for tourism. We are heading into the extremely important tourist season. It is clear some issues arise with office buildings that are converted to accommodation. Of course, there are issues and it is no different in this particular case. They have worked with the fire officer and the authorities to bring the building to an acceptable standard and it has provided very good accommodation for the past two years, meeting the needs of these people. We just need to review the processes and procedures. I get that there are vacant beds in some of the facilities. Of course from a value-for-money perspective, we do not want to have vacant accommodation that has already been paid for but we should be very slow to move from what are buildings that are not, or would not, go back into the tourism sector and transfer people out of the area. I would like a debate to be arranged with the Minister at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss the overall terms and conditions of the existing accommodation scheme.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I would like to draw the attention of the House to a seminar that is happening tomorrow. Female participation in agriculture is a key theme we need to start talking about to make sure we have a focus on trying to ensure females get involved in agriculture. They are involved in agriculture to a significant extent but, unfortunately, only 13% of land holdings are in female ownership, which is a significant issue.

Tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. a seminar will take place in the Timoleague Hall. Both Barryroe Co-operative Limited and the Carbery Co-operative Society will host a seminar on female participation in agriculture and there is a great line-up of speakers. The aim of the seminar is to empower the female population who are involved in agriculture, so they can be the real drivers in this industry going forward and that is what we need to see.

We need to have a debate about female participation in agriculture and to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House in order that he can give his vision on how we can increase the number of females involved in agriculture. The Cathaoirleach would know my story. My mother was the driving force behind our farm for very many years and she was a significant powerhouse. People like her drove things forward to make sure we have that kind of participation in agriculture. More needs to be done now to get more women involved. The agriculture industry needs them. We need to ensure seminars take place around the country like the one that will take place tomorrow in Timoleague Hall. As the Minister has a role to play in promoting female participation, it is important he comes here to discuss his vision for this issue.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Before I call on the next speaker, it is my pleasure to welcome the retired members of An Garda Síochána and their families to Leinster House. I thank you all for your service. Our communities and our State have been enriched by your service and we are very grateful to you, and those of you who served in particular during a very difficult and turbulent time for this State. They were the men and women who stood up for our country and we thank you for your service. Enjoy your visit to Leinster House. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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Today there was an announcement of just transition funds. That is over €80 million of Exchequer funds combined with EU just transition funds of another €80 million. That is €160 million for the counties in the midlands, including Roscommon and the Ballinasloe municipal district in County Galway. I compliment the groups, community groups and entities that will receive funding. For example, Aughrim is village located a few miles from Ballinasloe. The Battle of Aughrim visitor centre will receive €100,000 to come up with a plan to, potentially, extend its opening hours. The centre only opens during the summer months.

The Lough Key Forest and Activity Park in Country Roscommon will receive close to €1.2 million. The park is one of the jewels in the crown of the Hidden Heartlands. The park has an amazing range of activities for families. People can avail of hikes and trails and there is even a canopy walk through the forest. People can go kayaking, etc., on the waterways. Everything comes together in the amazing outdoors. The fund is about how we are going to increase capacity and look at more activities that will encourage people to explore what is right on our doorstep.

I am very happy to see that Bord na Móna is working on developing trails. The jobs in Shannonbridge and Lanesborough were changed and just transition needs to provide tourism jobs in these areas. Shannonbridge is just ten miles from Ballinasloe, although in County Offaly, and the marina and Shannonbridge Plaza will receive millions of euro. All of this investment will support tourism which benefits all the counties in the surrounding area.

I acknowledge that €7.8 million will be invested to develop Clonmacnoise, which is one of the most amazing historical areas in Ireland. Clonmacnoise is located on the banks of the River Shannon and dates back to the eighth century. Such development is important as it shows that historical heritage is not just the things one can see in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. I encourage people to visit these places that come alive when there are interpretive centres and the funding to develop them.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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An Seanadóir Barry Ward, an chéad chainteoir eile.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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This is Pride month, as we all know. Dublin Pride will take place on Saturday, 29 June. We have come so far as a country in acknowledging the special nature of people who have pride in their sexuality and are showing that to us. We have acknowledged their right to equal access to marriage and other things in this country. It feels like we have come so far and yet we also know there are people in this country who do not acknowledge or accept it. We see reports far too regularly of people being attacked because of their sexuality or being abused on the street. These are ordinary people walking down the street holding hands getting verbal abuse from people who do not seem to understand they are perfectly entitled to do that. They are normal members of society and they are as entitled to do so as is any heterosexual couple.

I think of people like Declan Flynn, who was murdered in Fairview, of people like Michael Snee and Aidan Moffitt. I think of Marcin Malinowski, who is an engineer who was beaten senseless as he cycled on his way home simply because the people who attacked him wanted to "kill the faggot". Those people are still out there.

Yesterday, I received a report from Jamie Robertson who was in the Phoenix Park with two of his friends. They were chased down, or, as he said, "hunted" by six men with knives. Jamie and his friends got away from their pursuers but God knows what would have happened if they had not. Apparently, the Phoenix Park is not safe for people. These guys were just walking through the park and were chased by six men. What on earth is going on that this still happens in Ireland in 2024 when every right thinking member of society recognised the normality of sexual relationships between people of the same gender or same sex? What is going on that we are not tackling this? What is going on that we do not have gardaí in the park? I ask because when the three friends went to the gardaí about it, they were told there was no CCTV and they could not identify the crowd. That is not good enough. There needs to be patrols in the Phoenix Park to protect people. If needs be, there needs to be further education for the park rangers or other Garda presence in Phoenix Park to protect people because attacks are absolutely unacceptable, and particularly in this month. We should have a debate on the steps we need to take to protect everyone, equally.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Anois glaoim ar an gCeannaire Gníomhach freagra a thabhairt inniu. The Acting Leader to reply to the Order of Business, le do thoil.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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We started this morning with Senator Catherine Ardagh, seeking permission to take No. 10 on the Order Paper before No. 1. I grant leave to introduce the Bill. The Senator mentioned that about 60 women a year do not have the opportunity to postpone maternity leave because they are suffering from cancer. As the Senator said, the issue has been raised many times but nothing has been done. She was right to point out that those early days as a mum are very precious. The Senator mentioned Erica Tierney and read out her letter. What a courageous and brave woman Erica is, and to be facing cancer a second time. Our best wishes to Erica. We wish the Senator well with the Bill and hope there will be opportunities in the schedule to ensure it is read a Second Time.We certainly wish the Senator well and hope there will be opportunities to have that Bill read a Second Time.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney spoke about the autism committee and the progress report that followed the anniversary of publishing the report. She rightly paid tribute to Senator Carrigy, who has done sterling work in this area.

Senator Seery Kearney also spoke about meeting the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, to make progress on school places and support services. There absolutely needs to be a better and firmly co-ordinated approach. The Senator also spoke about the Taoiseach chairing a weekly committee. We should invite the Taoiseach to come to the Seanad to speak about the committee he has convened. There are very few things more important than the work to put supports in place for children who have autism. The role of SENOs was also mentioned. We need a complete overhaul. I speak very regularly to parents who have to seek places for their children, and all they get is a list. That is not good enough. The SENOs should be playing a far more proactive role. We should ask the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, to come to the House for statements on the role of SENOs and how we support parents of children with autism.

Senator Clonan wished the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, well. I know that the House absolutely concurs. The Minister has certainly given much service over his 30 years in public life. We wish him and his family well. When listening to him, I was struck by his comments on the pervasive issue of social media and how he tried not to let it affect him. When you hear that he was the subject of horrible, nasty social media comments when his father died five years ago, you really wonder about people's minds. We were all out knocking on doors during the local and European election campaigns and, thankfully, we noted this does not happen at the doorsteps. However, something happens to people and they change when they are on their phones or laptops, and they feel they have the right to use horrible language. It is absolutely shocking.

Senator Clonan also spoke about the grave situation in the Middle East and our 120 peacekeepers in Lebanon. Circumstances have been very fragile since 7 October and we know that Prime Minister Netanyahu has made threats to invade southern Lebanon. We have to be very concerned, particularly given that two Cabinet Ministers stepped back last week. I am aware that the Department of Defence and the Minister for Defence, Deputy Micheál Martin, are very conscious of the safety of our 120 troops in the region. Our thoughts and concerns are with them. It is imperative that we see an end to this brutal war. We must urge both Israel and Hamas to accept and fulfil the requirements of the three-phase proposal outlined by President Biden and endorsed by the UN Security Council. It is vital that all parties work towards reviving a political process that can provide a lasting and sustainable peace based on the two-state solution. That is the reason Ireland, along with Norway and Spain, and more recently Slovenia, decided to recognise the State of Palestine now. In the absence of a political process including the Israelis and Palestinians, the viability of a Palestinian state is literally hanging by a thread.

Senator Gavan also spoke about Palestine and read a very moving letter by Samia in yesterday's Irish Examiner. Samia spoke about her two-year-old niece Massa, her niece Lina and their mum and dad, who were tragically killed. A whole family was wiped out. It is hell on earth and it is just shocking to see the scenes. Unfortunately, we have got a little used to it. We are used to seeing such images now on our phones, in our newspapers and on our televisions. We should never get used to them. I thank the Senator for continuing to raise the matter. The Senator asked that Members of the House reconsider accepting the invitation to the US embassy in light of the US supporting Israel. The following speaker, Senator Malcolm Byrne, called out the hypocrisy not of Senator Gavan but of his party, which hosts dinners in the US for $1,000 per plate to raise money at the same time as asking people to boycott the ceremonies of 4 July.

Senator Malcolm Byrne also concurred with the statements expressing gratitude to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, for his service. The Senator also raised the issue of the graduate medicine programme. It is very difficult for those seeking to participate in it because it costs around €18,000 per year. The State currently subsidises some students to study in Northern Ireland. We should consider the same approach here. I would like to see the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, come to the House to have a debate on medical education.

Senator Maria Byrne hoped Limerick would be included in the negotiations to host a rally in 2026 or 2027. We wish those involved well. The Senator also sought support for Shannon Airport and our regional airports in general.

Senator Sharon Keogan raised the issue of Independent councillors and co-option. Some councils do not have an agreement whereby an Independent councillor may nominate a successor in the event of having to step down or other circumstances requiring the nomination of somebody else. I understood there was such an agreement in place. We certainly honour that in Kildare. I had not realised that the agreement was not in place for Independent councillors, but we would all support it. Those brave enough to put their names forward and win a seat should have the option of saying who should take their place if required.

Senator Murphy formally seconded Senator Catherine Ardagh's proposal on her Bill. I thank him for that. He spoke movingly about the challenges that face parents of children with special needs and how these challenges affect their lives.

I have often thought about the awful photograph of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, nodding off in the convention centre when negotiations had been going on all night to put a partnership together. I always felt he was very unfairly ridiculed for that. I thank the Senator for calling that out.

Senator Murphy also mentioned the just transition funding, as did Senator Dolan. It was really good to receive the news in this regard this morning. I am delighted parts of Kildare are to get funding also. These include Emily Square in Athy, Donadea Forest Park and the greenway.

Senator Currie spoke about the updated procedures concerning the reuse of school buildings. What has been occurring to date in this regard has long been a bugbear of mine. We have very fine school facilities, and new schools have quite incredible facilities. It is only right that a community should have access to and the use of these buildings and facilities. It is good that the policy has been updated and that clarity has been provided. The vast majority of school boards of management want to work with their communities in this regard. The Senator raised the point that, alongside the sports capital grant, we should have a similar grant for childcare supply. We certainly could consider that, particularly regarding schools with spare classrooms. In some areas, this is happening in a very positive way. It is a good idea and certainly something we should suggest.

Senator Dooley spoke about migration and the circumstances in Shannon, where Ukrainians staying in refurbished office accommodation have been told they have to move to Lisdoonvarna. That is having a negative impact, particularly on schoolchildren who are well settled. They do not need this upheaval. By way of addressing a secondary issue, we are trying to get hotels back into tourism, particularly now as we are facing into the summer.There is a need to review and renew processes and procedures and I absolutely agree with him on this.

Senator Dooley also spoke about discussions on migration. At the count, I was shocked to speak to someone who had occasion to bring her husband to the accident and emergency department in Naas hospital. He was there for eight hours and was then able to leave. When he thanked his doctor, who was black, the doctor said "thank you" and mentioned that he had been called a black B four times that day. This is someone who cares for our people. I was upset and shocked when I heard that. In the context of the discussion about migration, we know that 20% of healthcare staff are migrants. We would not be able to run our hospitals or any of our medical services without them. I was shocked. That happened four times in one day. It was so unusual for him to be thanked that he had to make that point. We have to have a big debate in society about that.

Senator Lombard spoke about the need for females to get involved in agriculture. He told us three times that there will be a meeting between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in Timoleague. I encourage anyone who lives near Timoleague to go to that meeting. It is important that we empower the female population to get involved. The Senator is looking for a debate with the Minister. When I was a child growing up on a farm, we had farm-home advisers. We do not have them now. They were terrific women who supported farmers' wives and farmers' homes. Perhaps it is time to bring them back. The Senator is right. Certainly the women I know in farming households are the backbone of the farms in helping to support us and we need to see them coming up to the front.

Senator Dolan spoke about just transition, the combined State and European funding and the difference it makes to Aughrim, Roscommon and Clonmacnoise.

Senator Ward spoke about Pride month and the shocking situation of people still being abused and attacked. I thank him for remembering such people as Declan Flynn, Michael Snee, Aidan Moffitt and others. It is shocking that this is still going on. The situation he outlined where three men were chased by six men in the Phoenix Park is shocking. We have changed our legislation. Unfortunately, there are people who have not changed their minds and hearts. That is what we need to work on. Pride is so important because we can celebrate and empower those in the LGBT community. It is shocking that people were elected earlier this month who hold anti-LGBT beliefs. I have seen evidence of one such councillor being homophobic and calling people names I will not repeat in this House. We have a big task in society and we have to do what we can. The Senator is right that we need a debate. We should have it during Pride month. On Saturday week, we will all be getting involved in Pride parades in Dublin and around the country. Well done to Councillor Mick Cahill who organised the first Longford Pride parade last Saturday. We need to see more people standing up and being counted. We will certainly look for that debate.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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An amendment to the Order of Business was proposed by Senator Ardagh, "That No. 10 be taken before No. 1." It was seconded by Senator Murphy. The Acting Leader indicated she is prepared to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.