Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad
 Header Item Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
 Header Item Water Quality
 Header Item Harbours and Piers
 Header Item Passport Services
 Header Item Eating Disorders
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
 Header Item Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2021: First Stage
 Header Item Health Insurance (International Students) (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage
 Header Item Taxi Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage
 Header Item Sitting Arrangements: Motion
 Header Item Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017: Restoration to Order Paper
 Header Item Seanad Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015: Restoration to Order Paper
 Header Item Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017: Restoration to Order Paper
 Header Item Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021: Second Stage
 Header Item Children (Amendment) Bill 2020: Report and Final Stages

Friday, 5 March 2021

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 275 No. 1

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 10:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.

Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I have received notice from Senator John Cummins that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to review the grant payable to improve water quality treatment for private water supplies and to extend the deadline for claims under the previous scheme beyond 30 March 2021.

I have also received notice from Senator Barry Ward of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to provide funding to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for harbours that were transferred to it under the Harbours Act 2015.

I have also received notice from Senator Aidan Davitt of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to make a statement on the closure of passport services under level 5 restrictions.

I have also received notice from Senator Fiona O'Loughlin of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to make a statement on the funding of the national eating disorder plan.

I have also received notice from Senator Marie Sherlock of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to make a statement on the distribution of the €50 million live entertainment fund announced in budget 2021.

I have also received notice from Senator Paul Gavan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to make a statement on the introduction of a deposit return scheme.

I have also received notice from Senator Malcolm Byrne of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to make a statement on the full economic cost of a higher education student in full-time education and if he will provide an update on the implementation of the Cassells report on higher education funding.

I have also received notice from Senator Tim Lombard of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education to provide an update on the delivery of a permanent extension for Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, County Cork.

I have also received notice from Senator Rónán Mullen of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to make a statement on the conditions applied by his Department by the Health Service Executive to the provision of funding to charitable, voluntary and community organisations and whether such conditions include compliance with company law requirements, including the filing of audited accounts, with reference to the case of a particular organisation (details supplied) which has continued to receive funding despite allegedly not being in compliance with company law filing requirements.

I have also received notice from Senator Victor Boyhan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to make a statement on the timeframe for the establishment of the office of food ombudsman as set out in the programme for Government.

I have also received notice from Senator Garret Ahearn of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to provide an update on St. Anthony’s Nursing Home, Clonmel, County Tipperary.

I have also received notice from Senator Emer Currie of the following matter:

The need for the Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to develop a remote first communications campaign to prepare businesses and workers for a new work culture post Covid-19.

The matters raised by the Senators are suitable for discussion. I have selected those raised by Senators Cummins, Ward, Davitt, O’Loughlin, Sherlock and Gavan and they will be taken now. The other Senators may give notice on another day of the matters they wish to raise. Beidh lá eile acu.

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Water Quality

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit.

Senator John Cummins: Information on John Cummins Zoom on John Cummins I thank the Minister of State for his attendance and his continued work across his portfolio. The issue I raise this morning relates to the estimated 11% of Irish people who get their water from private water supplies. As the Minister of State will be aware, varying levels of grants are available under the rural water programme for the carrying out of works to private water supplies, be that for sinking a new well, rehabilitation of an existing well or treatment to improve water quality. Under the scheme, a householder can apply for an 85% grant, up to a maximum of €3,000, for rehabilitation works to an existing supply or an 85% grant up to a maximum of €5,000 for a new well, where the housing authority agrees that is the most appropriate solution. In addition to this, a householder can also apply for a 100% grant up to a maximum of €1,000 for treatment to improve water quality, which typically consists of filtration or UV treatment. All grants are paid on the basis of costs of works incurred by the householder.

  Unfortunately, the level of grant available for the treatment element of the scheme is often not sufficient to cover the costs involved, particularly in areas where ground water is poor. In my native county of Waterford, many rural householders face costs in excess of €1,500, and in extreme cases up to €3,000, for treatment works to improve the water quality and the level of grant is only set at €1,000. It is true that that sum of €1,000 is sufficient in some cases but often it is not. I am not suggesting an across-the-board increase in the grant. I am simply suggesting that instead of a householder being able to apply for the €3,000 or €5,000 grant plus the €1,000 treatment grant, the words "and-or" be inserted into the scheme to allow a combined figure of €7,000 to be used. That would enable the householder, who incurs significant treatment costs, to have them covered in full.  This would simply be a reprofiling of the scheme and would not result in significant additional cost. It would basically allow householders to use the unused part of the grant for newer rehabilitated wells and allow them to use it for the water treatment which, as I have said, often costs well in excess of the €1,000 that is provided for. Alternatively, if that is not possible, the €1,000 grant for treatment only should be increased to €3,000 to reflect the actual cost involved for householders. This will make a significant difference for the 11% of households that rely on private water supplies.

  In addition, I understand that all local authorities were issued with a letter on 19 January instructing them to close out before 30 March all grants approved under the scheme up to June 2020, which is only 17 working days from now. Given the level 5 restrictions and that construction has been essentially stopped since the start of the year, it is not reasonable to require people, who were given grant approval last year, to reapply if they could not get the works done.

  Equally, it is not reasonable to ask local authority staff to undertake the heavy workload involved in testing and approving the works which have been completed in the tight timeframe. This can often take many visits to check the water supply, for works to be done, and for them to go back and test again. The deadline should be extended until the end of the year to allow householders and local authorities the time and space to be able to close out the scheme. I certainly hope the Department can take on board these two suggestions. I again thank the Minister of State for his continued work.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Peter Burke): Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke I thank Senator Cummins for raising this matter and giving me with the opportunity to address it. I assure Members that the Government is committed to ensuring that people in rural areas are supported in accessing good quality water and waste water services, as committed to in the programme for Government.

  Following on from the recommendations contained in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services report in April 2017, a working group was established to conduct a review of the wider resources and investment needs relating to the rural water sector. As part of its work, the working group recommended a number of revisions to the then grant scheme that provided support for carrying out improvement works to a private water supply, more commonly known as a private well or household well for domestic use only. These revisions were provided by the Housing (Private Water Supply Financial Assistance) Regulations 2020. This revised scheme formed part of the broader funding investment under measure 8 of the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme 2019-2021.

  The revised scheme, which opened for applications on 4 June 2020, brought into effect the following changes. The maximum grant for rehabilitation works was increased by 47% from €2,031 to €3,000, as the Senator mentioned. A maximum grant of €5,000 was introduced, in cases where the local authority agrees that the most appropriate solution is to provide a new well. The maximum percentage of approved costs was increased from 75% to 85%, subject to the total maximum costs of either €3,000 for well rehabilitation or €5,000 for a new well.

  In addition, in recognition of the role of the grant in improving quality, the water quality treatment element, typically filtration and ultraviolet, UV, treatment, will qualify for 100% funding, up to a maximum of €1,000. This grant may be claimed on its own or in addition to either the grant for rehabilitation works or the grant for a new well. These changes, including the revised grant levels, were implemented following an examination of the previous arrangements, consultation with stakeholders including local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health Service Executive, as well as consideration of the matter by the multi-stakeholder rural water working group.

  In implementing the revised arrangements, my Department has undertaken to conduct a review of the grant schemes after one year of operation to ensure their alignment with policy objectives. I understand this will happen in June and I would welcome the Senator's input into that review.

  As part of its work, the working group also recommended revisions to the grant scheme that provided support towards the remediation, repair or upgrading works to, or the replacement of, domestic waste water treatment systems.  This scheme provided financial support for homeowners where septic tanks had been subject to inspection by the relevant local authority in accordance with the EPA's national inspection plan for domestic waste water treatment systems. In June 2020, local authorities were informed by departmental circular that applications that had been approved under the previous scheme, and where work had already started, should be concluded under the arrangements of that scheme. This is normal practice.

  My Department had no objection to applicants who had submitted an application under the previous scheme that had not been processed by the date of the new circular, and where no works had started, withdrawing that application and submitting an application under the new arrangements, provided all eligibility criteria are met.

  The Department is bringing the previous grant schemes to an orderly close, in line with good financial management practices. Local authorities were advised on 14 January 2021 that the date for receipt of claims under the previous grant schemes for private water supplies and domestic waste water treatment systems under the national inspection plan was 30 March 2021.

  As Senator Cummins indicated, my Department has received inquiries from a number of local authorities, requesting an extension to the date for receipt of claims. My Department is engaging with the local authorities on this matter. We will consider it and we hope the process will be concluded shortly. I again thank Senator Cummins for his interest in this important matter.

Senator John Cummins: Information on John Cummins Zoom on John Cummins I welcome the changes that were introduced last year. They were a recognition of the real costs involved. I also welcome the review. I hope what I have suggested in terms of inserting the "and-or" clause in recognition of the higher costs for treatment, in particular in areas where water quality is poor, will be fed into the review. I also hope the review will have a successful outcome.

  I again emphasise the importance of extending the deadline, in particular in light of the level 5 restrictions. Nobody could have foreseen the circumstances we are in and while prudent financial management is important in closing out older schemes, we must be cognisant that people were approved under the previous scheme and they must be allowed time to carry out the work. I say that, notwithstanding the fact that they can submit a new application. The prudent approach would be to extend the scheme and I urge the Minister to do that.

Deputy Peter Burke: Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke Senator Cummins's point is very well made. I will give it serious consideration with the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, as it is directly under his jurisdiction. I accept the pressure that is on local authorities and their staff due to the level 5 restrictions. The Senator's case has merit. We do not want people to suffer because of the restrictions that have been imposed. We will take a serious look at the issue. We are engaging with the local authorities. I welcome the Senator's suggestion on the re-profiling of the expenditure and his further input into the review. It is a good suggestion and we can look at it.

Harbours and Piers

Senator Barry Ward: Information on Barry Ward Zoom on Barry Ward Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ba mhaith liom labhairt faoi Chuan Dhún Laoghaire, atá faoi Chomhairle Contae Dhún Laoghaire-Ráth an Dúin. The Minister will be aware that a number of years ago a policy decision resulted in the transfer of many harbours and ports to local authorities around the country. One of them was Dún Laoghaire Harbour under the charge of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, of which I was a member at the time. We welcomed the decision. It was a very important measure of local democracy to involve the local authorities and, by extension, councillors in the administration and running of the harbour, which is an asset to the council. When I became a councillor in 2009, local authority members were removed from the board of the harbour company, which was a retrograde step.

  As the Minister is aware, Dún Laoghaire Harbour is a Victorian harbour built in the first half of the 19th century. It is a massive granite edifice off the coast of Dún Laoghaire. The town developed in its wake and with the construction of the Dublin to Kingstown railway. The harbour is a fabulous heritage asset, as well as being a port that facilitates the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the body that services the buoys and lighthouses around the island of Ireland. It facilitates fishermen who use the coal harbour and much pleasure and leisure activity through sailing and other water sports. It also facilitates occasional visits from cruise ships, although not recently.  While the harbour was under the management of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, which was a commercial entity that existed from the 1990s until the harbour was taken back under the control of the county council, it is my opinion that the harbour infrastructure was substantially mismanaged. There were serious financial problems with the administration of the harbour. Certainly from 2015, when Stena Line left, a massive income stream was lacking and that simply meant there was no money to pay for important infrastructural maintenance and upgrades. We know, for example, that recent storms have substantially damaged the east pier and other parts of the harbour walls and they need to be upgraded. An engineering report and an assessment were done before the hand over that said the liability could be as much as €45 million. That finding was pooh-poohed by the then Minister for Transport, Shane Ross. I do not know whether a final figure has been arrived at but we know that with Dún Laoghaire harbour, there comes a massive financial obligation on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The reality is that the harbour as a heritage port and facility does not have the same capacity to make money like larger or more commercial ports. The harbour is located very close to Dublin Port so we cannot compete on the same level.

The harbour company talked about plans to put in place a cruise berth facility at a cost of between €17 million and €19 million, which would never have washed its face. The company talked about creating a badeschiff, which is a swimming pool inside a barge inside a harbour. The company talked about floatels inside the harbour as well. None of these things ever came to fruition but there was great talk. The reality is that the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has been left holding the baby. There is now a situation where the council has a massive financial obligation and no means to fulfil that other than to transfer it to the taxpayers of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, and transfer the commercial rates on to small businesses in the county or the local property on to the residents of the county. That is wrong and central government must make financial provision for the county council not just to run the harbour but to ensure that it is maintained to the highest possible standards to make sure that we do not lose any aspect of this beautiful heritage facility and historic part of Dún Laoghaire town and the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area. I call on the Minister of State to make provision for that funding.

Deputy Peter Burke: Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke I thank Senator Ward for raising this issue and giving me an opportunity to update the House.

  The national ports policy, as set out in 2013, provides for the transfer of certain ports to the relevant local authority and sets out the arrangements for giving effect to this. In that context, the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company transferred to the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council on 3 October 2018 in accordance with Part 3 of the Harbours Act 2015 that provides, inter alia, for the dissolution of the port company and the transfer of assets, liabilities and rights to the council.

  My Department has a prudential role in the financial integrity of all local authorities and seeks to ensure that local authorities' finances, as far as is practicable, are on a sustainable footing. In that regard, it is my Department's position that, in the case of all transfers of ports, the relevant local authority should not unduly be encumbered or exposed to financial risk by the effective transfer of a commercial body to their control.

  Dún Laoghaire harbour is a substantial strategic asset and amenity that, as the Senator has quite rightly pointed out, notwithstanding its ongoing expenditure requirements, also generates income from a number of sources that can be directed towards investment needs. The transfer of Dún Laoghaire harbour to the council provides a real opportunity for the harbour and town to become more integrated.

  The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is currently working on an economic plan for the harbour. The council has appointed Indecon and KPMG to prepare economic and spatial plans for the Dún Laoghaire harbour and town. The council has very recently undertaken a public consultation on a roadmap to assist and guide the ongoing optimal development and strategic planning of both Dún Laoghaire harbour and town given the synergies and interdependencies between both. The consultation, which closed last week on 28 February, has sought the public's views on the future uses and development of the harbour, and how the town might be more connected and integrated with the harbour.

  To be clear, while central government responsibility for ports policy and associated issues remains a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Transport, as the Senator quite rightly articulated in terms of the past Minister, I am focused on promoting the sustainable development of our local authorities in the context of Project Ireland 2040. I, therefore, look forward to seeing proposals from the council, which we expect, on the future development of this very strategic key asset.

Senator Barry Ward: Information on Barry Ward Zoom on Barry Ward Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht an ráitis shoiléir sin. I am not sure exactly what the Government means when it says that no local authority should be unduly burdened. The reality is that, for the first time since local property tax was introduced, although opposed by Fine Gael councillors, the local property tax was increased in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's last budget, notwithstanding that householders in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown pay the highest rates of this tax in the country. Part of the excuse for this increase was that money was needed to pay for elements of the harbour. To my mind, that is an undue burden on the citizens of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. I welcome the consultation the Minister of State has mentioned, which is a good step forward towards making progress, but we need to make it possible, and even easy, for the local authority to maintain this important historic asset and to ensure that no further damage is done to the piers as a result of not being properly maintained. Money is required not only from the Minister of State's Department, but from a range of Departments, to ensure the council has those resources.

Deputy Peter Burke: Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke Again, I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this very important matter. As I articulated, a report is being carried out by two independent agencies at the request of the council. We will have to wait and see what comes back. This is a strategic asset and we want to see what its future direction of travel will be. I do not want to predetermine that. We need to discuss the matter with the council. I will, however, be very clear that no one, including my Department, wants to see any council being encumbered with a great financial risk on its balance sheet from which it cannot derive significant income. As a Department, we are very aware of that. As I have said, the Minister for Transport has the key role in funding ports but we will engage with the local authority. I look forward to seeing the result of both of these reports which will, I hope, give us clear direction.

Passport Services

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, Teachta Brophy. As he will be aware, we are under strict limitations at present as a result of Covid. All of us who are present in the House are extremely aware of that and of all that has been done in that regard. This is, however, an important issue. As we are an island nation, passports are unfortunately required for people to leave this island to travel to college, to work or for medical or emergency reasons. Many people need passports to open bank accounts, to apply for driving licences, to rent houses and even for matters as simple as getting a television or phone supplier. The passport offices of most of our counterparts are still open and are providing a reasonable level of service. One only has to look across the water to Britain, which is also at the highest level of lockdown, to see quite a decent level of service being provided with regard to passports.

  The number of staff involved in this particular service is quite small. I know the restrictions we are under and the challenges we face but it is not good enough that there is no one available to answer the phone or to do anything online. The number of people involved is very small. We are not talking about something like the construction industry going back to work or the large-scale movements involved in opening schools in full; we are looking at a small number of people who provide an important service. The excuse or reason that has been given before is that these employees have to be in the office and that their work is very concentrated. Security reasons have been cited as a reason that much of the work cannot be carried out from home. I understand that but it is not acceptable that there is no one to answer the phone and that passports cannot be renewed online after all the hard work has already been done in that regard. The buck stops with the Minister of State's Department.  I urge him to, at least, consider a more conjoined way of thinking regarding the passport service. We have had more than a year to get some sort of a mechanism in place. It has not happened. We need to look to upgrade this.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Colm Brophy): Information on Colm Brophy Zoom on Colm Brophy I thank the Senator for the opportunity to address the essential work of the passport service, which has continued to deliver throughout the global pandemic.

  At level 5, employers are asked to only undertake essential tasks to help stop the spread of Covid-19 in our community. I am satisfied that the passport service is continuing to provide an essential service while respecting the level 5 restrictions announced on 23 December. The passport service provides a same-day service for citizens who need to travel for urgent medical treatment abroad and for citizens who require lifesaving treatment. Travel in these circumstances is unforeseen and the passport service has gone above and beyond to assist families in very stressful and emotive situations.

  Our travel emergency team continues to assess every request from citizens under these criteria. I ask that citizens bear in mind that the same-day service is only for those in the most urgent and unanticipated cases, typically when an applicant is in hospital and requires medical transfer. The passport service also offers an urgent service on a weekly basis for those who need to travel overseas for less urgent but essential medical treatment. Adult renewals are processed when a citizen needs to travel for work, study or other essential reasons. We also offer assistance when a passport is needed urgently as proof of identity, for example, to meet a legal obligation. All of these service are provided through the online channel and applicants are requested to provide documentation to support their application and validate their essential need for a passport. These documents will be verified before a passport is issued. Applicants should, in the first instance, contact the passport service through the web chat facility.

  Citizens who live overseas are assisted through our network of Irish embassies and consulates. We continue to process renewals and first-time applications where a citizen is only entitled to Irish citizenship and when they are legally required to hold a passport for residency purposes. The applications that have been paused are adult renewals that are not required for essential purposes, applications which are complex or require supporting documentation, such as child renewals where the consent of all guardians must be obtained and verified, and first-time applications. When there is an essential reason to travel each case will be considered.

  The processing of all online applications will resume at level 4. I will outline how the passport service will resume operations. Significant work has been done in recent years through the passport reform programme to deliver a more efficient and effective service. The passport service online application channel, which was introduced in 2017, has been key to the delivery of services during this time and will be key to their resumption. It allows adults renewing their passports to apply from the safety of their home. It allows us to keep applicants informed as to when operations are paused and again when service resumes. My staff have examined the current application patterns and the forecasted number of applications estimated to be received up to May 2021 and they are confident that any backlog will be cleared in approximately six to eight weeks.

  The first applications to be approved will be the online applications for adult renewals, then child renewals and then first-time applications. Every effort will be made to return to reliable turnaround times as quickly as possible. I assure the Senator of our continued attention regarding this issue in the months ahead. I reassure everyone that every effort is made to facilitate anyone who requires a passport in an emergency situation or for essential services or travel. There is a commitment in place to do that.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt I do not mean to contradict the Minister of State, and I appreciate him coming to the House today, but I have had experience dealing with people who feel this service is being provided on a piecemeal basis. The Minister of State mentioned towards the end of his contribution that information is taken into consideration. Parents who want to get their child a passport must send in their own passports and this is caught up in the system. All their certificates and everything that they supply is caught up in the system. There is no guarantee of return when they look for documentation back because, for example, they need their own passport returned. If I look for a passport for my child because he has something going on at the end of the year and I send in my passport but it gets tied up in the system, I would not be able to get my passport back, unfortunately.  If one had to get one's passport in an emergency, one would be told that within 30 days of reopening, it would be fished out. That is not good enough. We are talking about a small number of staff. Level 5 will continue possibly until early April. As has been indicated, there will be some exceptions for some building projects and I would seek to have the Passport Office included at that point, if not before. I hope the Minister of State will push that strongly.

Deputy Colm Brophy: Information on Colm Brophy Zoom on Colm Brophy I will make some concluding remarks. When the service is paused, people are requested not to submit supporting documentation or documentation they may need because once it goes into the system, there is a problem returning it as staff are working remotely. Again, I thank Senator Davitt for raising the issue again today. The Department is willing to engage in a reform programme as it has been doing for delivery. We have undertaken substantial reform and expansion of the service. The online service will be expanded to various other countries once we resume, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States from April this year. It is important to note the work the staff in the Passport Office and everybody in the public sector has done and to acknowledge that some have worked in other departmental areas in helping to tackle Covid-19.

  I appreciate Senator Davitt raising the point. I assure him the service is there in emergency situations. We will continue to improve and innovate the service as we can when we return to normal service.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt Some people's paperwork is in the system since October.

Deputy Colm Brophy: Information on Colm Brophy Zoom on Colm Brophy I cannot comment on an individual case-----

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt Unfortunately, it has. It has been tied up. That is the problem.

Eating Disorders

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I appreciate the opportunity to speak about the important issue of eating disorders. I mention that this is international eating disorders awareness week, a week providing information around eating disorders. I refer to the correlation with Covid-19 over the past 12 months. We are aware from a recently published article that sadly there has been a sharp increase in admissions for eating disorders during the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland. Bodywhys has provided good information over the week and I recommend that anybody impacted by eating disorders, whether it is oneself, a family member or a friend, look at the website and webinars. The telephone number is 01 2107906.

  We are talking about eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia and binge eating. They affect up to 5% of the population at some point in their lives and are not primarily about food but about body image. They are linked with a feeling of loss of control over other aspects of one’s life. They can be seen as a way of coping with a type of emotional stress which is characterised by self-starvation, purging and bingeing. It can be both physically and emotionally destructive and causes huge stress, not just for the individual but for family members and friends. Sometimes it is acknowledged and sometimes it is not.

  An article published in January’s edition of the Irish Medical Journal  noted a 66% increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders in 2020 compared to 2019, which is a huge jump. Almost half of the eating disorder referrals seen during the pandemic came in the last three months of 2020 to just one adolescent service.  Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric issue. Therefore, these statistics are very concerning. The authors of this report noted factors such as distress and anxiety related to the pandemic. The interplay of social and economic factors and the impact of restrictions can account for this huge rise.

  Since eating disorders span the mental and physical health services, a specialised, integrated approach is vital. There are no emergency services in paediatric psychiatry in Ireland, which needs to change. The HSE has recommended creating 16 specialist hubs around the country as the ideal model of care. We need to see this rolled out in all our hospitals to provide more beds for sufferers of this disease. According to recent media reports, the national eating disorder plan looks set to be delayed by almost four years. That is just not acceptable.

  We know and appreciate that resources are stretched to the limit in the health service but eating disorders have the highest morbidity rate of any of the mental health disorders. Reports from professionals working in the area indicate they do not feel well supported in terms of training, resources and supervision. It is also of note that only about 5% to 15% of people with eating disorders seek help. Early intervention and treatment are vital for their recovery.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Ossian Smyth): Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth I am here this morning on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, to answer Senator O'Loughlin's questions.

  I welcome the opportunity to speak about Ireland's model of care for eating disorders, particularly during eating disorders awareness week. Eating disorders have the highest mortality and morbidity, as the Senator said, of all mental health conditions. An estimated 190,000 Irish people will experience an eating disorder at some point. Sadly, eating disorders often have a very high cost for individuals and their families, as well as for health services and broader society when they are not treated or if they are not treated effectively. Enhancement of specialist services for eating disorders, including improved access and shorter waiting lists, remains a key priority for the Minister of State. She has special responsibility for mental health in government as a whole and in the HSE.

  In response to the growth in cases presented to mental health services, €5.7 million has been allocated to the eating disorders national clinical programmes since 2016. The eating disorders programme, launched in 2018, was developed in partnership with the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland and BodyWhys, the national support group for people affected by eating disorders. I commend the work of these organisations in supporting people and families affected by eating disorders. It is imperative that these valuable services, provided through the HSE and our partners, continue to be supported to meet current and growing demand.

  Some €1.77 million has been invested to date in eating disorder specialist posts with 21.8 full-time equivalents now in place. In addition, the balance of €3.94 million is fully available to the programme and will enable further investment in specialist posts throughout this year. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is keenly aware of previous delays in implementing the programme and she has made it a priority to ensure there are no further delays. She met the programme's clinical lead, along with BodyWhys, this week. They will report to her on a quarterly basis to ensure that real progress is made on the development of eating disorder services this year.

  As the Senator is aware, Covid-19 has challenged us all with increased stress, anxiety and fear, not least for those affected by eating disorders and their families. While we do not yet fully understand Covid's impact on mental health, we know that presentations of eating disorders, particularly in young girls and young women, have increased during this time. Funding available to mental health in 2021 will help to tackle increased demand for mental health services due to Covid-19, including the continued development of the eating disorder programme through the establishment of three more specialist eating disorder teams this year.

  I understand the Minister of State is fully committed to ensuring that the €3.94 million allocated to the programme is invested this year, in line with clear commitments to improve eating disorder services under Sharing the Vision, our national mental health policy. The funding allocated to date has seen significant growth and improvement in our services.  As of last year, there are three specialist eating disorder teams in place. This means that we can treat more 90% of people with eating disorders in the community, avoiding more serious inpatient treatment. Despite the significant increase in referrals in 2020, there was a 43% increase in the number of eating disorder assessments completed compared with 2019, with twice as many people starting treatment. In addition to the three new teams, completion of the three existing specialist eating disorder teams will occur this year.

  I commend the work of the programme and the progress made in the past year and I look forward to the full utilisation of the State's investment in this vital service.

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, contacted me to apologise for not attending and to assure me of her commitment to this issue.

  I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, for his response. It is good to hear that three more teams will be established this year. That is important because the longer a habit is established, the more it takes on a life of its own. Young people are finding their lives being taken over by this difficult disease. As such, early intervention is very important.

  I agree with a model that provides care in the community. If we can deal with eating disorders in the community prior to someone needing a hospital bed, it will be important. That there are no emergency services in paediatric psychiatry is wrong, though, and must change.

  This is an ongoing issue, but I appreciate the Minister of State's commitment and presence today.

Deputy Ossian Smyth: Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. Everyone wants the best outcomes for people who are affected by eating disorders. It is clear that progress in establishing the clinical programme has not been as rapid as we wished, but this does not mean that nothing has happened or that there is no work in progress. Considerable work has been undertaken and the programme continues to be developed in line with clinical evidence and international best practice. The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is committed to ensuring, in collaboration with relevant partners, that significant progress will be made this year and that access to appropriate treatment will continue to increase.

  With the right support and interventions, people can and do recover from eating disorders. With the HSE and its partners, the Government is committed to providing and expanding the high-quality treatment and support for all of those affected by eating disorders.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Senator Marie Sherlock: Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock I welcome the Minister of State. While we would have loved to have the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, with us, he will convey our message to his Green Party ministerial colleague.

  As the Minister of State knows, it is almost a year since the arts, culture and live entertainment sectors had to shut down operations. A series of good and positive initiatives have been designed by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to assist them, but this matter relates to the €50 million live entertainment fund announced in budget 2021. We are nearly five months on since that announcement, but I am unclear as to whether we have any additional detail on how the fund will be rolled out and to whom it will apply. While we agree with the Government taking a cautious approach under Covid-19 Resilience & Recovery 2021: The Path Ahead, there should be no excuse for a lack of clarity or full information on this support fund. The essence of a sector such as the live entertainment industry means that it needs time to plan. It also needs confidence in the transparency around how the funding will be allocated. With a degree of horror, we watched the criticisms levelled at the Department last year regarding how the music industry stimulus package was allocated.

  I am raising this matter in the context of broader concerns for the sector, in particular the stories we are being told time after time by workers and people with small businesses in the live entertainment sector who say they are hanging on by their bare fingertips. Indeed, some people have already exited the sector. Those in the sector still have costs even though they are not operating. They must maintain their insurance because they do not want a break in cover and there are other overheads. Time and again, the response from the Government is to point to the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and the Covid business aid scheme, CBAS, but many businesses are excluded because those only apply to rateable businesses.  I cannot for the life of me fathom why the Government continues with its fixation on rateable businesses. I understand there have to be criteria and that the public finances need to be protected, but I do not understand why the Government, having listened to months of criticism from all of us in the Opposition and within the Government, remains fixated on rateable businesses. There are alternatives. There were 212,007 active VAT traders in the country in 2019. Surely VAT could be the metric, the anchor on which businesses could be targeted for support. In 21st century Ireland, it is not acceptable to suggest that a business has to operate from a premises with a shopfront. Thousands of businesses operate from a back room, which goes back to the issue of rateable businesses.

  My initial question was regarding the €50 million fund. It is very welcome but we need to see detail of how and when it will be rolled out and to whom it will apply.

Deputy Ossian Smyth: Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth I take the Senator's points about rateable businesses. I will describe the supports targeted specifically at the live entertainment sector and the arts. It is true that not every business will have a premises these days.

  Covid-19 restrictions continue to have a devastating effect on the live entertainment sector. Restrictions on mass gatherings are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus but have meant that opportunities for live performances in front of an audience have been almost completely restricted over the past year, which has had grave consequences for these sectors. In 2020, the Department provided grant aid to a range of programmes and initiatives to produce much-needed cultural and live entertainment content for audiences throughout the State and abroad. These schemes included the pilot live performance support scheme, LPSS, the music industry support package, MISP, Tradfest, Ireland Performs, Hot Press gigs and Other Voices Courage.

  These initiatives sought to assist individual musicians, commercial venues, producers and promoters to provide income and employment opportunities for workers in the creative sector. The pilot LPSS awarded €5 million to 59 projects, providing thousands of days of employment to hundreds of musicians, actors, crews and technicians at a time when no other opportunities were available. Artists and supporting roles were employed to do what they do best and provide the general public with much-needed entertainment. Our initiatives have provided a pipeline of exceptionally high-quality livestreamed concerts, as well as pantomimes and theatre productions, which were very well received. They were watched both in Ireland and throughout the world. Irish audiences need to see and experience Irish art.

  The House may be interested to learn that over the past three months, virtually all new artistic output in Ireland has been generated through public funding, mainly through the Department. In particular, the pilot LPSS provided a much-needed varied and timely benefit to Irish people everywhere. There is strong support for a new LPSS arising from the experience of the pilot and this demand comes from throughout the live entertainment sector. The pilot allowed promoters, venues and producers to innovate and try out new ways of reaching audiences. The new approach has resulted in significant learnings on new successful models, including paid platforms, and this strengthens the live entertainment and performance sector. Other feedback from musicians, artists and producers revealed a powerful well-being benefit to artists and musicians from being given the opportunity to perform live, especially after such a long time, even when the performance was to an empty room.

  In budget 2021, there is a higher order of magnitude of support than that of last year. It is envisaged that a roll-out of €50 million in allocation will include a grant scheme similar to the live performance support scheme. Other measures are under consideration, including those that emerge from engagement with the sector, stakeholders and the local authorities. The Department has gained valuable insights into the pilot and will apply these learnings as soon as possible when allocating the funding this year.

Senator Marie Sherlock: Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock As I said earlier, I appreciate that much good work has been done in the Department, but I came to the debate to learn something new. Many others have asked about the €50 million fund and, unfortunately, we have not heard any new information.  With the greatest respect, I have heard the Minister, Deputy Martin, speak about the lessons that have been learned. The Minister of State mentioned the pay platforms. However, we do not have any additional certainty or clarity for those who are hoping to apply. It is a very simple question and I think those in the sector deserve simple answers. I appreciate that the Minister of State is here to deliver a message, but I ask him to tell the Department that it is not good enough to send that message into this Chamber and reiterate all the good things that were done last year. We are now in 2021 and we want to hear about progress. It is about looking ahead, not looking back.

Deputy Ossian Smyth: Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth I thank the Senator. I take her points on board and will convey them to the Minister, Deputy Martin, whom I meet regularly. This year, we are doing something which is ten times larger than what we did last year. I cannot pre-announce what the Minister will announce but I know this issue is very dear to her heart and she is very keen to deliver on her commitments.

  I draw the attention of the Senator to the Minding Creative Minds well-being and support services. Although the restrictions affect everyone, there is an added source of stress and tension for artists and creatives who are prevented from expressing through their art. In December, the Minister was pleased to announce funding of €230,000 for the expansion of the Minding Creative Minds service to the entire creative sector, both at home and abroad. This innovative 24-7 well-being support programme provides the Irish creative community with access to experienced counsellors and psychotherapists who can offer short-term intervention and advice covering practical day-to-day issues that cause anxiety and stress. This funding comes with the recent recommendation from the arts and culture recovery task force which specifically highlights the need for well-being supports for the sector. I would be grateful if Senators were to highlight this important service in their respective areas.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fintan Warfield): Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield The next Commencement matter will be taken by the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien. I call Senator Gavan.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I thank the Acting Chairperson. It is nice to see him in the Chair. The Minister of State is very welcome. It is nice to see him. I thank him for coming to the House. I wish to raise an issue relating to a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. As the Minister of State will be aware, his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, announced that such a scheme will be introduced. It is hoped that it will be introduced in the near future. I believe the introduction of a deposit return scheme represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape our relationship with the environment.

  Last year, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, unveiled his vision for the design of the scheme. He announced that the scheme would only include polyethylene terephthalate, PET, plastic bottles and aluminium cans. I ask the Government to urgently reconsider that decision. To exclude materials such as glass bottles from the scheme is short-sighted in the extreme. It goes against a wealth of statistical evidence and totally ignores public opinion on this issue.

  Recycling rates for glass in Ireland reduced from 86% to 78% between 2018 and 2019, meaning that close to 30 million glass bottles were not recycled. Glass is one of the most common items to pollute our beaches. It is also one of the litter items that causes most concern, particularly among parents and pet owners, because of its potential to cause injury. Broken glass causes a real hazard for local authority, private sector and voluntary clean-up crews and can contribute disproportionately to other litter-related damage such as punctures.

  The current exclusion of glass from the scheme flies in the face of internationally recognised best practice on deposit return schemes, such as that in Denmark. Its deposit return scheme, which has levied a deposit on glass bottles since 1922, is the envy of the world. Since introducing its scheme, the recycling rate for empty glass in Denmark has risen to 90%, one of the highest in the world.

  To exclude glass would be to ignore the opinion of the public and leading Irish environmental charities on this issue. A poll published last year by VOICE Ireland revealed that almost nine in ten people believe all drinks containers should be included in a deposit return scheme. It highlighted that a majority of Irish people support the inclusion of glass bottles in the scope of the scheme. In late 2020, some 20 leading Irish voices, including the CEOs of Friends of the Earth, An Taisce and VOICE Ireland, signed a letter calling for the inclusion of glass. Now more than ever before, the Government must listen to the people on this issue.

  I wish to take this opportunity to highlight to Seanad Éireann and the Minister of State the need for a deposit fee that varies according to the size and material of the container. This really is a common-sense proposal. A flat rate 20 cent deposit has been proposed for the vast majority of containers, regardless of size, from 330 ml servings of lemonade to 3 l containers of cola.  For smaller servings of less than 0.5 l, a 20 cent deposit represents a huge percentage increase on the price charged to the consumer and for larger containers the increase is less significant. One can see the problem, as this will encourage a shift in consumer behaviour towards larger containers, which is not good when we think about overall health policy. We do not want people buying larger containers of sugary drinks, for example. A variable deposit scheme is far better and I can cite a number of examples, including Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. We know best practice is to move to a variable deposit scheme.

  I urgently call on the Minister of State to ensure Ireland's deposit return scheme is fit for purpose. We must make it one of the leading schemes in the world and we must be ambitious. It should be a scheme that countries across the EU can admire and replicate. Failure is not an option and glass must be included, with the deposit varying according to size and material of the container. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development (Deputy Joe O'Brien): Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien I welcome the Senator's call for ambition on this subject. While I will touch on the glass issue in a moment, in an initial statement I am happy to update Members on progress on this matter this morning. Members will be aware that plans for the introduction of a deposit return scheme, DRS, for plastic bottles and aluminium cans were announced in last year’s programme for Government.

A deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and cans involves the application of a refundable deposit to incentivise consumers to return the drinks containers for recycling or reuse. There are a number of reasons we need such a scheme in Ireland but, put simply, too few plastic bottles and cans are currently being captured for recycling and too many are being discarded as litter and this needs to be addressed if we are to meet our existing obligations and achieve our ambition set out in the waste action plan to put Ireland among the top EU waste and circular economy performers.

  The single use plastics directive, which will be transposed by July this year, sets a collection target of 90% for plastic bottles by 2029 with an interim target of 77% by 2025. A report prepared by the Eunomia consultancy concluded that a deposit return scheme is considered to be the only feasible way to achieve the required levels of performance under the single use plastics directive. In reaching this conclusion, the study shows that we are currently achieving an estimated 55% separate collection rate for plastic bottles and aluminium beverage cans, leaving us behind the 2025 target and well short of our 2029 target. The directive also requires that plastic beverage bottles contain at least 25% recycled plastic by 2025 and that all plastic beverage bottles contain 30% by 2030. A well-operated and managed deposit return scheme is capable of producing high-quality food grade recyclable material, which can be used by beverage manufacturers to meet these recycling content targets.

  The Eunomia report outlines other reasons why we should introduce a deposit return scheme in Ireland, even if we were not facing these EU targets. It estimates that a deposit return scheme could reduce the cost of litter to communities by €95 million. It could also reduce littering of drinks containers by 85% and reduce the tonnage of these containers that are landfilled or incinerated by 88%. The consequent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in a year is valued at €1.83 million, with the annual reduction in other air pollutants valued at €550,000.

  Following the commitment in the programme for Government, the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, launched last September, sets out a clear roadmap for the introduction of the deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans in the third quarter of 2022. This process began with the launch of a public consultation on the design of a deposit return scheme for Ireland last October. I was heartened by the level of public engagement in this first part of the process, with the vast majority of the 364 submissions received in favour of the introduction of the scheme. It is clear that the public is very much behind the introduction of this scheme.

  Officials are currently engaged in the next steps of the process. Bilateral discussions with a range of stakeholders have taken place and a stakeholder working group, consisting of beverage producers, retailers, environmental non-governmental organisations and waste collectors has been established to progress the design of the system. Colleagues from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland have sat in on the working group discussions as observers.

  Based on the work being carried out by this group, a second public consultation will be launched later this month. This will seek views on the preferred model of a scheme and invite submissions on the legislative parameters required for its introduction. Ireland has a well-established track record in using the extended producer responsibility model for dealing with various waste streams, including plastics and packaging, electrical appliances and batteries. This model is based on the polluter pays principle and I have stipulated that the deposit return scheme must similarly be producer-led and operated on a not-for-profit basis.  The legislative basis for the delivery of a DRS will be provided through the transposition of the single use plastics directive. This will be done by the deadline of 3 July this year.

  The DRS will complement other measures that we will be introducing under this directive in order to deal with a wide range of single use plastic, SUP, items, including the banning of SUP items such as straws, cutlery, plates, cotton bud sticks and balloon sticks. The Minister will also be introducing measures to significantly cut down on the number of SUP cups and food containers we use. These measures will include the introduction of levies, legislating to prohibit their unnecessary use and trialling the elimination of coffee cups entirely in selected towns with a view to eventually banning them at a national level. I will pick up the glass issue in my next contribution.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I thank the Minister of State for that lengthy response. I understand he will come back to me because he has not really answered the key questions. We know the Department was resistant to introducing the deposit return scheme. We know from freedom of information requests that were released to my colleague, Senator Boylan, that the Irish Government was instrumental in delaying this EU directive until 2029. This is where the Minister of State and the Green Party have to make a difference.

  We spoke about ambition and it is crucial that glass is included in this deposit return scheme. I have cited best practice in the world and I could also cite what is happening in Lithuania, where they have reverse vending machines as a requirement for all rural shops to make sure there is no rural-urban divide. What has happened there is that the shops are now asking for those machines because they can see a commercial benefit to them. There is a host of best practice opportunities and my fear is that we will miss out on them. I am hoping the Minister of State will give us a clear and positive response that glass and the variable deposit scheme will be included. We will not get the opportunity to get this right again. It needs to happen now.

Deputy Joe O'Brien: Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien On the variable charge, I would suggest that there will be an opening for that point to be made in the consultation process that will be coming up.

  On glass, many of the submissions received in the first round of public consultation on the introduction of the DRS called for glass to be included. The DRS facilitates a high rate of recyclability because the material collected in it is generally not contaminated. Ireland, through its bring bank collection system, already achieves a high rate of glass recycling. The most recent statistics show that we are achieving a rate of 82%. This well exceeds the EU target for 2030 of 75%. Our focus for glass should turn to reuse as this is further up the waste hierarchy, rather than recycling. Therefore, some form of DRS for glass which facilitates reuse rather than recycling may be looked at in the future. It is a question of the best approach to take and reuse is always better than recycling. We are doing so well on glass in Ireland that this is the area we want to look at for now in terms of glass. However, there are opportunities for other avenues to carry out recycling in the future as well.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fintan Warfield): Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield There are not enough glass recycling centres in Dublin. In many cases, residential glass ends up in public bins on streets.

  Sitting suspended at 11.40 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Mar is eol do na Seanadóirí go léir, seo Seachtain na Gaeilge. Like many people, níl mórán Gaeilge agam. However, táim ag freastal ar ranganna Gaeilge faoi láthair to improve mo chuid Gaeilge. I encourage Senators who are not confident in their standard of Irish, like me, to use Seachtain na Gaeilge as an opportunity and a first step or chéad chéim back to the language. Mar a dúirt an tUachtarán Micheál D. Ó hUigínn when he launched Seachtain na Gaeilge, bain triail as agus bain sult as - try it and enjoy it. Of course, it was Micheál D. Ó hUigínn, an tUachtarán, who started TG4. Tá TG4 go hiontach and anyone who has not followed its Twitter account should do so because tá sé go hiontach freisin. It is very entertaining and tá ceist agam agus ag gach duine who follows that Twitter account, "cad é ainm intern TG4?". That person certainly brings a smile to people's faces. Ainm an intern í an cheist atá ag gach duine. I have circulated liosta beag of words and phrases go dtí na Seanadóirí that they could use i rith na díospóireachta sa Seanad. I hope they find them useful as a way of reconnecting with an teanga náisiúnta. Anois glaoim ar Threoraí an Tí, an Seanadóir Regina Doherty.

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. The Order of Business is No.1, motion regarding arrangements for the sitting of the House on Monday, 8 March 2021, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the restoration of the Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017 to the Order Paper, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion regarding the restoration of the Seanad Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015 to the Order Paper, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, motion regarding the restoration of the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017 to the Order Paper, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate; No. 5, Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021 – Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 6, Children (Amendment) Bill 2020 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3.45 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Glaoim ar an Seanadóir Mary Fitzpatrick. Tá trí nóiméad aici.

Senator Mary Fitzpatrick: Information on Mary Fitzpatrick Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick For more than 15 years, I have worked with the people in the north inner city and Dublin City Council to try to address dereliction in the core of our capital city. I would like to share some fantastic news with the House today. After years of all our efforts and struggle, this Government has recognised the enormous potential for the regeneration of the north inner city. This morning, it announced an historic commitment and investment of €120 million in the regeneration of our capital's north inner city. These funds will be used to regenerate the birthplace of our Republic, the national monument site on Moore Street, and create a national museum there. Not only that, it will also regenerate the street market, invest in it and bring life back onto the street. It will also invest in the creation of a city library on Parnell Square and create a real cultural quarter there. It will restore Mountjoy Square, which is one of the first intact Georgian squares in the city. It will also invest in the public realm around the Five Lamps, which is the gateway to the city for so many people coming in by Amiens Street. It will reopen and re-energise our fruit and vegetable market, which is a beautiful structure down in the oldest part of our city. I wanted to share that good news with the House. I thank Dublin City Council and all the officials who put the application together and who will work on delivering this for our capital city. I congratulate all the local people and communities in the north inner city, who have remained loyal to the area and kept it alive. They will now be rewarded with State investment in sustainable regeneration, which will add not just to our local area but to our entire country because this is at the heart of our capital city.  This tarnished gem will be repolished and will shine bright and welcome visitors from throughout the country and throughout the world. I would like the House to acknowledge the success of the application and wish everybody well with undertaking the works.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh, agus ba mhaith liom freisin a bheith in ann níos mó Gaeilge a labhairt sa díospóireacht le linn na seachtaine atá ann, Seachtain na Gaeilge, ach I will try to improve, which is the mantra for today. Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh, for reminding us that it is Seachtain na Gaeilge.

  I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 13, which is Labour's Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2021, before No. 1. We published this Bill in January in light of the report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation and to put into effect the expressed wishes of survivors and of adoptive persons more generally to have access to their original birth certificates.

  The introduction of the Bill on today's Order Paper is particularly timely as it comes in the wake of the compelling and extraordinary programme broadcast on Wednesday night which I know many colleagues will have seen, which was the RTÉ Investigates programme "Who Am I?" into the practice of illegal adoptions. I commend Aoife Hegarty and the RTÉ Investigates team, and particularly those brave individuals who came forward and told their own stories of their discovery often quite late in their lives that they had in fact been adopted, and that their birth certificates or other documents had been falsified. They expressed their horror and distress at these revelations and that they are still not enabled to have access to original documents.

  I also commend my colleague, Joan Burton, who as many will know, has been very vocal on the issue of the rights of adoptive persons to access information. In 2019, she published a Bill to address precisely this problem of falsified birth and adoption certificates. I supported her with that at the time. That was in the wake of the initial revelations from Tusla that it had received files from St Patrick's Guild which had revealed that 126 cases of illegal registrations of birth or adoption had been exposed to it. This week's RTÉ programme has revealed that there may be many more than 126 cases where adoption records are birth records were falsified.

  We need urgent legislation to address this. I ask the Leader not only to join us in supporting our Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill today but also to join in supporting the need for legislation to address the specific practice of illegal adoption and falsified records. The Bill we are introducing is simple and straightforward. It will simply provide adoptive persons with information from the index already in place, which maintains connections between entries in the adoptive children's register and the register of births. Our Bill would enable an adoptive person to request that information from the index so that they can access their original birth certificate. Since 1987, anyone north of the Border has been able to get their original birth certificate at the age of 18 if they were adopted at any time. In this jurisdiction for far too long we have had a far too restrictive view of the GDPR and of the Constitution, and it is time to legislate on this. I ask colleagues to support this.

  I wish colleagues a happy International Women's Day in advance of Monday. I know we will have a debate then on that.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan Some time ago I asked myself why the Government coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party was subjecting the construction industry to lockdown when the UK and every other country in Europe was not. What was the scientific or medical reasoning behind this? What was the empirical evidence to support this construction lockdown? Was it clear that building sites were significant sources of transmission of Covid-19? Were a large number builders and tradespeople flooding our hospitals and intensive care units on foot of workplace-acquired infections? Given how vital construction is to every section of the economy, what a major source of employment it is, and the dire need to provide housing and infrastructure to people, I thought there must surely be cogent empirical and scientific data to support such measures.  I received answers to my questions. The comprehensive answers, backed up by the HSE data, are in correspondence from the Construction Industry Federation dated 25 February, which I am sure every Senator received. It stated:

HSE evidence shows that our safety protocols effectively prevent Covid-19 from spreading on construction sites. The HSE's evidence and our track record demonstrates that industry can operate safely at full capacity ... there has only been 8 admissions to hospital of which 5 went to ICU related to construction since Sept 1, 2020.

We have a certain Fianna Fáil Senator making frivolous speeches in this House lamenting lost opportunities to "get the shift". The only lost shift I am concerned about are the ones that provide houses for people in need, shifts that build hospitals and roads, and the shifts that put bread on the table of workers and their families. I call on the Government to expedite the opening and reopening of the construction industry in this country.

Senator Vincent P. Martin: Information on Vincent P. Martin Zoom on Vincent P. Martin This month marks the tenth anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution, one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our time, and an horrific tragedy beyond comprehension. The Irish presence in Syria of Oxfam, World Vision, Concern, Trócaire and GOAL make us all incredibly proud.

  I commend Councillor Janet Horner of the Green Party and each and every member of Dublin City Council, which recently agreed a statement and read it into the record of a council meeting. Moves are already under way to read a similar type of statement into the record of my home county council in Kildare. It is a powerful display and demonstration of solidarity and unity. I would like to read some of it into the record of this House:

[We express] ... our deep sorrow at reaching the milestone of a decade of devastating conflict in Syria which has displaced ... million[s] [of] people, and forced many to take perilous, often fatal journeys to seek refuge.

We regret that our collective response across Europe has been inadequate in the face of this humanitarian catastrophe. We extend our thanks to those who have provided life-saving humanitarian assistance in Syria, and in the region. We also thank those who have assisted Syrians fleeing conflict and persecution who have sought asylum here, in Europe and across the globe.

We commend and encourage Ireland's continued funding to support the humanitarian needs of all those still living in crisis and uncertainty, as well as Ireland's important voice in ensuring that the rights and dignity of those in need are not forgotten.

We welcome Ireland's willingness, in the UN Security Council, to co-facilitate international negotiations to maintain humanitarian access in northern Syria where 2.7 million people internally displaced by the conflict are in desperate need of such assistance.

And we welcome and thank those Syrians who have made a home in Dublin [and in Ireland] for their endurance, their contribution to this ... country, our communities and our shared culture. [That richness should be noted.]

And we, united ... across our political differences, pledge that [we] should always be a place of welcome and sanctuary to those fleeing violence and conflict.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Seanadóir. Tá trí nóiméad ag an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile.

Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile: Information on Niall Ó Donnghaile Zoom on Niall Ó Donnghaile Maith thú, a Chathaoirligh, as úsáid a bhaint as do chúpla focal. Tá ardmholadh tuillte agat. Go raibh maith agat as sin. I wish to raise yesterday's unilateral decision by the British Government to extend aspects of the grace period of the protocol.  I think the Leader and colleagues would agree that things are heading in a very negative direction and it is completely unnecessary.

More than a week ago, the joint committee met and understood the issues to be addressed at the next meeting in a couple of weeks. The meeting was supposed to be about jointly agreeing solutions to these very issues but here we are faced again with a solo run by the British Government, which is nonsensical, provocative and puts it on a collision course with the EU. The messing needs to stop. The British Government needs to get back to the serious work of managing these issues at the joint committee.

Sinn Féin shares the concerns of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, that the EU is negotiating with a partner that it simply cannot trust, which has been our experience of the British Government over many years. Just a few weeks ago in this very Chamber the Seanad unanimously agreed a motion calling on the British Government to fulfil its legal obligations to hold a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucance, which is a commitment that was made and agreed at Westin Park in 2001. Just this week, again in this very Chamber, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement heard from Irish language groups that called for urgency in the implementation of Irish language legislation. An Acht na Gaeilge was committed to and agreed by the British Government at St. Andrews in 2006. The British Government continues to renege on the legacy mechanisms it agreed with the Irish Government and all of the parties in the North at Stormont House in 2014.

The DUP, the Tories and loyalist crime gangs are engaged in an anti-democratic campaign against popular opinion, international law and the Good Friday. As Susan McKay said in her article in today's edition of The Irish Times, the DUP has decided that chaos is the best plan. The Good Friday Agreement has been transformational for Ireland and our peace process so it must always be protected. We must now ensure that these issues are resolved within the parameters of the legal agreement between the EU and the British Government. I would once again, as I have done consistently in recent times, call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs to update the House on the latest situation regarding the implementation of the protocol and, crucially, our steadfast collective response to the unilateral action taken by Britain in regard to it.

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black This is not the first time that I have raised the following issue in the House, and I feel that I must do so again today. I refer to the struggle being experienced by musicians, artists and anyone who works in the entertainment industry during Covid, which seems to be getting worse. It is still a very pressing and important issue that needs to be discussed.

  In my ongoing communication and contacts with people in the industry, and it is a lot, I have grown increasingly concerned about the state of the entertainment sector in Ireland. In particular, I am concerned about the mental health and mental well-bring of musicians and artists because without the outlet and expression of live performances many of them are struggling emotionally and mentally.

  I want to take a moment to remember and pay tribute to the talented musician Gareth Kane, who took his own life a number of months ago. My heart breaks for his wife, Caroline, his family and his three young boys. Gareth was a very talented bassist who performed in David Keenan's band. He also played in a band called Harry Hoban and The Brothers Kane with his brother, Gerry, and Harry Hoban whom he met at Ballyfermot rock school in 2001, and my son was there as well. Since Gareth's tragic death his partner has spoken about the lockdown and how it devastated his mental health, his inability to gig and express himself during the pandemic lockdown. How musicians can express their emotions and feelings through music is really important. His wife, Caroline, said "Gar would be alive today if there wasn't a pandemic.”  Gar took his own life in October 2020 and a paramedic told his brother that it was the fourth suicide she had seen in three days, so it is just devastating. People have been deprived of their livelihoods and way of life. Musicians, artists and those who work behind the scenes have been through a really difficult time.

  We have to consider the greater picture and understand the threat that the current crisis poses to the music and arts industry in Ireland, which is one of the most cherished industries. Irish people are known across the globe for their creative talents as musicians, artists and storytellers alike but people's ability to work has been taken away either by guidelines or a lack of clarity over Government guidelines.  More supports are necessary to ensure that musicians, artists and all of those who work in the industry who are struggling with their mental health right now see that there is a commitment to reopening the arts industry. I call for a debate on the very important topic of the effects of Covid on musicians, artists and those who work in the industry. I ask that the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, be present to discuss how to improve supports for this sector.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Glaoim ar an Seanadóir ó Loch Garman, Seanadóir Byrne.

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne Aontaím leis an Seanadóir Black faoi thionchar Covid ar ealaíontóirí. Is rud an-tábhachtach an díospóireacht sin. Tá trí hábhar le hardú agam inniu ach, roimhe sin, I am glad to note the latest shift in Senator's Keogan's position. On Monday she wanted everything locked down but now wants the construction industry open.

  The first issue I will raise is the impact of Covid on young people and their return to school. The impact Covid has had on young people has not been trivial. While I welcome the return to school and the increased clarity with regard to the leaving certificate, there is also an obligation to look at the supports put in place for fifth year students, those going into transition year and those who were to do the junior certificate this year. We will have had two years without junior certificate examinations. That is two years without offering students an opportunity to experience State examinations. We need to look at what supports are to be provided for those other students and for fifth year students, who have missed out on a good part of the year. They will be facing into the leaving certificate next year.

  The Leader will be aware that Senator Ward and I raised the question of Hong Kong in a recent Commencement debate. Overnight, the Chinese Communist Party has declared that only those who show loyalty and fealty to Beijing and who are considered to be patriots will be allowed to contest elections to Hong Kong's legislative council. The continuing repression of human rights and democracy in Hong Kong has to be a cause for concern. I hope that we will have a full debate on China in this House.

  Finally, I will move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 12, the First Stage of the Health Insurance (International Students) (Amendment) Bill 2021, be taken before No. 1. This Bill sets out to provide reform in the area of health insurance and would be of particular benefit to international students.

Senator Barry Ward: Information on Barry Ward Zoom on Barry Ward Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht a chuid Gaeilge a úsáid inniu. Aontaím leis go hiomlán gur cheart dúinn cúpla focal a úsáid, más féidir, an t-am ar fad agus i rith na coicíse seo, Seachtain na Gaeilge, ach go háirithe.

  Tairgim leasú do Riar na hOibre, chun Uimh. 11, an Chéad Chéim den Bhille um Rialáil Tacsaithe (Leasú), 2021, a thógáil roimh Uimh. 1. Tairgim an leasú seo ar son an Seanadóir O'Reilly agus ar mo shon féin. I move an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 11, the First Stage of the Taxi Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2021, be taken before No. 1, on behalf of Senator O'Reilly and myself.

  Aontaím leis an Seanadóir Byrne on the subject of Hong Kong. I was dismayed to read the news today that the so-called democratic People's Republic of China - a descriptor which is very much in question now if it was not before - has decided that only people who agree with the Government will be allowed to run for election to the legislature in Hong Kong. This is a further step in what is a very worrying trend. I support the calls for a debate on this issue.

  I raise the issue of the provision of mobile telephony coverage. We talk a lot about broadband and the roll-out of the national broadband plan, which is very welcome. The licence for mobile phone companies requires them to cover a certain proportion of the land mass and phone users of the country. We often expect that those who do not have such coverage are those in remote rural areas. A number of people have brought to my attention that a small part of my own area, Dalkey, comprising Coliemore Road, Nerano Road, Vico Road and Sorrento Road, which is an area where one would expect a very high level of mobile coverage, has a very poor level. This represents a great inconvenience to the residents but, in addition, the lack of mobile phone coverage in the marine leisure area of Coliemore Harbour and Dalkey Sound would be an issue if one needed to call the emergency services.  I have raised this issue with the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. It is not ComReg's job apparently but I would like if we could bring in the Minister with responsibility for communications for a debate on this issue.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I rise this morning to ask whether industrial relations mean anything in this country. Have we any respect for the processes which have been put in place? The Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court provide resolutions to industrial disputes and yet State run organisations, in particular, decide to totally ignore them. When I was the leader of a trade union, I took cases which had favourable adjudication at the WRC and the Labour Court. However, I had to go to the courts to have it implemented. This is an outrageous waste of Government money.

  Right now, there are adjudications sitting on desks in the Department of the Public Expenditure and Reform in favour of the Garda superintendents and community employment scheme workers, going back two or three years, which have not been implemented. There was an announcement that pay negotiations had been finalised and that we are waiting on the Army and Garda members to vote on these pay negotiations. They were not included in the negotiations. Their pay was negotiated by a teacher, a nurse and two trade unionists. They had no place at the table. They were given a note at the end of negotiations and were told what the deal was and to ask their members to vote for it.

  Have we any respect for proper industrial relations in this country? If we have, then how are we going to implement recommendations? Recommendations from the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court should be implemented. We should not find that people have to beg for their implementation. Who are the gatekeepers in relation to this? Are they within the political system or are they in the permanent Government? Whoever the gatekeepers are, they need to stop what they are doing and start recognising the rights of workers in this country. We are quick enough to run them into the Labour Court or the WRC for a resolution. I ask that a discussion on this issue be allowed in the near future.

Senator Erin McGreehan: Information on Erin McGreehan Zoom on Erin McGreehan Today, I will discuss the "RTÉ Investigates" report televised on Wednesday night. It brought to light more atrocities and heartbreak. When one looks at the people affected, one can see the heartache and exhaustion on their faces. The story of our dark past is absolutely relentless. As a Christian and a Catholic, I always separate the institution from my faith. It was very hard to see that these people who espoused Christianity and decency, hounded women for money which they did not have to pay. It was a disgusting act.

  I welcome Senator Bacik's Bill. The Government will bring forward Fianna Fáil's Bill very soon. I hope we will have cross-party and Opposition support to bring that legislation through. The adoption Bill is very important. We need to get it through the Houses and get Members to work on it. I absolutely agree with Senator Bacik about working on the issue of illegal adoptions. I would appreciate it if we could get the Minister with responsibility for children to the House to discuss how we will rectify the issue of illegal adoptions. How will we investigate and fix this? How will we provide people with their truth and answers? Due to the fact that these adoptions were illegal, we do not know all the truths. Can we trust the records? This issue seems relentless but we do need a clear path and a clear focus in what we do next in order to be able to give answers to the people affected.

Senator Micheál Carrigy: Information on Micheál Carrigy Zoom on Micheál Carrigy I welcome the return of children to school, in particular, the 100% return of children with special needs. Parents of children with special needs require assurances. I do not think the union, Fórsa, acted fairly towards them given that children were off school for two months.  This is almost the only country in the western world where that happened. The unions need to give assurances to parents that this will not happen again no matter what happens in the country and that we will not have a situation in which children with special needs are not in school. I have been speaking to parents and parents' groups. Parents want those assurances from the unions.

  I would also like to speak on the issue of vaccination centres. A list was announced last week which included the Longford Slashers GAA complex in my county. I found out this week that the HSE said that complex is not suitable. County Longford is the only county without a vaccination centre in place or identified. The people of my county want assurances and want the issue dealt with immediately.

  Planning permission was recently announced for a major extension project at St. Joseph's care centre in County Longford. An investment of more than €5 million was announced by the then Minister, Deputy Harris, two years ago. We met with Longford Hospice Homecare at that time and we got a commitment from the then Minister that there would be facilities for Longford Hospice Homecare in the building but that has not happened. Planning permission has been announced but there are not sufficient services for a voluntary organisation that does huge work in my county and throughout the country.

  I ask the HSE meets with Longford Hospice Homecare and ensure it has the facilities it needs to look after the people and families in the county at a very tough time in their lives and that this is dealt with immediately.

Senator Rebecca Moynihan: Information on Rebecca Moynihan Zoom on Rebecca Moynihan I welcome the confirmation by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage of €53 million funding for the urban regeneration fund, particularly within the south inner city. A number of the projects being funded today are ones I was involved in initiating as a city council member, namely the Liberties greening project, which followed on from a campaign I lead for Weaver Park and the identification of a lack of green spaces in Dublin 8 in comparison to other areas of the city.

  The funding for the Dolphin's Barn community improvement scheme is also particularly welcome. My grandad moved to Dolphin's Barn in the 1950s and my family ran a shop there until the 2000s. I got the small amount of €10,000 through the discretionary fund in the city council to put together a plan to regenerate the village but there was no funding left to fund the plan we had put together. It has now almost four years since the consultation process involving residents and businesses in the area. I welcome that it is now being funded through the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF. I also welcome the developments in respect of Francis Street, Newmarket Street, Cork Street and Meath Street and the environmental improvement plans which we were involved in.

  In light of the funding going into the urban regeneration fund, I ask that we consider guaranteeing multi-annual funding for the trial project based in St. Teresa's Gardens. The funding for this will run out in June 2021 with no guarantee of additional funding beyond that. Some 39 participants are involved. It is about early and intensive intervention for young people in that area who are likely to get involved in the drugs industry.

  Last week a 17-year-old child was shot four times in an act of attempted murder. He was just a child. It shows the value of early intervention to try to stop young people in that area getting involved in drugs. I ask that the Minister for Health address the House and consider providing that project with multi-annual funding beyond 2021.

  I second Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business.

Senator Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells I second the amendment from Senator Byrne to the Order of Business. I welcome the announcement by Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, that we are participating in the feasibility study with the UK Government on the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2030 with the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As the Taoiseach rightly said, it is very exciting. It is also good we have Wales and Scotland on board, given what happened the last time we bid for a major tournament - the Rugby World Cup. Our Celtic neighbours threw their lot in with the French when the time came to vote.  Perhaps we might all vote for each other this time given that it is a joint bid. Although, as we have seen in this Chamber many times, being on the one team does not necessarily mean voting for one's man, but we live in hope.

  I will address the feasibility study which is part of this bid. The Government spent just over €1 million assisting the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, on its Rugby World Cup bid which cost more than €3.25 million in total. The contribution from our side is probably going to cost around €3 million this time around. There is provision under the major events division of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to assess the bid's viability.

  As we know, the feasibility of these bids comes down to infrastructure and the demands of the International Federation of Association Football, FIFA, which are very high when it comes to hosting one of the biggest global events. It is not just about the stadiums. It will be about the supporting infrastructure for the movement of hundreds of thousands of people. We anticipated half a million people for the Rugby World Cup. The FIFA World Cup will be many more depending on how many games we host. The basic infrastructure, such as the MetroLink from the major airport to the city centre, would be a prerequisite. The standard of our public infrastructure will also come under scrutiny. We have to be honest with ourselves. Our deficiencies will be highlighted by this feasibility study.

  Many countries in the past, when holding major events, have thrown a lot of money into them but the facilities afterwards have been white elephants. The most important thing regarding the money we invest in this feasibility study will be to give us a blueprint of the deficiencies. Regardless of whether our bid is successful or not, the investment that is called for as a result of this feasibility study, whether it is MetroLink, public services and so forth, should be made because our citizens deserve it, not just the visiting fans.

Senator Lynn Boylan: Information on Lynn Boylan Zoom on Lynn Boylan I raise the very concerning report in today's edition of The Irish Times that Forest Industries Ireland lobbied the Government to appoint the author of the Mackinnon report and offered to pay some of the costs. Regardless of differing opinions on the Mackinnon report, and putting aside the fact that we all accept there are deep systemic problems in the forestry sector in Ireland, this is about industry and the influence it has within Government Departments.

  This report was commissioned under the previous Government and it once again highlights the close connections between Fine Gael and industry. I would like an explanation from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as to what due process was carried out in the commissioning of this report. I do not intend to call into question the experience or capability of the author; I am calling the process into question. According to the The Irish Times report Forest Industries Ireland contacted Mr. Mackinnon in advance. Forest Industries Ireland then informed the Department that Mr. Mackinnon was enthusiastic about carrying out a report in Ireland and that it was willing to pay €10,000 towards the cost of the report.

  On the face of it, it looks like the Department is doing the bidding of industry. It might deny that but without a full explanation of the process used I have to say, if this is how the Government does business, the optics are not good. A former Member of this House spoke in favour of a Bill on financial services, one week before he went to work in that sector. There are developers who are literally writing the Government's housing policy. It now appears we are allowing industry to tell us who we should appoint to carry out studies and even offering to pay for them. The House deserves an explanation from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the process carried out in appointing this individual to carry out that report.

Senator Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy Le linn na seachtaine speisialta seo, is deas an rud é go bhfuil a lán daoine sa Teach ag baint úsáid as a gcúpla focal Gaeilge. Is cinnte go bhfuil an tseachtain seo chugainn ina páirt de Sheachtain na Gaeilge freisin. B'fhéidir gur theideal níos fearr é coicís na Gaeilge an bhliain seo chugainn. However, it is good to see everybody having the cúpla focal.

  I want to pay tribute to a man reared in my own county who passed away recently, Mr. Mike Burns. He was, of course, a significant broadcaster and news media man. During my own media days, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mr. Burns on numerous occasions.  He has been described as a colossus by his good friend, Mr. Seán Duignan. He was behind "News at 1.30", which is now "News at One", "This Week" and "World Report", three excellent programmes. He went on to become a media officer with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. He has a sister living in Roscommon and another in Galway. I extend our sympathies to the members of his family.

  I give my strong support to Senator Black. We are probably the two Senators most associated with the music sector of the entertainment business. We should congratulate RTÉ in proceeding with its Choice Music Prize competition last night and Ms Denise Chaila on her win. We should thank everyone in the music business, be it traditional, country, rock, modern or any other genre of music, for keeping entertainment going despite the absence of live entertainment. I appeal for us to sort out the issues. I will compliment the Leader, as she and her staff are good in following up on issues. Will she write to the Minister? When I spoke to the Taoiseach a few nights ago, he told me that progress had been made. However, the money is not getting to those whose livelihoods used to be the €20,000 or €30,000 they earned from music. We must get it to them urgently. They have just weeks to spare before they are in real financial difficulty. We must push this matter onwards.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly: Information on Pauline O'Reilly Zoom on Pauline O'Reilly I wish to raise the issue of religious discrimination in our education system and ask for the Minister for Education to provide the House with an update on what the Government intends to do to address it. Article 44.2.4° of the Constitution states "Legislation providing State aid for schools shall not discriminate between schools under the management of different religious denominations, nor be such as to affect prejudicially the right of any child to attend a school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school." I am constantly told stories from up and down the country of children doing busy work in classrooms where the other children are predominantly of one religion, that being, Catholic. That is also a cultural phenomenon. We need to address the issue beyond giving children a colouring book in a corner and making them feel isolated from their peers. It is not good enough in this day and age.

  The newest schools are the most impacted by a lack of buildings. The Galway Educate Together Secondary School, which is the first Educate Together secondary school in Galway, only has first and second years. It will have a reduced intake next year. That will be the last year it will have any intake. We do not know what will happen for the children beyond first and second year. The school would have been able to take 72 pupils had it a proper building, but it can only take 48. This means that fewer children from different religious backgrounds can access the school. We need to see the urgent delivery of a school building.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney Tá brón orm. Níl mórán Gaeilge agam fós.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Níl mórán Gaeilge agam freisin.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney I will begin with the good news of today's announcement of funding and the significant change it will bring to the south inner city. I congratulate Dublin City Council on the applications it made and the creativity and innovation found within same. However, as much as I had intended to speak about that, I have just received a copy of letter that a parent received this morning about that parent's child, who was born in January 2018 and was exhibiting special needs, that is, autism. According to the letter, there will be a 40-month wait to access appointments for assessment for speech and language and occupational therapies.  I am appalled.

  At a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration earlier this week, we heard from the HSE about the children's disability network teams, how fantastic they are, the standard operating procedure that has been put in place and how it will be enveloped by services. This morning, in the same week, this parent received a letter stating that they will have to wait. In the next paragraph, it outlines how to make a complaint if the parent has a problem with waiting lists. There is an assumption of failure, therefore, and an anticipation of complaint in the very letter that welcomes that child to the care of the children's disability network team, which, quite frankly, it is appalling. Forty months is a massive length of time in a child's life. Two or three months at that age is a significant change in a child's development, not to mention 40 months, with all that is lost by that loss of opportunity. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, needs to appear before the House for a debate in order that we will be able to ask questions and to hear answers directly from him in that regard.

Senator Paul Daly: Information on Paul Daly Zoom on Paul Daly Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. Ba mhaith liom rud amháin a ardú inniu ar dtús agus buíochas a ghabháil le mo chomhghleacaí agus mo chara, an Seanadóir Ó Murchú, mar tá a lán oibre déanta aige ar an gceist seo.

  The issue I raise relates to both flooding and insurance, which have been raised in the House on numerous occasions. A case was brought to my attention in the past week. A neighbour of mine, from Cumminstown, Kilbeggan, received planning permission seven years ago and built his house, where he lives happily. He lives 500 m from the River Brosna. When he sought to reinsure his house, his premium was hiked dramatically. To try to counteract this, he sought quotations from other companies, all of which refused. I have a copy of one letter he received, which states that because the property is located in an area prone to flooding, the company is refusing even to give him a quote. The increase in his premium will over the average life expectancy equate to a hike of between €20,000 and €25,000.

  The flood risk report on our area states that on the riverbank in the town there is no fluvial flood risk to any properties and that no remedial action is required. Somebody drew a line on a map, however, from the other side of the river to his house. I am adamant that irrespective of all the science that will be presented regarding how and why these maps are concocted, those lines are put there with a strong element of to be sure, to be sure. The report states: "This should not be interpreted to mean that the areas will flood, just that there is a chance that may flood in the future." There is a chance that we will get the World Cup that Senator Cassells mentioned earlier, and there is even a chance that we will win that bloody World Cup, but I do not think it will happen. If that man's house is in a flood risk area, the rest of us need Noah's ark quickly or we are doomed. This hike in the insurance policy will potentially cost the man and his neighbours up to €25,000, index linked, over the course of their lives because they happen to be on the wrong side of a line that somebody has drawn on a map. We need a debate on the matter. It is a cross-departmental issue, relating to insurance and Office of Public Works, OPW, flood risk maps. I appreciate that the maps are needed. There are areas that need remedial action and the maps play a positive role in those scenarios, but not in this one.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I second Senator Ward's proposal.

  We are expecting a major protest in Cork tomorrow. This is a big issue that could, but hopefully will not, affect many people in Cork in the next 48 hours. There is great fear in the city about what is going to happen. We saw in the media what happened in Dublin last weekend, where there were 23 arrests and several gardaí were hospitalised. There is a great fear that something similar will happen in the southern capital of Cork tomorrow.  It is a real concern that people may be protesting on the streets of Cork while numbers are so drastically low in Cork at the moment. The approach being taken has really changed. We have very low figures in Cork city and county and that is because of the good work of people who have been following the guidelines. As they have followed the guidelines, we have managed to reduce the amount of Covid in the community, which is a very positive step. To be faced with a protest at which people without masks will meet on St. Patrick's Street and walk through the city centre tomorrow afternoon is a real concern. The protest needs to be abandoned. To have it in an area in which the rate of Covid is so low actually puts the health of the entire population of the city and county at risk. It is a significant issue for the House and for Ireland, but particularly for the people of Cork.

  The Seanad needs to propose today that the protest be abandoned. It must not go ahead. It is against fundamental laws of the State and it is an affront to the front-line workers who put their lives at risk, such as the members of An Garda Síochána whom I met this morning on the way up from Cork. Those front-line workers meet people day in, day out. They are doing a great job. For a few people to hold such a protest in the southern capital is a slap in the face for the front-line workers. I am appealing for the protest not to go ahead. I hope the Leader will follow my lead and call for the abandonment of the protest in Cork tomorrow. The damage it will do to the health of society is unknown and the knock-on effect it could have on our entire society cannot be justified.

Senator John McGahon: Information on John McGahon  Zoom on John McGahon  I wish to acknowledge the very sad passing of Eoin Faherty, a man well known to many in this House. Eoin served as a member of staff in the Oireachtas for more than 20 years and retired as a committee clerk. He unexpectedly passed away yesterday. Eoin was well known to many Members of this House and to me in particular as one of the founding members of the Dáil and Seanad rugby team which was set up in the early 1990s when Nelson Mandela asked all Parliaments to come to South Africa to partake in the parliamentary rugby world cup before the Rugby World Cup of 1995. Eoin was a leading member in setting up that team and ensuring it ran for the past 25 years. I am wearing the club tie of the Dáil and Seanad rugby team which was presented to me by Eoin three years ago when I first played for the team as a member of staff. I wish to take this chance to acknowledge his passing. In this House, we often pay tribute to former Senators or Deputies when they pass away but we do not pay enough tribute to members of staff who walked these halls for so long and contributed so much to the life and daily running of the Oireachtas. I acknowledge Eoin's passing and send our deepest sympathies to his wife, Carmel, and his children.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I join the Senator in expressing sympathies to Carmel and all the rest of Eoin's family. He was a gentleman. I too played on his rugby team. We won and we lost but we always had fun and Eoin was a big part of all that. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I add my condolences to Senator McGahon's very timely tribute. It is very sad to hear of the passing of Eoin. We extend our condolences to his wife and children.

  I could not agree more with Senator Lombard that there is absolutely no need for a public protest to take place in Cork. I note the irony of the call on the Minister by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties yesterday to look for safe guidelines regarding how public protests can be conducted under a level 5 lockdown. I think it is as clear as mud to even the brightest person in the country that the level 5 restrictions are impinging on all our movements for our positive good health.

  There is a way for people to accept and exert their feelings at the moment and that is in the virtual world. They can also do so in the old-fashioned way by writing letters or picking up a phone. In today's world we have social media, emails and a plethora of other ways through which people can express their frustrations.

  There are many frustrations among all communities and societies but there is absolutely no need for a public protest to take place in Cork tomorrow. I echo the Senator's request for it to be called off by the organisers. I wish the gardaí and other front-line services, particularly those who will have to deal with the outcome of tomorrow's protest, well. For the people of Cork to be needlessly put at risk while we are under continuing lockdown for our own good health reasons is a real shame.  I echo the Senator's call for the protest to be abandoned by its organisers.

  I will request a debate on insurance. I know these reports are done in order that a local authority can indicate where people should and should not locate but there are real grey areas that only end up costing citizens money with insurance hikes. The €25,000 mentioned by the Senator as a cost for the insurance needs for the man's home is just crazy. I will request that debate today.

  Senator Seery Kearney raised what is probably the all-too-common practice with our young children of waiting lists for those who appear to have extra, special and additional needs in their very early years. There is a myriad of reasons those lists seem to be getting longer but we do not seem to be addressing any of them in the public community, other than the inclusion model that the previous Minister with responsibility for education and now the Minister of State with responsibility for special educational needs is continuing to pursue. If the Senator does not mind I will take the details of the child after the Order of Business and we can speak with the Minister to see how it can be addressed. A wait of 40 months for any parent with a child with special needs is an absolute lifetime.

  Perhaps the lists continue to grow because parents are not responded to. These parents cannot wait for 40 months. If a child has speech or occupational therapy needs, families scrimp and save, making sacrifices in their own lives although they cannot afford them, to ensure the child gets the best available care needs if an early intervention diagnosis is made. I wish the family well and I will make an intervention on its behalf after the Order of Business.

  Senator Pauline O'Reilly raised the question of religious discrimination being felt by many of our children in many of our schools. When I first came into public life, Ruairí Quinn was the Minister for Education and Skills and he attempted to redistribute patronage of our schools up and down the country. To the surprise of many, he found massive resistance in our communities when people were given the opportunity of changing the patronage of existing Catholic schools in villages. In my home village there are four national schools and are all Catholic-run. They are fabulous schools but when the opportunity was given to parents to change the patronage, they refused with each of the four schools. Sometimes we take two steps forwards and two steps back but that does not mean the Department should not continue to try to particularly protect the educational requirements for children in schools if they are practising the religion being taught in the school. I will ask for a response by letter today.

  Senator Murphy brought up the sad passing of Mr. Mike Burns. I will speak to the requests of both Senator Murphy and Senator Black. The relevant Minister will be in on Monday week to speak on tourism but there is a standing request for the Minister to speak about the universal basic income pilot scheme that is particularly aimed at people in the entertainment and music industry. I extend my condolences to the wife and three children of the man about whom the Senator spoke. We do not really understand the effects of what people have been living through for the past 12 months other than those we can see. We will be living and dealing with the hidden effects for many years, including the fallout from them. The very least we can do is ensure financial security for the people whose incomes have been suspended for the past 12 months. I will again extend an invitation to the Minister to have a debate on the entertainment industry that takes in all our musicians and artists. We must continue the State support for them, although I hope it will not be for very much longer. The money that is available must get to the tables that need it fast. I thank the Senator for raising the memory of Mr. Burns today.

  Senator Boylan asked for a full explanation of the process for a report issued by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I will get a response in writing and get it to the Senator as soon as the Minister replies.

  In the passionate way only he can speak about sport, Senator Cassells raised the potential bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup, which was announced the other evening by the Minister. I am not mad about soccer but I noted with interest how Twitter lit up on Wednesday with all our male politicians and journalists so excited about it. If that excitement was replicated in all our towns and villages and by all of the people who love sport, it certainly would be something to get behind. I wish the team applying for it every success. It certainly will lift the country if we have something to look forward to.  The Senator is right. We do not just need to rely on a feasibility study on the deficiency in our infrastructure because it has been heralded in recent years by different Departments. We are all aware that there are reasons things have been delayed. Some of those reasons have been bureaucratic, which we should get through, but a lot of it has been to do with funding. Various colleagues mentioned the massive €435 million investment that was announced, some of it on the back of Project Ireland 2040 but it is definitely money that has been invested in what we would consider to be the new Ireland and the regeneration of some of our much loved areas in Dublin city that will definitely be getting money. However, money is needed for every county in the country and I hope that feasibility study will again highlight some of the things we need to do.

  Senator Moynihan brought up the welcome funding for her area in the south inner city. I will take on board the annual funding request and send a letter to the Minister on her behalf.

  Senators Carrigy and Byrne talked about the welcome return to school of our children in junior and senior infants and in first and second class. I welcome our leaving certificate students returning to school. It is also welcome that all of those children with special needs are able to return full-time. We must ensure, for those children and for all of our children on their return to school, that this is the last time they miss a week of school because even that is too much. We all know the sacrifices our children have made over the past year and we need to ensure that does not happen.

  Senators McGreehan and Bacik both brought up the programme that was aired on RTÉ on Wednesday night. I seem to find myself week in, week out commending the "RTÉ Investigates" team on its careful approach to highlighting issues that we would much rather not have in our past but that we do have in our past. The beautiful way in which it presented the programme with such care and compassion on Wednesday is a tribute to Aoife Hegarty and her team and I commend them. It highlights again another horrible and awful practice and brings to the fore the misogyny with which the State, church and medical profession treated women in this country for generations. I welcome the fact that the Minister will meet these representatives again. It is a similar situation to the victims of the mother and baby and county homes who we spoke of last week. I welcome Senator Bacik's Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2021 and I accept her proposed amendment to the Order of Business. Regardless of whose Bill we adopt in the coming weeks, I look forward to legislation coming in because these people who want their truth, as Senator McGreehan said, have waited for far too long for any legislation that would give them access to what they need.

  Senator Craughwell brought up industrial relations and he is well aware that I agree with him in many ways. If we ask arms of agencies of the State to make recommendations to us, the least we can do as a State is to take on board those recommendations.

  I am happy to accept Senator Ward's amendment to the Order of Business. I welcome the Taxi Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2021 and I will request the debate on mobile phone coverage he has sought.

  Senators Byrne and Ward brought up Hong Kong. I will ask the Minister for a debate on China and will come back to them with a date as quickly as I can.

  Senator Black talked about the music industry.

  Senator Ó Donnghaile brought up the unilateral action by the United Kingdom's Government to extend the grace period for the Northern Ireland protocol for six months. Nobody could have put it better than the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, did on "Morning Ireland" this week. The EU is now negotiating with a partner that simply cannot be trusted and it is just not fair.

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne Hear, hear.

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty We are all well aware of the reasons behind the extension this week and it has nothing to do with Northern Ireland. That means it is even more disingenuous to see the response from some of our politicians from Northern Ireland. I mention the chilling effect and the weakening of the support for the Good Friday Agreement. We are in a dangerous place. We should all be concerned and conscious that we need to get this resolved now. The actions of the Government of the United Kingdom are very unwelcome and we need to respond to them quickly.

  Senator Martin read out some of a speech from one of his colleagues on Dublin City Council about a motion that it passed recently on the Syrian revolution. I thank him for bringing that to the attention of Members. We should probably have a debate on the fallout from the almost 3 million people who are displaced. It is two thirds of the population of our entire country so I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through.

  Senator Keogan brought up her frustrations with the closure of the construction industry. I want to answer the question she directly asked me on why this is happening and if we think construction is a cause for concern. The response that came out after Christmas was that movement and interaction were a cause for the increase and flow of the virus.  It was not any specific sector; it was every sector. That is why the entire country was put into lockdown in January. I know we are all tired and frustrated and we are probably going to start having conversations in the coming weeks and months about reopening society, once the vaccine programme steps up a gear. However, it is not helpful for us to be pitting one section of society against another. The most important section we needed to reopen was our schools. That started last Monday and I wish the the staff and the teachers in schools continued success to make sure we manage that safely.

  I accept Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business.

  The regeneration of Dublin's inner city was raised by Senator Fitzpatrick. She is obviously incredibly proud of the area she has represented for many years. In fairness to her, the funding that was announced for the museum, the library and the entire quarter around Moore Street and Dublin's inner city this morning is exceptionally welcome. I welcome her passion for her area. It is something the entire nation will be able to enjoy once it is finished. We can all enjoy the splendour of the museum and remember our humble beginnings where it all started back in 1916.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Senator Ivana Bacik has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 13 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

  An Seanadóir Malcolm Byrne has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 12 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

  Senator Barry Ward has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

  Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.

Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2021: First Stage

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for improved information and tracing for adopted persons in relation to their adoption, for that purpose to amend the Adoption Act 2010 so as to provide for access by adult adopted persons to the index maintained by an tArd-Chláraitheoir of connections between entries in the Adopted Children Register and the register of births, and to provide for connected matters.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Is there a seconder?

Senator Rebecca Moynihan: Information on Rebecca Moynihan Zoom on Rebecca Moynihan I second the proposal.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly When is it proposed to take Second Stage?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Next Friday.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Second Stage ordered for Friday, 12 March 2021.

Health Insurance (International Students) (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Health Insurance Act 1994 (as amended) to introduce a new definition of a health insurance contract to that contained in Section 2 of the Principal Act so as to exclude international students who are not ordinarily resident in Ireland; and to provide for related matters.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Is there a seconder?

Senator Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells I second the proposal.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly When is it proposed to take Second Stage?

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne Next Friday.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Is that agreed?

  Second Stage ordered for Friday, 12 March 2021.

Taxi Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage

Senator Barry Ward: Information on Barry Ward Zoom on Barry Ward I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 to allow for the transfer of licences.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Is there a seconder?

Senator Micheál Carrigy: Information on Micheál Carrigy Zoom on Micheál Carrigy I second the proposal.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly When is it proposed to take Second Stage?

Senator Barry Ward: Information on Barry Ward Zoom on Barry Ward Dé hAoine seo chugainn.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Second Stage ordered for Friday, 12 March 2021.

Sitting Arrangements: Motion

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, the Seanad on its rising on Friday, 5th March, 2021, shall adjourn until 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 8th March, 2021, in the Seanad Chamber and the following arrangements shall apply:
(a) Commencements matters shall be taken in accordance with Standing Order 29;

(b) The Order of Business shall be proposed by the Leader of the House at 12 noon and shall be interrupted after 12 other speakers, whereupon the sitting shall be suspended for 15 minutes and on the resumption, the sitting shall continue in the Dáil Chamber, and the order of speakers on the Order of Business shall resume thereafter; provided that the 15 minutes suspension period shall not be reckoned in the overall time limit for this item of business.

  Question put and agreed to.

Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017: Restoration to Order Paper

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move:

That, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 169 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, the Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017, which had reached Committee Stage prior to the Seanad General Election, March 2020, be restored to the Order Paper.

  Question put and agreed to.

Seanad Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015: Restoration to Order Paper

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move:

That, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 169 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, the Seanad Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015, which had reached Committee Stage prior to the Seanad General Election, April 2016, be restored to the Order Paper.

  Question put and agreed to.

Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017: Restoration to Order Paper

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I move:

That, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 169 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017, which had reached Committee Stage prior to the Seanad General Election, March 2020, be restored to the Order Paper.

  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 1.14 p.m. and resumed at 1.35 p.m.

Local Government (Use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021: Second Stage

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to the House.

Senator Mark Wall: Information on Mark Wall Zoom on Mark Wall I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank my Labour Party colleagues for agreeing to use our Private Members' time to bring the Bill to Second Stage. I acknowledge the support of all Members of the House on this important matter, particularly those on the Government benches with whom I have discussed the need for and content of the Bill. I am aware of the work of Senator Byrne in the area and thank him for discussing the Bill. I also thank Senator Cummins who has worked with colleagues in the Government on the importance of this legislation. They are just two of the Senators to whom I have spoken on the issues raised by the Bill. I understand the Government is not opposing the Bill at this stage which is very good, and I thank it for this cross-party support on such an important matter.

  I wish to use some of my time today to outline the provisions of this important Bill. Local authorities are competent authorities performing law enforcement functions when prosecuting offences under waste and litter legislation. The law enforcement directive applies to these activities. In 2018 the Data Protection Commission, DPC, inquired into the use of surveillance technologies by both the Garda Síochána and local authorities. This included an examination of the use of CCTV by local authorities in the enforcement of litter and waste management legislation. The DPC concluded that neither the Litter Pollution Act 1997, the Waste Management Act 1996 nor the Local Government Act 2001 are sufficient to meet the requirements of the law enforcement directive provisions in Part 5 of the 2018 Act regarding the deployment of CCTV cameras for law enforcement purposes.

  It is important to stress that the directive does not prohibit the use of CCTV for such purposes. However, it requires that such use be properly authorised by law. Under the directive, two criteria must be fulfilled for data processing to be lawful. First, the processing must be necessary for the performance of a task of a competent authority. Second, the processing must be based on either European Union or member state law.

  Where member state law forms the basis for processing, that law should specify the objective of processing, the personal data to be processed and the purposes of the processing. In other words, the local authorities' function of prosecuting crime as confirmed by law is not sufficient. The local authorities' processing of personal data, such as gathering and using images of identifiable individuals by CCTV to use as evidence in the prosecution of dumping cases, must also be based a provision of Union or member state law.

  According to the DPC, the matters that member state law must specify do not necessarily need to be codified in an Act of the Oireachtas, but they must have a clear legal basis either in common law or in an enactment. It is illegitimate for an Act of the Oireachtas to implicitly provide for the processing of certain personal data without expressly listing each category of personal data that is to be processed. Such an Act would be sufficient to provide a lawful basis once the objectives, the personal data to be processed and the purposes are clear and foreseeable from the Act.  For example, the DPC examined section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which regulates the use of CCTV in public places by gardaí. The examination concluded that the section meets the requirements of Part 5 of the Data Protection Act 2018, interpreted along with the law enforcement directive. It is clear that personal data are being processed for the purposes of securing public order and safety in facilitating the prevention, detection and prosecution of offences.

  Following my outline of the technicalities of this Bill, the simple fact is that illegal dumping is out of control. The problem is not confined to the remote, beautiful countryside, although it is at its worst there. This problem can be found on the main streets of cities and the main roads through towns as well as every secondary road and laneway in the country. One of the very few positives of the lockdown has been the number of citizens out walking and exercising within the 5 km limit currently in place. However, this increase in exercise has also led to the realisation by so many of what we are doing to the environment. What people are seeing in greater numbers is simply environmental vandalism. Our main roads resemble dumping grounds where one is more likely to see discarded coffee cups, cans and anything else that will fit out a vehicle window as it is drives by. Such is the volume of rubbish being illegally deposited, country lanes are now extensions of landfill sites.

  As I indicated recently in the House, the farming community is also under attack. We admire the beautiful green fields and the colours of the crops growing there, but the headlands, ditches and gateways of farms have become the favourite dumping spots of the professional and amateur illegal dumper.

  The Bill would allow the use of CCTV by local authorities to facilitate the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of the offence of illegal dumping. There is no doubt that CCTV is one of the most effective tools in the fight against the blight that is illegal dumping.

  The figures involved in the clean-up of this vandalism are mind-blowing. Three local authorities on which Labour Party colleagues sought information are spending an average of €3 million a year on clean-ups. Those local authorities are Kildare, Meath and South Dublin. If this is replicated throughout the 31 local authorities, then we are wasting an average of €90 million per year on clean-ups. The figure does not include the many volunteer hours so many groups and individuals put in each year trying to keep their localities clean. I pay special tribute to all involved.

  Yesterday, we learned that our sports clubs and local authorities have applied for grants valued at €200 million through sports capital grant schemes. Let us imagine if we had €90 million to spend on those grants each year, rather than cleaning up the mess of those who wish to destroy the environment and landscape. Let us imagine for a moment the facilities we would have in every corner of this country.

  My local authority in Kildare is now dealing with 40 to 50 incidents each week, up from an average of ten to 20 per week a couple of years ago. My Labour Party colleagues in Clondalkin, Councillor Joanna Tuffy, and the local area representative, Chris O'Dwyer, tell me that South Dublin County Council has cleaned up an additional 750 tonnes of illegal dumping this year, bringing the total tonnage of illegal waste collected by the local authority to 6,760 in 2020. It has budgeted for an additional €200,000 this year to cope with the level of dumping.

  In 2020, my Labour Party colleague in Drogheda, Councillor Pio Smith, told me the local authority collected 792 tonnes of fly-tipping waste at a cost of €26,900 in direct disposal costs alone. My colleague in Kerry, Councillor Marie Moloney, told me there were 954 complaints of littering to Kerry County Council last year but no court prosecutions. I could go on. There is a common thread throughout my conversations: this problem is on the increase and dumping is now widespread in every corner of this country.

  From replies to parliamentary questions to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to Labour Party colleagues, I am aware of an anti-dumping awareness communications campaign entitled Your Country-Your Waste. With respect to everybody involved, this is simply not working. What we need now are detections and prosecutions of those who feel that they are above the law. In recent months, I have discussed the increase in this problem with colleagues from all over the country. This Bill is the first and most important step in the fightback. We are all aware of those who advertise refuse collections illegally through the distribution of flyers or what is a bigger problem, advertising on social media.  Colleagues such as Councillor Elaine McGinty in Meath have contacted the social media companies to highlight this illegal practice. Replies from the companies have not been forthcoming but perhaps that is a debate for another day. The practice of a person with a car or van calling to homes to collect rubbish for a few bob definitely needs to be tackled. Catching these people will become a bit easier if we pass this Bill. We must limit the availability of those who carry out such crimes on our landscape and attack our beautiful country every day.

  I congratulate the Department on the additional moneys it has provided to local authorities to employ community wardens. My experience of dealing with local wardens has been extremely positive. They are passionate about their job. They go above and beyond to assist public representatives and the public in general by cleaning up after this disgusting behaviour. Wardens are to be seen climbing into drains and sifting through mounds of rubbish to deal with this growing disaster.

  We rightly promote Ireland as a beautiful unspoilt island with its 40 shades of green and a landscape to die for. We urgently need to intervene, however, as otherwise those same green fields, important city streets, beautiful hills and quaint country lanes will disappear under mountains of discarded fridges, sofas, tyres and household rubbish. The use of cameras at these locations will prevent dumping if this Bill goes through. It is as simple as that. We need to let people know that if they wind down a window and discard rubbish while driving or drive down a country lane and deposit tyres, they will be caught and, more important, prosecuted. We need to make it known that if people give rubbish to an illegal operator, they will end up with a fine. It is not okay to get rid of rubbish in that way.

  I look forward to listening to the contributions of other Members. From speaking to public representatives throughout the country in the months leading up to this debate, I have found that illegal dumping is probably the second biggest issue, after representations about housing, that many public representatives are dealing with at this time. Such is the extent of this problem throughout the country. We are told the use of CCTV by local authorities in the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of an offence of illegal dumping must be placed on a legal footing. We, in the Labour Party, believe we can achieve that through this legislation. I ask all Senators to support the Bill and call on the Government to allow its swift passage.

Senator Rebecca Moynihan: Information on Rebecca Moynihan Zoom on Rebecca Moynihan I pay tribute to Senator Wall for bringing forward his Bill. Illegal dumping may not be the most glamorous side of politics but, as the Senator said, it is the issue on which we get most representations. Every time we knock on a door, the first issue people raise is the need to tackle dog poo and illegal dumping.

  People talk about GDPR gone mad. The most illustrative case of that was the move by the Data Protection Commission to reprimand local authorities for the use of CCTV in tackling illegal dumping. Illegal dumping is the scourge of the country and we need to do all we can with the tools at our disposal to tackle the issue. That is why the Bill is so important. It is essential that local authorities are able to use CCTV to tackle illegal dumping, fine and prosecute people and make it unacceptable for them to dump illegally in their communities. The area in which I live has suffered badly as it has many hotspots for illegal dumping. For example, if the city council clears an area without CCTV at 2 p.m., it will be covered in rubbish again later that night. There are signs up but people ignore them. What is the problem and who is doing this? Are people coming from outside the area to dump illegally? No, it is often neighbours and people who dump rubbish know they can do so. The public domain officers who work in local authorities have told us how clever some people are when dumping their rubbish. To give an example, they know of an individual who illegally dumped rubbish on a particular road but was so good at covering his or her tracks that he or she removed labels from prescription bottles and removed the addresses from bills to prevent tracing.

  How do we tackle illegal dumping and are local authorities doing enough? The Irish Times has reported that between 2012 and 2017, the majority of the 6,032 court cases taken by local authorities were unsuccessful. In just 30% of cases, the court found in favour of the local authority and the €700,000 in fines imposed by judges equated to €386 per fine.  This refers only to those cases that ended up in court. Prosecuting such cases, however, cost local authorities an average of €600. The Journal has reported that, in respect of 6,000 bags of rubbish dumped illegally in Senator Fitzpatrick's area in the north inner city, another big hotspot, only 246 fines were issued and there were only 93 prosecutions for the non-payment of fines. Local authority representatives who go to court tell us that judges will laugh them out of court in such cases. It is not seen as a serious issue. We need ways to tackle it in the courts and to have people pay fines but we also need to make it so shameful to dump illegally that people will not want to do it within their own communities, because it is their own communities and their own neighbours they are affecting. When one walks into an area and sees rubbish strewn all over the place, one feels that people do not care about it, but the majority of people do care and work hard to keep their communities safe and clean. A couple of people, however, consistently dump illegally.

Like Senator Wall, I pay tribute to the litter wardens within local authorities who tackle the issue of illegal dumping. The litter wardens in my area know who is responsible for such dumping down to the very roads. They also know the times at which they do it. It is very hard, however, to catch people in the act and to be able to issue a fine unless one is sitting at a window watching people. The public domain officers and litter wardens work very hard but they need better tools at their disposal if they are to tackle the issue of illegal dumping. That is why Senator Wall's Bill is so important and that is why I ask that the Government expedite it. It seems like a very simple Bill but it will do a great amount in our local authorities.

Finally, I will address the underlying reason so many people dump illegally. It is because our local authorities do not have control over our municipal waste services. Within Dublin city, on certain days, as many as six trucks will go up and down the road collecting waste. We need a centralised municipal waste authority to take waste management back into the control of local authorities. Unless we address this underlying cause, people will continue to dump illegally. This Bill is very welcome and I hope the Government progresses it. I also ask that the Government look at facilitating those local authorities, such as Dublin City Council, that want to get back to running their own municipal waste authorities.

Senator Mary Fitzpatrick: Information on Mary Fitzpatrick Zoom on Mary Fitzpatrick Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I thank Senator Wall for tabling this legislation, which is important. It is appropriate that the Seanad should deal with it because it deals directly with our local authorities and, therefore, in talking about this issue today, we are not only serving the local communities represented by members of our local authorities, but serving those elected members themselves. I welcome the discussion. This is very constructive legislation.

  Before I continue to talk about the legislation, I commend my colleague, Senator Malcolm Byrne, who has himself undertaken significant work on this issue. He has consulted widely with both elected local authority members and local authority officials. He has brought forward, and continues to bring forward, very constructive suggestions and proposals in this area. It is an issue on which we should work collectively across parties. We share a common interest and a common purpose. We all recognise the problem and the challenge. With our collective efforts, we can make progress in tackling this issue.

  I also commend all the staff in local authorities around the country. Dublin City Council is my local authority. Central Dublin and the north inner city are, unfortunately, repeatedly featured as a hotspot for litter and illegal dumping in every report issued by Irish Business Against Litter, IBAL.  With depressing regularity, the north inner city is listed as the number one hotspot. That is not a reflection on the efforts of the local authority staff, others working in the public domain, people working in waste management, voluntary groups or the residents and businesses who give of their time voluntarily after they have done a day's work to pick up rubbish, including illegally dumped garbage. I thank them for the efforts and energy they give to that work, but the situation is not good enough and I hope that we can make progress with the legislation.

  Living in the city, CCTV is a live issue. People think of it not just in the context of prosecuting illegal dumping, but also prosecuting other types of anti-social behaviour, be it vandalism, graffiti, theft or more serious crimes. The Garda operates a significant CCTV network in the north inner city and the local authority could benefit from the enhanced technologies.

  We need to consider the use of CCTV more deeply. Are we talking about recordings or live monitoring? These discussions need to be held and there must be a proper assessment of the resource requirement, for example, staff, equipment and investment. There is no point in us erecting a camera and its footage not being monitored or recorded and then acted on and enforced. It is difficult enough to catch someone, so it is very frustrating for city officials when the case progresses to court only to have it result in no effective enforcement. Local authorities chair joint policing committees, which act in a strategic way to address safety issues and matters of public concern. Is there any scope for the Minister of State to engage with local authorities in that capacity and have them engage with the Judiciary at a strategic level around prosecutions and court fines in respect of these matters? From a Dublin City Council perspective, it is a major frustration to go to so much effort, detect the dumping and bring someone to court only to have the case amount to no improvement.

  Senator Byrne will speak to the technicalities of the Bill and the data protection issues, so I will leave those to him.

  In terms of education and awareness, signs on lamp posts tell people to pick up their dogs' poo. The dogs do not read and their owners clearly do not give a you know what about what is being left on the ground. I did not say the word but the Cathaoirleach knows what I am thinking. We need to accept that piling money into awareness, education and signs is not working. It is costing millions of euro, and that is only the amount of money we capture. There is much more. If Dublin City Council spends €1 million on illegal dumping, it does not include the costs of reinstatement, repairs or dealing with vandalism and destruction of property. Senator Wall asked how we would spend that money in our communities. Would it be invested in sports or recreational facilities or culture? Will the Minister of State consider this matter seriously and take up my suggestion?

Senator John Cummins: Information on John Cummins Zoom on John Cummins On 18 January, the Irish Examiner ran a story with the headline "Waterford council reprimanded for using CCTV to monitor illegal dumping". The article read:

Waterford City and County Council has been officially reprimanded for its use of CCTV to monitor public activity by the Data Protection Commissioner.

The admonishment by the commissioner, which was handed down in October of last year and was carried out using its corrective powers under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), concerns the local authority’s use of such surveillance technology to monitor illegal littering and dumping, and for the prevention of crime.

 It is my understanding that Waterford's local authority is one of at least seven that have faced the wrath of the commissioner. It is the commission's view, as was articulated by Senator Wall, that the Litter Pollution Act 1997 and the Waste Management Act 1996 do not regulate the processing of personal data, as required by the EU's law enforcement directive, which is parallel legislation that came into force in May 2018 along with the GDPR legislation. This is the GDPR gone mad. It has left local authorities with one hand tied behind their back in the fight against illegal dumping, which everyone agrees is a scourge. It is an attack on society and on our rights to enjoy amenities throughout the country without having to encounter often large-scale dumping.

  The Government, under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, is addressing issues raised by the DPC including by introducing appropriate legislation, and I am sure the Minister of State will refer to that in his reply. The Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy commits the Government to implementing a range of measures, including tackling the problem of illegal dumping. It states: "All waste enforcement legislation will be “data proofed” to ensure that all available and emerging technologies can be fully utilised in a manner which is GDPR compliant."

  Notwithstanding the work being done by the Department, I compliment Senator Wall on his proactive action in bringing forward the Bill, which is a genuine effort to address the data protection issues raised by the commissioner regarding the use of CCTV by local authorities in the enforcement of litter and waste management functions. I am happy to have engaged with the Senator on the Bill, and with the Minister of State and his Government colleagues, to ensure that the Government would not oppose it and would let it proceed. In my 11 years on the council, I always worked cross-party on topics that were of benefit to Waterford, and I seek to do the same in this House. I have always said no individual or party has a monopoly on wisdom. I know that Senator Wall will agree it does not matter whether it is this legislation or the Government’s legislation. All of us in the House want to resolve the issue and to give local authorities the ability to tackle this problem with every tool in their armoury.

  Local authorities have to be given the ability to use covert and overt technologies to catch the perpetrators of these offences. There is no doubt that CCTV, along with drone technology, phones and so on, have to be used by local authorities to catch people who engage in this illegal behaviour. As has been noted by other Senators, the problem has worsened in recent times, and the lengths to which people go to avoid detection are frightening. I do not think people realise it. Senator Moynihan mentioned that names have been removed from prescriptions in rubbish in order that no trace would be left behind, and there are also people who black out or change licence plates on vehicles to avoid detection. Moreover, people use face coverings, and did so even before we all had to use them, to avoid detection. While CCTV is an important tool in the armoury of local authorities, it is not a silver bullet that will solve all the problems.

  I join other Senators in complimenting litter wardens throughout the country who tackle this problem daily.  I thank the local authority outdoor staff who constantly have to clean up this mess. It must be absolutely devastating for them to have to go out day in, day out to clean up what has been left by the public, including people who dump rubbish in their own communities. It is a very sad state of affairs.

  I thank the Tidy Towns groups and other community groups that supplement local authority staff in tackling this problem. I am happy to support the Bill, as are many of my Fine Gael colleagues who will not have an opportunity to speak on the Bill as a result of the Covid restrictions.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. I think this issue falls between him and the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee. I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill introduced by my friends in the Labour Party. Indeed, one could say that they beat me to it. I have personally targeted the issue addressed by the Bill as needing urgent legislative action. I was all too aware of the apparent lacuna in the law that was identified by the Data Protection Commission. The commission was of the opinion that the requirements of the law enforcement directive contained in Part 5 of the Data Protection Act 2018 and relating to the processing of CCTV images of individuals by local authorities for the purposes of preventing, detecting and prosecuting offences were not provided for adequately in the existing legislative framework.

  In my previous role as county councillor on Meath County Council, I was involved in the installation and operation of state-of-the-art CCTV in Duleek and Ashbourne. CCTV systems are a necessary and proportionate tool to be deployed in order to protect the public and to detect and prosecute offences. They are necessary to uphold the law and to obtain vital evidence to ensure that individuals who flout the law are brought to justice.

  I have been contacted by litter wardens who are utterly exasperated by the absence of this vital tool to deal with the illegal dumping epidemic that is facing communities, both urban and rural, across the country. The phenomenon of dumping and littering is a blight on communities and the environment. It is utterly ignorant and unacceptable in 21st century Ireland, or in any other civilised society, for that matter.

  At the moment, the only legislative provision which allows for the operation of CCTV systems is section 38 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. Under this provision, any CCTV system installed and operated by a local authority must go through an approved process involving the relevant joint policing committee and the Garda Commissioner. Regrettably, not enough local authorities are willing to seek authorisation for systems. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. City and county managers and executives are unwilling to step up and take responsibility as data controllers. They have abandoned their communities and abdicated responsibility in this respect. The Minister for Justice allocated grants of 60% of the cost of community-based CCTV systems. Many communities nationwide have been frustrated by the lack of support that the chief executives of local authorities gave to these projects. Part of the condition for securing the grants was that the chief executive and-or a designated officer would be the data controller of these systems. I have always made the argument that breaches of any law, including environmental law, should be policed by An Garda Síochána in conjunction with any other body charged with that legal responsibility.

  There are practical difficulties in making chief executives responsible for the data. Local authority offices are only open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. In contrast, district Garda stations are open 24-7. If the chief executives are the data controllers, any breach that is detected outside office hours can only be accessed during working hours. I am simply pointing out the difficulties of which I am aware that have been experienced by communities and local authorities in recent years. It is important that the Bill has the support of the County and City Management Association, CCMA. If it does not, I note with regret that my Labour Party colleagues proposing the Bill may be engaged in a futile endeavour.  The legislation must be broadened in a number of important respects. For example, we must enhance the scope of CCTV recording devices that are covered. As it stands, the Bill only allows for fixed and permanent CCTV systems but I am firmly of the view that this is too restrictive and does not give local authorities the tools they need to enforce the law. The definition should be expanded to include mobile camera systems and drones.

  I welcome the Bill in principle and I look forward to Committee Stage and the opportunity to work with my colleagues in Labour to amend it.

Senator Lynn Boylan: Information on Lynn Boylan Zoom on Lynn Boylan I too welcome this Bill. Everybody knows illegal dumping is the scourge of many communities. The Bill addresses a very specific problem identified by the DPC in investigating the use of surveillance technology in the area of illegal dumping. We know this Bill would place the use of CCTV by county councils on a secure legal footing and enable them to investigate and prosecute offences.

  I welcome this Bill from the Labour Party and it is an example of the constructive role that the Opposition can play in drafting new laws to address real world problems. I hope the Government will engage with it and other genuinely beneficial Bills that come from the Opposition benches.

  CCTV can be useful in tackling illegal dumping but it cannot be seen as a silver bullet. Even with CCTV, convictions are still hard to get and very rare because the quality of the footage must be exceptionally high, often requiring a licence plate or a very high certainty of identifying the person. Additionally, the accused person still needs to be brought to court, which requires significant resources. Community groups active on such issues simply do not have the time or money to do that.

  The Bill is a welcome step and we know CCTV can be an effective deterrent to dumping, we need to do much more work to get to the root of illegal dumping. I will use my time to focus on some of these. We can link the rise in the rate of illegal dumping very directly to the privatisation of waste collection. Local authorities are being left to foot the bill for cleaning up illegal dumping while the waste collection providers and their shareholders enjoy massive profits. Sinn Féin campaigned against privatisation from the outset and we warned that placing profit over the public good would lead to detrimental environmental consequences as it always does. Waste collection should be a service provided to everyone, regardless of income, and that is not for a minute excusing anybody who goes out to dump illegally.

  Sinn Féin's waste reduction Bill would achieve this through remunicipalisation and, in addition, it would increase rates of recycling. Over the past couple of days I have looked at the civic amenity centres available across the country and the level of service in local authorities is inconsistent in cost and access. In some counties, a civic amenity site can only be accessed three days per week. Some have barriers and some need a ticket bought in advance from a shop. There is a real level of inconsistency around the services offered to people who want to dispose of their waste responsibly.

  Domestic waste is not the only problem as commercial and agricultural waste also present significant issues. The dumping of animal bodies is on the increase since the lockdown began and when the treatment of dead horses is in the headlines, it could not be more timely to highlight this matter. Ms Kathleen O'Sullivan of agriland.ie has reported that officials from Galway County Council are experiencing a surge in dumping of horses that were neglected throughout the winter, and this comes after the calving and lambing season. This matter is important not just from an animal welfare perspective but from that of public health. If an animal is dumped near a river, it could contaminate the water and expose the community to serious disease. One risk is cryptosporidium, a zoonotic parasite that leads to serious illness. We are now all very aware of zoonotic diseases, given we are living in a pandemic. The problem of animal dumping and the potential impact on watercourses has never been more serious.

  Sometimes the narrative around dumping descends into a blame game, with illegal dumping being portrayed as an urban problem inflicted on rural communities. We know that is not the case in reality and the narrative of blame is certainly not helpful and does not do anything to find constructive solutions.  We need to prevent illegal dumping and to be able to prosecute those who do it.

  The Government also plans to legislate for the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. If designed correctly, this scheme could play a significant role in reducing dumping and encouraging recycling. However, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has announced that the scheme will only include polyethylene terephthalate, PET, plastic bottles and aluminium cans. There is public appetite for a much wider scheme. Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment published a poll that showed that nine in ten people believe that all drinks containers should be included in Ireland's deposit return scheme and that in particular glass bottles should be included. Everybody is aware that broken glass is a particular scourge for parents, pet owners and people who participate in sport on public fields. All-in deposit return schemes are common across the world and Scotland is set to introduce its deposit return scheme for glass bottles in 2022, for example. There are questions over the design of the scheme and the role of private companies. We have seen the damaging impact that applying the logic of profit to environmental problems can have in the demunicipalisation of waste. I hope the Minister has learned his lesson and will put people and planet over profit when it comes to the deposit return scheme.

  As I said, I welcome this Bill but we need to do much more when it comes to illegal dumping. We need to do more in prosecuting the offenders and in making it easier and more affordable for people to dispose of their waste responsibly.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly: Information on Pauline O'Reilly Zoom on Pauline O'Reilly I thank the Labour Party for bringing this Bill forward. Senator Boylan brings numerous proposals here which she would like to see happen. The alternative budget for 2021 which Sinn Féin produced did not even mention the word "climate" in it and only mentioned the word "biodiversity" in reference to the title of our Minister of State, Senator Hackett. I want to make that point first because things cost money.

  At the heart of this Bill, of Senator Byrne's Bill and of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan's heads of Bill, is a significant will on behalf of everybody to address this issue. We know it is costing money and Senator Wall outlined how much it is costing in his constituency. That is happening around the country and it was pretty much the number one issue for us when we were on local authorities. When I was a councillor on Galway City Council, I was doing a litter pick in Knocknacarra and we found a river of waste in the middle of a developed area beside two schools. We were there with children, we walked up to the top of a verge, looked over and there was a field covered in waste. There was no CCTV there, it was dark at night and people were clearly driving up there to dump. I got it cleaned up very quickly but it should not have to be down to local people to do a litter pick and come across this waste. We have to have CCTV in order to address this.

  I know there are some issues around the Bill but as we say all the time, that is what Committee Stage is for, and that is true. I would like to draw everybody's attention to the fact that it was a key commitment in the programme for Government that we would address waste. It is an environmental issue and for that reason, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is bringing forward a waste management (circular economy) Bill that will have this in it. That Bill will also do a number of other things because this is the end of the road when it comes to waste. However, going back up the track, we need to see bottle return schemes. A number of us have tried to get minuscule amounts of money from the budgets of our local authorities when we were trying to get these schemes up and running.

  We should also try to put in place schemes for facilities such as water fountains so that people do not produce this waste in the first place. My particular passion is the fast fashion industry. Not only are there issues with the labour conditions of the workers in that industry but also enough clothing has been produced to last for decades.  We do not need to keep producing more and more. We need to start reusing. I have run a few repair cafés through a group I set up called Zero Waste Galway, where we bring in people with sewing machines who have the sewing skills that I do not. We are losing the skills our grandparents had to repair what we already have. Other people come in from the community and sign up to learn a new skill, while also bringing away a piece of clothing that they had not managed to fix themselves. I would like to see more money going into those kinds of projects, which would help local communities to become engaged in the issue.

  Even though I have criticised Sinn Féin for its record on climate and biodiversity, the point is well made that the impact on nature is at the heart of this. It is very difficult for people to live in those environments, as Senator Wall has said. People are driving in and dumping fridges and all kinds of things or even throwing waste food outside people's houses, but it also impacts on the animals and wildlife in those areas. This situation does not allow us to achieve what we need to achieve to retain our natural environment and make sure the animals that are in our care, on either public or private land, are well cared for.

  I thank Senator Wall for bringing this Bill forward and I also thank Senator Byrne for the work he has done on this matter. They should look out for the circular economy Bill because there will be much in it that will address many of these issues from start to finish.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Erin McGreehan): Information on Erin McGreehan Zoom on Erin McGreehan I thank the Senator. I might bring in my own sewing machine some day to help out. I call Senator Black.

Senator Frances Black: Information on Frances Black Zoom on Frances Black I thank the Labour Party Senators Mark Wall, Maria Sherlock, Rebecca Moynihan, Annie Hoey and Ivana Bacik for putting forward this legislation, which is designed to create a safer environment for the common good of everyone. However, it is important to highlight the obvious concern that a balance between privacy and the common good must be struck. I am pleased that the Labour Party's press release on the introduction of this legislation refers to the need to tackle illegal dumping and other forms of antisocial behaviour. The reality of being able to identify culprits through the use of CCTV would naturally be a deterrent to this behaviour.

  We have to consider the multiple issues the introduction of CCTV would create. While I of course welcome legislation that aims to make the work of councillors at a local level easier, considering the incredible amount of work they do every day in their constituencies, I fear that the introduction of legislation such as this will disproportionately affect the right to privacy of those in lower-income and working-class areas. It is essential that the right to privacy of every individual is not compromised when it comes to the introduction of CCTV in public spaces. I cannot express strongly enough that we cannot allow a disproportionate infringement on privacy rights in working-class areas with the introduction of a Bill such as this one.

  While I believe the intentions of this Bill are positive, most of the issues it aims to tackle are covered by existing legislation. The Garda Síochána Act 2005 allows for CCTV to be erected and operated on authorisation from the Garda Commissioner for the purposes of "facilitating the deterrence, prevention, detection and prosecution of offences". This area also comes under the GDPR, the law enforcement directive, LED, and section 41(b) of the Data Protection Act 2018. Another point to note is that many of the purposes for which councils are using CCTV do not constitute offences and therefore fall outside the scope of the LED and Part 5 of the Data Protection Act. The breaches that are being investigated and the penalties levied are administrative, not criminal. The Data Protection Commission carried out an inquiry into Kerry County Council in March of last year.  It found the Litter Pollution Act 1997, the Waste Management Act 1996 and the Local Government Act 2001 do not provide a lawful basis Kerry County Council's use of CCTV to detect litter offences. The DPC comprehensively considered these Acts and found they do not regulate this processing of personal data, as is required by the law enforcement directive, as transposed by the Data Protection Act 2018.

  The DPC found that the way in which CCTV is being used did not meet the standards of clarity, precision and foreseeability in respect of such processing as required by the case law of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. While this Bill might be a response to those very real and pressing concerns, it does not really make its intersection with GDPR obligations clear enough. Potential concerns could arise as a result. The Bill does not include specific tests on the standards of clarity, precision and foreseeability which the DPC wants attached to processing.

  Another important perspective when looking at this legislation is that several issues would also potentially fail to be covered by it. For example, the Bill explicitly applies to offences and actions such as littering, where there are administrative fines rather than legal prosecution, fall outside the normal definition of an offence.

  At first glance, I commend the Bill because it is a very necessary attempt to help ease the burden felt by local authority members. The work they do every day is mammoth. However, beyond first glance and having taken at closer look at the legislation, bearing in mind the very real concerns that local authority members have, a better solution might be to amend existing legislation or perhaps even create new environmental offences.

  However, in general the main issues with local authority use of CCTV seem to relate more to problems with governance and proper implementation of existing law, including GDPR. GDPR affords protection and implements a legal mechanism of proportionality when it comes to the prosecution of a crime. However, the fear is that access to CCTV footage may result in normalising detection of crimes which is not proportionate and necessary. Under GDPR, any processing of data must be necessary and proportionate.

  Section 2 of the Bill mentions four purposes as follows: prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution. It is easy to see how a test of necessity and proportionality could be applied and satisfied in respect of investigation and prosecution of a known offence. However, the use of CCTV in prevention or detection requires much more care. The processing of data to investigate an offence is one thing but gathering or scanning personal data of whole communities in search of possible offences is a very different proposition. In addition, film or photographs of people's faces are not just personal data, but are biometric data, which are defined as especially sensitive personal data under Article 9 of the GDPR and are subject to a higher level of safeguard.

  Overall, I reiterate that I commend the Bill's attempt to create safer environments and to act as a deterrent to crime in local areas. Of course, I respect any attempt to do that. However, I believe the Bill will require several amendments on Committee Stage to ensure more safeguards. As it stands, the Bill is porous. In truth it is not good enough to leave the inclusion or non-inclusion of such safeguards entirely to the Minister of the day.

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne I commend Senator Wall. He and I have been chatting on this matter and we had a race to try to bring our own legislation forward. I know Senator Keogan was also trying to get this issue addressed. Ultimately, I am sure everyone in this House wants to see the scourge of illegal dumping addressed.

  I take some issue with what Senator Black said about concern in working-class areas. I get several complaints from working-class areas about the dumping that is happening in their communities, as well as what is happening in rural communities. There is a real demand to have this issue addressed. Given the powers that local authorities have, it is not that the GDPR is preventing CCTV being used; it is simply that the underpinning legislation is not in place.  A number of colleagues have raised the fact that dumping appears to be getting worse. That is possibly because of the work of Tidy Towns crews and development groups, which have been keeping areas clear for so long that we have not noticed the extent of the scourge, but because of the pandemic the dumping has become much more visible. I notice it when I am out walking or running. The point was made very eloquently by Senator Pauline O'Reilly that it is not just aesthetically unpleasing, but it is really damaging to the environment and especially to livestock. I do not care about privatisation or any such arguments because this is about civic responsibility. It costs more to load a bag into the back of a van and drive out a country road to dump it into a field than it does to bring it into a civic amenity site and dispose of it properly. This is about personal responsibility. The ignorant people who are dumping, whether it is in urban or rural areas, need to be caught and to face the full rigours of the law.

  I conducted a survey of all local authorities late last year on the cost of collecting waste and dealing with dumping and littering. Senator Wall is correct: I estimated it to be close to €120 million a year. One of the problems is that local authorities record expenditure on waste management in different ways. Wexford County Council receives an average of 2,500 complaints about dumping or littering every year and that is replicated throughout the country. In Wexford, we spend in the order of €2.3 to €2.6 million a year dealing with waste and litter. That, again, is replicated across local authorities.

  I support the Bill. I was working on a similar Bill. I do not mind which Bill goes forward to Committee Stage to address the matter, but it is crucial that the solution is technology-neutral. This is about using whatever technology can be used to catch those who are responsible. Senator Cummins referred to drone technology, which I would like to see being used. Unusually, while there is not underpinning legislation to use CCTV, there is underpinning legislation as part of the Waste Management Act 1996 that allows local authorities to use drone technology. The difficulty in the case in Waterford is that Waterford City and County Council failed to implement the necessary measures to prevent the unlawful processing of the data. That was not the council's fault, as its intention was good, but the measures fell foul. We must examine and put in place measures that are technology-neutral, not just to deal with fixed and mobile CCTV or drone technology but whatever technology is going to develop in the future.

  People talk about CCTV, but it is not good enough to capture somebody hopping out of a van. What we really need to look at is automated number plate recognition, ANPR, cameras. I appreciate some of the concerns outlined by Senator Black in that regard. There was a case taken by the DPC against Meath County Council where some of the data were not used properly. I have engaged quite a lot with the DPC on this. The DPC is very clear that it is not about GDPR trying to prevent us from catching any of these people, it is that we do not move to a surveillance society. The advice is very clearly that if we use the ANPR cameras, we must ensure there is an appropriate balance between the detection of litter offenders on one side and the risks to individuals who have committed no offence if we are following particular vehicles. Whatever we do to deal with it, we are tired of this scourge. People are fed up with it. Farmers are fed up of having to take bags of rubbish out of their fields. People in all communities, including working-class communities, are tired of finding stuff dumped in their area. People want to give local authorities whatever powers are necessary to address the issue.

  This is something that requires a lot of urgency. I know there are data protection issues, but they can be resolved and the DPC is happy to work on them. Whether it is Senator Wall's Bill, Senator Keogan's Bill, my Bill or a Government Bill, or whatever way we do it, I would love us to have the measures in place by this summer to finally address this issue.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan On a point of order, Senator Byrne mentioned breaches. In fact, Meath County Council was not in breach at all. A Garda system had been installed and, as such, it was the Garda Síochána that had not legislated for the automated number plate recognition, ANPR.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I welcome him to the House. I salute his commitment to local government and to reforming this particular area. I also thank the Labour Party and Senator Wall for bringing this very important Bill before the House.

  For a long time I have said that GDPR is extremely important. The GDPR legislation was brought in for very good reasons but there are times when it has unintended consequences and, in my view, illegal dumping is one of those situations. I do not think there is any right-minded person in this country who wants those who wantonly leave litter on our beautiful landscape to get away with doing so. I think most people would want whatever modern technologies are available to deal with the issue, to collect the evidence and to bring the people responsible to court. I agree with my colleague, Senator Cummins, that there are modern drones. I am glad that some local authorities are using drones now. I am glad that there is a legislative framework to facilitate the use of drones because they can be very effective, particularly when illegal dumping is done in areas that are difficult to reach and where it is difficult to install fixed CCTV equipment. It is in that sense that this legislation is important. I am glad that Second Stage is not being opposed and that the legislation will move to Committee Stage where there can be intense engagement to ensure that Senator Wall's Bill does not have unintended consequences as is often the case with legislation.

  I come from an area that is blessed with beautiful beaches and a number of them have been awarded the blue flag. Unfortunately, particularly during fine weather, quite an amount of litter is left on these beaches and I call on people not do litter. When people litter it sends out a terrible message and shows they do not value a beach and their act has a negative impact on the experience of people who travel to our beaches. Last summer, during beautiful weather, thousands of people visited County Clare and enjoyed the local beaches but, sadly, a minority of people left their rubbish behind. I often visit the beaches early in the morning and it is terrible to see Clare County Council staff in the process of cleaning the beaches. They are so dedicated and quickly transform the beaches back to their pristine condition but they should not have to do such work.

  We need to address legislation because we need to increase on-the-spot fines and deal with repeat offenders. Sadly, because we do not benefit from the type of CCTV coverage and other modern technologies it is very hard to catch repeat offenders because unless there is incontrovertible evidence one is not going to get a prosecution. Plus, the local authorities will not even pursue the matter because they know they will not get a prosecution.

  I wish to pay tribute to the hundreds of Tidy Town groups around the country for continuing to clean their communities during the pandemic. They have ensured that the entrances to towns, streets and estates around towns are kept clean. Incrementally, year-on-year, Ireland has become a prettier and cleaner place because of the work done by thousands of dedicated volunteers in Tidy Towns groups.  They are selfless in the work they do and they sometimes go unrecognised but the Tidy Towns programme, which is supported by the Government and SuperValu, is very worthwhile and has achieved a lot. In a similar vein, I pay tribute to Irish Business Against Litter, which was founded and is funded by Tom Cavanagh who has spent summer holidays in Lahinch over the years. Its surveys have certainly informed the commentary on our cities, large urban towns and small communities. The group has played a significant role in monitoring and keeping an eye on our communities and in ensuring that they have something to aspire to.

  There is a tremendous amount of goodwill out there but, sadly, there are also many people who do not have respect for our environment, beaches and communities, their neighbours and the people who live in or visit their communities. This is a worthwhile debate and I invite the Minister of State to return for statements on littering at some stage in the near future. We also look forward to debate on Committee Stage of Senator Wall's Bill.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I am sharing time with Senator Mullen. We will take three minutes each, if that is okay. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. He is welcome to the House. I compliment my colleague, Senator Wall, and his colleagues on bringing this important Bill before the House. We have heard about the Tidy Towns groups and various other groups that work really hard to keep our towns, cities, villages and rural areas clean and free from litter. I live right beside one of the busiest roads in Ireland, the M50. I walk every day now as I am trying to lose some of the old Christmas whatever and, within a quarter of a mile of my house, over three days, I found bags of clothes discarded on the side of the road. These bags were discarded on a road that is never free of traffic. There is always somebody on that road so whoever threw the clothes out had some neck.

  Senator Wall's Bill should go further. When he spoke, Senator Cummins touched on the issue of the technology now available, including drone technology. When the Bill comes to Committee Stage, I will table some amendments. The former Senator, Feargal Quinn, brought a Bill on drone technology through First Stage and Second Stage and on to Committee Stage. He pointed out that drones are now being used by criminals. They go into housing estates and fly the drones over and down the backs of houses to see if there is anybody in. If there is not, they break into the house. Drone technology can, however, also be used to manage illegal dumping.

  I live 2.5 km from a major recycling centre in Ballyogan. The fleet of traffic going in and out every Saturday and Sunday is something to behold. These are people who care about the place in which they live. They bring their rubbish and material for recycling to a centre.

  I will touch on two issues before I sit down. One is that we need greater education on the whole area of dumping, recycling, civic responsibility and all of that. The second is that we really need to give powers to local authorities. If people are caught dumping, they need to be brought through the legal system and it needs to hurt them where it hurts people most, in their pockets. I greatly appreciate that the Minister of State is not opposing this Bill and I again compliment my colleague, Senator Wall, and his party on bringing forward this legislation. I agree with everything Senators Byrne and Black said on the legalities of the matter.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen The data protection regime that has grown up over the past two decades is, generally speaking, a good thing. Like State regulation of any area, however, it has its downsides. The nature and scope of data protection obligations are complicated, to say the least. One downside is that GDPR is often invoked to deny citizens access to information to which they are entitled. We have all encountered such cases. Ordinary people and small voluntary organisations are also not certain of their obligations. I know of more than one local community organisation that has been reluctant to communicate with its own members by email or group text because it believes that doing so would be a breach of GDPR. Clearly, that is not the case, but we will see more GDPR issues arising in respect of WhatsApp groups, Zoom calls and so on.

  The Office of the Data Protection Commission is overworked and understaffed, with people waiting ages for a reply to even a standard query. The issue under discussion arises from a Data Protection Commission investigation into the use of CCTV by a local authority, where the commission found that the Waste Management Act and the Litter Pollution Acts did not sufficiently define in law the policy objectives that made the use of the CCTV footage legitimate for the purposes of prosecuting littering offences. We must accept that conclusion and, therefore, I support the Bill.

  CCTV is already used effectively, and to an increasing degree, in criminal trials. We saw in the trial of the killers of Patricia O'Connor how a next door neighbour's private camera was crucial in securing convictions. Strictly speaking, under the Ryneš decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union, footage recorded by a private camera of events on another person's property should not be admissible because it does not come within the so-called domestic use exemption. If I make a CCTV recording on my own property, I am not a data controller for the purposes of GDPR and the control, storage and retention of that information by me is not regulated by law, but any recording of areas outside my property is essentially viewed as having been recorded without any legal basis. However, the Irish courts seem to accept such recordings as evidence in criminal cases despite the Ryneš decision, which is a good balance.

  We face increasing issues with new technologies. There has been a proliferation of dashcams, owned by taxi drivers, capturing accidents, near misses and so on. I believe the DPC has indicated that, because these cameras face onto a public thoroughfare, they do not meet the domestic use exemption and, therefore, a taxi driver would have responsibilities in terms of retention and storage of data. That would seem a bit absurd.

  We have increasing anecdotal evidence of drones being used to fly over private properties to gather information ahead of burglaries. In Oranmore, Tesco and others have been using drones to deliver products to people. I often wonder whether one would be entitled to shoot a drone down if it passed over one's property on the way to deliver a birthday cake.

  These matters are well outside the scope of the GDPR, but the Minister of State may wish to comment on the fact that we will have to face up to issues that do not appear to be covered by the law. Regardless of EU law considerations, there are all sorts of connected issues arising to which the Oireachtas will have to turn its attention sooner or later for the sake of the common good.

Senator Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells I welcome the Minister of State. I welcome this Labour Party Bill, which was introduced by Senator Wall. Like him, I pay tribute to Senators Byrne and Cummins on their work. I welcome the thrust of the Bill and what is being proposed. The issue must be tackled across a range of areas. It is important that we be able to use technology to ensure successful convictions. We have discussed the right to privacy versus the public good. That matter was raised by Senator Black and others elsewhere, but if no one engaged in behaviour that was damaging to the public good, there would be no need for a Seanad debate on the use of CCTV to ensure convictions. That is the starting point in any discussion where the question of privacy laws is raised. Unfortunately, there are those who actively seek to destroy the civic and public good that we all enjoy.

  Thanks to the Department of Justice, my town is lucky to have high-definition CCTV on every street. When I spoke to a local garda on a Saturday night about crime statistics, he told me a funny story. Gardaí were monitoring streets from their station when they saw four yahoos coming out of the local night club and proceeding to the chipper, where they decided to throw their food all over the square. They thought they were funny lads altogether. The gardaí monitored all of this and sent a squad car around, where gardaí told the yahoos to clean up the food or come with them. It was a light-hearted story that showed the effectiveness of on-the-spot monitoring.

  There are concerns about the definitions potentially restricting us. All of those issues can be worked out.  One of my greatest frustrations when I was a councillor was seeing the amount of money we put every year into environmental and litter programmes - millions upon millions that we could have spent in many other areas. Since that time, Meath County Council has become much more proactive, with a recycling centre and civic amenity sites to ensure we encourage people to treat their waste in a more environmentally friendly manner.

  The introduction of a tax on plastic bags by my former colleague Noel Dempsey led to the virtual eradication of plastic waste throughout the country. Growing up, I thought plastic bags were a type of flower or heather, such was the proliferation of them on the verges of the country. We the people caused that because, as my mother would say, there was obviously a want in some of these people that they had to throw their waste out of their car windows rather than put it in a bin. People were against the introduction of the tax to tackle that, but it needed something like that to shake people out of their mindset. One sheep did it, so the other did it too, and it led to this disgusting behaviour that blighted our countryside. We will ultimately overcome this through a process of eradication but if it takes a process needing CCTV footage, so be it.

  I have given up on understanding the mentality of those who do this. It is a terrible reflection on the people themselves, who obviously have a want in them. It is disheartening to see how much illegal dumping and illegal littering there is. My town scored badly in the Irish Business Against Litter assessment. Following on from that, I engaged with the county council, which is redoubling its efforts, but nobody can legislate for pure ignorance. In many rural areas, not just towns, the level of illegal dumping on verges approaching scenic areas, such as the Hill of Tara in my area, would make one despair about one's fellow citizens. Equally, there are people who are not prepared to accept that and who will champion Tidy Towns initiatives. I am thinking of Jim Campion in Old Johnstown in my area tidying up around the Hill of Tara to ensure it would not become a litter blackspot.

  There is a core issue in respect of the Bill that I want to tackle. The real issue is that of illegal commercial dumping, that is, people who make a living out of this and who have made an industry out of it. A year ago, a case in Trim Circuit Court resulted in the taxpayer facing a bill of €6 million to clean an illegal dump in Rathcore, outside Enfield, County Meath. In that case, 70,000 tonnes of illegal waste, including asbestos, had been dumped over a three-year period. Fifty-one companies had been bringing illegal waste to an illegal dump and left the taxpayer with a bill for €6 million and the environment, more damagingly, with a bill that cannot be quantified in terms of money, given that the asbestos and the contaminated liquid were flowing from this large site into the River Blackwater. Tackling the core issue of those who want to profit from illegal dumping should be our main focus as the Government and the Opposition united, to thwart these people who want to damage our country. In that respect, whether it be fixed CCTV, drone technology or whatever is required, we can work together to stamp this out. In the first instance, however, we need citizens not to accept it and we need to stand up, face one another and say we do not accept this as a practice in our country.

  I commend the Labour Party on introducing the Bill and look forward to working with it to see its aims achieved.

Senator Barry Ward: Information on Barry Ward Zoom on Barry Ward Gabhaim buíochas, a Chathaoirligh Gníomhaigh. Táim chun mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Seanadóir Curry, trí nóiméad an duine.

  I welcome the Bill and congratulate Senator Wall and his colleagues on bringing it before the House. It is important that we set down a marker in respect of illegal dumping and this is one way, among others, in which we can do it. It is also important to recognise that there is capacity in local authorities to do this work. We cannot constantly rely on An Garda Síochána to be everywhere in the country. This is a role that local authorities can take on. At a time when it seems the Oireachtas more than ever is taking powers away from local authorities, it is welcome to see something being put into the hands of local authorities and responsibilities being assigned to them, instead of the other way round.  In light of the constitutional status of local government, we in these Houses have been remiss in recent times by constantly sidelining local authorities and the elected councillors who are their members.

  I refer to the content of the Bill. I know other Senators have commented on this issue, but the provisions of section 2(1) should include a clause to the effect that the evidence and data gathered should be used or admissible in the course of any criminal prosecution arising from it. It is entirely appropriate.

  As a general rule, I am a little bit uncomfortable with the proliferation of CCTV. That was the case when I was a member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. In Britain, our nearest geographical neighbour, and particularly in England, there is CCTV everywhere. It is very much an effective tool from a crime-solving point of view but it introduces an element of Big Brother. I am sure all Members have seen the picture of George Orwell's former residence in London which has a big CCTV camera outside it. I do not know whether that picture has been doctored. I have some misgivings about the proliferation of CCTV. However, in this instance, it is an entirely reasonable and proportionate use in order to solve a problem that exists throughout the country, particularly in rural areas, and I welcome the proposals in the Bill to deal with that.

Senator Emer Currie: Information on Emer Currie Zoom on Emer Currie I welcome the opportunity to speak on illegal dumping and this Bill which aims to ensure that CCTV can be used to prevent it. As I dropped my children to school today, I went down Tinkers Hill and along the Lower Road through Strawberry Beds and noticed the rubbish. I made a mental note that when I came in today I had to ring the council about the rubbish on Clonee Road, Clonsilla Road and Ongar Distributor Road and at Ongar Wood, Tír na nÓg park in Carpenterstown and the 12th lock in Castleknock, as well as the lack of bins in the Phoenix Park. Those are the locations about which people contacted me just this week regarding litter in Dublin 15.

  It stuns me that we have never been more environmentally aware and have Tidy Towns groups in areas such as Castleknock, Blanchardstown and Ongar as well as clean-up organisations that are the essence of community action and committed to protecting biodiversity, yet illegal dumping is worse than ever. During Covid, there have been bags of dog waste hanging off trees, masks carelessly dumped on the road and bags of rubbish tipped out at quiet and hidden spots. People have noticed such litter more during lockdown as they were able to enjoy their 5 km zones when life slowed down but, unfortunately, the illegal dumpers did not slow down. We must acknowledge the biodiversity crisis we have and the effect that littering has on it. One sees the historical dumping in one's community when walking or cycling on roads during the lockdown that one would not normally get to see.

  I acknowledge that for some people there is financial hardship and that there may be people who are struggling to pay bin charges. However, there are provisions in place to deal with that. What we are discussing today is not hardship; it is heartlessness.

  We have to give councils the effective legal mechanisms to deal with this issue and it is to be hoped that the Bill would do so. I acknowledge the work of councillors and how frustrating it is for them to ring the council on a weekly basis about the same spots and the same people who are dumping. However, unless there is a person sitting there watching people littering and can catch them doing so, the dumpers cannot be prosecuted. It is really frustrating for councillors and local authorities and makes their job so much harder. They are using work-intensive methods to catch people, such as through using the waste by-laws or identifying areas where there is dumping and then checking who has or has not got a waste contract and following it up. That is far too much work. The Bill would be of assistance to them.

  I acknowledge people's frustration on this issue. Many people have a tendency to blame the councils and councillors instead of the people who are actually doing this. I support the efforts behind this Bill and the usage of CCTV in law enforcement being placed on a statutory basis, but it is the tip of the rubbish pile in terms of the work that is planned with regard to the waste management (circular economy) Bill and the work that was done by the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, on the waste action plan.  We need big plans to deal with this and they must take into consideration people's behaviour. We need a strategy that accompanies and complements people's patterns and behaviours, making it easier for people to get rid of their rubbish responsibly. I very much look forward to being able to debate that Bill whenever we get to see it.

Senator Marie Sherlock: Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock When it comes to our communities, whether they are urban, rural, inner city or remote, there is not a single issue that animates such a large number of people or drives them more crazy than that of illegal dumping. Many of us have previously served as councillors and the housing shortage and illegal dumping are probably two of the most frustrating and intractable issues that we have had to confront on a daily and weekly basis.

  I am really delighted and very proud that my Labour Party colleague, Senator Wall, has brought forward this Bill today. I know many others have worked on such matters over the years but we are debating this Bill today as it has made it to Second Stage. The Local Government (use of CCTV in Prosecution of Offences) Bill 2021 is really important as a potential additional tool for communities and authorities to fight back against illegal dumping.

  It has been said today that this is not a magic bullet but we are not claiming it is. There are few magic bullets in life. However, this is an important additional tool in the arsenal of local authorities in trying to deter and detect those who are engaged in illegal dumping. It is usually people who are engaged in persistent illegal dumping, as all the information on the ground is that this is not typically a once-off activity, and time and again the same people are involved. It has been said already today that local authorities do not have the power to use data collected by CCTV to prosecute at this point.

  I live among many communities in Dublin Central where areas are unfortunately and sadly singled out for some of the highest levels of littering and illegal dumping activity in the country. Walking through these communities, starting from Stoneybatter and going all the way to North Strand or East Wall and up to Phibsborough, Cabra, Drumcondra and Glasnevin, one finds very proud communities and residents who, month in and month out, engage in clean-ups, the Tidy Towns competition and other local initiatives in trying to do their bit for that community. The work is driven and complemented by the great work of Dublin City Council and I pay particular tribute to the public domain enforcement officer, Mr. John McPartland, with whom I have had many dealings over the years. There has been great innovation from some waste management officers, including Mr. Sean-Michael Larkin, in working with local communities and bringing initiatives to help detection and the cleaning up when illegal dumping occurs. In ways we are only tipping around the edges and tackling the symptoms with the speedy collection of illegally dumped waste and communicating with local communities. We are not dealing with the underlying reasons.

  Illegal dumping is not a victimless crime and it imposes an enormous cost on local authorities that are under massive financial strain. Dublin City Council could spend millions of euro more on waste collection and management but it still would not tackle the issue. We must start that conversation and this Bill is as much about that as it is about CCTV. It is about starting the conversation about resolving these matters.

  This is about culture. It is not okay that we have a personal disregard, lack of responsibility, ignorance or a feckless attitude towards local communities.  That is not okay. That is the number one issue and we need to look at that.

  We also need to consider housing and overcrowding, particularly in my part of Dublin city, but also in other cities and towns throughout the country. Overcrowded houses are leading to a situation in which people are engaging in illegal dumping. There is never any excuse for illegal dumping but overcrowding is a cause of it. I could bring the Minister on a tour of many of the roads and streets I am familiar with in my constituency and there are examples there of ten or 15 people squeezed into two, three and four-bedroom houses. Where are they going to go with their waste? Waste is the least of their concerns. We, therefore, have to look at overcrowding.

  We also have to examine the provision of waste management services across our counties and cities. There are multiple operators in Dublin, often operating on the same road or street. There is a patchy service and communities are effectively falling through the cracks. Nobody is taking overall responsibility for co-ordination or management of waste collection. We need to start that conversation about bringing those waste management services back into the local authorities, having them managed by the local authorities, and effectively getting to the root of illegal dumping on a permanent basis.

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I thank the Labour Party and Senator Wall for bringing this important issue before the Oireachtas. Many of us have struggled with the issue of illegal dumping in our areas and the frustration of seeing repeat offenders not being prosecuted for destroying our lovely local environments.

  The Curragh plains is an area I have often spoken about in this House as the problem of illegal dumping there has been a major scourge for many years. I acknowledge, however, that the same activities are happening all over my county and all over the country. We recently had an instance of illegal dumping in the Kildoon and Nurney area and we regularly have dumping in the Lullymore area. Kildare County Council reports 40 to 50 incidents of illegal dumping every week and it spends more than €3 million per annum in dealing with same. That figure means the local authorities across the country spend about €90 million per year on illegal dumping. In December and January alone, more than 2,000 illegal dumping incidents were reported to Kildare County Council.

  It is incredible that people have such a lack of civic-mindedness that they perpetuate this awful behaviour of dumping domestic, personal and other rubbish. There are two types of perpetrators. First, there are people engaged in fly-tipping who will indiscriminately dump bags of rubbish anywhere they see an opportunity to do so and feel that they get away with it. Second, there are the illegal waste operator making money from illegal dumping. There is a big case of this in Killina in north-west Kildare. It is shocking. I accept that there has to be a legal process but it seems to take forever. The offenders do not seem to be penalised in an appropriate or proper way but I accept that this is my view.

  As a member of the Kildare joint policing committee, I on a subcommittee that tried to roll out State funding for CCTV but we kept coming up against particular barriers. Some areas such as Laragh, County Wicklow seem to have had success. There were problems there, which Senator Wall is addressing in this legislation but which we could not get over. We need to put legislation in place to permit the use of CCTV technology to secure convictions.  There are terrific initiatives from our spring clean groups, Tidy Towns volunteers, green kilometre scheme or grants, as well as all the work our residents do. It is absolutely shocking then when we see what those who are just so un-civic minded are doing.

  There are some flaws within the legislation, as I am sure Senator Wall is aware, but it is important to note that the Government and the Minister of State are working on this. We are all aware that there is a balance to be struck between our right to privacy and the need to protect our environment, but on balance, a slight loss of privacy is a price worth paying.

Senator Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy In the few minutes I have I will try to deal with a few quick points. Senator Wall is to be highly commended for getting this debate going. My colleague, Senator Byrne, has done a lot of work in this area and the Minister of State has a huge interest it. With the Government's plan going forward, this Bill and all of us working together, we can make this happen and make it work.

  We should move away from saying this is a huge problem with individuals. Senator Cassells put his finger on it. There are a number of illegal operators who are doing this job cheaply by going into estates and loading up people's rubbish. If illegal dumping happens in an estate or a town, at least people will see it but out in a rural area it can be there for months. Then someone will say that he or she was down such a road today and when one goes over there are trailer loads of rubbish. It is because of illegal operators. The politicians, the Garda and the local authorities know that the people doing this are involved in other undesirable activities. They need to be targeted in any legislation, whether it comes from the Government, Senator Wall or anyone else here. Let us not be afraid to see that here today. There are people in local authorities, Tidy Towns people and young people in our schools who are so conscious of our environment and of litter. They are brilliant. In many circumstances councillors go out onto the scene and clean up the area with council staff. We have done it ourselves. It is about time we target the real villains here.

  I had a situation in my own area where a small group of people from Longford town were illegally transferring rubbish across the Roscommon border and dumping it in a bog area. I was physically threatened by some of these people about ten years ago. My kids, who were very young at the time, begged me not to do anything because I would be hurt or something would happen to the house. These people were physically threatening people and I reluctantly moved away from the issue. Shamefully, I did not tell my local authority or report them because I was putting my family first. In this legislation, let us target these people and get them out of the way for what they are doing. We must deal with them very sharply because they need to be dealt with.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. We see a lot of him here and I thank him for coming in to discuss this very important Bill from Senator Wall. I compliment the Senator on bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. It is very important and is coming forward at a very apt time. We can see now more than ever the illegal dumping of stuff because of the amount of walking everybody is doing on byways and roadways and so on. It is unbelievable the amount of rubbish that is not only in bogs and rivers but along main roads and byroads. People are just throwing it out the window. How does one catch those people? There cannot be CCTV cameras everywhere. I welcome the Bill. It is incredible to think that it is probably the same people who are doing it.

  I see this issue in my own area, with places littered with Red Bull cans. Obviously, that is not a daytime exercise. It is more than likely at night that the Red Bull cans, plastic bags and so forth are being thrown out the window. I know from being in the catering business and the fast food business for a number of years that the area got a lot of criticism but it was not the only area that had a problem. At that time, the place was littered with plastic bags but I do not know any fast food outlet that is giving out plastic bags so they were coming from supermarkets and other places. There is a huge responsibility on everybody regarding this issue.  Many people are involved in dumping. Even if it is only a cigarette butt thrown out of the window of a car, it is illegal. It is not supposed to happen, and it should not happen. We need to use whatever resources are available to the State, local authorities and whomever else to try to clean up our countryside. Great credit is due to the many people who give their time voluntarily to Tidy Towns committees and various other committees to clean up towns and the countryside, including going through rubbish to identify the name of somebody who has dumped illegally. Of course, they are very cute nowadays and that is probably not happening. There is an onus on everybody. People on Tidy Towns committees tell me they are cleaning the same places every year and the rubbish is in the same place year after year.

  I am delighted that the Minister of State is accepting Senator Wall's Private Members' Bill, which represents a step forward. It may be possible to improve it and if so, that is good. Even if it cannot be improved, the Bill should be passed into law because as I said earlier, we need to use whatever tools are available to the State and local authorities. I am sure the Minister of State will stress the colossal amount that is spent by local authorities. One Senator suggested it is an average of €80 million or €90 million in each local authority. That level of money should not be spent on collecting rubbish and disposing of it appropriately. This money could be used to benefit towns and villages or to build houses or go towards other greater needs than having to collect rubbish.

  I support the Bill and I am delighted that the Minister of State is taking it on board. I again thank the Tidy Towns committees for the great work they do. In my town of Castlebar, McGrath Waste has a recycling facility, which is a fabulous place. People can go in there with all their rubbish if they want and recycle what they can, with what is left going away for landfill. It is a great amenity. They exist in other towns as well. They are not that far away from most people who have transport. There may be some problems in cities where there is overcrowding and so forth. Those facilities are a great amenity.

  Until relatively recently in certain towns, dustbins would be overflowing for several weeks, but new bins are in use now. A neighbour of mine, Tom Griffin, from Balla in County Mayo makes a bin with a solar panel system that compacts the rubbish in the bin. There is no great problem nowadays with dustbins overflowing with rubbish. In many cases those bins can also notify the local authority when it is time for them to be collected. Many advances have been made and there is no need to throw rubbish on the side of the road because a landfill or recycling centre is never that far away now. I urge people to have a look before they throw rubbish out the window. Even if it takes CCTV to deal with this issue, it is a step in the right direction.

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Peter Burke): Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke I thank all the Senators who contributed. I acknowledge the heroic efforts made on a daily basis by the outdoor staff in our local authorities, by our litter wardens and by the Tidy Towns groups who work so hard in our communities to keep things looking so well under very difficult circumstances, as outlined by many contributors to this debate. We are very grateful to them for their efforts. They do great work and go above and beyond the call of duty every day.  I thank Senator Wall and his Labour Party colleagues for initiating the Bill, which is an important piece of work. I think all in this Chamber would agree that the problem of illegal dumping is a scourge on the landscape, a serious threat to environment and it results in significant clear-up costs for the State. Those points have been very well articulated today. I also think we would agree that local authorities should be supported in their ongoing efforts to tackle the problem of illegal dumping, including by enabling them with the appropriate legal base to use available and emerging technology to identify and prosecute offenders. As Senator Wall set out, the Commissioner for Data Protection wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications in September 2020 concerning data protection issues with the use of CCTV cameras for litter and waste enforcement purposes. The commissioner's view was that, while the Litter Pollution Act and the Waste Management Act provide local authorities with powers to prevent, investigate, detect and prosecute littering and dumping offences, the Acts do not provide for the processing of images of members of the public using CCTV footage. I believe that it is primarily this gap in the legislation that Senator Wall and his colleagues are working to address with their Bill. As this seems to be its main intention, the Government has agreed in principle not to oppose the Bill. However, I take this opportunity to point out that the Government, under the remit of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, is already well positioned to address the complex issues raised by the Commissioner for Data Protection, including by introducing appropriate legislation.

  In the first instance, Ireland's Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, published in September 2020, commits the Government to implementing a range of measures, including tackling the problem of illegal dumping. One of the commitments in the action plan states that "all waste enforcement legislation will be 'data proofed' to ensure that all available and emerging technologies can be fully utilised in a manner which is GDPR compliant." The specific advice received from the Data Protection Commissioner is currently under consideration by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. For its part, the DPC is currently engaging with the County and City Management Association, CCMA, on the practical issues raised by the DPC and on the practical use of audiovisual recording equipment.

  In line with the action plan, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is working on the draft heads of a circular economy Bill, with a view to underpinning measures promoting the development of a circular economy. Relevant output from the discussions between the CCMA and the DPC, as well as the commitment in the waste action plan, could be introduced in the Bill. This would help to ensure that the processing of personal data may be carried out by local authorities tasked with enforcing litter and waste law, thus protecting the environment from the blight of illegal dumping, while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of citizens.

  In addition, funding of €3 million was allocated by the Government last year to an anti-dumping initiative. The initiative supports local authorities to work in partnership with community organisations in delivering some 300 projects across the country, addressing problem areas, developing enforcement responses and carrying out clean-up operations. Further funding of €1 million was provided to support the activities of the waste enforcement regional lead authorities and €7.4 million was provided to the network of 150 local authority waste enforcement officers. While allocations for 2021 are not yet finalised, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications has undertaken to continue to invest significantly in the local authority network to ensure there is a robust, sustainable waste enforcement system in place to combat all illegal waste activity. In order to provide for a more co-ordinated and strategic approach to dealing with waste crime, multi-agency forums have been established in all Garda regions. These are facilitating more Garda-led multi-agency operations and have resulted in the cessation of very significant illegal waste activities with corresponding environmental benefits on identified sites across the country. Penalties for illegal dumping are significant. Persons who are found to be responsible for the unauthorised disposal of waste are liable to a maximum fine of €5,000 on summary conviction or imprisonment for up to 12 months. The upcoming circular economy Bill will consider even further changes to fixed-penalty notices.

  Turning to the Bill initiated by Senator Wall, I wish to flag a number of concerns identified, which will require careful and detailed analysis if this Bill is to proceed through the legislative process. First, the Bill implies an amendment to the Local Government Acts and would therefore have applicability to the full range of offences under the remit of local authorities.  This would involve the use by the local authorities of CCTV in the enforcement of more than litter and waste management legislation, the issue specifically examined by the DPC. As the Bill is broadly drafted without clear parameters of applicability, a review of all areas to which the law could apply would be appropriate and, indeed, necessary. Given the wide-ranging nature of the Bill, it also raises an issue relating to the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018 that the processing of personal data is necessary for the performance of a function of a data controller. It may not, in all cases, be necessary for a local authority to use CCTV in the enforcement of offences and this would need to be carefully examined in each instance.

  The Bill also raises concerns relating to potential infringements of a person's right to private property, as it does not appear to limit the location of the installation of a CCTV camera. A final technical point is that the Bill takes a narrow focus on the use of CCTV only. It is not predicated on a wider future-proofing that would facilitate the use of audiovisual recording equipment. It is also believed that legislative changes would apply to audiovisual recording in a broader sense, rather than to CCTV only.

  I thank Senator Wall and his colleagues in the Labour Party for initiating the Bill. I thank all of the Senators for their contributions. As advised previously, the Government will not oppose the Bill.

Senator Mark Wall: Information on Mark Wall Zoom on Mark Wall I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. This Bill is an attempt by the Labour Party to address the issues that concern local authorities, and our councillors and local representatives in particular. As I said in my opening remarks, a large number of local representatives in the Labour Party and local representatives around the country have raised this issue with us. Indeed, other Senators have asked for the issue to be addressed. The Bill is a genuine attempt by the Labour Party to ensure we can use CCTV for the prosecution, identification and determination of illegal waste.

  I thank Senator Moynihan for seconding my Bill. She also spoke about the extent of dumping that has occurred in her own area.

  As I had previously done, Senator Cummins mentioned that seven local authorities have been pulled up, in essence, by the DPC. The Senator is right that a problem exists and the Bill is a genuine attempt by the Labour Party to address those concerns.

  Senator Keogan raised a very important point, as did the Minister of State, about having data controllers. Senator Keogan has stated that it is a problem. It is a problem that we are getting through our joint policing committees. It is a problem and, again, it is something we can tease out further on Committee Stage, which I hope happens as quickly as possible.

  The Labour Party agrees with Senator Boylan, who rightly said that more work needs to be done in this area. Illegal dumping is a huge problem. We have estimated that €90 million per year is wasted on cleaning up after illegal dumping. The Bill is a genuine attempt to start the conversation and discuss the use of CCTV cameras for the detection of illegal dumping and the prosecution of the perpetrators.

  Senator Boylan also mentioned civic amenity centres. Like myself, I am sure that the Minister of State is aware of how beneficial such centres are in many areas. My own area of Athy has a terrific civic amenity centre. Civic amenity centres play a vital role in protecting us from illegal dumping and I am sure we can tease out any issues concerning opening hours. More centres are needed and people in north Kildare have called for one to be established for many years.

  Senator Pauline O'Reilly eloquently described the "river of waste" beside her home that she sees when she is out on a walk, etc. As the Minister of State has told us, the Minister is bringing forward a Bill that we in the Labour Party totally support. We are looking for this to be done in the quickest possible time, and that is what today's debate is about.

  It is not often that I disagree with Senator Black. She is a good colleague but, unfortunately, I must disagree with her today. This week alone, I was contacted by ten people from a working-class community about a single incident. For too long, they have had to put up with people dumping rubbish on their doorsteps and walkways, and they simply cannot put up with it any more. I seldom classify people but the people who contacted me are from working-class communities and they are the people I represent. They have asked me why we cannot use CCTV to prosecute the people who dump rubbish on their doorsteps.  I thank Senator Byrne for the conversations we have had on this matter over a period and for his advice. He has done a lot of work in this area and is also bringing forward legislation, which we will support. As other Senators have said, it is very important that we work across parties and groups to support initiatives in this area.

  Senator Conway spoke about the Tidy Towns groups. I could not agree more with him regarding the work they do. Senator Craughwell asked about going further with technology, an issue the Minister of State also touched on, but, as I have already said, this legislation is just aimed at addressing the issue being raised with us by local representatives in the Labour Party and by other local representatives throughout the country. I thank Senator Mullen for his support.

  Senator Cassells raised an issue which I raised in the House earlier today, the issue of those whom I call "the professionals". These are the people who go around our housing estates in a car or van, flashing their lights to let people know to come out with their black bags. We need to tackle them. We also need to tackle the social media companies that facilitate their advertising. That needs to be tackled. Some of our local representatives have tried to do that.

  I agree with Senator Ward. The Minister of State is on record as saying we need to give more powers to our local authorities. I know he is working on that. We in the Labour Party will support giving as much power as possible back to our local authorities.

  I agree with Senator Currie, who outlined the dumping she has heard of this week. I myself have dealt with ten separate cases already this week. Senator Sherlock said that this is not a magic bullet. It is not, but it is a very important tool. Senator O'Loughlin spoke about the Curragh plains, an area very dear to me. Senator Fitzpatrick spoke about the frustrations as I have outlined. I agree with Senator Murphy that we should be working together. With regard to Senator Burke's comments, in my case it is Captain Morgan's and cola cans rather than Red Bull cans that I have to pick up on my road when I go for a walk every evening.

  I thank the Minister of State for accepting this Bill for what it is, which is a genuine attempt by the Labour Party to address the concerns of our local representatives and, more importantly, the frustrations of those who find illegally dumped material on their doorsteps, particularly since they have begun taking walks in our beautiful countryside within the 5 km allowed under the restrictions. As others have said, this issue does not only affect our countryside, but our streets and cities as well.

  Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Marie Sherlock): Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Mark Wall: Information on Mark Wall Zoom on Mark Wall Next Monday.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Marie Sherlock): Information on Marie Sherlock Zoom on Marie Sherlock Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Committee Stage ordered for Monday, 8 March 2021.

  Sitting suspended at 3.32 p.m. and resumed at 3.48 p.m.

Children (Amendment) Bill 2020: Report and Final Stages

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I welcome the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and colleagues. Before we commence, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once to an amendment on Report Stage except its proposer, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment, and each non-Government amendment must be seconded.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, to delete lines 10 to 31, and in page 4, to delete lines 1 to 23 and substitute the following:

“Amendment of Children Act 2001
1. (1) The Children Act 2001 is amended by the substitution of the following for section 252:
“Anonymity of child in court proceedings
252. (1) Subject to this section, in relation to any proceedings for an offence against a child or where a child is a witness in any such proceedings—
(a) no report which reveals the name, address or school of the child or includes any particulars likely to lead to his or her identification, and

(b) no picture which purports to be or include a picture of the child or which is likely to lead to his or her identification,
shall be published or included in a broadcast.

(2) Subsection (1) shall not apply to the publication or inclusion in a broadcast or report of a report or picture referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection relating to a child where—
(a) the proceedings concerned relate to the death of the child, and

(b) such publication or inclusion would not result in a contravention of—
(i) that subsection in so far as it related to another child, or

(ii) section 93.
(3) Subsection (1) shall not apply to the publication or inclusion in a broadcast of a report or picture referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection relating to the person against whom the offence concerned is alleged to have been committed where—
(a) the person has attained the age of 18 years on or before the date on which the proceedings commence, and

(b) such publication or inclusion in a broadcast of the report or picture would not result in a contravention of—
(i) that subsection in so far as it relates to another person, who is a child, or

(ii) section 93.
(4) Subsection (3) is without prejudice to any other enactment or rule of law applicable to proceedings referred to in subsection (1) that operates to prohibit the publication or inclusion in a broadcast of a report or picture referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection relating to any person.

(5) Subject to subsection (6), the court may dispense to any specified extent with the requirements of subsection (1) if it is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so in the best interests of the child.

(6) The court shall not, in accordance with subsection (2), dispense with the requirements of subsection (1) in respect of a child where to do so would result in the contravention of—
(a) that subsection in so far as it relates to another child, or

(b) section 93.
(7) Where the court dispenses with the requirements of subsection (1), the court shall explain in open court why it is satisfied it should do so.

(8) Subsections (3) to (6) of section 51 shall apply, with necessary modifications, for the purposes of this section.

(9) Nothing in this section shall affect the law as to contempt of court.”.
(2) The amendment effected by subsection (1) shall, on and from the date on which this section comes into operation, apply to the publication or inclusion in a broadcast of a report or picture to which section 252(1) of the Children Act 2001 applies, irrespective of whether the proceedings referred to in that subsection were commenced before that date.”.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I second the amendment.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Since the last occasion on which we discussed the Bill, which was Monday, something happened about which the Minister should be aware. I was contacted by a journalist who was going to do a piece on the legislation and wanted to discuss the matter with me. This was an experienced and level-headed journalist who had been looking at the Minister's amendments and could not understand them at all. The journalist asked whether I could explain what was and was not now permitted.  That experience reinforced my belief that the legislation, as amended in committee in this House, is unintelligible to ordinary persons, and that they would have to have two documents, or perhaps more, in front of them to understand it. They would have to have the text of section 252 of the Children Act 2001 as it originally was, as well as that of the amending Bill.

On the previous occasion, we discussed the desirability of having a text that will be easily understood by the Judiciary, practitioners, relatives of injured and deceased parties, witnesses and members of the media so as to have a clear statement of precisely what the law is in respect of the reportage of proceedings involving children generally, and in particular of criminal proceedings where a child has been the subject of homicide. It is my strong conviction that this House has a duty when it is passing legislation to make the law clear and not obscure. It is also my strong conviction that, unless it is unavoidable and unless there is some obvious reason it should not be done, the practice should be to set out, in respect of an important section of this kind, what the law is in an intelligible, accessible and legible format.

On the previous occasion, I mentioned the possibility that a perfect stranger could enter a home and kill a child and that a child witness might be the sole witness for the prosecution as to the facts. The identity of the child witness might be gleaned by the fact that, say, the children shared a bedroom or because the circumstances were that their relationship was clear. We should not enact a law that prohibits the identification of the deceased child on the basis that a child witness might, in a derivative way, be identified.

I have been thinking about the point I made in respect of that on the previous occasion. It seems to me that section 252(1), as it is supposed to be amended here, will set out a general principle. My amendment provides that:

Subject to this section, in relation to any proceedings for an offence against a child or where a child is a witness in any such proceedings—

(a) no report which reveals the name, address or school of the child or includes any particulars likely to lead to his or her identification,and

(b) no picture which purports to be or include a picture of the child or which is likely to lead to his or her identification,

shall be published or included in a broadcast.

 The proposal is to introduce, on the Minister's text, a new subsection (1A) providing:

Subsection (1) shall not apply to the publication or inclusion in a broadcast of a report or picture referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) of that subsection relating to a child where—
(a) the proceedings concerned relate to the death of the child, and

(b) such publication or inclusion in a broadcast would not result in a contravention of—
(i) that subsection in so far as it relates to another child, or

(ii) section 93.

  Subsection (5) of the amendment I have tabled states that "the court may dispense to any specified extent with the requirements of subsection (1) if it is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so in the best interests of the child." However, that right is circumscribed by subsection (2A) in the Minister's text which provides that:

The court shall not, in accordance with subsection (2), dispense with the requirements of subsection (1) in respect of a child where to do so would result in the contravention of
(a) that subsection in so far as it relates to another child, or

(b) section 93.

 It seems to me that the cumulative effect of that is that we are actually putting into statute law that if a person goes into a house and murders a child and the main witness against that person is another child of 15 or 16, for example, the child who is murdered cannot be named in circumstances which I am contemplating. I may be wrong on that. If I am, I would like the Minister to explain why that is the case.

  Subsection (1) seems to me to be intended to be of general application. Subsection (1A) as proposed by the Minister seems to be a derogation from subsection (1). A later subsection which allows the court to dispense to any specified extent with the requirement of subsection (1) if it is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so in the best interest of the child seems to me to have the effect of prohibiting dispensation where another child would be identified. I may be wrong on that. I would be interested to hear the Minister on it.

  In any event, it seems to me that the language or the terms of the amendment I have proposed to the House are intelligible to any ordinary journalist, witness, legal practitioner or judge in the District Court or wherever else. To give an example, if a person is charged with the murder of a child and brought before the District Court, the names of witnesses are not mentioned at that stage.  Therefore, if Joe Bloggs is charged at Kilmainham District Court, or wherever it is, with the murder of John Smith, a child, it seems to be legitimate to say that as it is a fair report. The problem arises at a later stage if the trial takes place and the identity of a witness becomes an issue. A different prohibition is engaged, which is that the possible identification of the witness child may prevent the naming of the victim. That is the point I am making.

  I ask the Minister to consider the points I am making. Is she confident and will she explain why, if it is the case, we are not creating another problem of the kind found by the Court of Appeal in respect of future cases where the particular complexity I speak of might arise?

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister to the House. I am glad to second the Senator's proposed amendment and echo his comments about the need for coherence in drafting and making legislation, particularly criminal legislation, accessible. I know that is the spirit in which he brings this amendment.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney I have given much consideration to this since Monday as the debate in the House was very good and provided much food for thought. I considered a few aspects.

  In journalism we are dealing with professionals who have come through college, in the main, and been taught about defamation and legal limitations in the practice of their art and skill. This will form part of that process and it will be a significant event in halting the ability of journalists to name victims of crime, including the ultimate horrific crime of homicide. In that regard I have full faith in their training and the fact that the Law Reform Commission has published consolidated documentation on the legislation. Anybody bound by law in the practice of the profession generally has an awareness of that legislation. We would not be dealing with Joe Smith on the street but rather people who in the very act of carrying out their job will see legal implications. That will happen and in that way we are dealing with the same text, albeit laid out with different numbering. I support the Minister's resistance in this regard as the amendments are clearly inserted where they should be. Any other text or issuance from the Departments dealing with children or justice matters does not have to be amended as the reference numbers will be the same. There is coherence.

  I have gone back on forth on the provisions in subsections 2 and 2A and there is an entitlement of incremental dispensing of this prohibition.  That is qualified by subsection 2A but not prohibitively so. As long as the judge gives his or her determination in the public court on why he or she has made the decision he or she has made - because there is a further section which obliges that - then it can be incremental. It can be to limit the naming of a child witness, while still permitting the naming of the child victim or victims. That is coherently found and contained within section 2 of the Act and within the Government's amendment to it. This will be all right because it makes sense and there is a proper qualification in there that I am comfortable with.

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I thank all of the Senators for their contributions, particularly Senator McDowell. I have reflected on the points from last week and I appreciate the spirit of co-operation there has been. Senator McDowell's amendment has not been put forward to change policy or the context but to change the form. I know there are merits to this approach and it is not that we just go with what the norm is because that is the way it has always been done and therefore that is the way it should be done in the future. There are a number of disadvantages in this instance, however, to changing the format.

  As Senator Seery Kearney has outlined, we are dealing with the section that should be known by those who are mostly affected by it. The changes we are talking about are in reference to the recent judgment of Mr. Justice Birmingham. The approach we have adopted on Committee Stage clearly shows what changes are being made to section 252. That is what people want to know. They want to know how we will restore the law to what people thought it was before the last ruling. Our amendment is clear. People can look at it and know that what we are amending will bring about the changes we have set out, namely that parents can name their children and that anybody who is now an adult who wishes to name himself or herself, having gone through a process as a child, can do so. This also applies retrospectively.

  I mention the fact that Senator McDowell's amendments renumber key subsections so that there is no correlation between them. That will make it more difficult for previous judgments, academic texts and commentary to follow those subsections. For example, subsection 2 would become subsection 5. It is important that we keep that correlation in place. The Office of Parliamentary Counsel is responsible for drafting the legislation and ensuring consistency. It is important that where possible and where it is the best approach to do so, we keep that consistency. As I have said, it should not be the case that because we have always done something a particular way that this is the way it needs to be done in the future. However, for the reasons I have outlined, in this instance it is appropriate to follow that route.

  It has been mentioned that the Law Reform Commission prepares a consolidated version of Acts, and will do so for this Act. Once this Act is hopefully passed in short order, that will bring all of this together and it will be clear and understandable in that format. This consolidated text will be available to everybody, including to journalists in particular, in due course.

  Subsection 2A, which is amending subsection (2), is being inserted to ensure a court will not dispense with the requirements of subsection (1) without considering the interests of the other child who perhaps is a witness. For the example Senator McDowell has outlined, when a child is in a bedroom with another child who is murdered, it does not apply. Subsection 2A does not apply where there is only one child and where that child is deceased. However, if there is another child present, the court has to look at the possible negative impacts or consequences it might have. It does not restrict the court and there is flexibility to be able to name one child and not another. That is how it is set out in subsection 2A. It will not apply if the only child involved is deceased or if there is only one living child involved it will only apply when two or more children are involved. If the application is made to dispense with the application of subsection (1) with respect to one child, the court has to consider how this will impact on the other child but it has the flexibility to do so. I reassure the Senator and the House that this flexibility is there and that it is not just the best interests of the child that have to be taken into account but other circumstances as well.  I hope that clarifies matters.

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I believe the Minister is now saying that the scenario I mentioned is incorrect. If I understand her, she is saying that if a 16-year-old child, for instance, is the only witness to the murder of a 12-year-old child, nothing can be published in the court report identifying the victim, insofar as the victim's identity would tend to identify the witness' identity. If that is the law towards which we are going, it is a profound mistake. There should be flexibility. It is wrong for the parents of a deceased child to be in a position where, because one of their other children was a witness in the case, the identity of their deceased child cannot be made public. It certainly was not my intention or Deputy O'Callaghan's intention, when we tabled proposals to reverse the Court of Appeals decision, to drive the law down that particular cul-de-sac.

  I listened to what Senator Seery Kearney said. It is all very well to say that journalists are well trained. However, an already-qualified journalist who was trying to report on this section could not make head nor tail of it. I am just saying that as a matter of fact. They told me that they could not make head nor tail of what had been decided the other day in Dáil Éireann. I mentioned the categories of practitioners including judges, witnesses, family members and journalists. Now we also have another bracket of people, which is those who comment on trials on social media. They do not get training about what the law means but they are entitled to find it out. If they are presumed to know what the criminal law of the State is, they are presumably entitled to find it out in some intelligible form. They should not have to do a diploma or degree in law to work out whether a comment they make expressing sympathy for a witness who is a sibling of the deceased would contravene the law. It is not enough just to walk away from this issue and say that journalists are fully trained on the matter. Other people are entitled to know what the law is, particularly people who might make a public comment on it, such as politicians who are asked to comment on the outcome of a case. People commenting on social media are also entitled to have a clear law.

  The Minister did not say that there is anything wrong or risky about the amendment Senators Craughwell and Boyhan and I have put forward, or that there would be any unforeseen consequence to adopting it. It has not been suggested that there is a problem with it. The Minister said there might be a problem in that somebody writing an article about the Court of Appeals judgment might find it difficult to explain to somebody reading a book what the new section actually meant, but that does not really stand up. The priority here is to have a law that is intelligible to most people, not only to people who read legal textbooks. I still believe my amendment is appropriate.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly An bhfuil an tAire sásta-----

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I will say one last thing.  Insofar as the phraseology in the amendments introduced by the Minister have the effect that I have mentioned, I want to say it is not my responsibility that they have that consequence. We have discussed it here and have gone over it again and again. Any law that we pass will be interpreted in accordance with its ordinary and natural meaning. The scenario I mentioned either is or is not correct, but I would have thought, as Senator Higgins said on the last occasion, that some kind of flexibility mechanism would have been appropriate to deal with the particular circumstances to which I adverted earlier.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I reassure the Senator there is flexibility. While I have said that subsection (a) does not apply where the child is deceased or where there is only one living child involved, a court may still apply a flexible approach where there is only one child living and it needs to give consideration to the impact on that child if their sibling is deceased. That flexibility remains within the legislation. It does not mean that people automatically cannot name the sibling because of the deceased child. Subsection 2A essentially provides that where there are two or more living children, it is not possible to dispense with subsection 1 without taking into account all the circumstances. That does not mean it does not apply where there is only one living child. That flexibility is still there. I assure the Senator that we are not introducing legislation to allow for that situation. I fully appreciate where the Senator is coming from. If parents want to be able to name their child where it may not have an implication on the living child, I do not want to prevent them from doing that. I do not want that to happen. The legislation is clear that will not be the case.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Is the amendment agreed to?

Senator Michael McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell I will not call for a division, but I will put the matter to a voice vote, and I am happy with that.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

  Bill received for final consideration.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney Now.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Question, "That the Bill do now pass", put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly In accordance with the order of the Seanad today, the House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 8 March 2021 in the Seanad Chamber.

  The Seanad adjourned at 4.14 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 8 March 2021.

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