Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Gnó an tSeanaid - Business of Seanad
 Header Item Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
 Header Item Trade Agreements
 Header Item Bullying in Schools
 Header Item Schools Building Projects
 Header Item School Accommodation
 Header Item Road Projects
 Header Item Waste Management
 Header Item An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
 Header Item Organisation of Working Time (Reproductive Health Related Leave) Bill 2021: First Stage
 Header Item Family Leave Bill 2021: Instruction to Committee
 Header Item Covid-19 (Tourism): Statements
 Header Item National Development Plan: Statements
 Header Item Family Leave Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages

Monday, 22 March 2021

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 275 No. 4
Unrevised

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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 notice from Senator Malcolm Byrne that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to make a statement on the extent of trade between Ireland and Canada and to outline how the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, CETA, between Ireland and Canada has helped develop this trade.

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

The need for the Minister for Education to make a statement on the request by the Irish National Teachers Organisation for access to continuing professional development and well being, including social, personal and health education, the Stay Safe programme and anti-bullying supports.

 I have also received notice from Senator Ivana Bacik of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education to provide an update on the status of an application by Harold’s Cross Educate Together Secondary School for the construction of a permanent school building.

  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 provision of a permanent extension to the Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, County Cork.

  I have also received notice from Senator Robbie Gallagher of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Transport to make a statement on the potential impact on road budgets, future funding and completion of road projects for 2021.

  I have also received notice from Senators Róisín Garvey and John McGahon of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications to outline the progress being made in tackling the issue of plastic waste.

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

The need for the Minister for Transport to allocate funding for the provision of a second bridge at Newbridge, County Kildare.

  I have also received notice from Senator Rebecca Moynihan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister of State with responsibility for public health, well-being and the national drugs strategy to provide increased funding to local projects working with young people caught up in drugs, with particular reference to the targeted response with youth, TRY, programme managed by the Donore community drug and alcohol team.

  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 the progress of St. Anthony’s Nursing Home, Clonmel, County Tipperary.

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

The need for the Minister for Health to legislate to create safe access zones for hospitals.

  I have also received notice from Senator Mark Wall of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to address the professional therapists waiting times and lists for children in south Kildare.

  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 importance of reopening places of worship, on a limited basis with appropriate safety measures in place, to facilitate Holy Week and Easter ceremonies for people of all Christian denominations.

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

The need for the Minister for Health to develop a successor plan to the Breastfeeding in a Healthy Ireland: Health Service Executive Breastfeeding Action Plan 2016-2021.

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

The need for the Minister for Health to make a statement on the allocation of additional medical interns in 2021.

  I have also received notice from Senator Lynn Boylan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Housing, Local Government, and Heritage to make a statement on the need for planning to consider the cumulative impact of data centres.

  Of the matters raised by the Senators suitable for discussion, I have selected Senators Byrne, Boyhan, Bacik, Lombard, Gallagher, and Garvey and McGahon, who are sharing their time, and they will be taken now. I regret that I had to rule out of order the matter raised by Senator O’Loughlin on the grounds that the Minister has no official responsibility in that area. The other Senators may give notice on another day of the matters that they wish to raise.

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Trade Agreements

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to address the issue of the CETA deal, a very important trade deal between the European Union and Canada, the importance of trade between Ireland and Canada, and to debunk some of the misinformation that has been spread about this deal.

  People sometimes have the idea that trade deals are something particularly negative. All the international evidence, including from the OECD, shows that trade deals result in more employment, higher average pay, raised incomes, improved working conditions and reduced prices to consumers. There are individuals who lose out, but it is better to upskill, reskill and help modernise industries rather than retain protectionist policies. The OECD has stated that up to half of employment in Ireland is dependent on trade-driven exports.

  My understanding is that trade between Ireland and Canada is now close to €4 billion annually. That has significantly increased since the CETA deal came into place. Canada, like the European Union, has some of the highest labour, employment, public health and environmental standards anywhere in the world. Canada, like the European Union, is also committed to fair trade. I have to ask, if we cannot do a trade deal with Canada, with whom can we do a deal?

  I have far more concerns about the deal between the EU and China, where there are questions around its labour standards, but those opposed to CETA do not seem to want to criticise China. In fact, those opposed to CETA seem more convinced that we should be looking at the economic models in Cuba and Venezuela where labour standards are certainly far lower. Internationally, there are currently more than 2,300 bilateral investment treaties.  All of those agreements have international arbitration or dispute resolution mechanisms. If a dispute arises, there has to be a way for it to be resolved.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement does not force governments on either side of the Atlantic to change any of our standards. Let us be very clear about this. It is about dispute resolution. If an Irish company is discriminated against by a Canadian provincial or national government, it can take action and, similarly, a Canadian company can do likewise on this side. The European Court of Justice has found that the investment court system of CETA is in line with EU treaties. The court mechanism will not be some sort of hidden system. It will involve public hearings. Documents will be made available, interested parties, including NGOs, will be able to make submissions, and areas like public health and the environment will remain national competencies which cannot be challenged.

I am looking forward to an era where we see blockchain smart contracts, which will make the need for dispute resolution mechanisms largely redundant. Until then, in all of our international trade agreements and treaties there has to be a dispute resolution mechanism. Canada, like the European Union, has very strong standards in all of these areas. We should be supportive of companies in Ireland that continue to trade with Canada and provide good jobs here and vice versa.

I ask the Minister of State to set out the benefits of Irish-Canadian trade and debunk some of the myths we are hearing about CETA. I ask him to make clear to people that the investor court system operates to provide balance and is not the result of some of the scaremongering we have been hearing about it.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Robert Troy): Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy I thank Senator Malcolm Byrne for raising this important topic and affording me the opportunity to factually address the House and contradict some of the misinformation that is circulating in relation to CETA. The EU's Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada is designed to benefit EU and Canadian companies through improved trade flows in support of increased employment for our citizens. The elimination of tariffs, reduced non-tariff barriers and simplified customs procedures that flow from CETA will make it easier and cheaper for Irish companies of all sizes to export to Canada and vice versa.

  The agreement covers virtually every aspect of economic activity and provides new market opportunities in many sectors for Irish firms given the extensive bilateral business links between Ireland and Canada. Outside of Europe, the US and China, Canada is our largest indigenous export market. More than 400 Enterprise Ireland clients are doing business in the Canadian market, employing in excess of 6,000 people. Since the agreement was provisionally applied in September 2017, duties on 98% of products the EU trades with Canada have been removed. Furthermore, exports of Irish goods and services to Canada totalled approximately €3.9 billion in 2019. This was a 35% increase compared with 2016, which was the last full year prior to the provisional application of CETA.

  CETA is delivering on the ground for our citizens. My Department and our enterprise agencies will continue to promote the benefits of the agreement for Irish-based enterprises. This increased trade along with wider trade performance help underpin the creation of quality, well-paid jobs. The benefits and opportunities will be especially valuable for small and medium enterprises, SMEs, given that trade barriers tend to disproportionately burden smaller firms which have fewer resources to overcome them compared with larger firms. The main benefits for Ireland in this agreement include the opening up of public procurement markets in the Canadian provinces giving Irish firms increased market access; unlimited tariff-free access for most of our important food goods; and a low beef import quota from Canada.

  The full coming into force of CETA will see the implementation of the investment chapter of the agreement, including the mechanisms for resolution of disputes between investors and states, should they arise. The EU's new approach to investment protection, the investment court system, ICS, is contained in CETA and replaces the old investor-state settlement system, which has been included in more than 2,000 international investment treaties but is regarded as outdated.  The new ICS provides greater transparency provisions, safeguards to prevent forum shopping, provisions for the swift dismissal of frivolous claims, a clear distinction between international law and domestic law, the avoidance of multiple and parallel proceedings in the ICS and national courts and the establishment of a permanent list of arbitrators.

  Investment disputes can continue to be litigated before national courts with the ICS as an alternative single consistent mechanism where investors, be they Canadian or European, can seek redress if they so choose. Significantly, CETA introduces a precise and specific standard of fair and equitable treatment of investors and investment for specific limited grounds such as the case of the denial of justice or fundamental breach of due process or through targeted discrimination.

  The Senator referred to the opinion of the ECJ in April 2019. The court held that the dispute settlement mechanism in the CETA is compatible with EU law. It complies with the principle of autonomy of EU law, as well as the exclusive jurisdiction of court for the interpretation of EU law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in particular the right of access to court and the right to an independent impartial tribunal under the charter.

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne I thank the Minister of State for his reply and I strongly agree with him. When we have trade deals, there have to be mechanisms for arbitration and dispute resolution. What is proposed in CETA is an updating of those mechanisms, which will make dispute resolution more transparent and more efficient. It is not going to force member state governments to change any laws.

  This is a small island nation. We rely heavily, as the Minister of State said, on trade. If Brexit has taught us anything, it is about the importance of being part of the EU, the world's largest trading bloc, and being able to trade. This will be one of the big political differences between those of us who in the political spectrum who are pro-trade, pro-business and anti-protectionism, and those who take a very narrow view of the world.

  All trade deals should be subject to scrutiny. The China deal needs to be subject to greater scrutiny because of labour standards. I encourage all of those companies that continue to trade with Canada to recognise the work of Enterprise Ireland and support it as strongly as they can.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy From a domestic law perspective, no transfer of judicial power from the Irish courts to the ICS tribunal is provided for in CETA. CETA expressly provides that the agreement is to be interpreted by the ICS tribunal in accordance with the Vienna Convention, along with other rules and principles of international law applicable between the parties. Accordingly, domestic law is to be treated by the tribunal as a question of fact, not law. In that regard, it is bound by the interpretation of the Irish courts. The Government has definitive legal advice from the Attorney General that confirms no constitutional issues arise with CETA.

  The Senator is correct that nothing is to be feared by the ratification of this deal. There are many benefits to be reaped from it. The Government is not trying to rush the treaty through. It has been referred to the European affairs committee, which will have the opportunity to extensively examine all the benefits associated with its ratification. At a time this country is coming from the back of Brexit and trying to overcome the challenges of Covid-19, now it has never been more important that we look to embrace international trade and how we can a support our companies trade internationally in order that they can provide good quality jobs for our citizens.

  I thank the Senator again for the opportunity to put the facts on the record of the Seanad.

Bullying in Schools

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I warmly welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, to the House.

  The issue I want to address today relates to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, the union that represents national school teachers. Many of us will be familiar with the union's magazine, InTouch, that it sends us every month and which is very informative. As a result of reading an article in that magazine, it became obvious to me that the union had made a detailed submission on the issue of bullying and the need for continual supports for teachers, parents, guardians and children in and around this sensitive issue. I thank the president of the INTO, Ms Mary Magner, for her significant leadership in this area.

  As the Minister of State will be aware, teachers and the INTO want to operate schools in a safe and inclusive environment for all their pupils regardless of their social background, race, self-identity or learning needs. As we are talking about schools and teachers, how they have supported and engaged in terms of getting schools back open during Covid-19 is something we need to acknowledge.

  The reality is bullying exists in our school communities and is an issue for teachers, pupils, parents and the wider school community. The anti-bullying procedures for primary schools and post-primary schools were introduced in 2013. One issue the INTO leadership and members have is that there has not been a major review of this policy since 2013, and they are crying out for it. They believe they need the necessary supports and skill sets to deal with the complex issues. The complex issues are wide and varied, from LGBT+ based bullying to race-based bullying, all of which have a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of pupils and, for that matter, teachers. This has to stop.

  Cyberbullying, as everyone in this House knows, requires no face-to-face contact. It can occur day and night, and happens day or night. It impacts on children, young people and adults, including teachers and politicians. It is something we need to deal with.

  Something my research on this issue showed clearly was that children from Travelling communities are vulnerable to bullying, children who are black or identify as belonging to a minority ethnic culture are vulnerable to bullying, and children who are perceived as being different in the broader sense of different are particularly subject to bullying and harassment. Children whose mother does not have the native tongue, children in direct provision, and children who are black or from a minority ethnic group are all being targeted for bullying day in and day out in our schools and it has to stop. Racially based abuse humiliates and dehumanises the heart of our children and their identity and their ability to realise their full potential and be their authentic selves. It is clearly an issue.

  The INTO also talks about the social, personal and health education, SPHE, for which there are only 30 minutes in the curriculum every week. That is an issue because this programme empowers, assists, enables and helps children to deal with conflict resolution, bullying and other issues around them. It is important that be examined.

  Schools are also places of employment for teachers and they involve boards of management, parents and guardians. We hear terrible stories of teachers being subject to inappropriate behaviour from school management, colleagues and pupils. This behaviour can be in the form of words, gestures and publications, both in print and on social media. There are major issues and we need to support our teachers.

  I do not doubt the Minister of State's support. Indeed, I am familiar with many teachers in Scoil Treasa, which is a school that is very close to where the Minister of State lives, and people speak of the Minister of State's enormous commitment to education. They speak of her enormous commitment to the INTO and her knowledge of the important work the INTO and its members do. I would like if the Minister of State could outline how we can come on board and support the INTO in this important call for it, for its members' employment, for teachers and for children.

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I thank Senator Boyhan for raising this matter.

  I understand that the Senator is referring to one of a number of recommendations made by the INTO in a recent submission to the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science in respect of the committee's examination of school bullying and its impact on mental health.  I echo the Senator's sentiments on the Trojan work the INTO has done on reopening schools in a Covid environment. I acknowledge the work Ms Mary Magner and the INTO do each day to educate children in their formative years. Obviously, any matters regarding bullying that teachers receive have to be taken into account in any anti-bullying action plan we are considering in terms of words, gestures and publications, as the Senator mentioned.

  The primary and post-primary schools anti-bullying procedures were published by the Department in September 2003 and are being implemented in 4,000 recognised primary and post-primary schools in the country as well as centres for education which are attended by students under the age of 18 years. These procedures give direction and guidance to schools on preventing and tackling school-based bullying behaviour and to deal with any negative impact within the school of bullying behaviour that occurs elsewhere. In addition, the "Wellbeing Policy Statement and Framework for Practice" was published in 2018 and refreshed in 2019. It sets out the ambition and vision in the Department of Education that the promotion of well-being will be at the core of the ethos of every school and centre for education in Ireland and that all schools will provide evidence-informed approaches and support appropriate to the need to promote the well-being of their students. This statement sets out the evidence base for best practices in the school environment in respect of school well-being promotion, which indicates that schools should adopt a whole-school, multi-component preventive approach to well-being promotion that includes both universal and targeted interventions. All schools are required to embark on a review of their well-being promotion process by 2025. That may help with regard to the Senator's remarks about a review. That should be done by 2025.

  It is vital that there is support for teachers and schools in terms of professional development opportunities in the areas of well-being, as well as social, personal and health education and the stay safe and anti-bullying programmes. They have to be available to teachers and school leaders. Most of the supports in this area are provided by the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, with which the Senator will be familiar, and the NEPS staff from the Department of Education or by the Professional Development Service for Teachers, PDST, which is the largest teacher education support service funded by the Department. NEPS provides a comprehensive school-based psychological service to all primary and post-primary schools through the application of psychological theory and practice to support the well-being and the academic, social and emotional development of all learners. In addition to this service, it has also developed a range of resources for schools and parents to support the well-being of children and young people in line with the well-being policy statement and framework for practice that I mentioned.

  In response to Covid-19, NEPS has developed well-being webinars and well-being tool kits for school staff. These contain information, guidance, tips and advice for schools on how best to support the well-being of all children and young people, including those with special educational needs, following the Covid-19 school closures.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I thank the Minister of State. Her comments were exceptionally helpful. There is a review, and I welcome that. However, it is a learning curve for everyone - children, young people, teachers and parents. It is important to acknowledge that, and that we continue to monitor it on an ongoing basis. The INTO represents over 40,000 people in the staff. It represents the national schools across the Republic. We should not be short in supporting those people in their work in helping children to understand the complexities and to support them, but also to allow teachers, as individuals in the workplace, to have dignity, be respected and to be able to be themselves. Everyone is on this journey and we must support everyone. It must be kept on the agenda. We must continue working on identifying and calling it out for what it is. It is intimidation and bullying, and it is unacceptable. We will call it out for what it is and put a stop to it, as well as support the teachers, children, parents and guardians to tackle this head on.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan It is important to say, as the Senator mentioned, that it is not just with regard to children being bullied. It is something we want to stamp out.  The Senator mentioned black children, Traveller children, those in direct provision and other marginalised areas of society. She also mentioned children with special educational needs which is under my remit as well, and cyberbullying, which is a component we were not dealing with perhaps to the same extent in 2013 as we are at present, and that needs to be looked at. The Department will update its national anti-bullying plan also. The part of that that comes under my remit is gender ID bullying, which is something I will look at. We have to have an ethos within the school which comes from the principal within the teaching staff and all the way down to the students in order that bullying becomes something of the past. The voice of the student will be critical in that regard, as will making sure the voice of the student, as well as the voice of the teacher, is heard in order that we can collaborate on a wider scale to eradicate bullying in its totality.

Schools Building Projects

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank her for being here to take this Commencement matter. I have asked for the Minister for Education to provide me with an update on the status of a school's application for the construction of a permanent building and to provide a timeline for the commencement of construction. The matter relates to a school in my local area, indeed a very small distance from where I live, namely, the new Harold's Cross Educate Together Secondary School, which opened just recently, in September 2020. Its enrolment numbers are projected to reach 1,000 secondary school pupils. It is a co-educational secondary school. The projection is that it will have four classrooms and a special educational needs unit. It serves the two school planning areas of Dublin 6 Clonskeagh and Dublin 6W. It is currently housed, however, in temporary buildings at the site of the former greyhound racing stadium at Harold's Cross. This will also be the permanent location of the school, which will form a campus comprising a permanent building for the secondary school and a permanent school for Harold's Cross Educate Together National School, the primary school, which is currently also in interim accommodation on the same site.

  I tabled a Commencement matter relating to this school on 9 December last because at that point the principal and school community had been in contact with me to say they were concerned about the delays in progressing the construction of the permanent building on the site. Staff, students and parents are all very anxious that the construction be commenced or at least that they get a timeline for construction. Therefore, on 9 December I put this matter down on the Commencement of the House. I was told by the Minister then that the planning application would be lodged with Dublin City Council by mid-quarter 1 of 2021. That would have been by mid-February. Unfortunately, I was informed just last week that the planning application was not in fact submitted to Dublin City Council by that date, and clearly we are now in mid to late March. I therefore tabled this matter at the request of the school community seeking to be provided with a timeline for commencement of construction and to get an update on the status of the application. I was told that the planning application was at stage 2(a) in December but, as I said, on 9 December the Minister, Deputy Foley, had confirmed to me that the planning application was intended to be lodged by the middle of the first quarter.

  The secondary school and the primary school form a very vibrant school community. Despite all the challenges of Covid, the secondary school has opened successfully and has a large waiting list for 2021. There are 37 students enrolled for the current academic year, and I am told that for September 2021 an additional 48 student places are sanctioned by the Department but 180 applications have been received. There is clearly no space available, or there will be insufficient space, to accommodate projected numbers certainly from 2022 and beyond. The school would need to offer 72 places in 2022 to meet demand. The matter is very pressing. The students, staff and parents are all very anxious to receive some clarification from the Department on the status of the application and the timeline for construction of a permanent building on this site.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I thank Senator Bacik for raising this matter. I hope to outline to her satisfaction the current position on the provision of a permanent school building for Harold's Cross Educate Together Secondary School. It is, as the Senator said, a co-educational second level school which will provide 1,000 post-primary school places and a four-classroom special educational needs unit to serve the Dublin 6 Clonskeagh and Dublin 6W school planning areas as a regional solution. As the Senator also said, the school opened its doors for the first intake of pupils in September 2020 in interim accommodation on the site of the former greyhound racing stadium at Harold's Cross.  This will be the permanent location of the school. The site will also form a campus accommodating the permanent school building for Harold's Cross Educate Together National School, which also, as the Senator is aware, currently is in interim accommodation on the site.

  I understand the joint building project for both schools is currently at an advanced architectural planning stage and an initial design for the campus was previously presented to Dublin City Council in a pre-planning meeting in August 2019. Thereafter, owing to various changes that were subsequently required to the design, a further pre-planning meeting with Dublin City Council was held on 26 January 2021. The plans were met with a positive response by Dublin City Council and its comments are being addressed in order to finalise the preparation of the planning application for the schools. I have been told by the Department that the schools' representatives will be invited to a meeting shortly, where the plans will be presented in advance of lodging the planning application, which, as the Senator mentioned, was due to happen in the first quarter of this year.

  Previous planning permission for interim accommodation on the site was appealed to An Bord Pleanála. It is important to state there is a strong possibility that the planning permission for the permanent build, once secured, could also be appealed to An Bord Pleanála. However, it is good to hear that the opening of the secondary school has been successful. I note what the Senator has said on the issue of the waiting list. At this point, it is important that the planning application is submitted and that the school is opened as soon as possible. I will bring the issue to the attention of the Minister for Education, Deputy Foley, as obviously all school buildings and the roll-out of such projects fall under her remit. I will tell her that the Senator is anxious to see this matter expedited as soon as possible.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I thank the Minister of State and I am glad to receive an update from her in respect of the holding of the pre-planning meeting with Dublin City Council on 26 January and her assurance that school representatives will be invited to a meeting shortly with a view to seeing those plans. That is most heartening, because it amounts so some progress, albeit slower than we had hoped.

  I also thank the Minister of State for her commitment to speaking with the Minister, Deputy Foley, to ask her if she can do as much as she can to expedite matters. I should say that the members of the school community - they are well aware of the context mentioned by the Minister of State - are concerned that the five-year planning permission for temporary accommodation for all three schools on the campus, which was granted in 2018, will expire in August 2023. They are most concerned that the students currently attending the school started in temporary accommodation but should not finish it in such a manner when they complete their leaving certificate in 2026. However, to have the permanent construction in place by then, planning permission would need to be granted at the latest by winter 2022 or spring 2023 to ensure there is adequate time. The school community is anxious to get started on this and I am very grateful for the Minister of State telling me she will do all she can to ensure that it is expedited.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I should say that as with all school building projects, the exact timeframe for the delivery of permanent accommodation will be dependent on securing the grant of planning permission and until the planning permission is secured, it would be premature to estimate the timeframe for the tender and construction of the two schools. However, once planning permission is secured, the project for both schools will then be progressed for tender and construction stages, and the management authorities of the two schools will be kept fully informed. In the meantime, the Department will continue to address the schools' interim accommodation needs, which is important.

  Suffice to say that the school representatives will be invited to a meeting soon, where plans will be presented in advance of lodging the planning application, which I hope will help. The Senator should also bear in mind my comments in relation to An Bord Pleanála but I will do everything I can do ensure that it is expedited. I will bring the issue to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Foley, and of the building and planning unit.

School Accommodation

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard This morning I wish to raise the issue of Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, to discuss the need for an urgent update on the progress of the proposed extension to the school.

  Sacred Heart Secondary School, Clonakilty, is one of the key cornerstone secondary schools in the town. Not only does it take in pupils from the Clonakilty town area, but it also has a large rural catchment area. There are over 550 students at the school and 47 classrooms. The school was established 80 years ago, in 1941.  One of the key issues relates to how we get development on this project. This project has been the subject of many stumbles along the way. A project manager was appointed in August 2019 for this school project and it was part of the so-called ADAPT 2 approach that bundles school projects together. However, because of the complex nature of the build in Clonakilty, where heritage and cultural issues pertain in respect of the project, it was taken out of that bundle.

  Although appointed in 2019, the project manager left and did not take on the project. This became a significant burden on the school population in regard to how they would progress the new build, which is basically the redevelopment of a former complex on the site that has been left idle for several years. There is a real issue regarding how to get movement on the proposal. There has been temporary accommodation on-site for many years and there is also the need for an, ASD, unit, an issue in respect of which the Minister of State is very much involved. The school has actively looked for that but, again, the lack of accommodation is becoming a major issue in terms of site and school development.

  The Minister of State might provide an update on whether the project has moved forward. In many ways, it went forward in 2019 but it has gone backwards since. We need to see movement on this project as there are so many issues, whether in regard to the ASD unit or the derelict building on the site, which, unfortunately has an erosion issue because of its location, and the building is falling into disrepair. There are many issues that need to be tied together so we can get movement on this project.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I hope to be able to clarify the current position regarding Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty, which is an all-girls school under the patronage of Catholic Education, an Irish Schools Trust, CEIST. The enrolment at the school in September 2020 was 524 pupils and the school has a staffing of nearly 40 whole-time equivalent teachers. As the Senator is aware, Sacred Heart Secondary School is included in the Department's capital programme being delivered as part of the national development plan, NDP. The agreed long-term projected enrolment, LTPE, for the school is 600 pupils, with one SEN, special educational needs, base class, as the Senator mentioned, and it is critical that this goes ahead.

  In order to plan for school provision and analyse the relevant demographic data, my Department divides the country into 314 school planning areas. It also uses a geographical information system, GIS, which uses data from a range of sources, including child benefit data from the Department of Social Protection and the Department's school enrolment databases, to identify where the pressure for school places across the country will arise. The Department has strengthened the process this year through specific initiatives, for example, enhanced engagement with local authorities in regard to the information on residential development incorporated in the analysis process, and additional engagement with patron bodies in regard to their local knowledge on school place requirements. Education and training boards, diocesan offices and national patron bodies, such as Educate Together and An Foras Pátrúnachta, can also be an important source of local knowledge. This will add to information already provided to the Department by local authorities or individual schools, and by utilising the information gleaned from schools under the national inventory of school capacity completed by individual schools last year as part of the primary online database and post-primary online database returns process.

  In a standard year, addressing the increased demands for school places, while challenging, is manageable, generally through utilisation of existing spare capacity within schools, rental, temporary accommodation or other short-term measures pending the delivery of permanent accommodation.

  With regard to the major building project for Sacred Heart Secondary School, my Department carried out a strategic assessment review of the proposed project in order to consider various options on how best to progress the project and to deliver the necessary accommodation to meet the long-term projected enrolment of 600 pupils. Following completion of the strategic assessment review, a number of options have been identified on how best the project can be progressed and this will form part of the project brief for the appointed design team to explore and develop.

  The Department is now in the process of amending the brief formulation documents for the project to include the recommended options from the strategic assessment review, which will allow the project to be ready to progress to architectural planning.  The Senator will also be glad know that agreement has been reached with the school patron, namely, Catholic Education An Irish Schools' Trust, CEIST, to manage the delivery of this project on a devolved basis under a service level agreement. That is progress and will allow the Department to progress this project into the architectural planning process as quickly as possible. The school authority and the principal also have been advised of the current position.

  Obviously, it is not possible at this early stage to outline the likely completion date of the project. I wish to advise the Senator, however, that updates regarding all building projects are provided on my Department's website and this information is updated on a regular basis. I will also bring this matter to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Foley, and to the building and planning unit within the Department to see if it can be expedited as soon as possible.

Senator Tim Lombard: Information on Tim Lombard Zoom on Tim Lombard I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive response. The big issue here is about clarity. Unfortunately, in 2019, the school was taken out of the partial bundle that had a set line with a project manager because of the complex nature of the build and the building and what is required of that site. It is important that we get progress. I am delighted that the school has been informed of the progress that has been proposed to date. The appointment of the architectural team is essential here. That is the key stumbling block. We need to have that team in place in order that it can review the structure and put in place a real design that will suit the school's present and future needs.

  Clonakilty has seen significant development over the past two decades and there is a real potential there again for real development in housing, which will also have a knock-on effect on the school education infrastructure. The need for the school to be put in place, not alone for now but for the generations ahead, is very important. Hopefully, we can in time get a timeline for the architectural brief as to when we will see a design put in place. That design will be complex because one must take into consideration both the existing old structure and the reconfiguration of the previous 1941 building, which is probably where the new building will go.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I thank the Senator for his comments. I know what he is saying about the school being there since 1941. It is a badly needed development. I also note his remarks about the project manager who was in place in August 2019. I believe, however, I have given him some positives in my contribution today in terms of trying to move towards that architectural planning process which, as he said, is the key in this regard to. The fact that an agreement has been reached with Catholic Education An Irish Schools' Trust regarding the management of the delivery of the project under a service level agreement means we move towards that goal, which is positive, as is the fact the school has been notified of the progress. A strategic assessment review was carried out, as a result of which options have been considered, and having a project brief for the appointed design team to explore and develop is important. I acknowledge this is an issue close to the Senator's heart and I will do everything I can to ensure it happens quickly as possible.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Mark Wall): Information on Mark Wall Zoom on Mark Wall I thank the Minister of State for her time today. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to the Chamber.

Road Projects

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher Ba mhaith liom fáilte mhór a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach inniu. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis fosta mar go bhfuil a fhios agam go bhfuil a lán oibre á déanamh aige. I welcome the Minister to the House this morning. I thank him for taking time out of his busy schedule to be here.

  This morning I wish to discuss the issue of the funding of local roads, which are vitally important to everyday life in our communities. The local road network is as important to the people of rural Ireland as the M50 is to the city of Dublin. In County Monaghan and many other counties throughout the country, the quality of local roads is critical to the communities that use them on a daily basis. Again, however, I will give the examples of Monaghan and Cavan and small counties like them.  Many small enterprises and businesses are located on boreens off small local and regional roads. They, like the communities who live on them, depend on a good quality roads network in order to get their goods to market and for the people who live in these communities to go about their daily lives.

  The Minister is probably aware of a survey conducted by his Department before his time which discovered that the local roads infrastructure throughout the country was in need of substantial funding. Monaghan came across as the worst county in Ireland for its quality of local and regional roads infrastructure. That situation comes from the fact that over the last decade or so the local roads network has been chronically underfunded, which is an issue that needs to be addressed. I welcome the fact that this year the Department has increased its funding for local roads. It is very necessary and important that we get more such funding.

  Unfortunately, this year many local authorities have the added burden of dealing with Covid-19 and the restrictions that it has placed on local authority work practices. As a result, many roads programmes have yet to commence. There is a fear among many local authorities, that they will not get their full allocation drawn down before the end of the year. The last thing that local authorities and local communities want is for local road allocations not to be drawn down because of the council's inability to get the works done because of Covid-19 restrictions.

  I ask the Minister for two things. I am seeking a commitment that no local authority will lose the much needed funding required for local road repairs because of Covid-19 restrictions. I would like the Minister to issue guidance to local authorities that they are behind schedule with their roads programmes. Perhaps now with the evenings getting long, having longer daylight hours and coming into the summer months, local authorities would use that time wisely to catch up on the backlog of works needed because of Covid-19 restrictions. The last thing that communities and businesses want is to see roadworks taking place in the mouth of Christmas with queues of traffic going into towns. Certainly, after all that people have been through, the last thing that they want is to be stuck in traffic jams on the mouth of Christmas. The last thing that businesses want or need is for their potential customers to be caught in traffic on their way to do their shopping due to roadworks taking place that should have been done earlier in the year but through nobody's fault could not be done because of Covid-19 restrictions. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Minister for Transport (Deputy Eamon Ryan): Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I thank Senator Gallagher for raising this very important Commencement matter.

  The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded by the resources of councils and supplemented by regional and local road grants. Transport Infrastructure Ireland is responsible for the management of national roads in conjunction with local authorities. In addition, the National Transport Authority provides funding for sustainable transport measures and this year this funding is being extended to local authorities across the country.

  As regards the main regional and local roads programmes funded by my Department, these programmes involve a mixture of direct labour work and contract work. Each eligible local authority is responsible for deciding its work programme and also for deciding the assignment of staff to undertake roadworks throughout the year. The costs involved are recouped to local authorities based on the work undertaken.

  Under the public health guidance that is currently in place regarding Covid-19 restrictions, provision is made for certain essential services to continue. This includes the repair, maintenance and construction of critical road infrastructure. Local authorities have continued to carry out works considered essential on roads and appropriate operating procedures have been put in place to comply with Covid-19 public health guidance. In this context the nature of roadworks - outdoors and generally amenable to social distancing - facilitates compliance with public health guidance.

  It is important to recognise that road maintenance activity is seasonal. While local authorities might carry out contract procurement and some preparatory work at this time of the year, the crucial period for delivery of the main regional and local roads maintenance programme is from April. This is when the road strengthening programme starts in earnest followed by surface dressing work from late May.  While it is for each local authority to assess the position in its area, overall, essential maintenance works will need to be carried out to keep the road network in a serviceable condition, address safety issues and deliver road improvement schemes which incorporate measures to support active travel. It is envisaged that these essential work programmes will continue and intensify as the year progresses.

  As the Senator is aware, the Government will also be providing updated public health guidelines before 5 April. Hopefully, that will allow a more general return to construction work, including road maintenance work, in the critical period ahead.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response. I take it from his contribution that no local authority will lose funding this year because of an underspend, which is important, and that local authorities will have the flexibility to have this work done during the summer months when the weather is good. Local road infrastructure is vitally important to local communities throughout the length and breadth of this country.

  While the Minister is here, I ask him to consider the will and voice of the people affected by the North-South interconnector, with a view to having an independent review carried out on the cost of delivering the project overground as opposed to underground. With the passage of time and advances in technology, it is vital that we do that. I ask the Minister to ensure a full, independent review takes place. The communities would be happy to abide by the results of any such independent review.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I might address the second issue the Senator raised on another occasion. The interconnector is critical infrastructure that is vital for the economy, North and South.

  To return to the key issue we are addressing, we must recognise that the maintenance, development and improvement of local roads are critical to local economies. As the Senator said, we have to avoid the prospect of all the work being bookended to the end of the year when we will be facing into Christmas to ensure towns are not shuttered because roadworks are only able to take place then. I hope councils will be able to organise the business in the long days ahead of us in the spring and summer months. I am very supportive of investment in road programmes that restore and protect the centre of towns, improve the public realm and provide small bypasses and detours so that we adopt one of the key economic and social programmes for this Government, namely, putting town centres first, in County Monaghan and elsewhere in the country.

Waste Management

Senator Róisín Garvey: Information on Róisín Garvey Zoom on Róisín Garvey Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim buíochas leis as ucht an t-am a thabhairt don ábhar an-tábhachtach seo. I thank the Minister for his time on this important issue.

  All plastics come from fossil fuels. To produce a plastic bottle takes the equivalent of filling one-quarter of the bottle with oil. It takes up to 500 years for plastic to disappear. Recycling just one tonne of plastic saves between 1,200 and 2,000 gallons of petroleum. Each year, Ireland produces 1 million tonnes of plastic waste. Approximately 30% of that waste is recycled. In Europe, the average is approximately 40% of plastic waste recycled. In Ireland, six disposable coffee cups are thrown away every second. Producing plastic products from recycled plastics reduces energy requirements by 66%. In Ireland, all soft plastic is going into landfill. The three "Rs" of reduce, reuse and recycle, which I have been advocating since the 1980s, may need a fourth - replace or remove. All solutions and alternatives are available but we need to make them the norm, not the alternative.

  Some 220,000 plastic bottles are thrown away every day in Ireland. How can we make it as easy and simple as possible to address the challenges we face? How will we progress to a plastic-free society? That is what most people want in their hearts. While I commend the Minister on the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, I want to see what steps we will take next.

Senator John McGahon: Information on John McGahon  Zoom on John McGahon  The reason I am taking part in this debate is an email that was sent to my office and the Minister's office by Ellie Hoey, an 11-year-old from Dundalk, County Louth. It is much more appropriate that I read Ellie's words, as her email does much more justice to the issue than I ever could. It states:

Dear [Minister] Ryan ...

Hello, my Name is Ellie Hoey, I’m 11 and I’m from Dundalk, Co. Louth.

I hope you and your family are doing well in the current circumstances, and I know The Government are focused on important things at this time but I really wanted to write to you and bring something to your attention.

In these past years before Covid -19 I have become very interested in [the] Green Schools Initiative and climate change and what we can do to stop it happening.

I have gone to a few protests before and was supposed to go to more this year.

Because of this I have done some research into the matter and have discovered that Ireland produced over 1 million tonnes of packaging waste in 2018, for the second year in a row and that the recycling rate for 2018 had gone down from that of 2017.

Many small businesses in my locality have made efforts to move away from single use plastic and are instead using compostable and recyclable materials, and I would like to enquire about what The Government plan to do or are doing presently about the companies who can well afford to change recyclable and compostable materials who don’t appear to be doing so presently and especially because many family outings nowadays consist of going to the big chain coffee shops for a take away.

I am also worried about single use plastic straws, cutlery and shopping bags and the effects they have on the environment and while you can definitely see some change in companies trying to be more sustainable we are still very far off being as sustainable as we would like to be if we want to prevent climate change and the long-lasting effects it will have on our future generation and I am very worried if we don’t do something now that the earth that we will be passing on to my children and their children will not be a good one because of the amount of non-reusable plastics and waste materials humans are using up.

I think that the effects it’s having on the sea creatures and land creatures is devastating especially since they are not the ones using plastic and waste materials yet they are feeling the consequences [of our actions].

And the rate and way our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are being polluted is terrible and they are becoming toxic very quickly.

I think this is a very important topic and almost more important than Covid-19 because we have found a solution to Covid-19 yet scientists are still [a little] bit unsure about how to stop climate change

I know I’m only 11 [years of age] but it’s me, my children and my grandchildren that this is going to have lasting effects on, so I wanted to write this letter to ask you what are you and your Department doing presently or are planning to do in the close future about this and I hope you understand why I’m sending this letter and how much this means to me and I would be thankful if you replied.

Thank you for reading,

Ellie Hoey.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I thank the Senator and I am happy to update both the Senators and Ellie Hoey in Dundalk on the range of plans for dealing with plastic waste. It is a top priority for me to tackle the blight on our streets, countryside, beaches and our oceans, as Ellie has set out, caused by mismanaged plastic waste.

  I am grateful for both Senators' support for the Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, which we launched last September. It is an ambitious plan, which includes a range of measures to reform and strengthen our waste management programme. This plan is probably at its most ambitious when we outline how we will tackle single-use plastics and plastic packaging and I agree with Senator Garvey that those two more Rs, of remove and replace, are exactly what we intend to do.

  One of the key weapons in the plastics battle will be Directive (EU) 2019/904, commonly referred to as the single-use plastics directive. This directive, which will be transposed by July of this year, specifically targets the ten most common single-use plastics which are found on European beaches and waters. I will be making it mandatory for all producers of single-use plastic bottles to ensure that their packaging contains a minimum of 30% recycled content and that the producers of all single-use plastic beverage containers will have to ensure that the caps remain attached to the bottles.

  To improve recyclability rates the directive also sets a separate collection target of 90% for plastic bottles by 2029 with an interim target of 77% by 2025. A report prepared for my Department by Eunomia concluded that a deposit and return scheme, DRS, is essential if we are to achieve the required levels of performance.

  The Waste Action Plan tor a Circular Economy sets out a clear roadmap for the introduction of a deposit refund scheme for plastic bottles and aluminium cans in the third quarter of 2022. I shortly will be taking the second step in this process when I launch a second public consultation on the regulatory framework to support the DRS later this month and I am looking to the producers to take responsibility for this and have stipulated that the DRS must be producer-led and operated on a not-for-profit basis.

  As Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, I am committed to significantly reducing the amount of single-use plastic cups and food containers that are placed on the Irish market. When coffee shops and restaurants reopen after the Covid-19 pandemic, I will be trialling the elimination of coffee cups entirely in selected towns with a view to achieving an eventual full national ban on them. In addition, by July 2021, I will ban a range of single-use plastic products from being placed on the market, including straws, plates and cutlery, as well as polystyrene food and beverage containers, in accordance with the single-use plastics directive.  However, the plan also demonstrates our ambitions in going beyond EU targets and we will also be banning a further range of single-use plastic items including non-medical wet wipes, single-use plastic hotel toiletries and sugar and condiment items.

  The plan also details how we will deal with waste arising from packaging. By 2030, all packaging placed on the market in Ireland must be reusable or recyclable and we will be working throughout the supply chain to achieve this. All producers of plastic packaging will be subject to the extended producer responsibility regime. This model of waste management, which is based on the "polluter pays" principle, has been employed very successfully in Ireland for years with items such as electrical equipment, batteries and end-of-life vehicles. In addition, all producers will be subject to eco-modulation of fees whereby a reduced levy will be applied to recyclable and reusable packaging while non-recyclable packaging will attract a heavier fee. The legislative basis for this is in the European Union (Waste Directive) Regulations 2020, which I signed last summer.

  I could go on outlining a range of other measures and talking about Ellie. Senator Garvey has worked in the past with An Taisce's green-schools and campus programmes. We have provided further funding of €200,000 to foster this engagement and disseminate further the necessary messaging. That is a critical part of this transition. We all must understand why this is in our interests and that it is our responsibility to make this change.

Senator Róisín Garvey: Information on Róisín Garvey Zoom on Róisín Garvey I am so happy to hear that there is a definite date for the deposit and return scheme in the third quarter of next year because people have been asking about that for ages. It is an important step forward. I am also happy that the producers will be the ones dealing with this issue and taking on the responsibility because as a consumer who tries to avoid plastic, the producers make it very difficult to do so. If the Minister needs any help finding towns in which to pilot the scheme, Ennistymon and Ennis both took on the "Love Your Cup" campaign way ahead of the game, offering 30 cent off to people who were bringing their cups back. If the Minister needs that piloted maybe we can help him in County Clare.

Senator John McGahon: Information on John McGahon  Zoom on John McGahon  Ellie is in school at the moment so she is going to have to watch this debate later on. She is also a very active member of her green schools committee in the CBS in Dundalk. I felt that the words of an 11-year-old girl, in such simplistic and yet concise language, would give far greater emphasis to this issue than I ever could.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I hope that by the time she finishes school most of these measures will be in place and Ireland will be a better country. There will be less litter. As Senator Garvey said, in effect a third of every one of those bottles is filled with oil in order to make them. Reducing their usage and increasing recycling is part of the battle we have to take on against climate change and it will all be for the better. It will create a better economic system and less local pollution and there will be less long-term plastic, which is in the environment for 500 years. It will be there not just in the time of Ellie's grandchildren or great-grandchildren; one could say "great" many times and it would still be there in the environment. By making this change now we will clean up our act for the next 500 years. That is why it is such an important part of the changes we are making in Government at this critical time.

  Sitting suspended at 11.39 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.

  12 o’clock

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of instruction to the committee regarding amendments to the Family Leave Bill 2021, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, statements on tourism, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude at 3.30 p.m., with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes and those of all Senators not to exceed six minutes, with the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply; No. 3, statements on the national development plan, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. and to conclude at 5.45 p.m. with the opening contribution of the Minister not to exceed ten minutes and those of all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than eight minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, Family Leave Bill 2021 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 6 p.m.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Before I call Senator Chambers, I want to make a few remarks. We are grateful to the people and country of Greece for their contribution to the world, not only for giving us the meaning and idea of democracy but also for the very word itself. Ireland is unique in having the only capital city with a street named after the Greek language.

  This year, Greece celebrates the 200th anniversary of the beginning of its war of independence. Among those who fought in that struggle was General Richard Church, from County Cork, who led the Greek army in the latter stages of the war. He became a Greek citizen and a Greek senator and was a member of Greece's council of state.  The year 2021 also marks the 40th anniversary of Greece's membership of the European Union and the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Greece. I am sure all Senators will join me in this very special year for the people in Greece in wishing their ambassador, H.E. Mrs. Simopoulou, and all the Greek people living in Ireland and throughout the world a happy independence day. Zeéto eeméra anexartisías.

Senator David Norris: Information on David Norris Zoom on David Norris What is the name of that street?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly It is Greek Street, behind the Four Courts. The next time the Senator goes by the Four Courts he will be able to see the only street in the whole world named after the Greek language.

Senator Lisa Chambers: Information on Lisa Chambers Zoom on Lisa Chambers I join the Cathaoirleach in celebrating the Greek independence day and commend him on his international approach to being Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. He has touched many countries and friends of Ireland in that role.

  I support the Order of Business and there are two matters I want to raise. The first is to put on the record of the House for consideration and reflection by Members Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention a number of days ago, which is highly regrettable. That may not go far enough as the act is abhorrent and it is reprehensible for the country to remove itself from an international convention to protect women and girls from domestic violence and which tries to eradicate the scourge of domestic violence that is moving swiftly across all countries in the world.

  It is hard to understand how any country, having signed and ratified the Council of Europe Convention ten years ago would take such a regressive step. We know Turkey is hoping to join the European Union and it has begun that process. I am deeply disappointed by the response of European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and her team, which have really just expressed strong words of regret and disappointment about Turkey's actions but have not taken any further steps. We need a stronger response from the EU to a country like Turkey when it takes these actions. It has consistently taken steps that fly in the face of European Union values. One of the reasons given by the Turkish Government for withdrawing from the convention is that they believe a gender-based approach to this matter undermines family values and promotes homosexuality. These are the words coming from the Turkish Government.

Senator David Norris: Information on David Norris Zoom on David Norris That is not good.

Senator Lisa Chambers: Information on Lisa Chambers Zoom on Lisa Chambers I agree. I use the word "abhorrent" in describing those actions and the EU must take a much stronger stance. Words and platitudes will not suffice in this regard.

  A second matter is one which we have grappled with in this Chamber since returning for this term. It is the strategy of living with Covid-19 and what we hope is the imminent lifting of some restrictions after 5 April. It would be wise to give Members in the House an opportunity to have a debate in which we can put the views expressed to us from people right across the country as to how they want to progress in the next phase. My view is that there must be some benefit to receiving the vaccine. For those who are aged 80 and up who are getting vaccines, if they are fully vaccinated, they should be granted additional freedom. I do not mind if I and others in a younger age cohort must be under prolonged restrictions for a little longer and I would certainly not begrudge an older person who is fully vaccinated from getting back out and living. Nobody would begrudge them that.

  I see no reason somebody over 80 cannot access the public pool facilities in Castlebar, for example, which are open to elite athletes. It is open and being manned but fully vaccinated people, including front-line healthcare workers, cannot access it. There is a debate to be had in advance of what we hope is the reopening on 5 April. We have lost, to some extent, the public support of current restrictions. There are multiple shebeens operating around the country, people are getting their hair done and others are breaching guidelines because they just cannot cope with the restrictions as they currently stand. We must provide hope and a path out of this, with a debate in the House on how that could be done.

Senator David Norris: Information on David Norris Zoom on David Norris I am on the record of the House as having commended Sinn Féin on its parliamentary contributions but I deplore its continued attack on the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, about alleged leaks. He has acknowledged the act was inappropriate and he has apologised.  The Dáil voted confidence in him. He did nothing illegal or corrupt. There was no self-interest, personal gain or personal benefit involved. The act in question did no harm and conferred no advantage on anyone. The material involved was not a Cabinet document or a Cabinet secret. It was not classified. Almost all the information had already been placed in the public domain by the HSE, the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, and the Government. This is largely taken from the Tánaiste's statement but I have not seen anybody challenging him. If they have, I would like to hear about it. Now, apparently, he is receiving death threats, some of them homophobic in nature. I absolutely deplore this and call on Sinn Féin to stop what it is doing at once because it is bringing political life into disrepute.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I thank the Cathaoirleach for his comments about Greece's national day and echo them.

  I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to take No. 12 to introduce my Organisation of Working Time (Reproductive Health Related Leave) Bill before No. 1. I have spoken about this legislation before. Colleagues will know that much of the Bill is largely technical and designed to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 and the statutory framework relating to it. The key substantive provision in the Bill is to provide for the first time for explicit recognition for reproductive health related matters where they require leave, such as early miscarriage and IVF treatments, and to provide a small amount of paid leave for that. I commend the work of the INTO and, in particular, Councillor Alison Gilliland, with whom I have worked over a couple of years to bring this Bill forward.

  I thank the Leader for giving Government time for the Irish Nationality and Citizenship (Naturalisation of Minors Born in Ireland) Bill 2018, which passed Second Stage in this House and is currently on Committee Stage. It is a Labour Party Private Members' Bill that provides a route to citizenship for children born in Ireland. I have been glad to receive cross-party support from Government colleagues on it but I am disappointed to learn it will be opposed by Government when it Committee Stage is taken on Friday. I ask the Leader to speak with the Minister for Justice to see if she can enable it to go through to Report Stage. She has been collegiate in working with me on bringing forward aspects of the legislation. Aspects of it will be brought into law later this year but I would be disappointed to see it being voted down by Government parties, particularly as Fianna Fáil and Green Party senators had supported it on Second Stage when it was last voted upon by the previous Seanad.

  I support calls for a debate on the so-called living with Covid framework and the Government's plan for the future. It is interesting to hear Government Senators speak on the need to give people hope. That is quite right. All of us are utterly dismayed and dejected at the ongoing high level of figures, at last night's figure of over 700 confirmed infections and at the number of tragic deaths that are still occurring. Our schools are not yet fully open. Senator Chambers is right that there should be a vaccine bonus for those who are fully vaccinated but we need as a priority to make sure all our children get back to schools. It is a very short summer term, only eight weeks in secondary schools, as anyone who has children in secondary school will be well aware. It is important that children from first to fourth year who have been deprived of classes until now, other than online, get back to school on 12 April. That has to be a priority and after that we need a plan and a timeframe from Government to give people hope. We have been enduring these restrictions for three months. We should have implemented much tougher ones earlier. It is good to see mandatory hotel quarantine now in place but what people need is even a tentative timeframe to bring us through this next difficult phase.

Senator Vincent P. Martin: Information on Vincent P. Martin Zoom on Vincent P. Martin As Easter week approaches, I commend the initiative of Senator Keogan and others, who have arranged a Covid-compliant and safe press call tomorrow to ask the Government if it is doing enough to allow people of worship to return to their churches. Yesterday, the Bishop of Killaloe, Reverend Doctor Fintan Monahan, said people of faith have been shocked by the closure of our churches for public worship. It is scientifically proven that religion and prayers can help. Psychological studies have indicated great comfort for those who have a religious faith they can tap into in a time of crisis.  Faith and the practice of faith are potentially a powerful asset in times of challenge and upheaval. There are some immense psychological benefits from religious practice, including social connection and a sense of belonging, moral compass and an enhanced sense of meaning to life. Science finds it difficult to identify the exact beneficial component at play, as one can be spiritual but not necessarily religious and religious but necessarily spiritual. Those who have a faith can get solace from it and it can help to sustain their mental health. The imposition of blanket rules is far too blunt and potentially very damaging. Blanket closures of all religious gatherings can flatten the spirit of resilience.

  Some of our churches are very large buildings with high ceilings. I am not suggesting packing people into small oratories but a highly nuanced approach. At the weekend, an independent scientific advocacy group spoke about how we can tackle Covid through a nuanced approach. Are engineers assessing the space and ventilation in some of our larger churches? Why can only ten people sit in the Pro-Cathedral and pray? I remain unconvinced that the Government has explored all possible feasible options or has done all in its power to allow people to return to worship in a safe way at a time when they are clinging to their faith and when it can give them sustenance, comfort and solace. It raises the greater question as to whether the Government fully appreciates how intrinsically beneficial faith is and the strength people can take from their faith at a time of challenge and crisis.

Senator Lynn Boylan: Information on Lynn Boylan Zoom on Lynn Boylan I condemn any threats that have been made against any elected representatives. We all agree such threats are inappropriate and should be condemned by everybody, no matter what political background we come from.

  I will address the 105th anniversary of the Easter Rising. I commend the work of my colleague in Dáil Éireann, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, on a Private Member's Bill to create a cultural quarter on the Moore Street and surrounding areas battlefield site. The Ceathrú Chultúir 1916 Bill 2021, which is a vision for Moore Street, will be debated on Second Stage in the Dáil on Wednesday. I recommend that everyone take time to read the detailed proposal for this hugely important historical site. The Moore Street terrace and laneways are the physical environs of one the seminal chapters in Irish history and our struggle for independence. The hoarding of the land and the initial proposal to destroy this site and create an enormous shopping centre represented the worst of the Celtic tiger excesses. When I brought that proposal to the director of democratic governance at the Council of Europe she could not believe that any State would willingly destroy the historical fabric of its capital city. Even as a person who is not from Dublin, she looked at the map and was able to ask why we would need more retail space when the location is literally surrounded by shopping centres. We have moved on a few years now and while the proposal for retail on the site has been scaled back, it now favours office space. After a year of pandemic, does any Member of this House really believe that Dublin needs more office space?

  Deputy Ó Snodaigh's Bill proposes to legally recognise an Ceathrú Chultúir, preserve the built heritage of Moore Street and its curtilage and protect it from destruction. The proposal would also create a cultural quarter around Moore Street, which would boost tourism and footfall and would have a permanent outdoor market. It would give space to the development of art, music and sport and promote Irish heritage, culture, history and language. It would be a living museum to educate and prompt further research into our history. For too long, Dublin's north inner city has been neglected. The creation of an Ceathrú Chultúir would put heritage and culture at the centre of its social and economic regeneration.

  I hope the Government will not prevent the progress of this Private Member's Bill. I look forward to the Bill coming before the Seanad in the future. I remind Senators that the proposal is in line with the Green Party proposals for the area.  It is also in keeping with a proposal brought before this House in the past by the then Senator and current Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I encourage my colleagues to ask their colleagues in the Dáil not to block the progress of this Private Members' Bill.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I request a debate on sport and Covid-19. I have been working with a number of sports clubs, especially clubs involved in youth sport, for the last number of weeks. All the clubs, from Lourdes Celtic, St. Francis Football Club and clubs in Arklow and Knocklyon, are concerned by the drop-off rate in child engagement on the pitch and even in the Zoom conversations they are setting up. I have written to the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, on this issue and we should have a conversation about it.

  The risk of Covid-19 is huge and real but being unable to get children back on to sports pitches in some shape or form is also a risk. In many working class communities, sport is the only way out, whether as a route to university or for those who cannot access academic life. Sport has given chances to many children in our communities. It contributes to harm reduction and keeps children off the streets.

  The sports pitch is a sanctuary for many talented children. The closure is having an impact, from younger children experiencing anxiety who are now attending class but still cannot be on an outdoor pitch in pods to 17 and 18-year-olds who were relying on sport to access scholarships for third level universities. Studying at university in the United States on a soccer scholarship has always served as a route out for many children, rather than relying on the leaving certificate.

  The clubs have been clear. They are not calling for contact sports or leagues to start again. They are asking for a way to get children back on to the pitch, socially distanced and with all precautions in place, including not having parents on the sidelines. They have put everything in place and want to be able to move as quickly as they can before they lose more children than they should.

  I ask the Leader to arrange a discussion on moving away from the fixed date of 5 April. The Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, considered how recommendations applied specifically to his Department in terms of addiction services or youth work. The Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, should be given room to consider having particular restrictions in areas under his Department rather than having a fixed date apply across government.

Senator Robbie Gallagher: Information on Robbie Gallagher Zoom on Robbie Gallagher I have been contacted by a number of parents and students who have been impacted by the lack of broadband. These students cannot access their courses or lectures at university due to a lack of broadband or poor quality broadband. Parents scrimped and saved to pay the €3,000 fee to enable their son or daughter to attend college. Unfortunately, this did not happen due to Covid-19 and now they are having difficulty accessing lectures or other material because of poor or non-existent broadband.

  It is now March and students are becoming anxious as their examinations approach. They are concerned that having missed so many lectures through no fault of their own, they may fail their exams or not do as well as they normally would because of poor broadband. The matter is beyond the control of students and parents. I call on the Minister and the colleges to clearly state what they are doing or will do for students who find themselves in this position. It is unfair to them and they should not have their future interfered with because of poor quality broadband. I would like some clarity from the Minister and the colleges as to what they can do to assist young people who cannot access their course material because of poor broadband or, in many cases, a lack thereof.

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne All political parties have indicated their support for wind energy targets to reduce our carbon footprint in their party manifestos over a long number of years. In dealing with communities in my part of the world in Connemara and Galway, concerns have been expressed at various stages at the whole concept, when a project is first mooted, at the planning stage and at the construction stage. Issues have also arisen post-operation, including shadow flicker and noise.

  The wind energy development guidelines were put out for consultation in December 2019 as part of the strategic environmental assessment of the project and more than 500 submissions have been received. The review into the guidelines includes key aspects such as sound and noise, visual amenity, amenity set-back distances, shadow flicker, community obligation, community dividend and grid connections.

  Fáiltím roimh an t-athbhreithniú ar threoirlínte d'fhuinneamh gaoithe atá idir lámha faoi láthair ach tá an próiseas an-mhall. Bíonn imní ar phobail nuair a beartaítear plean d'fheirm gaoithe. Faoi láthair, tá imní i gceantar an Bhóthair Bhuí in Indreabhán faoi phlean chun feirm gaoithe a thógáil gar do thithe. Tá sé in am treoirlínte feiliúnacha a leagan síos ó thaobh achar ó tithe go dtí tuirbín gaoithe. Tá na tuirbíní ag fáil níos airde agus ba cheart treoirlínte nua a chur i bhfeidhm.

  So much of our community, particularly on the west coast where we have the highest wind speeds, includes lands designated as special areas of conservation, SACs, and natural heritage areas, NHAs. It is now time to look at whether some of these lands could be used for wind turbines, subject to site specificity. These could be in areas identified and zoned in the county development plans and the wind strategies to allow for greater set-back distances for current and future homes. Some communities are particularly concerned, as wind turbines grow higher and taller, about the impact they will have on their homes and their children's ability to get planning permission. I ask the Leader for a debate with the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on the whole issue of renewable energy and the processes and practices around it.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan I commend Senator Martin on mentioning the photocall tomorrow. I call on Members of both Houses to come out to the plinth at 12 o'clock tomorrow to support the reopening of our churches and allow those of all faiths to worship safely.

  I will talk this morning about the ugly side of choosing a career in politics, specifically the vile criminal abuse, harassment and intimidation that politicians can be subjected to by some individuals. We can all expect a certain amount of jousting in this career in the form of robust debate, hard questions being asked of us and clear answers being demanded. We expect scrutiny and criticism from our political opponents, the media, interested groups and the public. What one does not necessarily expect is to be subjected to campaigns of abuse and terror just for doing one's job and serving the community as best one can.

  This type of abuse can even result in a politician and his or her family living in fear and not feeling safe in their own home. The experiences of Independent councillor and Mayor of Galway city, Mike Cubbard, serve as a sobering reminder of how far abuse can go. He and his family have endured an 18-month long campaign of abuse and harassment. Threats that his home will be burned down have been made to him and his family. I understand a Garda investigation is now under way, but I am extremely dismayed by the fact the abuse has seemingly been allowed to continue for so long before it has been taken seriously.

  We cannot permit or tolerate this happening to politicians or to anyone for that matter. It is simply unacceptable in a civilised society and in a parliamentary democracy with the rule of law. We must take decisive action to eliminate this kind of abuse and bring perpetrators to justice. We must also ensure that online abuse is tackled aggressively. We owe that to each other, our colleagues, our families and, importantly, to future generations of politicians so they can pursue a career in politics without being in fear.

Senator Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells As we know, last week was a fantastic week for the Irish horse racing industry with the success at Cheltenham of so many trainers, with Rachael Blackmore becoming champion jockey and with Jack Kennedy landing the Gold Cup. Last week was also a bumper week for the bookmaker industry. Unlike other industries, which are despondent that their shops are shut, this was a godsend for the bookmaker industry because it got even more people online gambling on their phones.

  Last month, I raised the issue of the pending legislative measures being brought forward by Minister of State, Deputy Browne, surrounding this sector but what is most necessary is the appointment of a gambling regulator, which continues to be stalled. Former Armagh GAA and sports correspondent Oisín McConville, a man who has suffered from gambling addiction, spent the last week on RTÉ television and radio highlighting how one in five teenage boys has an excessive gambling problem. I pay tribute to RTÉ for carrying these items on the "Claire Byrne Live" show and again on "Sunday Sport" on Radio 1 yesterday. However, after Oisín was speaking, the coverage went to the Curragh for the feature race of the opening day of the flat, which was won by a trainer who is local to me, Noel Meade. When the race was over there was a little sound bite to inform the listeners of Radio 1 that coverage of the race in the Curragh had been brought to them courtesy of BoyleSports. One could not make it up. This is why we need to see a regulator in place - the invasive advertising is relentless - but of course where it is most needed is the online space.

  As I said, large firms had a bonanza last week with everyone going online. As I enjoy a bet on events like Cheltenham and the Grand National, I went online to place a wager. I had the account set up within two minutes. When the week was over and I went to cash out, here came the issue. Paddy Power suddenly looked for photo ID of me to be sent to that company to prove who I was to get my money back. I could have gambled away my house all week. Paddy Power never wanted my ID in order for me to give it all the money I had but when I went to get my money, it suddenly wanted my passport. Of course my Facebook timeline is now polluted with advertisements by Paddy Power and they wonder why one in five boys in this country has a gambling addiction.

  As Oisín McConville said yesterday, we have 1950s legislation for an industry which is tearing up the rule book. We need to see the Minister of State make this move. I ask the Leader to request this of him when he comes before the House in order that the debate is continued, that pressure for change is continued and that we apply the whip firmly to the bookmakers before they make an addict of every young child in this country.

Senator Joe O'Reilly: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly My topic neatly follows on from Senator Cassells's contribution, with which I completely concur. I call on an urgent debate on problem gambling followed by the appointment of a regulator and the gambling control Bill. We need play limits, win or lose limits and the end of pernicious allurements such as free bets. Gambling addiction destroys lives and must be tackled head on. I again ask for that debate.

  As the climate change Bill looms, I call for a debate on solutions to carbon reduction and not just on targets. I propose two initiatives. One is that every community should have a co-operatively owned micro-wind energy generator, such as a small turbine, and communal solar panels. This should be modelled on the co-operative model which transformed Ireland at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Second, I have long advocated grant aid or tax reduction for first-time car buyers who buy an electric car. They will develop loyalty and pride and will stay with electric cars. They will gain ownership of the entire climate change project. These are just two suggestions that can go into the mix for an overall debate on the solutions. We accept all the science now. Let us get to the solutions.

  I concur with Senator Keogan's initiative and Senator Martin's remarks on religious worship. I commend to the House and to all parties the wisdom of the father of the House, Senator Norris. He gave us a salutary lesson on the preservation of proper standards and democracy in this country.

Senator Annie Hoey: Information on Annie Hoey Zoom on Annie Hoey I second Senator Bacik's amendment to introduce the reproductive health leave Bill to the Order Paper.

  In early 2020, under the previous Government, Dr. Conor O'Mahony was asked to undertake a review of LGBTQ parental rights. This review of legal rights after surrogacy and other methods of assisted human reproduction by the special rapporteur for child protection, Dr. Conor O'Mahony, was completed and given to the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, on 11 December 2020. It has to be approved by the Cabinet before it can be published. That has not happened yet, however. In contrast to this, Dr. Conor O'Mahony's annual report on child protection was approved and published in quite a short period.

  The immediate priority of LGBTQ family rights campaigning groups, like Equality for Children, is to see the review published so they can read and respond to it. LGBT Ireland, in consultation with LGBT families, has proposals for how this Bill could ensure legislative protection for all families. It is vital the Cabinet approves the publishing of this report in order that families affected can review and respond to it. Will the Leader engage with her Cabinet colleagues to get this review published?

  The second issue I wish to raise is the impact of the Covid crisis on the mental health of students in third level and further education. It follows on from what Senator Gallagher spoke about. There are students who have now spent practically a year learning and studying from home. There are people who started college this year who have never set foot inside their college campus. We all know about the digital divide and the impact this is having on students' learning experience. The impact of Covid-19 on students' development and learning has undoubtedly been immense.

  Will the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and his Department, in consultation with other stakeholders, conduct a survey of the impact of Covid-19 on post second-level students? It would be important for the Minister to get the full picture of the impact that the Covid crisis has had on students' well-being and learning. Without an understanding of this, it will be hard for the Government to adequately respond. I will be writing to the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, on this issue but I wanted to flag it here today, as we need to have a conversation about the well-being of third level students and the impact Covid-19 has had on them.

Senator Erin McGreehan: Information on Erin McGreehan Zoom on Erin McGreehan This week marks national tree week. It would be remiss of me not to mention this, my real passion for trees and, in particular, native Irish trees. If one does not plant a tree this week, I would urge one to learn about the folklore behind each and every one of them.

  Alder is this month's tree. Alder was seen in old Irish traditions as the first tree from which man sprang. We can blame the alder for that. It was also used to make shields. I always thought the Red Branch Knights of Ulster was a strange name for an ancient Irish army. However, its name in Irish is Craobh Rua. The Red Branch Knights made their shields from alder and when one cuts alder, it turns red. One, therefore, had an army of red branches coming towards one.

  On a serious note, will the Leader invite the Minister to the Chamber to debate how we can harness the carbon sequestration of our hedgerows? We have 400,000 km of hedgerows in the country, a positive legacy the British left us when they parcelled up our land. There are really positive environmental issues that we can bring in if we look at what our hedgerows provide. Up to 0.66 to 3.3 tonnes of carbon can be sequestered by 1 ha of hedgerow. Bringing a beef animal to slaughter will only produce 20 kg of carbon. We have to appreciate what our farms are already doing for the environment and give credit to the farmers and hedgerows. A proper hedgerow management plan for each of our farmers in the new rural environment protection scheme is needed.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I want to raise again the issue of the local print media and the difficulties it has because of its declining revenue from advertising. We all know how valuable the local print media is but it is getting no assistance. While there was some reduction in VAT, it needs assistance at this point. I have no problem in saying that it should have the same assistance as the local radio station sector. Some of our finest broadcasters cut their teeth with the local print media.  We have many fine local newspapers throughout the length and breadth of the country. I again ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister what can be done so that some assistance would be given at this difficult time for local print media.

  Every Member of the House here received a letter recently from Mr. Ken Murray regarding communications. The communications part of Leinster House heretofore had put in place Mr. Murray and Mr. Tim Ryan, who used communicate what had happened in this House and in the other House to the local print media and radio stations. It was a great service for this House. I ask that the commission has a look at this.

  A survey is being carried out here in the Oireachtas, seemingly on this issue. There are many new Members in both Houses who did not realise that service was being provided by Mr. Murray and Mr. Ryan. In particular, they gave all of what happened here in these Houses to the local print media. Mr. Murray did the clips. I ask that this service would be brought back into Leinster House because what happens here in the Seanad will be brought directly to the local print media throughout the length and breadth of the country. I would ask that the Cathaoirleach bring that up at the Commission.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I thank the Senator. It has been brought up at the commission. We are following up on that.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield Places such as the Pearse Museum in Rathfarnham and Kilmainham Jail in Dublin were long protected and saved by volunteers. Equally, the integrity of Moore Street has been maintained by street traders, working-class Dubliners and small business owners on that street. It has also been saved by campaigners and the relatives of the 1916 leaders. The men and women of Easter week restored our national self-respect and self-dignity decades after an Gorta Mór. They asserted our right to national self-determination in arms and the final surrender was at Moore Street. We have seen recently how structures of national importance can be reduced to rubble. I am glad, therefore, that my colleague and friend, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, has brought forward a proposal. It so happens that that proposal is in line with Fianna Fáil and Green Party policy or previous statements. I, therefore, call on those parties to support this proposal in the Dáil to give recognition to An Ceathrú Chultúir - a Moore Street cultural quarter that would transform that area into a living cultural, residential and casual trading area. I hope the proposal comes to this House. This is in the national interest.

Senator Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley Like others, I ask the Leader to try to organise a debate in this House, possibly next week, on the issue of living with Covid. As we approach the 5 April deadline where we expect to see some changing of restrictions, it would be appropriate that the views of Senators be heard on this important issue. If we are to hold the people with us, there has to be a credible lifting of some of the restrictions. It will be difficult to keep the public with us unless we show them some positive response to what they have achieved over the past number of months.

  There is a plateauing of, and perhaps a slight increase in, case numbers but the most vulnerable people are being vaccinated. All those in nursing homes are vaccinated. Those aged over 80 are now being vaccinated and we hope we will get quickly to the over 70s. The important cohort aged between 16 and 69 is en route to being vaccinated.

  We have to get to a point - I think the point comes when the over 70s are vaccinated - where we get to open up the economy again. We know there will be cases but the severe illness, hospitalisation and death rates will be well-reduced at that stage.

  The restrictions are all about trying to ensure that our hospitals are not overcome. It is not possible to prevent death from Covid or from any other illness and some sight has been lost of that. It is about now ensuring that the hospitals give everyone who gets Covid the best chance to survive.  One cannot go any further. What we want to see in the coming days is the lifting of the 5 km restriction. It cannot be to 10 km or just county-wide, but lifted entirely. Sports training for young people has to be back on the agenda. I know from the considerable personal experience of people who have contacted me the toll it is taking on the mental health of young students. Last week, we discussed eating disorders. The incidence of that is increasing. It is all playing into the mental health issues. General construction must return and house repairs and on-off building must be permitted. We need religious services again, albeit in a controlled way. In addition, people like to play a game of golf, and they are generally retirees who will mainly be vaccinated and stay apart. I believe activities such as golf and tennis should be reopened next week.

  Nobody is jumping up and down looking for hospitality, pubs, hotels and the like to open. People are prepared to wait for that. This is very important, and I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for the latitude. I hope we can have a debate next week so we can put that firmly on the record and ensure we get considerable movement to keep the Irish people with us.

Senator Aisling Dolan: Information on Aisling Dolan Zoom on Aisling Dolan I am delighted today with the announcement from the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, about the outdoor recreational infrastructure programme. It is worth €6 million. It is wonderful because there is €500,000 for Mote Park in Roscommon. This shows the commitment to regional development, which is crucial. We are currently in lockdown, but we must have ways to kick-start tourism, particularly in towns and villages, when we begin to reopen in safer times. The €500,000 will be available for a cycleway which will link Mote Park in Roscommon to Athleague. I pay tribute to the role of community groups. I refer to volunteer groups that work with the Suck Valley Way, part of the Beara-Breifne Way that goes from Cork to Cavan. It goes through about ten counties. We are also talking about the regeneration teams in local authorities. It is important that we ensure tourism officers, rural recreation officers and the regeneration teams in local authorities are receiving sufficient funding to be able to compete in these applications.

  In Roscommon, this is building on funding already announced through the rural development fund, RDF, of approximately €9.2 million for urban regeneration. It points to the fact that when one funds excellent regeneration teams in local authorities, they will win such funding. Again, along with the biodiversity and habitats that are in Mote Park, it is important that communities are supported in the time ahead. Getting out within the 5 km limit is important, but the Mote Park Conservation Group is very good because it has interactive elements on the heritage trail, so one can see it all from one's couch if one cannot get to the park. I thank our regeneration teams and community groups.

Senator Ollie Crowe: Information on Ollie Crowe Zoom on Ollie Crowe I wish to raise a similar issue those raised by Senators Norris and Keogan. All Members will be well aware of the abuse and harassment of elected public representatives, both on social media and offline. It is a problem that appears to have increased significantly in the last number of years both at local and national levels. I will give an example. The current mayor of Galway city, Councillor Mike Cubbard, has been the subject of a particularly disgusting campaign over the last 12 to 18 months. I know Mike very well. I stood in four elections against him and I found him fair and well able to have a political debate. He is the first person in generations in Galway to hold the office, back to back, for a two-year period. There has been impersonation of Mike, lewd messages and death threats. Recently, his parents' house has also received threats. This is very worrying, and I consider it abhorrent. I believe the Garda must take more specific action.

  While the example I am discussing happens to be male, we should make it clear that it is even worse for female elected representatives. Research published by National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, last October found that 96% of female politicians have received abusive messages online. Almost 40% of female politicians interviewed reported being threatened with sexual violence, while 25% said they have been verbally abused in public.  This is utterly disgusting and, obviously, is highly likely to discourage women from going forward for election. We need to encourage young people to participate in politics and not prevent them from doing so. I do not think there is an easy fix to this problem but we need real examination of the issue. We need to tackle it in some way, whether through tougher penalties from a legal standpoint, some sort of education campaign that could be run in our primary and secondary schools or a combination of both methods. There is an absolute need for us to do so not just for current elected representatives but also for those who will follow in our footsteps. There are many great aspects of being an elected representative; we need to ensure that this growing negative aspect does not overshadow them. I ask the Leader of the House to invite the Minister who will soon have responsibility for justice, Deputy Heather Humphreys, before the House. I am aware the lady is extremely busy, but if she could spare an hour over the coming weeks, I would be very grateful.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I thank Senators for raising the important issue of abuse - a number of Senators have done so - and particularly online abuse and the need for it to be tackled, not just for politicians but for all citizens. We are well aware of the issue of bullying in schools and online. People sending anonymous messages cannot be traced and suffer no consequences. It is an issue not just for this House and the Dáil but for society, and I thank Senators for raising it, particularly as it relates to our Tánaiste, which highlights the issue, and the Mayor of Galway, Mike Cubbard, whom I know well. They are public figures. That is nothing compared with what ordinary citizens, both male and female, are suffering through because of online bullying and abuse. I thank Members for raising the issue.

Senator Emer Currie: Information on Emer Currie Zoom on Emer Currie I agree with Senators' remarks on that matter.

  The Covid numbers at the moment are worrying, and it is natural that the Government will feel it could send mixed messages by lifting some restrictions. We are all familiar with the expression "if you give them an inch, they will take a mile", but I think we are at the stage that if we do not try to give people an inch, they will run a mile. I also speak as a mum to two young children who, like others, desperately need to go back to school but who are still suffering with the ongoing restrictions, which have taken a toll. Having one family to meet with outside and to play with in restricted numbers would make a world of difference, as would the resumption of sports and other activities in a highly controlled outdoor environment, instead of what is happening at the moment, and an extension to the 5 km restriction for some breathing space. I am talking about a balance of being conservative but compassionate based on controlled outdoor environments. We could also maximise our available outdoor space better. The parks and amenities within our 5 km limits are under severe pressure, the Phoenix Park and St. Catherine's Park, on different sides of Dublin 15, to name two. We can take pressure off them by utilising other outdoor spaces. I am talking specifically about Dublin Zoo and other amenities such as Fota Wildlife Park that are able to control numbers entering their gates by the hour in a way the public parks just cannot. Dublin Zoo could keep its indoor facilities closed. It could run a one-way system. Tickets could be pre-booked, the benefit of which would be that there would be plenty of space and there would be lots of distance between families. It could open only for people within a 5 km travel radius. As an organisation it is struggling to survive when we could be making use of local outdoor attractions in a controlled manner. Sometimes to get a little we have to give a little, and that is an example.

Senator John Cummins: Information on John Cummins Zoom on John Cummins I echo many of the comments my colleague, Senator Dolan, made on the outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme announced this morning by the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys. In my county of Waterford, €370,000 has been allocated to upgrade and enhance a section from Clonea Road to Ballynacourty, a spur off the Waterford greenway, which is a fantastic amenity that I think everybody across the whole country knows about. We certainly look forward in better times, when restrictions are eased, to welcoming many people to the Waterford greenway.  It does go to show that investing in our outdoor infrastructure is most important, both for tourism potential and for locals alike. This has particularly been the case throughout Covid when many activities have been restricted to outdoors. It is absolutely fantastic that €15.7 million has now been allocated throughout the entire country across both measures 1, 2 and 3 of the outdoor recreation infrastructure fund. It is money that will be well spent in communities right across the country.

  In conjunction with the subject of outdoor sport and activity, speaking as a former physical education teacher, I do believe that it is essential, as Senator Dooley referenced a few moments ago, that as we look to easing restrictions hopefully beyond 5 April 2021 we focus on young people in particular. I am acutely conscious that there are many young people who potentially will not engage in sport following this pandemic because they have missed out on such formative time in being able to engage with their sport or activity. We must lead as a Government and seek to do something in the context of non-contact sport and activity. It is not a case of "if" - we must do it for reasons of mental health and for the ongoing participation of young people in sport following the pandemic.

Senator Regina Doherty: Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I thank Senator Cummins. County Waterford is having a particularly good week with regard to Government investment, and I want to congratulate the Senator and commend him for the work he has done on the announcement of funding for Waterford City and County Council last week. I know it was significant and that the Senator had championed the cause for many months. I said last week that he would make us all envious when he spoke about the developments. I am really glad that Waterford City and County Council has been given the money and I look forward to seeing the fruits of that work. I also wish to congratulate the Senator on the announcement of the allocation of extra greenway funding this morning.

  A number of colleagues have discussed online abuse. I can only say that it feels like the abuse of politicians at every level has shifted from third gear to maybe sixth gear. Even political sympathisers and supporters seem to think now that it is fair game to give their tuppence worth to our elected representatives. Members have asked for a debate on this issue, and I will certainly try to facilitate that after Easter, in the next number of weeks. It has got to a level where we have all gone down such a dangerous rabbit hole that I do not know where we will end up, looking at the level of discourse. I do not know whether it is true of our male colleagues here today, but I know from my female colleagues that it is commonplace for them to come into this House, open their emails and receive the most vile and disgusting threats. It is as if people do not think that they have any responsibility for the words they use. The discourse appears on a daily basis on all of our social media channels and it is now in our inboxes. It has to stop.

  A few weeks ago we talked about encouraging more women and young people into public life. One would want to be absolutely off one's bloody rocker to encourage one's children to come into this life and to have to put up with the abuse that we have to put up with on a daily basis. However, we are the only people who can change it and we must do something about it. It needs to start with a debate with the Minister for Justice in the next few weeks, which I will organise.

  A number of other colleagues have asked for a debate on living with Covid-19. Senator Currie is right. I do not know whether it is human nature or just Irish nature that when we are given an inch, we want a mile. We are all seeing and hearing the impact of Covid, first-hand on a daily basis. Senator Hoey talks about its impact on students on a regular basis. I am not just worried for our students; I am worried for our young people and middle-aged people. Senator Chambers is absolutely right that our older generations have been deprived of their liberty for over a year now, while some of us have been able to continue to walk around our villages and go to the supermarket, which seems to have been the only entertainment we have had for the last 12 months. There must be some liberty and freedom with the vaccination. Otherwise we are all going to scratch our heads and wonder what it has all been for, and where the hope that we are so hungrily clinging on to, that is going to be revealed in the number of weeks and months, is actually going to leave us. We only have Friday and Monday, and we do have a full schedule for both of those days next week before Easter. However, I will do my level best to try and get a debate on living with Covid and reopening, before what we hope will be some easing of restrictions announced on 5 April.   Senators Warfield and Boylan brought up the Sinn Féin Private Members' Bill in the Dáil. We all welcome the €12.5 million that was announced in the urban regeneration fund for the redevelopment and the maintenance of the historic significance of 14 to 17 Moore Street. How proud we are of our inner city and its heritage, but how proud we must be to actually put our money where our mouth is to make sure we preserve it. I wish the Bill well in the Lower House.

  Senator Burke raised the issue of local newspapers. It is not the first time he has brought this up and it seems to be a recurring theme. We all received the very large novel newspaper that came from all of our regional newspapers last week to highlight how significant the deterioration has been in their income, not just revenue from advertising but also from other sources. It is time for the Government to at least match what we have given to local radio stations. I was not aware of the situation of Mr. Ken Murray and Mr. Tim Ryan, or that the commission had ceased what is a vital source of information and flow of information from both this House and the Dáil to our local newspapers and local radio stations. If there is anything I can do to reinstate that, the Senator might let me know what needs to be done. I thank him for raising the matter today.

  Senator McGreehan talked about national tree week. I was not aware of the historic nature of the alder tree and I thank her for bringing that up.

  Senator Hoey referred to Dr. Conor O'Mahony and the parental rights report. I will try to contact the Minister today to get the Senator a date for when that will be published.

  Not just today but frequently over the past number of weeks, Senators Cassells and O'Reilly have talked about the blight that is gambling in this country, its growth and its insidious nature, particularly in the context of young people. We have a debate scheduled with the Minister in the week in which we return after Easter, so I will email both Senators today with the date.

  Senator Keogan - Senator Martin also made reference to this - talked about the photocall tomorrow, on which I commend her. One of the saddest things I saw or heard in the last week was Fr. Hughes being fined €500. For those who do not know, Fr. Hughes is a priest from Cavan who has been fined €500 for getting caught with eight people aged over 80 in his church, saying mass. It is probably the most mean-spirited thing I have ever come across in my life. I do not diminish the fact there are restrictions on us all, and I know we all have to obey the rules and the guidelines, but I do not think I have ever heard anything as mean-spirited as fining a priest €500 for saying mass. Again, I think that comes back to the living with Covid debate that we will try to organise between now and then.

  Senator Gallagher talked about broadband access. I will write to the Minister to find out if allowances are being made for the fact younger students do not have access in the same way as other students to their course work, and if it will make any material difference to the outcome of their exams.

  Senator Kyne talked about wind energy support and our carbon footprint. He is looking for a debate on renewable energy, which I will organise in the next couple of weeks.

   Senator Ruane, among others, raised the issue of the need for sport. Again, the Senator will be able to tie that in to the living with Covid debate when we organise it in the next couple of weeks.

  Senator Martin spoke about being able to profess a faith and practice a faith. It is not just as easy as saying that people can simply go online to mass and to funerals, which they are doing. It is not the same and we all know it is not the same. For those people whose faith is an enormous part of their lives, we need to realise that it is not just about praying to God but is also about community. It is something they have very much lost and been deprived of in the last 12 months.

  I am happy to take Senator Bacik's amendment to the Order of Business. There is no problem with that. I am surprised and upset for the Senator regarding the outcome relating to the Bill, namely, that we have now decided to object to it, having supported it on Second Stage. I will try to get an update from the Minister today and come back to the Senator on that.

  I thank Senator Norris for starting off by expressing his confidence in the Tánaiste, as, indeed, the Dáil did last November. I very much hope that issue will be coming to an end very soon.

  I want to conclude with the issue raised by Senator Chambers. For many months, we have talked about equality of opportunity for women in all aspects of life in Ireland. I believe we have the support of every Member of this House and of the Oireachtas in respect of the continuity of our ambition to ensure that we have an equality of opportunity in society. By Jove, when we look at the actions of Turkey and other countries that are not far behind it, they literally seem to be going in a retrograde direction.  I fully agree with the Senator. While the sentiments of the statement from the Commission were well meaning, words can only do so much and we need to see action. I probably would have far preferred a statement to say that if Turkey wanted to put in jeopardy its application to join the EU, for which it has been preparing in recent years, then it certainly made a great effort towards that last week. The strength of the statement from the European Commission should be far stronger.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly Senator Bacik has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 12 be taken before No. 1." It has been seconded by Senator Hoey. The Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept the amendment.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.

Organisation of Working Time (Reproductive Health Related Leave) Bill 2021: First Stage

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

That leave be given to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for a period of paid leave consequent upon miscarriage or for the purposes of availing of reproductive healthcare; for that purpose to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997; to extend the protection against unfair dismissals conferred by the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2015; to provide for the consequential amendment of certain other Acts; and to provide for related matters.

Senator Annie Hoey: Information on Annie Hoey Zoom on Annie Hoey 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 Tuesday week.

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

  Second Stage ordered for Tuesday, 30 March 2021.

Family Leave Bill 2021: Instruction to Committee

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

That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, it be an instruction to the Committee of the whole Seanad, in relation to the Family Leave Bill 2021, that the Committee has the power to make amendments to the Bill for the purpose of amending the Judicial Council Act 2019 and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 in relation to the operation of personal injuries guidelines adopted by the Judicial Council; and to make other consequential amendments required to take account of such amendments.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly  Question put and agreed to.

  Sitting suspended at 1.06 p.m. and resumed at 1.30 p.m.

Covid-19 (Tourism): Statements

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Mark Daly Zoom on Mark Daly I welcome the Minister. Fáilte go dtí an Seanad a Aire. I thank her for coming to the Seanad to discuss the important topic of tourism and the challenges that are ahead of us. She has ten minutes.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Deputy Catherine Martin): Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin Táim an-sásta a bheith anseo inniu ag labhairt leis an Teach faoin turasóireacht. I welcome the opportunity to address the Seanad about the plans for supports and incentives for the tourism and hospitality industry for 2021.

  In 2019, before the pandemic had wrought its affects on Irish society, tourism was worth more than €9 billion in total to our economy from overseas tourists and the fares they generated together with domestic tourism. The industry supported 260,000 jobs across the country both in remote rural areas as well as in our towns and cities. Since the advent of Covid-19, and the consequential and necessary public health measures, many of these jobs have been lost or are surviving with State support and income from the sector is a fraction of what it was in 2019.

  I am very aware of the toll that the pandemic and the restrictions are continuing to take across the sector and, most importantly, on the people working in the industry. It was critical, therefore, that the Government recently extended the economy-wide supports for businesses and employees until the end of June. As Senators will be aware, the Government has also committed that there will not be a cliff-edge end to the supports that are currently in place.

  We remain committed to supporting tourism through this difficult period, and to working towards reopening and recovery. In that regard, the Government will soon publish a national economic recovery plan, which will outline how we will help people return to work, support sectors that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and how emergency supports will be phased out. Crucially, as part of that plan, along with my colleagues in government, we will consider more targeted measures to help reboot those sectors such as tourism that will face particular challenges during the recovery phase when the economy reopens.

  While we collectively continue to experience the dreadful impact of this pandemic on life, society and the economy, there is cause for cautious optimism as the roll-out of the vaccination programme gathers pace. Reopening tourism businesses and managing the recovery in a way that is economically viable, safe and attractive for tourists and local communities will require co-ordination at a level not seen previously. The roadmap to recovery will require flexibility, agility, investment, innovation, and a commitment to a strong collaboration with the industry.   Horizontal support schemes such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, and rates waiver have been worth hundreds of millions of euro to the broader tourism and hospitality sectors. Outside of that, I have allocated a record level of funding to tourism, which has allowed me to introduce measures specifically aimed at assisting the tourism sector, such as the €55 million business continuity scheme launched on 1 February by Fáilte Ireland to help strategic tourism businesses survive the pandemic and drive recovery. This scheme will contribute to the fixed costs of identified tourism businesses that are not eligible for the CRSS to support their survival. It will provide an equitable level of payment to the CRSS for qualifying businesses and the first phase will cover businesses such as tourism attractions, activity providers and caravan and camping sites. The VAT rate for the sector was reduced to 9% to help improve the competitiveness and viability of businesses. Two separate funds of €10 million each were introduced for coach tourism operators and the Ireland based inbound agents business continuity scheme in the last quarter of 2020. In addition, €8 million in restart grant funding was provided for bed and breakfast premises. Funding of €5 million has also been provided for upskilling training and to improve digital presence. A €26 million adaptation fund has been provided for the tourism sector to adapt their premises to meet Covid-19 safety requirements.

  Survival is the first part of the Government's response for tourism. Recovery must come next. I will continue to keep all options open for supporting the recovery.

  Last September, the tourism recovery task force submitted a recovery plan to me which set out a number of recommendations aimed at helping the tourism sector to survive and recover from the pandemic. The plan has been a very important input into my thinking on the sector and has influenced a number of the measures I have adopted.

  I subsequently appointed the recovery oversight group in December to monitor the implementation of the recovery plan. The oversight group was ably chaired by Nóirín Hegarty and she presented the group's first report to me on 15 February. The report highlights a number of areas on which it recommends the Government should focus its attention. I brought this report to the attention of my colleagues in government to ensure they are fully up to date with the position on tourism as we prepare the national economic recovery plan. A number of the areas highlighted by the group have already been addressed in our new Covid plan, The Path Ahead. In addition, my officials will continue to engage with tourism agencies and colleagues across government in pursuing progress on specific recommendations. I will keep the content of the report under review, together with the initial recovery plan produced by the tourism recovery task force, as the situation evolves.

  Last October, the Tánaiste and I convened the hospitality and tourism forum to provide a platform for structured engagement between the hospitality and tourism sector, the tourism agencies and relevant Departments. The forum enables the Tánaiste and me to engage with a wide spectrum of industry stakeholders to assess the continuing impact of the pandemic, help improve understanding and responses to the crisis and discuss ideas for recovery measures, thus assisting the Government in formulating its ongoing response to the crisis. I was pleased that the Taoiseach also attended the most recent meeting of the forum earlier this month to hear at first hand of the devastation this pandemic has brought to our tourism sector and the many challenges the industry now faces. I am committed to mapping a pathway for the recovery of the sector and I will continue to work with all stakeholders in that regard.

  It is recognised that during periods of closure the tourism and hospitality sector is losing skilled staff to other sectors. The tourism recovery task force identified that retaining tourism jobs and skills will be vital to tourism's recovery and implementing an upskilling and reskilling programme can mitigate the significant damage the crisis is having on the sector. In this regard, supporting the retention will be assisted by measures such as the funding of €5 million provided in budget 2021 for upskilling training and to improve digital presence. The tourism and hospitality careers oversight group is a collaborative approach by stakeholders, including industry bodies, education providers, Departments and State agencies, to addressing skills shortages in the tourism sector. The group is finalising a new plan which includes input from members and a review of its collaborative framework, and takes into account recommendations from the tourism recovery task force. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris, and the Minister of State with responsibility for skills, Deputy Niall Collins, recently announced two new skills programmes to assist the hospitality and tourism sectors with Covid-19 challenges and ensuring they are ready for reopening.

  Looking ahead to the summer, indications are that there will be a strong domestic demand for tourism services when it is safe to open up.  Recent CSO figures show that almost 70% of people intend to take a holiday in the Republic of Ireland in 2021. While this news is encouraging, I am very conscious that the tourism sector relies heavily on international tourism. The industry wants certainty around when international visitors can visit, but it is not helpful to speculate on specific dates at this point.

  The path ahead makes clear the criteria which are most important when considering the easing of travel restrictions. These are the prevalence of the disease and the attendant reproductive rate, reducing hospital and critical care occupancy to low levels to protect the health service and allow for the safe resumption of non-Covid-19 care, ongoing and steady progress in the vaccination programme such that the most vulnerable are protected through vaccination, and emerging information on variants of concern.

  International travel is critical for tourism, with overseas visitors accounting for 75% of the revenue generated by the sector prior to the pandemic. At this point, the Government’s overarching and primary policy objective on inbound international travel is to minimise the introduction of new cases of Covid-19 to the State from other locations. A senior officials group continues to review the situation fortnightly. This group, having regard to the developing epidemiological in the State and internationally, the evolution of tests and technologies, and progress been made in the vaccination programme, will make every effort to reopen international travel at the earliest possible opportunity.

  Unfortunately, inbound international tourism is not possible at present given how the pandemic has evolved. It is too early to say when it might resume, but I look forward to seeing people back visiting our country when it is safe to do so.

  At a meeting of EU tourism ministers on 1 March I urged the European Commission to consider initiatives to facilitate the resumption of safe international travel. In that regard the proposal for a regulation on digital green certificates announced by the EU last week is a welcome development. It is vital, however, not to raise hopes about a quick return to international tourism. Most EU member states are still working hard on their domestic messaging to encourage citizens to stay the course with restrictive measures, many of which remain necessary pending the roll-out of the vaccination programmes.

  The priority in Ireland is on regaining and maintaining control over the disease and preventing a further wave of infection later in the year until vaccination can offer a widespread population level of protection. The EU’s proposal of a common framework for the issuance verification and acceptance of certificates relating to vaccination, testing and recovery requires careful consideration. The proposal is expected to be discussed at the European Council meeting of leaders later this week and will be examined in detail by relevant Government Departments. It is too early, therefore, to comment in detail on that proposed framework.

  I wish to assure the Seanad that I am fully aware of the great challenges faced in tourism and that I will continue to work with my colleagues in Government to ensure the sector is given every possible support to enable it to emerge intact from the pandemic and to build back in a more resilient, digitalised, greener and sustainable way. We will do that as we have done since I became Minister, which is in constant consultation with the stakeholders.

Senator Róisín Garvey: Information on Róisín Garvey Zoom on Róisín Garvey Fearaim fáilte roimh an Aire agus is iontach í a fheiceáil sa Teach seo arís inniu. I thank the Minister again. Since she assumed this remit, which is vast and phenomenal, she has done amazing work. At the worst time ever to be Minister with responsibility for tourism, she seems to have kept the hopes of the tourism sector alive. Coming from Clare, where there is significant employment in the tourism industry and reliance on it for jobs, the word on the street is the Minister is doing well. I appreciate that as it is good to be able to give the sector some hope for the future. While the pandemic was not the fault of the Minister, unfortunately she has to come up with solutions for the tourism sector.

  I must mention the Shannon master plan of €70 million, which is a brilliant idea to attract tourism to the area in a proper regional way because we know that regional rebalancing is key to this country doing well. It is also more sustainable to have tourism spread out more evenly.

  The Minister mentioned the green certificate, and I will talk a little more on sustainable tourism. Now that we are on a kind of pause, we have some time perhaps to look at how we do tourism and to look at greenwashing as opposed to genuine green tourism.  It is time we drew a distinction between those two things. Too often, places look like they are green but behind the scenes they are not green at all, while others are so amazingly green and are like unsung heroes for how to do tourism well in a sustainable way.

  The BurrenLIFE project has an amazing system - the sustainable indicator system - whereby farmers get rewarded the more biodiversity they have and the greener their operations are. It might be time for something like that in the tourism industry as well because outside of agriculture it is our biggest industry. If we are to take the challenges of biodiversity and climate change seriously and if we want to hold onto all the reasons people come to this country in the first place, which are our biodiversity, beauty, culture and water, we need to get this right.

  I will provide an example. The Cliffs of Moher are an absolutely amazing and fantastic place, which get 1.2 million visitors every year. In the long term, the visitor centre there is hoping to increase that to 2 million. However, we want to see the villages around the cliffs thriving as well. The visitor centre had consultants in, spent a great deal of money and is going to do X, Y and Z. That is fantastic but I do not see Milltown Malbay or Kilfenora benefiting from that in any way. The same is true of anywhere in Ireland where we have a huge tourist attraction. In order for it to be sustainable, it has to be of benefit to the people around the area, not just the people right at the point of entry. The only way to do that is to bring in these indicators, such as whether attractions are using local suppliers, local bakers, local milk producers or whatever is available to them. There should not be any foreign milk or foreign meat in a huge tourist attraction. There should be local bakers.

  We are so creative as a nation. We have loads of craftspeople and foodies. They are the people who should be supplying these big places that make all the money. That is important if we want to move forward with real, sustainable tourism. The word "sustainable" is thrown around as if it is cheap as chips now but we need to take it seriously if we are going to be serious about preserving Ireland as a place that people can visit in many years' time and still see the natural flora and fauna.

  The Minister visited the Burren last year and saw the amazing walkway at the Cliffs of Moher. Currently, only a kilometre of the walkway on either side of the cliffs is getting any support or funding. The rest is being neglected because all the focus is on the cliffs themselves. That is wrong. If it was done properly, Liscannor, Doolin and other places would benefit as well. We have to be accountable as a Government with where we put our funding. If we give funding to big tourism projects we are accountable and we must make sure benefits come to everybody around the area. I would love to work with the Minister on sustainable indicators for the tourism sector.

  Biodiversity is also a huge part of tourism. Nobody would come to the Burren if there was no biodiversity. It is not often tied in with tourism but, unknowingly, that is what people come to see in our country. They love our trees, rivers and walkways.

  I thank the Minister for all the support for greenways. It is great to see tourism and transport both recognising the importance of blue ways and greenways.

  The employment wage subsidy scheme has been amazing. It has been a very difficult time for the tourism sector and I hope we can get it back on its feet. The Minister is the right woman for the job and nobody could have done it better than she has done so far. She has given a lot to it. I look forward to supporting her in the future and working with her on a real, green sustainable tourism future for Ireland.

Senator Sharon Keogan: Information on Sharon Keogan Zoom on Sharon Keogan Sadly, the past 13 months have been a disaster for the tourism industry and the people and families who rely on tourism to make ends meet. I acknowledge the work of the tourism recovery task force that prepared the Tourism Recovery Plan 2020-2023, which was published in October. It appears to be a comprehensive plan, containing critical measures to ensure the survival of as many jobs and businesses as possible. Some of the key points of the plan are: business continuity grants and additional operational supports for enterprises; professional development supports for workers in the sector; liquidity measures to support vulnerable but viable businesses; facilitating the resumption of inbound international tourism; increasing competitiveness through a VAT reduction; actions to increase supply and reduce the cost of insurance; and increased domestic and overseas marketing expenditure. The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation also published a tourism industry revival plan in July 2020 with 45 policy recommendations designed to help avert a complete catastrophic collapse of the sector.  We need to see these recovery plans urgently implemented. What parts of these plans have been implemented? What progress has been made since last summer to reverse the decline we have seen in the industry? I am concerned about whether we have seen sufficient action on the part of the Government.

I have been contacted by numerous people who work in tourism and who run businesses reliant on tourism. One individual who contacted me is Chris Slattery, who owns the Station House Hotel in Kilmessan. It is in such distress at this stage that it may have to close permanently, making the staff redundant. Mr. Slattery states:

We are seeking several urgent, immediate measures to help our industry survive the extended restrictions and secure the livelihoods of 270,000 people employed in tourism across the country, representing 1 in every 10 jobs before Covid-19.

This has been a traumatic experience and at this stage we are in a critical financial situation after 12 months of practical closure, we have encountered extreme hardship during this time and we now need to open urgently for the business to survive,

We are a small, family owned and run country house hotel located in the middle of the Boyne Valley in the village of Kilmessan, Co. Meath and during normal trading times we employ approximately 50 staff. We have been operating for 37 years and provide a huge amount of indirect revenue for many local businesses as a knock-on effect from our wedding business such as hairdressers, beauty salons, shops, hotels, and guesthouses. As weddings are our primary business, we need clarity as to how many guests we can accommodate, we need to know when we can accommodate 25, 50 & above and commencement dates and when we can eventually get back to normal trading,

We need to know this to decide on whether we need to close our business completely, we have remained operating behind closed doors with skeleton staff during this time and we need clarity for us to continue in business. We need the current financial support measures to remain in place, hospitality VAT rate to remain at 9%, we ask that all municipal and state body bills be [waived] until the pandemic is over and present conditions concluded.

We did apply for a government backed working capital loan with Bank of Ireland to support us through this period and it was unfairly declined, these so-called government backed loans are not widely available for small, family-owned businesses fundamentally defeat the purpose for which they were established. We need the government to protect us during this time, we contribute hugely to the economy and the local communities but also ensure that our Irish heritage is preserved and not over-run instead by large international brands taking money out of Ireland and ultimately destroying the economy and the uniqueness of Ireland in the long-term.

The all-important summer trading period serves as a lifeline to sustain the other months of the year in normal times. If this is eroded, additional government supports will be critical to survival. It is now "make or break" time.

  We are calling for your help.

  I want to make a point about the importance of vaccinations to get domestic tourism flourishing again and to attract international visitors. International tourism is vital. A total of 75% of spending on Irish tourism relies on foreign visitors. A total of 100,000 people in accommodation and food services receive the pandemic unemployment payment, with more tourism and hotel jobs receiving government wage subsidies. Industry estimates suggest many thousands of Irish jobs are at risk if international tourism fails to reopen this summer.

  There is only one gig in town to sort out this crisis and that is vaccination. I have a national insurance number in the UK. As an experiment, yesterday afternoon I went online to see whether I could arrange a Covid vaccination. I was able to book an appointment for this Wednesday for vaccination in the Ulster Hospital. I am not in any particular bracket as I am in my 50s. We really need to get our act together. The Government needs to stop shrugging its shoulders and take action on vaccinations.

Senator Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells I thank the Minister for coming here today to set out in detail what she has done right from the get-go, aided by her officials and Department, in helping the vital tourism and hospitality sector. The work of the tourism recovery task force, which addressed the Oireachtas committee, has been substantial and the interventions over the course of these horrific 12 months have been exceptional, which is only right when we consider how the sector has been immensely affected like no other due to Covid-19 and the large number of people employed in the sector, as outlined by so many speakers already.

  The 85% drop in revenue in the sector since the start of the pandemic this time last year has been simply jaw-dropping and of course some have been hit harder than orders due to a reliance on the sector. Last week, I and other members of my party attended a Zoom meeting with members of Chambers Ireland and representatives of Kerry in particular indicated that the pandemic has laid bare the over-reliance in the local economy in the kingdom on the tourism and hospitality sector. Equally, along large parts of the Wild Atlantic Way and my own area of the Boyne Valley, businesses have been hit exceptionally hard as well.

  Tomorrow, representatives from the industry will address the Oireachtas committee on tourism. The group will include members of the Irish Hotels Federation, which represents a sector that experienced a €2.5 billion drop in revenue last year, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, whose members employ 125,000 people, the Vintners Federation of Ireland and the Licensed Vintners Association, LVA. The challenges faced in particular in the hospitality sector are best summed up by the LVA statement tomorrow, which alludes to the trading restrictions over the past year. The businesses were closed on 15 March 2020, reopened on 29 June, closed for indoor service on 18 September but allowed to trade outdoors for a maximum of 15 customers, closed for outdoor service on 21 October, reopened on 4 December and closed on Christmas Eve, remaining closed to date. As of today, they have been affected for 372 days and counting.

  These are all part of one industry and although they are distinctly different, they are all bound by the desire to trade. That might be stating the obvious but the statement is becoming more pronounced. They do not want the wage subsidy support; they want to trade and for people to recognise that, as the vaccination programme continues, they will trade differently if allowed to do so. How that should happen is the question and it should be in a uniform rather than ad hoc manner.

  I have seen chief executives of local authorities being very imaginative and working well with local businesses in previous restrictions. They are reimagining public spaces because they know this is not a short-term matter. Given the warnings from the deputy chief medical officer, Dr. Glynn, in the past couple of days about how much protection the vaccine will really give us, we need that fresh way of thinking to allow these people to trade.

  The Minister spoke about not wanting to give people false hope but they are looking for some hope. The comments by Dr. Glynn over the weekend have further dented the small hope those people have. We must be imaginative and work with our chief executives in local authorities across the country to reimagine those spaces. We must provide a roadmap, limited as it may be. There is little point in members of the Oireachtas committee sitting with their thumbs in their mouths tomorrow and patting the heads of people who are coming in. The demands are clear and have been laid out by others. They include a doubling of the Covid restrictions support scheme, a new enhanced restart grant, the extension of tax warehousing, a commitment on 9% VAT for tourism and the continuation of waivers for rates and so forth.

  If we do not act, there will be a break in compliance, confidence and the trust that has been built between the State and these people. That trust is already fracturing. We have already seen high-profile restaurateurs like Paul Treyvaud in Killarney stating on national television that he will open not today or tomorrow but on 1 July, come hell or high water. It is the date he will open his high-profile restaurant on the main street in Killarney. He is holding the Government accountable to supply a roadmap to allow him to do so by that date.  The conversation he sparked shows a frustration of which the Minister is well aware. Are we getting to the point where compliance is being tested and people are no longer looking for a sympathetic word, but for that roadmap?

  I am hopeful for the future of the industry. The Irish Tourism Industry Confederation has identified various scenarios for industry growth and a full recovery of jobs and revenue back to 2019 levels over the next number of years. There is hope there. The illumination of monuments across the world in green shows the grá for Ireland and the hope.

  The Minister concluded on the issue of digital green cards. She referred to not providing false hope, and I recognise that. However, we cannot on one side recognise how much the international tourism industry is worth and on the other side say we do not have a clear pathway out of the current situation.

  I am thankful for this debate. We have various practitioners coming before us at committee tomorrow and we need to offer more than a pat on the head. We need to provide this clear pathway for them so they can trade successfully in whatever limited way we provide for them.

Senator Micheál Carrigy: Information on Micheál Carrigy Zoom on Micheál Carrigy The Minister is welcome. I thank her for the opportunity for Senators to discuss the impact Covid-19 has had on the tourism and hospitality industry.

  The importance tourism has for our economy can never be overstated. It played a major role in our recovery following the crash, driving job creation, particularly in rural and regional areas, and directly contributing 260,000 jobs in 2019, 11% of the total employment figure. It provided numerous job opportunities, particularly in rural areas away from the main cities where there was limited employment. Some 70% of tourism jobs are located outside Dublin. Tourism has been one of the most directly affected sectors due to Covid, with over 200,000 job losses, the loss of €5 billion in spend from international tourist visitors and a large drop in the €2.4 billion spend by the domestic tourist. Last year was a virtual write-off, apart from the staycation period, 2021 is looking similar and it looks like 2022 before businesses will start to recover. However, before any business can recover, it must survive.

  I welcome the range of support measures that have been introduced, including the cancellation of rates, wages subsidy schemes, restart grants, tax warehousing, and the Covid restrictions support scheme, and I concur with the comments made by a number of Senators regarding the Minister, the Department and the supports that have been put in place. It is significant, but it is enough? The answer is "No". The hospitality and tourism sectors need certainty and clarity in uncertain times.

  I note the Minister's comments on the lack of a specific unit for training and apprenticeships and the fact the programme has been put in there by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris. Is it time we created a specific unit? I do not think SOLAS has expertise in that area.

  Tomorrow, the joint Oireachtas committee will meet with the Restaurants Association of Ireland, the Irish Hotels Federation, the Licensed Vintners Association and the Vintners Federation of Ireland. The hospitality sector is the lifeblood or many rural and regional economies and, without its recovery, many of our regions will not recover. I welcome the introduction of the VAT rate which is due to end in December 2021. However, we need to send out a strong signal of support to the industry by stating that we will extend it throughout 2022. This measure helped build confidence and gave rise to a large number of the jobs that were created in the sector and to the number of international visitors who came here pre Covid and post the economic crash of the 2000s. I see directly the impact in my county where Center Parcs, which employs more than 1,000 staff, has been closed for a significant portion of the past year. As chairman of County Longford tourism, I am confident we can rebuild the sector. I acknowledge phase 1 of the tourism business continuity scheme, which closed recently, and phase 2, which will focus on supporting internal strategic tourism transport providers to access financial supports.

  I am encouraged by the numbers who have registered for Meitheal, our largest tourism trade event: 500-plus Irish businesses and, importantly, over 230 international buyers will attend virtually. Fáilte Ireland has done an excellent job in supporting businesses during the pandemic. I compliment Paul Kelly and his team and, in particular, to Paddy Matthews and his Ireland's Hidden Heartlands team, who were performing ahead of target prior to Covid in terms of visitor numbers to the area.

  I welcome the recent launch of the Shannon tourism master plan, which involves Waterways Ireland and ten local authorities. It involves a €75 million investment over the next ten years to unlock the potential of the River Shannon and Lough Ree and the potential development of the boglands.  It will help to transform the region and deliver a better spread of tourism and visitor activity in the region. This Wednesday will see the launch of the Royal Canal greenway from Maynooth to Clondara along the River Shannon in Longford, creating the longest greenway in Ireland. I am delighted to see this happen because I have been involved with it since 2013 when we started to develop the section in Longford.

  There are a number of issues of concern, however. Fáilte Ireland recently released an outdoor dining scheme to support businesses during the summer months in key tourism destinations. I believe that all areas bar none should be entitled to participate in this scheme and not just the limited number that have been put forward. I am in favour of the vaccine passport to allow travel and in turn to allow a number of businesses to open up and to allow them to survive before they are no longer in a position to recover. I am against a two-tier system for reopening our hospitality sector as happened last year. All should open together under strict guidelines. There should be no difference between dry pubs, wet pubs or restaurants and hotels serving food and drink. While these businesses are closed, we have allowed the large multiples to advertise and sell drink at below cost. We need only look at the national newspapers every weekend and, in the days leading up to each bank holiday, when there are full page advertisements for cheap drink. We are making it cheap to get drunk and we have allowed an underage drinking culture to develop. A minimum price alcohol Bill needs to be introduced for the health and well-being of our younger generation and for the future of the hospitality industry.

  Is there a representative from the pub or restaurant sector on the tourism recovery oversight group or on the boards of Fáilte Ireland or Tourism Ireland? The stay and spend scheme, or an amended version, needs to be put in place for the fourth quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.

  We must all play our part in holidaying in our own country and supporting our own economy. As a boost, we must give commitments to the industry that the supports and finances are in place to help Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to restart, rebuild and ultimately to redesign demand to support the recovery of our overseas tourism and to drive business development throughout the country.

Senator Mark Wall: Information on Mark Wall Zoom on Mark Wall I welcome the Minister, Deputy Martin, to the House today. The Irish tourism industry is facing its biggest ever crisis. The headline figures the industry is suffering at this moment are mind blowing. I will quote two of those figures. There has been a loss of €5.7 billion in earnings from overseas visitors and upwards of 160,000 jobs have been lost, with several hundred businesses facing permanent closure.

  The tourism and hospitality industry employed more than 265,000 people throughout the State. It was the largest indigenous employer in the country, accounting for one job in nine in the State. Some 70% of those employed in the tourism industry are operating outside of Dublin. Tourism has become the heartbeat of rural Ireland, becoming a vital component of life there. So many rural counties depend on tourism employment. Kerry with 18% employment, Donegal with 13% and Waterford with 12% are examples of the huge percentage of jobs depending on this sector. Simply put, if we do not try to save the greatest amount of these jobs, then rural Ireland and its communities will be decimated.

  Over recent weeks I have taken the opportunity to speak to many involved in this industry and I would like to use some of my time today to raise a number of issues around those employed in the industry. Notwithstanding what the Minister said in her opening remarks, there is a growing concern that Government is not doing enough for those who work or have worked in the industry with regard to their future training needs. It is vital the expertise for which we are world famous is retained. It is essential those responsible for the céad míle fáilte can continue in the industry.

  We welcome the payment packages put in place by Government and support their extension. Retaining tourism jobs and skills, however, will be vital to the recovery of this industry. An immediate upskilling and reskilling programme is needed for tourism. I am aware the tourism task force has identified the need for lifelong learning programmes through digital platforms, a call supported by those in the education sector. This will increase the quality of jobs in tourism and sustain those jobs in rural Ireland I spoke about previously. Those involved in education of the tourism sector can provide a one-stop shop for those working or who have worked in the industry. These educational providers have the experience and the personnel to roll out such courses. They should be encouraged and supported by Government to develop further their excellent courses, which are world renowned. We have an opportunity here in an online world to assist with the personal development of those formerly employed in the industry and those who we hope will have a future in this industry.

  There is always, of course, a need to ensure all such employment is sustainable and conforms to all employment law.  At a time when youth unemployment runs at over 50%, there is no doubt that tourism can play its part once again in reducing such numbers. Previously, one in two of those employed in the sector was aged under 35 years old, compared with less than one in three in the total workforce. It is time to give those educators the resources to develop these gateways.

I wanted to raise a number of local opportunities that have national outcomes. I have been struck by the numbers already using the blueway in my home county of Kildare over recent weeks. There is both an international and domestic opportunity in developing these blueways. We must capitalise on this opportunity by further providing the funding for those who wish to invest and develop tourist attractions along these tracks. These attractions can sustain rural communities and provide the jobs such communities will need into the future. I once again mention the Umeras peatland experience outside Monasterevin, County Kildare. It is a sustainable way of maintaining our magnificent bogs post production while still providing opportunities in the areas they are located.

Many in the restaurant and food business have identified outdoor dining opportunities. Many local authorities, as has already been said, have embraced this idea through pilot schemes in which they have pedestrianised streets and forgone specific planning charges. It is time we embraced this further and provided a roadmap to local authorities and businesses on how they can fully embrace this idea. The Government needs to move quickly to utilise these open spaces. It can revitalise many towns and cities and, most importantly, such places can play a major part in sustaining and reopening the sector.

I also ask the Minister to consider food trucks which have sprung up in many locations in Covid-19 Ireland. We need to regulate these opportunities vis-à-visexisting businesses. They can provide employment and sustain many rural locations, but the Government must consider the displacement of existing business. These can provide a solution for the mainly rural locations of our greenways and blueways.

I mention the discussion we recently had in the Seanad on the increase in illegal dumping. At a time we are looking to the future of our tourism project, we cannot sustain this damage being done to our countryside, villages, towns and cities. Our tourism product is built on our unspoilt landscapes. I ask the Minister, as the Minister with responsibility for tourism, to ensure the Bill we passed last week on Second Stage to combat this blight or the proposed Government legislation is brought forward as quickly as possible. We can no longer allow our tourism product to be tarnished.

I have raised previously with the Minister the problems we predicted with the stay and spend scheme. It has already been mentioned in the debate. The stay and spend scheme was budgeted to cost the Exchequer €270 million. In a recent reply to my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, the figures released show expenditure of €9.2 million and a potential tax cost of €1.8 million. Speaking to those in the industry, the word "cumbersome" was the most common word used to describe the scheme. We need to consider a new scheme, maybe similar to the one in the UK where the emphasis is put on the Government to pay part of an invoice from a tourism or restaurant provider, with the consumer paying the other part at the point of sale. The domestic market needs a boost. The Irish Hotels Federation in its most recent publication reports booking levels of just 22% for July and 20% for August.

Along with many in the industry, I have asked for the Minister's Department to concentrate on the needs of the tourism industry at this time. If there were as big a threat to any other industry, the Government would recall the task force and meet weekly, such is the enormity of the situation. At the end of the day, we are talking about 270,000 jobs. Those I have spoken to see the potential for creating further employment. They want to invest in their staff and new facilities. The greenways and blueways I spoke about are just some aspects of the great potential for new employment.

I thank the Minister for listening and ask her to consider the points I have raised.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I welcome the Minister to the House. I commend her on her work in terms of the night-time economy. The night-time economy task force has invited submissions. The process is well under way and the report of the night-time economy task force is due to be published soon. When will we expect a report from the night-time economy task force? Will it be laid before these Houses? I commend the Minister's work on it and her commitment to it.

  The night-time economy and industry cannot reopen on the same basis on which it was closed. There are myriad good reasons we need a better nightlife and use of our cities around the clock. Tourism is one of them. Many people visit European cities on the basis of their nightlife.  Many people visit Dublin on the basis of our nightlife. I note the Dublin Chamber submission to the night-time economy task force states:

The night-time economy is a key aspect of life in Dublin, as the city is home to world famous theatres and bars and is internationally known as a great city to visit. However, Dublin Chamber recognises that the current regulations, licensing laws, restrictions and lack of supportive infrastructure have resulted in the night-time economy not being able to achieve its full potential.

From a business perspective, we would not dare say that any business should close at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., so I do not know why we force businesses to close at 2.30 at night, at the latest, and that is only after they apply for a special exemption order. Every year, millions of euro in court, solicitor and legal fees and tax leave the entertainment, cultural and hospitality industries in Dublin and our other major cities just to allow businesses to stay open from 12.30 a.m. until 2.30 a.m. When we compare Dublin to other cities around Europe, the restrictions on our night-time culture and industry are huge.

  Dublin is obviously very attractive for weekend visits. I am sure the Minister, as a member of the Green Party, has something to say about weekend trips. I appreciate that as well. I once looked at getting the train from Brussels to Amsterdam on a holiday and it was more expensive than getting a flight. It is cheaper to take a flight between two European cities than it is to take the train. Dublin is an attractive city for weekend visitors but we need an offering that goes beyond tea and biscuit culture.

  I know the National Gallery is engaged with the night-time economy task force, as are the other national cultural institutions. Dublin Chamber refers to St. Stephen's Green. Why do all of these places close at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. at the latest? We need to think differently and not be wedded to this idea that culture stops at a certain hour. Clubbing and bars are culture. They are a key part of our cultural attraction and should be a better part of it.

  I mentioned there are a myriad of reasons the night-time economy is important for people who live here. No one would contest that the GAA and the church are not hugely important for people to socialise for all the reasons I mentioned. People need to socialise and interact; nightlife and the night economy are a huge part of that. We cannot reopen this sector, given its importance to jobs and hospitality, on the same basis as it closed.

Senator Timmy Dooley: Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley I welcome the Minister to the House and I look forward to the engagement with her. I know she has a very clear understanding of what is required, as do others. The tourism sector is in a very different position now from what it was in previously. Even with the potential for some opening up over the summer, the tourism mix is very different. It is very clear we will not have the inbound tourism upon which the survival of so many people depends. We will have to reorient the entire tourism product.

  There has been engagement with the Irish Hotels Federation and others. They have some very fair and appropriate claims to make, with which the Minister will be familiar. They are looking for the Covid restrictions support scheme to change in nature by doubling the payment amounts, irrespective of the level of Covid restrictions. They want the employment wage subsidy scheme extended until the end of 2021, appropriate banking measures put in place, Government support to ensure that certain moratoriums are put in place on lending, tourism VAT of 9% to continue until 2025 and a refund on the pass-through charges on energy and utilities.  Obviously, they want the continuation of the local authority waiver rates. Those are appropriate. It is right that the Minister would fight her corner, as I know she will, for that to happen. The reality is many of them are small businesses that need continued State support even with the opening up or the relaxing of restrictions.

I also received communication from the Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions. Its members run a number of facilities in my county such as the Aillwee Cave and the Doolin Cave, and many more visitor attractions. They are somewhat concerned that The Path Ahead plan, which was rightly launched with some fanfare, seems to have removed them from being allowed to reopen at level 3. They say:

Visitor attractions are professionally controlled spaces ... highly experienced in managing people flows ... and 85% of members provide online ticket booking to support capacity management in these attractions. They have also extensively invested in new and updated safety measures and training, including that by Fáilte Ireland, around the Covid-19 safety charter so they are perfectly placed to reopen as safe spacious places. There are many well-documented positive mental health benefits associated with the enjoyment of culture and the arts. The lockdown experience showed us how we can create beautiful and aesthetic experiences for our emotional well-being.

They have set out clearly that their visitors attractions are a key part of a destination product offering uniquely presenting a ripple uplift on surrounding accommodation, restaurants and other tourism offerings. Given the likelihood outbound international travel for Irish holiday makers will be hugely curtailed this summer, and recognising that there will little, if any, inbound tourism, there is an onus on all of us involved at State level to try to ensure these facilities are supported and the restrictions are lifted at the appropriate time. What they are appealing for is that they be allowed to open under level 3 restrictions.

  I am also concerned about smaller operations, in particular, the Clare Heritage and Genealogy Centre in Corofin, which expected to be initially included under the CRSS, but that did not happen. Unfortunately, it missed the deadline of 8 March for the tourism business continuity scheme. This was through no fault of its own, but because of close contact with Covid and staff not being able to perform their duties, the centre missed the deadline for getting its application in. Can the Minister look at schemes with specific deadlines and perhaps extend the deadlines to cater for business like that, if at all possible? As other Members have identified, there have been some savings on the other end. There are exceptional circumstances for all sorts of reasons when people miss deadlines. It would be a shame if some of these facilities do not survive because of being unable to get on to a scheme.

  I raised the case of Sean Kilkenny of Dromoland Castle, who runs a jarvey business, with the Minister previously and I know she has had interaction with him. The pressure on that man is immense. There is no doubt the pressure on his business has taken a considerable toll on him and his family. I appeal to the Minister to examine businesses such as his, which have significant costs and have fallen between the cracks under many schemes. He has rental costs and the cost of maintaining his animals but there is still no business in sight. I appeal to the Minister again to look at facilities such as that. I am taken by comments from Fota Island and others businesses that have significant costs to maintain animals over a protracted period. We should find a way to support and help them. They were all viable, solid businesses before Covid hit. They have the potential to be viable businesses on the other side of Covid. The mental pressure and torture experienced by many of these operators has driven them to extremes. What we need to do as a Government is to find ways to support people who find themselves in really difficult situations but are prepared to put in the hard graft to get their businesses back up and running when we get to a point when the economy can be opened up.

Senator Aisling Dolan: Information on Aisling Dolan Zoom on Aisling Dolan I welcome the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, to the House.

  I represent the region of Roscommon and east Galway where there has been fantastic investment in key tourism and recreational initiatives. I want to highlight the key role of walking, cycling clubs and volunteers in our communities, as well as Tidy Towns and the real sense of pride we have in our towns and villages, and how these actively promote and work with tourism and rural recreation officers in our local authorities, as well as Fáilte Ireland, especially with the Hidden Heartlands.

  Three projects I want to highlight are the Galway to Athlone cycleway, the Shannon tourism masterplan and the Beara-Breifne Way. The Galway-Athlone cycleway, planned by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, will really open up the area of south Roscommon. It will, hopefully, come along by the Shannon. The choice then on some of those routes mean it will come up along by the Grand Canal, publicly owned lands, into Ballinasloe. I am an advocate of those fantastic experiences of coming into Ballinasloe. The No. 1 green route will bring one along the Beara-Breifne Way into Ahascragh where a multimillion euro whiskey and gin distillery is planned along with a visitor centre. This is a fantastic investment in the future of a small town in east Galway.

  There is the heritage and culture in other parts of east Galway such as Castleblakeney where one of the bog bodies in the National Museum was found. The Carrownagappul bog is one of the most unique raised bogs in Ireland. It was recently featured in an RTÉ programme and noted for its biodiversity with over 40 species of birds in the location. There is the Monivea forest, a Coillte-owned land. Another route could go along through the middle of the area through Aughrim and its amazing interpretative centre. There is the stunning Kilconnell Abbey, the impressive Woodlawn House and lovely bog walks around villages such as Cappataggle and New Inn.

  While the cycleways programme is important, there has been recent investment through the roads programme under local authorities, particularly for the old Dublin to Galway road. I am sure everyone remembers that road from Ballinasloe to Athlone. Converting the hard shoulder into a cycleway is being examined to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

  The just transition programme provides great funding going to Ballyforan along the banks of the River Suck with €1 million for a cycleway loop. The funds for active travel will be important for developing cycleways for areas with no footpaths in towns and villages in rural areas where it can be dangerous to walk.

  The Shannon tourism masterplan will see funding of €76.5 million over ten years. This will be important for Roscommon and east Galway. Funding was announced recently under the outdoor infrastructure funding programme with over €200,000 for the harbour and walkways facilities in Roosky. The Shannon tourism masterplan is looking at options for visitor access to Lough Ree islands from Lecarrow, Portrunny Harbour, as well as from Hudson Bay and Lanesborough. It is important to look at how we develop this as soon as possible. It is amazing to see the amount of funding going into these projects but we really need it to happen quickly.

  The River Suck is a main tributary of the River Shannon. It needs to be developed even more than what has already been listed in the Shannon tourism masterplan. Ballinasloe has four star and three star hotels with over 146 rooms available. It is the second largest town in Galway county. It has a range of activities from leisure centres to swimming pools to golf clubs. Ballinasloe Marina connects Ballinasloe and Shannonbridge to the River Shannon. It is highlighted by tourists as a quality route, particularly for water sports. Ballinasloe is the gateway to the west. I would like to see further development of this route under the Shannon tourism plan.

  A masterplan was developed for the Beara-Breifne Way. It is an amazing route, 700 km, that goes through ten counties from Dursey Island in west Cork all the way up to Blacklion in Cavan. It is driven by some key people such as Jim O'Sullivan who sits on many community groups. It is a combination of many agencies working together such as Coillte, Waterways Ireland, Mountaineering Ireland, local authorities and Fáilte Ireland.

  We have the Hymany Way along the Grand Canal into Ballinasloe. We have the Suck Valley Way. Farmers and landowners work to develop these trails for the enjoyment of all. We have the Lung Lough Gara Way which is one of the routes to be extended under the walks scheme. What is the timeline for that walk scheme? This will go from Clonalis House, Castlerea, to Lough Glynn to Ballaghaderreen to Boyle.

  The walks scheme and rural recreation officers are extremely important.   I suppose the following are the questions I have for the Minister. First, I refer to the local authority tourism officer capability programme. Will there be more resources allocated to local authorities? Galway is the second largest county, at 6,148 sq. km. Its local authority is second lowest in the context of funding. There is one tourism officer, who only started a number of months ago. She already has nearly 20 projects on her books. How on earth will these be completed? How is this possible? Galway is the second largest county in Ireland. Consideration has to be given to that fact. We need more resources for tourism officers, especially if we are to kick-start our economy subsequent to Covid and deal with the aftermath of the lockdown and Brexit. Second, is there a timeframe for local authorities to submit tourism strategies to the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media? Third, on the walk scheme, as I mentioned, in the context of the extension of Lung Lough Gara Way, is there a timeline for applications from Sport Ireland? Is there a timeline in respect of the Beara Breifne Way? On Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, there has been great engagement, as Senator Carrigy mentioned, with Mr. Paddy Matthews, but why I do not see east Galway listed on the relevant website? East Galway is part of Ireland's Hidden Heartlands and needs to be acknowledged as such.

  Our region is unique, comprising peat bogs to wildflower meadows, native woodlands to turloughs, lakes and marshes. We want to see more water sports, such as canoeing. We want to bring our walkways, blueways and cycleways together. There is a sense of pride in showing how Galway and Roscommon are wonderful places to live, work and visit, but it is crucial to get investment to kick-start this sector, especially now. Time is of the essence.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen In welcoming the Minister - cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire - I would like to endorse everything my colleague, Senator Dolan, set out so eloquently about the beauty of the area in which we live, namely, that of Roscommon-east Galway. I frequently walk and run around the back roads of my own place, sometimes bringing the dog, but I am always struck by the natural beauty of our place. I say that as somebody who has walked a lot on the Continent, particularly on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. What one sees there is a beautifully developed infrastructure rooted in history. So much of the beauty that I have seen when abroad I see in my own place as well, but I also see a huge need for investment in order to develop it to the point where we can then show it to people all over the world and invite them to come among us. The beauty is in the simple things - the old houses, the placename that has a special history that tells of something and the quiet relaxation that is to be had. There are so many amenities on our area, as in other parts of the country, but it is so important that the investment is put in place to support the enthusiasm and the willingness that is there among the people to develop the tourism potential of the areas in which they live.

  Over the weekend, I spoke to a restaurant owner and asked him what the State could do to assist when the hospitality and tourism sectors eventually begin to open. His answer was simple and emphatic. He said, "Anything that gives some level of certainty so that we can plan properly." That sums it up. Businesses, as well as the public at large, have had to grin and bear it through a lot of chaotic, ad hoc policymaking over the past year. Indeed, the latter is continuing in the context of to the duration of the lockdown. What people need and, indeed, crave is certainty and an ability to plan ahead. It is not easy to give that certainty but we must attend to that particular problem because it is acute.

  The intention in the context of reopening is surely that some level of reopening of the tourism and hospitality sectors would take place in the coming months and that some kind of a summer season would be enjoyed by the sector. The view among those trading in the sector seems to be that demand for services will be strong since there will be a pent-up eagerness among people to return to normality as much as possible but we need to learn the lessons of last summer's reopening. For instance, we saw a very serious geographical and regional disparity in how tourism and hospitality reopened in 2020 and we need to avoid a repeat of that. Traditional tourist spots, such as Westport and Killarney, fared quite well whereas other parts of the country, including provincial towns which would not be such a draw traditionally for tourists, did not do so well. We saw it here in Dublin too, where the areas between the two canals were almost a ghost town for the entire summer while the suburbs enjoyed a greater boost. That was probably to do with the large number of tourists from abroad who would normally be in Dublin city centre but who were not there. Should we be looking at targeted supports to address this regional disparity to help areas which did not experience any great uptake last summer because they can ill-afford a second poor summer in a row?   I commend the work done last year by Fáilte Ireland and the work done by individual hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation and restaurants to make their premises and services safe. However, there are some questions hanging in the air now regarding, for example, restaurants. Where will they stand with regard to social distancing? This caused a great deal of heartache last year as the many social distancing rules meant it was pointless for them to open because they could not accommodate a critical mass of people on their premises.

  With regard to direct State supports for businesses in the sector, I was surprised to read recently about the European Commission reporting that Ireland is last among the 27 EU member states when it comes to providing state aids to businesses affected by the pandemic. We have paid €930 million to support businesses directly but that is 0.26% of GDP. However, we have borrowed €20 billion so far to deal with the pandemic. To be sure, a relatively small percentage has been spent to support businesses. It appears to be very low, and I wonder whether a greater proportion of the additional public spending should be going to businesses to preserve jobs.

  The wage subsidy scheme has worked and has been broadly welcomed. It should continue until normal conditions resume. However, at present, turnover has to be below 70% of 2019 levels for businesses to qualify. Last summer, this meant that many restaurants operated only limited hours to ensure that they stayed below the threshold to avail of the breathing space under the scheme. Who could possibly blame them, given what so many have suffered through the level 5 lockdowns? We must be careful that State supports do not act as a disincentive to businesses reopening fully. Perhaps the Government should consider adjusting the 70% threshold to encourage more businesses to reopen more fully once it is possible.

  We have to strike a balance between the PUP and reopening business. Last year, many small business owners found that employees were reluctant to come off the PUP to return to their jobs at what were reduced hours and reduced wages. To be honest, none of us would blame anyone for making that calculation in the interest of the person's financial well-being and that of his or her family. We must ensure that the Covid crisis does not lead to welfare traps.

  There are other ways in which we can help the tourism and hospitality sectors. City and county councils must play a part. Senator Dooley and other Members mentioned the importance of rates and waivers for small businesses. Measures such as free on-street parking for the summer months could help to bring people back to town centres. Of course, councils would have to be refunded for income lost and that should come out of the money that is being borrowed.

  I will conclude by referring to international travel. Nobody seriously expects it to return any time soon, but there is a question about how it will reopen. Last year, the Government adopted the so-called green list system, only to regret it within hours because of the mixed messages it sent about non-essential travel. We need a consistent approach and clear decisions, which will allow people to plan.

Senator Pat Casey: Information on Pat Casey Zoom on Pat Casey I welcome the Minister. This is my first time to engage with her with regard to tourism. I will read a few extracts from my hotel's old diaries:

Ate a hearty dinner and departed fully satisfied with the treatment we received - W.H. Adams.

Stayed ten days at Glendalough, noted for the cleanliness and the kind attention it offers its visitors. On the night of Tuesday last, the 11th, a heavy snowfall occurred and Lugduff and the surrounding mountains next morning appeared like the Alpine landscape.

Arrived from town at 1.15. Had a first-class dinner for which we were charged a very moderate price. Can recommend all cyclists stopping in Glendalough to put their feet up here.

Those are Tripadvisor-style reports from 1887. Our hotel has experienced a great deal in its lifetime. It has seen the fight for independence and two world wars, as well as several economic crises. It suffered through the recent foot-and-mouth disease outbreak and the significant impact of the Troubles in the North on the tourism sector. However, in the 200-year history of the hotel it has never previously been told and forced to close its doors.

  We have always come back and we will again, and, with the Minister's support, we will get there. My first thoughts today are with the 260,000 people who work in the industry and the impact this has had on them. While everyone has been impacted by Covid-19 through restrictions or for health and other reasons, these people have suffered more than the rest. There is the impact of the financial burden it has caused for them and the impact of trying to deal with their mortgages.   I will give the House an example, and this is where a lot of the frustration before Christmas came from. In my industry we tried to encourage staff back to work for three weeks over Christmas. They took advantage of that in the hope they could buy their children something extra special for Christmas only for that to be shot down before they ever even got that chance to work. As an operator within the industry, I am aware of how such staff feel, but then I also have concern for my business and my industry, and every day and every week this is prolonged our viability is put into question. I appreciate every support that has been given to us - without it we would not be here today - but we are still operating at a loss every week we are closed, and that is accumulated loss. We are still going on.

  As a small independent hotelier, it is harder to deal with the banking and the insurance industries. Many of my colleagues' insurance policies had a 12-month clause in them, some an 18-month clause and some a two-year clause. None of us know whether we will get compensated by the insurance industry, although we hope we will. This is all still hovering in the background. As I said, we really do appreciate all the supports the Minister has outlined to us today. The wage subsidy scheme, the CRSS, the commercial rates waiver, etc. are all to be appreciated.

  The question is this: where will we go in the future? There has to be a safe and sustained opening of the industry. We can never again have the open-and-closed thing we have had up to now. The tourism sector is a business. We will now open our businesses. We do not know, however, what we are opening or when we are opening. We have lost 200,000 staff in the industry. We cannot turn on the tap again. We have to start that whole recruitment process. It has been said here - the Minister said it - that 75% of our tourism is foreign tourism. We will rely more and more on the domestic market over the coming years. The stay and spend incentive was a great idea and we should look at it. It was just unfortunately timed, and the only ones who seemed to benefit from it were McDonalds and a few other fast food outlets. We can use it in the future, however. We cannot have the same thing happen again whereby there is just July and August and then nothing after that. It is a matter of trying to sustain the business over a prolonged period. While the stay and spend initiative did not work, it was not the scheme's fault; it was just what happened. It should be looked at again and targeted at the off-season once again.

  In the immediate term a clear pathway is how we will bring back international tourists. It is so vital for us to sustain our industry. What can we add to the green card, the passport and testing to make people comfortable and make them feel safe enough that they feel able to go out again, travel once again and come back to us?

  From a strategic and a review point of view, the Minister herself knows the economic figures off by heart. I will not go through all of them again. However, let us look at tourism and hospitality from a social point of view. I mentioned we have been in existence for more than 200 years. Two hundred years ago hospitality was for the elite. That has completely changed now. The whole hospitality sector is open to every cohort of people. It is part of our health and well-being now and part of our social life. We need to do as much as we can to get that back open again.

  The one thing that did annoy me over the whole period was that the only access to alcohol was in the off-licence. There is an inequality surrounding alcohol and how it is treated both on- and off-licence. We will need to look at this when we look at the whole tourism sector in a strategic review.

Senator Martin Conway: Information on Martin Conway Zoom on Martin Conway I welcome the Minister, Deputy Martin, to the House and wish her well in the portfolio of which she is in charge, tourism.  As an ambassador for tourism, she brings a new, modern approach to how we need to incrementally rebuild the tourism sector in this country. As the Minister knows, I come from County Clare, which is heavily dependent on tourism and, as such, has been heavily impacted by the lack of tourists.

  Tourism is a people industry and people work in the tourism industry. It is labour-intensive, when one looks at hospitality, catering, and so on, and leads to significant employment, particularly seasonal employment. In respect of seasonal employment, while there was a temporary and a most welcome reprieve last summer, the worry this year is whether we are going to see any kind of a temporary reprieve. One has to hope that we will, but of course it must be guided by numbers and the Covid numbers reducing. It heartens me to listen, talk and engage with people in the tourism sector who are the first to say we should not open up until it is safe to do so and until we can open permanently. They, as much as any of us, want to see Covid-19 suppressed and that when we do open, we open permanently.

  The appreciation for the various schemes that are available is also heartening. Although they will never be enough, they are significant and it is appreciated that they are there. I am not just referring to the grant scheme, but schemes such as the employment wage subsidy scheme, the rates rebate and other schemes. All of those schemes help. However, the opportunity that presents itself now, in respect of rebuilding, must be seized in a different way. We must look at building a tourism industry that operates for 12 months of the year, or as near to it as possible.

  In our country we are blessed with beautiful scenery and fantastic walks. There has been significant Government investment over the years, and committed Government spending over the next few years will see a proliferation of walking routes, various outdoor public transport trails and routes and so on. To that end, I welcome the announcement of the commitment to funding for the west Clare railway greenway. Of course, I want to see that project escalated.

  Coming from County Clare, it will be no surprise to the Minister that I will mention Shannon Airport. I know she is fully aware of the challenges facing the airport and how critical it will be, when we move out of the pandemic to a post-Covid period, that every possible incentive is provided to ensure as many passengers as possible pass through it. Shannon Airport is the anchor tenant, if one likes, in respect of economic and tourism development in County Clare.

  I want to see an initiative similar to The Gathering in 2013, which saw hundreds of thousands of people come back to Ireland. In my view, it was the first step in rebooting the tourism sector in our country after the last recession. A similar initiative should be introduced and I know that plans are afoot to look at that. We can do it bigger and better than we did the last time. The Gathering led to a joined-up approach to marketing the Wild Atlantic Way initiative. In my view, the Wild Atlantic Way will be the most successful walking and cycling trail in the world because it is unique in the range of experiences that people can enjoy when they go on it. When one talks to people who have not been to Ireland before and those who have travelled on the Wild Atlantic way, it is stunning to hear about their experiences.

  It will come as no surprise to the Minister that being from County Clare, I will speak about Shannon Heritage and its importance to the tourism offering in the county over the years. However, I believe that Shannon Heritage should have a new home and should be part of the Office of Public Works, OPW, offering.  I do not believe an airport company or property company, while their hearts are in the right place and they want to do the right thing, necessarily have the skill set to bring Shannon Heritage to the new level I believe it can potentially go to. That is why I think the expertise of the OPW, were Shannon Heritage and the OPW to be married together, would provide Ireland with a phenomenal tourism product.

  Speaking of tourism products, the Minister will be aware that, in 2019, the Cliffs of Moher visitor experience in County Clare had a throughput traffic of 1.6 million people. I welcome the fact Clare County Council hired consultants to look at a 2040 plan for the Cliffs of Moher. However, I worry about the potential to put a town or miniature city into the Cliffs of Moher, which will suck up whatever potential benefit there is to the surrounding communities. Whatever happens at the Cliffs of Moher has to complement the other towns and villages in north Clare, not compete with them. For too long, the Cliffs of Moher experience has not lived up to the hope and expectation in terms of driving economic development and visitor numbers in the surrounding towns and villages. That needs to change. We need further engagement in this Chamber about the future of the second busiest and most successful tourist attraction in the country, the Cliffs of Moher, at another date.

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I welcome the Minister and it is good to have her in the House. As we know, Ireland is known as the country of 100,000 welcomes and everyone is always happy to get céad míle fáilte when they come to Ireland or, indeed, if they are in Ireland and go to another part of it, so we are giving the Minister céad mile fáilte here today. She has come from her House to our House, which is actually her House.

  In terms of the asks that I know we are going to ask of the Minister and the supports that have been given for the tourism industry, I know she recognises this is a vital industry in terms of providing full-time and part-time employment and, of course, giving people the opportunity to see the wonderful vistas and the different types of events and experiences we have here in Ireland. I know the Minister will not be surprised when I talk a little about the feast of offerings we have in Kildare. The Minister will in particular be familiar with those on the north side of the county but I am going to talk a little about the south side of the county. Many people travel through Kildare to get to Dublin or to leave Dublin and go either west or to the south. However, if they took the opportunity and the time to stay, either for a few hours or a few nights, they would find an absolute feast of events just to whet their appetite. When our restrictions are eventually lifted, the first thing most of us are looking forward to, apart from getting a haircut or a hairdo, is having the opportunity to travel to some wonderful places, such as Glendalough. I was very taken with Senator Casey's description of reading some of the recollections in the hotel over the years. I completely empathise with the situation of family-run hospitality establishments in particular, given how difficult things are.

  Within my own 5 km, I am very lucky that I have the Curragh plains, which we would certainly be hoping will become a UNESCO site in time. Consultation has just started in regard to the future of the Curragh plains. That is going to be a very important piece because, obviously, it has a world of heritage, archaeology and biodiversity aligned with it. I am very lucky also to have the River Liffey, and Newbridge Tidy Towns has done wonderful work to ensure it is a very attractive place for us to go to. Pollardstown Fen and its wealth of biodiversity are also within my 5 km limit. Therefore, while I live in an urban town, I have the opportunity to explore all of those. Of course, when I can go beyond my 5 km, I can go to the greenways and the blueways, which have been an incredible boon to everybody, particularly during these Covid restrictions and Covid times.  Obviously, however, we could do with more support for those amenities. One can go into Kildare town and to the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens. We are well known, in County Kildare, for our racing industry. I will take this opportunity to suggest that the Minister come down to Punchestown, the Curragh or Naas when racing returns. We have a wealth of places and lovely hotels, such as the Keadeen Hotel in Newbridge, in which the Minister can stay.

  That aside, we have Killinthomas Wood outside Rathangan on the way to Lullymore peatlands park, as well as the heritage park. All these attractions have really suffered in the past 12 months in terms of people not being able to go to them. We are very lucky that work is continuing on a distillery just outside Monasterevin, which will be a tourist attraction beside Umeras Peatlands Park. We also have Newbridge Silverware, Kildare Village and the Curragh military museum. We have spiritual tourism and we are really looking forward to celebrating Saint Brigid. Many calls are being made to make her national day a national bank holiday. In 2024, there will, we hope, be a huge festival in Kildare to celebrate 2,000 years of Saint Brigid. Some of her remains are to be found out of this country, in Lisbon. We are hoping to bring them back. We will be looking to the Minister for some funding in that regard.

  The Minister, therefore, can see by even just a few of the areas I mentioned that Kildare plays a significant role with regard to Ireland's Ancient East and tourism. The whole tourism and hospitality industry absolutely needs clarity, certainty and continuing supports. I thank the Minister and Fáilte Ireland for the supports that have been put in place. There is a need for them to continue and a need for certainty and clarity, however. We are all looking forward to having the opportunity to explore our country through staycations and domestic tourism. In 2019, domestic tourism accounted for almost €3 billion, which was on top of the €7 billion for overseas tourism. There are, therefore, a huge amount of opportunities for all of us to explore and support those who are local and national.

Senator John McGahon: Information on John McGahon  Zoom on John McGahon  I want touch on three points with regard to tourism in my native County Louth. Indeed, it is somewhere with which the Minister is familiar, not because of where she is from originally but if I am not mistaken, through a staycation there last summer in Gyles Quay.

  The first point I want to make is about tourism in north Louth in the village of Carlingford. Senator McGreehan is all too well aware of the same issues I am about to raise regarding this area. Approximately 1,200 to 1,500 people are involved in the tourism sector in a village like Carlingford. In preparation for this contribution, I spoke yesterday with many people involved in the tourism and business sectors to really get a sense of the situation.

  Last summer, they definitely had one of the busiest summers on record as a result of the calls for people to staycation. It really was an effective call and worked very well. The point is that in somewhere like Carlingford, we really need to ensure that sustainable tourism takes place. What do I mean by "sustainable tourism"? To me, sustainable tourism is where a village like Carlingford can be a nice place to live and to raise a family. At the same time, however, it can be a vibrant and enjoyable place for tourists to come and experience. It works well for visitors in terms of tourists and residents alike. We really need to focus on that promotion of sustainable tourism in rural villages. Westport, County Mayo, is a good example of how people have really acted well with sustainable tourism and made it work. One issue we must consider about that is the recent planning legislation, which states a person cannot rent out a residential unit for X amount of days of the year under Airbnb unless he or she has a commercial licence or has a plan for a commercial licence.  Problems will arise if the legislation is enforced too strictly by local authorities. A village like Carlingford, which has three small hotels and a couple of places offering bed and breakfast accommodation, does not have much capacity anyway. Consequently, if we are going to clamp down on people who provide Airbnb accommodation throughout the year, it will have a real impact on the capacity of such small villages to take tourists and visitors.

  Yesterday, I chatted to a friend of mine who has been involved in tourism in Carlingford for decades. He reminded me that in 2008 the European Destination of Excellence, EDEN, awarded Carlingford an award under the theme of intangible heritage. What is "intangible heritage"? It is not easily identifiable and is not something one can see or touch. It is the stories, folklore, legends and character that seep through the landscape of a medieval village like Carlingford.

  The region is home to the Carlingford Oyster Company that was first set up in 1974. The oysters are so popular that wherever oysters are eaten in the UK or Ireland there is a great chance that they came from Carlingford Lough. A couple of weeks ago, the Carlingford Oyster Company featured in an episode of Neven Maguire's series entitled "Neven's Irish Seafood Trails" on RTÉ television.

  I wish to pay tribute to Louth County Council for creating the Louth Seafood Trail. The initiative came about after members of the council's Louth economic forum sat down around a table to think of ways to promote a coastal county like Louth. They came up with the innovative concept of a seafood passport where one stops at south Louth, outside Drogheda, outside Baltray and work one's way right up the coast via 49 different restaurants, shops and coffee shops. One can visit places like The Glyde Inn, Annagassan, where Conor O'Neill has done a lot of work. One can work one's way up from there, through Dundalk, into County Louth and into Carlingford to visit the Carlingford Oyster Company and see the Border region. The seafood trail is a great initiative to attract tourists to County Louth. The members of the Louth economic forum and county council have been very innovative and came up with ideas to differentiate County Louth from other parts of the country, and they deserve a lot of credit for doing so.

  I wish to comment on greenways. My vision for Ireland is to have the entire country connected by greenways and it will be brilliant. At the minute we have really positive projects. There is a greenway from Carlingford to Omeath and that has been extended across the Border so the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is extending the greenway from Newry to Victoria Lock and onwards. The overall vision for that has to be a Louth coastal greenway. It would mean people could safely follow the seafood trail, make their way right up the coast with wonderful views of the Mourne Mountains and Cooley Mountains, and around Dundalk. The Government, as a result of the Green Party's involvement, has seen more money than ever before being allocated to greenways, which is welcome. However, the planning side of things is not up to speed when it comes to greenways. For example, we cannot have a greenway linking Dundalk to Blackrock yet until we get the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, in order, and the CFRAM study involves a two-year process for planning. Therefore, it is important that local authorities, when they analyse the short to medium term while seeking funding for greenways, do so in tandem with the plans for flooding development and CFRAM development that is being done. If that is not done in tandem, then the whole process will be delayed.

  Finally, I wish to say that tourism is the lifeblood of so many small business owners in this country. There are people here who have much more experience in tourism than I do but I really think that this summer must be exactly like last summer, that people involved in the sector get a real bang for their buck and that people have staycations as much as possible.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin Senator Niall Blaney has six minutes.

Senator Niall Blaney: Information on Niall Blaney Zoom on Niall Blaney Is Senator Crowe following me? There was an arrangement between myself and Senators Crowe and Murphy to share time.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin Senator Crowe will have six minutes.

Senator Niall Blaney: Information on Niall Blaney Zoom on Niall Blaney We are sharing time. So Senator Crowe will take four minutes, I will take five minutes and Senator Murphy will take three minutes with the agreement of the House. The time still amounts to 12 minutes.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin The Senator will have six minutes and then Senator Crowe will have six minutes. Other speakers are listed who are not in the Chamber so most certainly Senator Murphy will have that time.

Senator Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy On a point of order, there was an agreement that I would take three minutes.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin Senator Blaney should proceed and we will figure this out.

Senator Niall Blaney: Information on Niall Blaney Zoom on Niall Blaney Can we restart the clock? More than one minute has gone already.

Senator Ollie Crowe: Information on Ollie Crowe Zoom on Ollie Crowe Stop the clock.

Senator Niall Blaney: Information on Niall Blaney Zoom on Niall Blaney The Minister is very welcome to the House. We have to acknowledge she has had a baptism of fire in the short time she has been in her Department. We would like to see more of her ability, which we know she has, when we get over this pandemic and she gets to it, and expect to see great measures in tourism.

  Tourism has evolved in recent years. I come from Donegal, in the north west, where we have seen much more potential for tourism in recent years with the Wild Atlantic Way. However, there are many difficulties being faced by many in the tourism sector including hoteliers, restaurant and pub owners and small tourism businesses. I spoke to a hotelier in the past few days who is in turmoil. This person has restructured loans. The payments are welcome but they go nowhere near toward paying his loans. They are not the same because there is no certainty. I am aware of the difficulty in trying to create that certainty but the quicker we get a roadmap, the better because people in those businesses are in turmoil.

  I extend to the Minister an invitation to visit Donegal at her earliest convenience. I understand she was brought up in Monaghan so she is not too far from Donegal and is probably familiar with much of it. Our county is somewhat similar to Monaghan in the way we were affected by the Troubles over the years. While tourism is somewhat of a commodity in Donegal, it is nothing like what it could be because during those decades of the Troubles we were cut off. We have about 8 km or 9 km adjoining the South. When I was a child travelling through the North the roads were a great thing; now, they are just bottlenecks. That is an idea of the infrastructure deficit we have in the whole north west. Counties like Donegal, Derry, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Sligo and Leitrim have a general population of 500,000 people. As far as getting our slice of the cake is concerned, we are nowhere near where we should be in terms of roads and tourism.

  I come from a peninsula called Fanad, which is roughly the size of Dublin city outside the M50. We have some of the most fabulous beauty spots the Minister has ever seen. The beach near where I am from was voted the second most beautiful in the world in 1994 by The Times. Fanad Lighthouse was voted the second most beautiful in the world in recent years. There are many other attractions across Donegal. It has the highest cliffs in Europe and the most northerly point in Malin. The area where I am from on the Fanad Peninsula does not even have a hotel. Something needs to happen in terms of rebalancing tourism in this country. There is an opportunity to do that with the national development plan review. Areas such as those where I am from do not expect to get any more than that given to the rest of the country but in better times other counties got incentives to build hotels and other tourism infrastructure and to start their small businesses. There is an excellent opportunity now to do that.

  With regard to the national development plan, it should be looked at using a wider scope. What can we develop that is different in respect of our tourism infrastructure? An issue I spoke about here previously is one I feel strongly about. A friend of mine, Hugh Friel, is a former chair of Tourism Ireland and a former CEO of the Kerry Group. He is now living in Kerry but he is also a Fanad man. We have spoken many times about tourism in Donegal and how we can get to where other countries are in that regard. There needs to be a change in the mindset and incentives must be provided. He has taken me to Kerry and shown me the different areas where they built marinas.  Anywhere that a marina was built, other infrastructure fell into place afterwards. Over the 20 years of the national development plan, Project Ireland 2040, we must build marinas around the coast. Everything does not have to be built tomorrow but we must make a start. There is significant potential in doing this and it is an opportunity to look after smaller businesses and incentivise start-ups.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin The remaining speakers will have four minutes as I would like to give all Members who wish to speak an opportunity to do so before the Minister responds.

Senator Barry Ward: Information on Barry Ward Zoom on Barry Ward Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach Gníomhach agus cuirim failte roimh an Aire arís. Tá sí i gcónaí go breá iarchomhairleoir de chuid Chomhairle Contae Dhún Laoghaire-Ráth an Dúin a fheiceáil sa Seanad.

  I recognise the good and important work that is done by visitdublin.com, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is sometimes omitted from the list of good things to see in Dublin. We are all looking forward to the resumption of tourism in Ireland and the removal of restrictions. We need to ensure that the people who visit Dublin also know that Dublin is not just the city centre and that there is a range of amenities to be seen in the county, especially Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

  People will be aware of the rich villages we have in Dún Laoghaire, places such as Monkstown, Dalkey, Glasthule, Blackrock which are worth visiting. Fantastic transport links allow people to access these areas easily from the city centre through the DART and bus services. We have many leisure activities and literary connections. I am thinking here of the Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday and of which I know the Minister is aware. The festival is being arranged by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and our libraries. The literary connections with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown are huge, whether through James Joyce and the Joyce Tower in Sandycove, Samuel Beckett and his family home in Foxrock or Maeve Binchy's and Hugh Leonard's connections to Dalkey. There is a long list of such connections.

  As to sporting amenities, water sports are obviously of tremendous importance, with sea swimming in places like Seapoint, the Forty Foot, Hawk Cliff, Sandycove and Killiney beach. People want to visit these places. I implore the Minister to send that message also to people who visit Ireland from abroad.

  Dún Laoghaire Harbour is a tremendous historical amenity. Over the years, it has been a staging point, sadly, for the departure of thousands of our citizens on boats to England and further afield. The harbour is a great Victorian entity of enormous proportions built with locally-hewn granite. It now provides significant tremendous leisure opportunities in sailing, paddle-boarding, kayaking, rowing and other water sports.

  I ask the Minister to ensure Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and other parts of County Dublin are included in planning for the aftermath of Covid restrictions. One very important element that would be an excellent link between Dún Laoghaire and Dublin is the proposed Sutton to Sandycove cycleway, the S2S. The Minister is aware of the initiative because we have spoken about it before. The Sutton to Sandycove cycleway and promenade is a coastal promenade around Dublin Bay which has largely been finished on the north side of the city. There is a problematic section between Sandycove and the Merrion Gates and Dún Laoghaire. This would be a fantastic amenity, providing a commuter route for cyclists that is separated from the traffic of Rock Road and the other main arteries and a walking facility for local people. Every year, more than 1 million people walk the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire Harbour which does not lead anywhere. The S2S would be a link between Dún Laoghaire and the surrounding hinterland and Dublin City. It has enormous potential as tourist infrastructure. One sees coastal promenades and cycleways in coastal cities throughout the world, from San Diego and Havana to Tel Aviv and other cities.

  This is an enormous unrealised opportunity and it needs the Government to get behind it because it must be done at central government level. I have mentioned this to the Minister’s colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan. I would like a commitment from the Minister that her Department is also committed to moving forward the S2S? This will be a coastal cycleway outside the DART line and a facility for tourists and local people. It will be segregated, safe and separate cycling and walking infrastructure in our area. Many of the villages I mentioned are cut off from the sea, even though they are coastal communities. Let us reconnect them. I would like the Minister to give a commitment to join us in helping to make that happen.

Senator Ollie Crowe: Information on Ollie Crowe Zoom on Ollie Crowe I thank the Minister, Deputy Martin, for coming to the House. As she is well aware, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on the lives of everyone in this country. From an economic standpoint, no sector has been hit harder than tourism.  The sector has experienced a €6 billion decline in revenue and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. As the Minister will be aware, it has essentially been shut down for the entire year. The tourism sector was worth €9.3 billion to the economy in 2019, with 10 million overseas tourists coming here. We have been particularly affected in Galway, and in Galway city especially, due to the cancellation of a number of events. As the Minister will be well aware, 2020 would have brought the European Capital of Culture to our city and there was enormous expenditure on that event. I ask her and her staff to examine the expenditure for that event as it certainly seemed excessive. I was a councillor for 11 years and I am very familiar with the city.

  The supports the Government has put in place, including the CRSS, are very welcome. Senator Casey outlined the tax debt warehousing and the business continuity scheme, which are welcome, but we now need to consider how the sector can be assisted with its reopening. It is of paramount importance that the domestic tourism sector be fully opened by the end of June. It is vital that it is fully operational without restrictions when the secondary schools go on holidays. Funding has been set aside for local authorities to roll out supports, which is welcome, and I ask for urgency in that regard.

  Based on my experience within the industry, a major issue in the hospitality sector is the loss of experienced and skilled personnel. That is particularly relevant in my city of Galway because people are going to work in the medical device companies such as Medtronic and Boston Scientific. That is going to be a huge issue. We will find it very hard to get qualified, serious head chefs and hospitality managers. I have a suggestion for the Minister on this matter. We need to give consideration to providing Government funding for the development of an online learning programme, which could speed up the development for new employees and might bring back some of the old employees, who will be hopefully needed in these sectors as soon as we recover. We have a family business in Galway that has been there for four generations and the staff are who we are. One cannot be there all the time oneself, as Senator Casey alluded to earlier. It is hugely challenging for all businesses but it is a particular issue for businesses that need a number of chefs and managers. I ask the Minister to come up with a couple of solutions to that problem. We could run an online course to see if we could attract the relevant people we require. The Minister is aware of that.

  The 9% VAT rate should be extended for the lifetime of this Government. There are thousands of jobs in jeopardy. We need to look at all VAT rates across the hospitality sector. That would give us a fighting chance at surviving a crisis which is not of our making.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin We now move to Senator Burke, who confused me because of the seating arrangements. I thought he was not here.

Senator Ollie Crowe: Information on Ollie Crowe Zoom on Ollie Crowe Is there something he would like to tell us?

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke It is my first time on this side of the House. I welcome the Minister and take this opportunity to wish her well in her portfolio. I have no doubt that she will make many changes and will do an excellent job for the whole industry. I am sorry I missed Senator Casey's contribution because nobody in the House knows better than him what it will be like to start up a business again after being closed. It is not just like opening a business from new. Many businesses have lost fortunes. They have to renovate or do up their properties and, in many cases, they are faced with redundancies and heavy borrowings. That will be an enormous task for an awful lot of businesses, in the hospitality sector in particular.  They are the lifeblood of the tourism trade.

  All Members in both Houses received a brochure from Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which has also gone through a very difficult period. The brochure states the challenge taken by Comhaltas in 1951 of reversing the fortunes of the cultural traditions was, by any yardstick, truly ambitious and that from the outset, Comhaltas reorganised to be the fundamental link between these traditions and the community and recognised the importance of providing a comprehensive response to the needs of the traditions. It started in 1951 and grew from strength to strength. It faces a crossroads again. In his letter to us, Labhrás Ó Murchú, a former Member of the House who is the ard stiúrthóir of Comhaltas, states the exceptional response of many people and branches to keep the music playing has left us with a memory and legacy that lifted our spirits and will, le cúnamh Dé, sustain us in our efforts for 2021.

  This is a golden opportunity for the tourism industry to use Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. When the bars and restaurants open, whenever the Minister can give them a date and they need to get a date, we could build in grants to Comhaltas to help those businesses. Most of the catering will be outdoors for a period and will require a lot of funding by businesses. They will need grants. Comhaltas could play a role if we had a mini-feis in each town. It would bring people out. The biggest problem we will have will be to bring people out and get them to go on holidays and make them stay locally or nationally. It would make the experience more enjoyable for these patrons. If we got a few heads together, something could be done whereby Comhaltas would play a huge role in every town throughout the country to help the catering business and bars, restaurants and hotels, and bring life back for our summer and make the summer more enjoyable for tourists. It would make it memorable. The Minister is the person who can lead this and I wish her well. I know she has a keen interest in this area and I wish her well with it.

Senator Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I am grateful to the Acting Chairperson and the staff for this opportunity to speak and I will certainly abide by the time limit. I thank my colleagues Senators Crowe and Blaney for their assistance. The Minister is very welcome to the House. I sincerely thank her for all the work she has been doing, along with the Government, in a most difficult time. I want to give the message I have from people in the hotel and restaurant sector in Roscommon. We have to try, as the vaccination programme moves along, to allow an opening of our facilities in hotels and restaurants to retrieve some of the lost business. As the Minister knows, summer business is vital. It is the time when most of these people make some money. There has been a huge loss of revenue. We do not need to tell the Minister. Really and truly, as the vaccination programme moves ahead and the numbers come down, we have to make some arrangements to get this business back.

  Another factor, which is a disaster for the business, and I am sure Senator Casey could speak about it far better than people like me, is the loss of staff. I have spoken to some staff who were employed in the industry for years and they have lost faith in the tourism sector. There will be an issue when we get back up and open as to how we will source staff. I look forward to bringing the Minister to the many fine places we have throughout County Roscommon. I remind her that Rathcroghan, near Tulsk, was one of Ireland's six royal sites and it has great prospects for the future.

  I thank the Acting Chairperson for allowing me to speak. I give my full support to the revitalisation of the industry. All of the schemes have been fantastic and we have to try to keep them going.  There will be money to be spent by the public when all these services open again. I have no doubt about it. Míle buíochas.

Acting Chairman (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin It strikes me the Minister will have a very busy time when the 5 km restrictions are lifted in visiting all the wonderful places right around Ireland. Within two hours she has had the opportunity to go the length and breadth of our beautiful country. I have no doubt she will get a wonderful welcome wherever she goes.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Deputy Catherine Martin): Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin I thank the Senators for their statements today and the passionate support demonstrated for the tourism industry. As Minister with responsibility for tourism, allow me to re-emphasise that I am acutely aware of the devastation that Covid-19 is inflicting on the sector. I am also very aware of the havoc it has caused for the hundreds of businesses and thousands of workers in one of our most valuable indigenous industries. In my many engagements with tourism stakeholders we continue to focus on key supports for survival and recovery. My colleagues and I across the Government have reiterated there will not be a cliff-edge end to the supports currently in place.

  I will do my best in the time allocated to answer as many specific questions but if I do not get to one, Senators should feel free to contact me and I will get answers to any Senator making that request. Senators Garvey and McGahon raised the question of sustainable tourism. My immediate focus is on the survival of our tourism sector but we must begin planning for recovery and rebuilding when the time is right. I absolutely agree with Senators that there is an opportunity here to address sustainable tourism development in a much more meaningful way during the recovery and rebuilding phase following this crisis. Sustainable development is about using without exploitation our natural, cultural and other tourism resources, preserving them for use by future generations. It also means tourism should be a positive for local communities, as Senator Garvey mentioned, tapping into and supporting local food producers. It makes sense, as well as being economically sustainable. With that in mind we must seek to realise Ireland's ambition to be among the world leaders in sustainable tourism practices. As Senator Garvey indicates, biodiversity can play a significant part in tourism.

  A sustainable tourism working group was established prior to the Covid-19 outbreak and it produced a set of guiding principles for sustainable tourism development in Ireland. I have now charged this group with the development of a suite of actions that will promote sustainable tourism practices. The implementation of these actions, along with the guiding principles we have produced, will underpin the advancement of a new tourism policy that will mainstream sustainability. In due course and when the time is right, officials in my Department will initiate the development of this new national tourism policy.

  Senator Keogan asked what progress has been made in supports and I outlined earlier some of those supports, including: the €55 million business continuity scheme; the reduction of the VAT rate to 9%; two separate funds of €10 million for coach tourism operators and the Ireland-based inbound agents business continuity scheme; an €8 million restart grant; €5 million for upskilling; and a €26 million adaptation fund. There are also horizontal supports such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, the employment wage subsidy scheme and rates waivers worth millions of euro to the broader tourism and hospitality sectors.

  The tourism recovery oversight group presented its report to me early this year but the tourism recovery task force included representatives from the hotel and hospitality sectors. Senators Casey and Wall mentioned the stay and spend scheme, which was set up late last summer to provide targeted supports to accommodation and hospitality businesses most affected by continued restrictions. At the time the scheme was devised and launched, there appeared to be a steady downward trend in infection rates and there was an expectation that at the very least there would be a partial reopening of the sector that could be sustained. It was set up by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and it was an innovative approach to incentivising spending on the tourism and hospitality sectors. Public health conditions that were beyond our control have clearly prevented that and the stop and start nature of the pandemic, along with its unpredictable consequences, resulted in the scheme being completely underutilised.  There are effective supports in place. I mentioned the CRSS and the €55 million for strategic tourism businesses. This specific scheme should be reviewed, as provided for when it was launched. The review of the scheme was a recommendation of the recovery oversight group and I have urged Cabinet colleagues to give serious consideration to this and other recommendations of the report to facilitate the reopening of the sector.

  Senators Cassells, Blaney and Burke mentioned the pathway and when sectors will be able to open and have that information. I am conscious that the hospitality and tourism sector wants certainty around this but I cannot give specific dates at this point. Covid-19 Resilience & Recovery 2021: The Path Ahead, which we published recently, makes clear the criteria which are most important to consider regarding the easing of restrictions. Those criteria are: the prevalence of disease and the attendant reproductive rate; reducing the hospital and critical care occupancy to low levels to protect the health service and to allow for resumption of non-Covid care; the ongoing and steady progress of the vaccination programme; and emerging information on variants of concern. I will continue to engage with sectoral stakeholders on this as we move towards the summer. I want the sectors to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. The Government is absolutely committed to developing a clear roadmap for return and we will meet in advance of 5 April to review the restrictions.

  Senator Keogan mentioned the vaccination roll-out. We are prioritising that roll-out. We are only constrained by supply and are working to increase that supply. Projected deliveries in April to June give us some optimism that we should be able to hugely expand the programme. I am sure everyone here would agree that would be very welcome. The Senator also asked what exactly has been implemented from the report. There has been the extension of EWSS, the introduction of CRSS, the Fáilte Ireland inbound agents and coach tourism operators schemes, the tourism business continuity scheme, the rates waiver, tax warehousing and, as I said, the 9% VAT which was agreed in the last budget.

  Senators Carrigy, Cassells and Wall mentioned the outdoor scheme with Fáilte Ireland working with assistance from local authorities to help this industry. The pandemic has triggered discussions around reimagining our cities and towns as better places to live, work and visit. Local authorities and State agencies have been responding to this promptly and thoroughly. Public health guidance is likely to place restrictions on capacity across tourism and hospitality for the foreseeable future, with a much greater focus on utilising outdoor settings and public spaces to best advantage. That is something I am doing within the arts and culture sector as well. Fáilte Ireland is considering how best it can support outdoor dining experiences in consultation with local authorities. This includes proposed outdoor dining and urban animation schemes. The subject has got a lot of attention. No final decisions have been made regarding the outdoor dining scheme. With further regard to the infrastructure, licensing and planning challenges that exist with the use of outdoor spaces, Fáilte Ireland is exploring options for combining funding for individual businesses with support for local authority-led initiatives. Details have yet to be finalised.

  I assure Senator Dooley that I am fighting my corner for the tourism and hospitality sector. On businesses seeking the extension of closing dates of certain schemes, I ask the Senator to provide me with the details.

  I was interested to hear Senator Casey's reports from times past and the 200 years of his hotel. As I said recently to the industry, tourism has seen many challenges but nothing on the scale of this pandemic. It is unprecedented and is the most difficult period ever. We are committed to supporting the sector through reopening and beyond. We will do all we can to get international tourists back again when it is safe to do so.

  Senator Mullen referred to State aid. Tourism and hospitality businesses are the main beneficiaries of CRSS, with roughly 60% of the total going to that sector. There are many other supports, as I set out earlier, and Government will continue to review those supports to allow businesses to trade when it is safe to do so.  Senators Casey and Mullen mentioned international travel, and I have covered that. Senator Dolan spoke of cycleways and greenways. Obviously, as I am from the Green Party it makes absolute sense to me. As I responded earlier to Senators McGahon and Garvey, this is the kind of low-impact sustainable tourism that makes sense and which we need to develop for the future, for international and domestic tourism. On the query about tourism officers' funding and other queries, I will come back to the Senator on that.

  I agree with Senator Conway on the need to extend the season and to disperse business across the country, and to extend that regional and seasonal tourism. This will be a key part of sustainable tourism. With regard to the successor to The Gathering, the Senators will be aware the programme for Government incudes a commitment to the Year of the Invitation initiative, which could play a really important role in rebooting tourism. It needs to be done at the right time. My officials are looking at how best to do that.

  Senator O'Loughlin spelled out very clearly so many of the appeals of Kildare. As the Senator said, I am very familiar with north Kildare as I have family there, and I am somewhat familiar with south Kildare. The Senator has whetted my appetite to get there as soon as possible and I look forward to that.

  On Senator Blaney's comments, as a proud Ulster woman I have had the pleasure of visiting Donegal. What a beautiful county it is. I will happily take the Senator up on his offer and take my family with me. My children have not yet visited Donegal and I look forward to bringing them there. I am a frequent visitor to Sligo, where I have family, so it is just a hop over to Donegal.

  Reference was made to Shannon Heritage. My colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, is well aware of the challenges faced by Shannon Heritage, which is part of the Shannon Group. I understand that his Department has been able to provide some supports to them. In addition they are eligible for the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. As with other attractions I am aware that Shannon Heritage wants to open as soon as possible and I want that for it too.

  I absolutely agree with Senator Blaney on the need to invest in areas of great beauty such as Donegal. It has massive tourism potential and it just needs that investment, such as the investment in Sliabh Liag, Malin Head and the Wild Atlantic Way. We will look at the potential of future projects.

  With both of us having served on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, I know only too well of the many amenities that Senator Ward has talked about. In marketing Dublin pre-pandemic, Tourism Ireland drew attention to its proximity to nature in the many villages and communities the Senator has outlined, in north and south Dublin. It will be even more appealing in the future.

  Senator Crowe suggested a great idea for online training for chefs. The skills shortage, as I outlined in my speech earlier, is a massive issue. I know this from my engagement with the sector. This is why funding of €5 million was provided in the budget in 2021 for upskilling and training, and to improve the digital presence.

  With regard to Senator Burke's comments on the connectivity right across my sector, it is often said that there are so many sectors under my remit. To me it makes perfect sense and culture, arts and tourism are a really good fit. On Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, I have a mini comhaltas ceoltóirí in my house every Thursday when my children do harp, mandolin and button accordion by Zoom. It works. I am very aware of the rich heritage of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and tapping into that. Indeed, when I speak of the connectivity right across my sectors, I will be making that connectivity part of my upcoming Department strategy.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin I apologise for cutting the Minister off, but to be fair to the cleaners we must take a break to allow the next session to start at 3.45 p.m.

Senator Ollie Crowe: Information on Ollie Crowe Zoom on Ollie Crowe I propose a suspension of the House until 3.45 p.m.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Fiona O'Loughlin): Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Sitting suspended at 3.40 p.m. and resumed at 3.50 p.m.

National Development Plan: Statements

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Michael McGrath): Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath I am delighted to be here in Seanad Éireann to discuss the review of the national development plan, NDP. I genuinely welcome the opportunity to update Members on the review of the NDP which is currently well under way.

  For the past year, the world has grappled with the spread of Covid-19 which, as we all know, has not only presented unprecedented healthcare challenges but has taken its toll on all sectors of our society and indeed our economy. While maintaining the focus on addressing the health emergency, we must also look to the future and ensure we are sufficiently prepared for the transition to a post-Covid-19 world.

  At a time of economic uncertainty, building confidence is crucial and we know a sustained commitment to public capital investment will act as an important economic stabiliser and stimulus as well a providing confidence, both nationally and internationally. OECD research indicates that infrastructure investments have a powerful multiplier effect which stimulates demand, creates jobs both indirectly and directly during our recovery, and increases economic activity. This is why the Government and I were eager to support our economy with the July stimulus package last year and why I allocated capital expenditure of €10.8 billion for this year. This represented an important shift from previous approaches to capital spending during tough economic conditions.

  The Government remains strongly committed to Project Ireland 2040. The current NDP allocates €116 billion in capital investment for an ambitious pipeline of public investment projects aimed at upgrading Ireland's infrastructure, enhancing our economic capacity, and promoting balanced regional development. We have also brought forward the review of the NDP, which was originally planned for 2022. This was announced during our review to renew process on 3 November last year. It included a public and stakeholder engagement call which closed on 19 February. The review provides an opportunity to reassess investment plans, to update project costings, and to highlight any new issues which need to be taken into consideration, particularly in light of the ongoing impacts and recovery from Covid.

  As part of the review the Government is steadfast in our ongoing commitment to align the NDP with the national planning framework as well as aligning with the priorities identified in the programme for Government, including climate action, housing policy, transport, broadband, the implementation of Sláintecare, and balanced regional development. We are very much aware rural Ireland must also be a central part of our national economic and social recovery. We need to be forward looking and ambitious and seek to realise opportunities for rural areas. Therefore, the review will reinforce the Government's plans to support rural Ireland over the coming years through compact growth in our rural towns and villages.

  At this juncture, we also recognise it is an imperative that investment is steered towards productive, balanced and sustainable investment plans, which will be critical in setting out our environmental pathway and crucial for the realisation of our climate ambitions and targets.  In planning for the future, the Government is also committed to streamlining procedures to increase productivity and enhance overall quality. The majority of recent infrastructure projects have been delivered on time and on budget. However, complex projects can sometimes run into difficulties. We need to develop high levels of professional capacity right across the public and private sectors to deliver on the potential of Project Ireland 2040.

  We have committed to setting out substantial reforms to the development and planning process for infrastructure projects, including the introduction of structural reforms and measures to increase capacity to ensure construction projects get delivered in a timely manner and on budget. Importantly, the review will also examine the capacity in the public sector to deliver major projects. While steady progress has been made in the implementation of Project Ireland 2040, the ongoing national development plan review means it is timely to enhance governance and assurance structures.

  I am developing a new external review process for all major projects worth over €100 million which will form part of the evidence base for finalising the revised national development plan. There will be two new elements to strengthen the existing assurance process for major projects. First, a framework of external experts in major infrastructure delivery will be put in place to advise Departments at two key decision gates when the business case for the project has been developed and before it goes to tender. The reviews will focus on robustness of planned delivery, accuracy of cost forecasts, consideration of risk and procurement. Second, a major projects advisory group will be established to support the Department in managing the external expert framework and assimilating the outputs from the reviews.

  I am also reforming the composition and role of the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board. The delivery board was established in 2018. It meets regularly to ensure effective leadership of the implementation of Project Ireland 2040 which includes both the national development plan and national planning framework. I have secured the Government's agreement to have up to five external members appointed to the board to bring additional expert knowledge, independent and regional perspectives and enhanced challenge function. These members would be in addition to the Secretaries General of the main capital spending Departments.

  The domestic and international evidence on major projects shows that better analysis of cost and risk at the upfront stage results in improved outcomes. Taken together, the framework of external experts and the major projects advisory group will mean that when the Government is making decisions on these projects, it will have as full a picture as possible regarding expenditure, risks and benefits. This will help mitigate the risk of positivity bias when it comes to major capital projects and, in turn, reduce the possibility of delays and cost overruns.

  As such, the Government is cognisant that it must secure the skills pipeline over the coming years to meet current and future needs. The review of the national development plan involves the consideration of five broad elements. It will examine the level of public investment as to whether it needs to be adjusted. The share of capital expenditure across Departments will be assessed to see if it needs to be adjusted. Consideration will be given to how Project Ireland 2040 can be changed to deliver on the policy priorities in the programme for Government such as housing, health, transport, job creation, enterprise development and climate action. An assessment will be carried out on whether our plans are ensuring regional balance in line with the national planning framework strategy of compact growth. We will look at governance and where any structures and rules can be improved. Taken together, all of these strands of work will provide a strong evidence base to allow the Government to make informed decisions.

  The first phase of the review is nearing completion and will result in the publication of a report in the coming weeks. The report will draw upon several pieces of research, policy papers and consultations, including the public consultation, which have been carried out over the past number of months.

  In terms of next steps, my Department will lead a strategic dialogue with other Departments over the coming months with the primary aim of agreeing the new five-year rolling departmental capital allocations and overall ten-year capital ceilings to 2030. I have also asked my ministerial colleagues to rigorously assess the costs of existing planned projects to ensure that those costs are up to date and realistic.

  I intend to publish the new and revised national development plan this summer. It will detail a vision for public investment in the period 2021 to 2030.  It will ensure the implementation of the national planning framework, NPF, through investment levels which will be among the highest in the European Union, with the clearly stated strategic outcome of transitioning to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society. I look forward to the contributions of Members and to responding in the wrap-up stage later on.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Aisling Dolan): Information on Aisling Dolan Zoom on Aisling Dolan I thank the Minister. I am delighted to hear the focus on balanced regional development, particularly on broadband. It will be really important.

Senator Aidan Davitt: Information on Aidan Davitt Zoom on Aidan Davitt I welcome the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, to the Seanad - we are sitting today in the Dáil Chamber and the Minister is well used to being here - and all the good work he is doing in his portfolio. It is a challenging portfolio at present where there are massive infrastructural projects ongoing. I certainly welcome the brave steps the Minister has taken with some very brave infrastructure projects.

  One area the Minister alluded to was rural Ireland. It is something close to the Minister's heart which we have talked about on many occasions, and certainly close to my own and those of many of my constituents. It is okay to window dress and talk about the semantics. There are the development plan and the local and regional development plans and where they fall into place under the national framework. I have seen, while following events in counties Westmeath, Meath, Offaly and Longford where quite a lot of the local authorities are going through their development plans at present, that councillors make recommendations to the executive, the executive comes up with its plan and the councillors look to have certain parts of the plan varied. This falls in line with what they have been hearing from local people on the ground and their voters. Unfortunately, I have seen so far, particularly in Meath, Westmeath and Offaly, instances where the regulator has totally ignored what the councillors have said. That is not correct. That is not right. That is not fair. I have a serious issue with that. If the regulator thinks that in the middle of a housing crisis, he will merely roll in behind the executives and give them carte blanche, it will not happen without being aired anyway. I have a serious problem with that. There are many projects that would not be deemed to be worth looking at or implementing or which should not get a second hearing but there are many that would. These projects are not getting a fair hearing. I am aware of one case in County Westmeath where a chap is ready to develop a site. I am only talking about a small site in a town. It is a two-acre site. Three quarters of it is zoned and one quarter of it is not. The local authority has no space to allow any more zoning. The executive said it did not think it would be a correct decision. The councillors opted to vary it and put it into the plan but the regulator did not even consider it. There are simple cases such as that, which could be put into plans, even if they then would have to go back to councillors and the executive would have to work a bit harder with them by seeking a part in the same town to be taken out of the plan and that would not be built on over the next ten years. That is a simple thing that could be done to develop plans in local villages and towns. That would be a case of everybody - the people, the councillors and the regulator - working together. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be happening. There is far too much bureaucracy in the process at present.  A tool that some of the executives use is to tell councillors that they do not have the expertise, perhaps, with regard to particular planning or whatever. If that is the case, why not provide the councillors with some expertise, be it town planners or engineers or even if they need some legal expertise in that respect? It is chastising them, more or less, instead of supporting them. They are there to do a job, so let us support them. That is not happening. It is a fundamental fault in our planning process. The councillors are there to be lobbied by the people and the voters. Then, when they make a decision, unelected representatives are telling them: "Sorry, guys, it is unfortunate, but that is the way it is. You do not have the expertise in that and our advice is such and such". Let the councillors get independent advice and see if that is the advice or if they are just telling them what they want to hear. We have serious problems. I am not being the devil's advocate. Our system is good. There has to be a process of checks and balances, but it is very much loaded in favour of unelected people at present. I believe the balance has tipped too far to the other direction. It is causing a problem. There are practical solutions to some of these questions. I am sure that are some proposals that are off the wall and nobody has a problem with them, but there are many practical ones that are not happening. In that regard, councillors should certainly be allowed to get some expertise.

  There are two other matters, in brief. Urban and town renewals should be prioritised. I am aware different projects in Limerick and in other cities have been rolled out, but the scheme should be rolled out nationwide now. The other matter is planning permissions that run out in 2020 and 2021. They should be extended by at least two years because there has been very little development. It has been a stop-start timeframe. Even where people had timeframes, they should be extended by two years. These are all very practical solutions that might be a help.

Senator Victor Boyhan: Information on Victor Boyhan Zoom on Victor Boyhan I warmly welcome the Minister. First, I thank him for his concise contribution. It is a measure of him. I have been following him and reading about him in the months since he took office and it is clear that he has a concise way and great clarity in what he does and says. In the short, concise, five-page document he presented to us there is a recurring theme, which I am delighted to see, of enhanced governance and new assurance structures. He will add five people to the board, over and above the Secretaries General. That is very good. It is all about governance, accountability and value for money.

  We have had this debate previously in the Seanad and the Dáil when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were in government, but some of it fell on deaf ears. Clearly, the Minister has had a second thought, and I welcome that. It is worth saying it. He has taken cognisance of the submissions that have been made as part of the review, he has talked to other people and he has seen what has happened to date. That is extremely important. Stronger governance is proposed in all this. We talk about ministerial colleagues and rigorously assessing the costs of the existing projects. That is good and I thank the Minister. I had prepared some notes and most of my focus was going to be on governance, delivery and the realisation of the vision and the plan. One can have all the plans one wishes, but if one does not have the finances in place as well as key indicators and somebody driving the project, one will not deliver.

  What did we collectively set about in the NDP? There were national strategic objectives, which included growth. I do not like the concept of compact growth. Not all growth is compact. I do not like that word and I choose not to use it. The Minister's document refers to compact growth, but I prefer to use the word "growth". There is also reference to enhanced regional accessibility in its broadest sense, strengthening rural communities and economies, quality healthcare, childcare, education and training, stronger economic support for enterprise, innovation and skills and connectivity. Again, I use the word "connectivity" in its broader sense, which is connectivity in respect of IT, mobility and the like. There is also sustainability in terms of our use of environmental resources and protecting our environmental resources, enhancing our amenities and our heritage and, of course, the important issue which the Acting Chairperson referred to, and for which he is a great champion in this House, balanced regional development.

  All that is good, positive and important.   I took some time to read IBEC's submission to the review and some of the interesting comments it made. Chronic underinvestment in the west of Ireland is underestimated and undermines prospects for economic recovery. That is what IBEC says. Some people might ask who IBEC is. I value IBEC, its contribution and what it has to say, as I value many other contributions. IBEC went on to say in its submission to the mid-term review of the national development plan that the west region needs sustainability and an enhanced and more ambitious roadmap for its future. The Minister knows, I know and everyone else in this House knows that major investment is needed to make the west more resilient and more competitive. Sectors such as tourism, leisure and hospitality are particularly exposed in the west of Ireland. The Minister mentioned Brexit and Covid. We talked about Covid in the short term a few months ago. I am looking over at Senator Casey, who will know more than anyone else in this House about leisure and the impact not only of Brexit, in terms of people travelling to this country and trade between this country and Europe, but also now of this dreadful pandemic that has put an end to so many businesses in this country. We have the Covid downturn and the impact of Brexit on our economy. While we talk about it being short term, let us wake up, folks. This is not short term. It is not necessarily medium term. It is possibly long term. Certainly, its effects will be felt long term. That is important.

  We also have the added problem of the downgrading of the western region by the EU to a region of transition. That is challenging in itself.

  What needs to be done? We know we need transport. We know all the other issues. I will not talk in great detail about them. Part of the national development plan recent review of Government plans was to extend the plan to 2030, as the Minister said. That is very substantial and is very good news, but with that comes additional funding, additional resources and additional capacity, and that is something I want to hear more about today.

  I also want to hear more about the public private partnerships. Why have we got a hang-up as to who builds houses, be they public, private or a synergy between both? Bring on public money and public investment but bring on private investment and private contributions too.

  We need absolute clarity on the national development plan. If we are to bring on international financiers and bring inward investment into the country, we need to tap into our major international diaspora and people who want to come back and give back something. We need to ensure that all Departments and all agencies are tasked with the vision and the challenge to roll out what is an exciting national development plan. Senator Davitt talked earlier about local authorities. We have local plans and regional plans and this is our national development plan. Instil in us a pride. Let us be ambassadors for this plan.

  There is the importance of governance, the roll-out of this plan and communication - local, regional, national and, for that matter, international. We have a vision. We have a plan. We will not agree with all of it but we will agree with most of it. Let us therefore unite, articulate and seek investment in that plan for our future. It is important we come on board. I thank the Minister, particularly for his sharing today the focus of delivery and of governance.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Aisling Dolan): Information on Aisling Dolan Zoom on Aisling Dolan Yes, it is important to mention region and transition and the regional spatial economic strategy as well as investment in the west.

Senator Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I always like to see senior Ministers attending the Seanad so I welcome his presence. I made a submission to the Review to Renew process and I wish to put some of that on the record. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the review of the national development plan, Ireland 2040. I believe the plan gives Ireland a long-term focus and direction and drives us to invest strategically and regionally. For too long we have had a developer-driven approach to planning which leads to lopsided growth and short-termism in thought and investment. A modern economy must continue to invest in capital projects in order to maintain competitive advantage, give its citizens the infrastructure required and create an environment in which research, innovation and thought can prosper. The present scale of capital spending in Ireland is just about adequate and certainly should not drop below present levels. We need to transition to a green economy, which involves significant capital spending. The present spending on current measures relating to Covid-19 are extremely important but will reduce over the next 12 to 18 months, and we should not allow short-term commitments, though large, to impact long-term investment plans. A consistent guaranteed level of capital spend creates a sustainable construction sector which can plan for the future in terms of capacity and expertise.  For too long we had a capital spending model which turned on and off the tap depending on the fiscal climate, resulting in peaks and troughs in capacity and knowledge in the sector. This was inefficient and led to an inability to ramp up capacity in the short term. As others have expressed, I have a concern about the loss of people from the construction sector in the short term, particularly to the UK. Obviously, the pandemic unemployment payment was enough for many people during the winter period, but now with bills to pay, longer days and more opportunities to earn money, some of them are leaving for the UK. I have a concern that that will ramp up and could impact on the delivery of the NDP and the projects that we want to see being completed for our communities.

  The number one priority must be the provision of affordable homes throughout the country. This, combined with the provision of sustainable transport across all modes, will go a long way towards developing a better quality of life and a better work-life balance. I welcome some of the commitments in the urban regeneration and development fund announcement made last week.

  Prosperity depends on jobs, and investment in rural development, enterprise, skills, innovation and research is key to continued growth in the regions and should be a high priority in the NDP. There is a countrywide spread of top quality educational institutions, and there should be further and closer links with communities and industry to derive innovation and investment. However, we should also nurture frontier research, which is crucial in empowering our researchers to explore and make discoveries of global importance.

  The provision of water and wastewater investment is an absolute necessity. The funding issues around the creation of Irish Water cannot be allowed to restrict investment in this area. No development can happen without adequate capacity for water services. It is the one absolute prerequisite for development and, by its nature, can be slow in respect of its construction and delivery. Focus should be placed on towns and villages with poor or no wastewater treatment capacity.

  There are a number of key road projects that will solve the identified inadequacy in the road network and which should also be progressed.

  It is vital that projects that are costed, managed and delivered with an emphasis on the value to the public. This can be in terms of long-term strategic investment which may involve a high spend originally but will deliver a project which can give a return over generations and facilitate knock-on investments. Typically these will be in transport, water and health services. I welcome the changes that the Minister has proposed and announced in his contribution here today.

  I would support the establishment of an independent unit or agency to oversee and deliver large projects. This would be a step further than the proposed external review by the Department. This unit would not decide on the desirability of projects but would draw up tenders and contracts and manage delivery etc. in conjunction with the parent Department. This unit would have expertise in all areas of procurement and project delivery, and the ability to identify problem areas and troubleshoot at the early stage in projects.

  The inclusion of individual projects in the NDP has given it, and these projects, credibility, and has provided an acknowledgement that it is worthwhile. A number of projects in the west which have been included in the NDP have progressed through the planning process and delivery will soon begin. A number of the schemes in the urban renewal and rural development areas have been very worthwhile and have funded projects which would otherwise find it difficult to get support.

  Even in its early phase, the NDP has had a positive effect on the west and I expect that positivity to grow as more projects and innovations come on line. There are a number of key projects, for example, in housing. There are a number of private and public sites that are ready to go, and indeed private sites on which there is no movement. We must ask why this is happening. Is it the funding stream or the ability to get equity that is the cause of these projects not moving?

  I know there is a whole debate on the issue of road and rail projects, but I believe that projects such as bypasses are as much about improving the quality of life and safety in town centres. Motorways, wherever they are built, are replacing national roads to a degree, and therefore making those national roads safer for all road users. That is important, whether it is drivers, pedestrians or cyclists.

  On the cycling and greenway projects, a lot of funding has been delivered to date to get these projects moving. That is welcome. Land availability, that is to say, getting landowners on board to deliver them, is the stumbling block in these projects. We have seen that the projects which have been delivered have been on State-owned lands or a voluntary model has been followed, for example, with the Westport greenway project. Therefore, there are challenges in that area.

  On wastewater, in east Galway, specifically the area to the east of Galway city, including Oranmore and Athenry, is an area that is crying out for development. It is mentioned in the NDP. It is absolutely vital that those projects are pushed in order for Galway to meet its national planning framework targets. I am sure the Minister will be hearing from constituents about the Inisheer Pier project, which is ready to go.

  In respect of projects, I find it hard to advise groups seeking to build community centres. I am referring to larger projects in urban areas that could be valued in the order of €3 million to €5 million.  There is no Department to which that group can be sent to get a large chunk of funding to provide a community centre. These are in large urban areas. If the county council or the city council does not have the requisite funding, there is no Department that will do that. I ask that the Minister would consider a community centre fund in the NDP.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Aisling Dolan): Information on Aisling Dolan Zoom on Aisling Dolan It is very important to represent the needs of the west, particularly the east Galway wastewater treatment plant. I call Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, who is also from the west.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I welcome the Minister to the House. Like others, I have given my personal submission on the NDP and, indeed, we have collectively contributed through the different committees, such as the climate action, disability and public expenditure committees. It is a very important review and a very important opportunity to think in a deep way about how we shape the places and the services within Ireland in the future. I am not going to repeat all of the points in my submission and I will just go to the five areas that the Minister has signalled are going to be important to her and her Department in the review.

  I believe the level of public investment will need to be adjusted upwards. The signals from the IMF are telling us we need to spend more and the aim is to have borrowing of 1% of GDP, if needed. The EU is talking about stimulus and a general recognition that we are at a moment when stimulus is needed, advised and also very possible. There are opportunities at the moment which are somewhat unique. For example, in the temporary suspension of the EU fiscal compact rules, we have an opportunity to front-load some projects off-balance sheet in a new and different way to deliver very ambitious and early projects in terms of our public services and capital infrastructure. There are dedicated recovery and resilience, just transition and Brexit funds. Indeed, I would encourage the potential use of a multi-fund approach because I know that is working well in other countries where there is a multi-fund approach to different projects that seek to secure funding. In addition, of course, borrowing is more available and available at a lower rate than previously.

  I say this in a way that is thought-through and careful, but it is around the responsibility to make sure we make the best of the opportunities that are there now to create things that will pay dividends for many decades to come. This is still about investment, but about investment in a way that we perhaps could not do previously, and it is important that we are ambitious about that.

  The second and third points concern the share of capital expenditure across Departments and the delivery of policy priorities in the programme for Government. The share will need to be adjusted if we are to meet commitments, for example, the commitments on the ratio of public transport to private transport. That might require a serious increase in what we spend on public transport so that we look to more and new opportunities. In terms of other policy opportunities, it is important with climate action that we have a joined-up approach and that we make use of the tools that are available such as the environmental impact assessment mechanisms and EU directives in an effective way to make sure not only that we have projects to deliver climate action but that all of our development projects are taking us forward in terms of climate action, not backwards. That thought-through approach is important.

  In terms of retrofitting, we want to raise our level of ambition, and I think that is an opportunity in terms of employment as well. Other issues have emerged during the past year of Covid, where we have seen, for example, the need for better care infrastructure in Ireland. As Senator Kyne said, there is the issue of community spaces, indoor and outdoor, and the importance of access to that kind of shared public space in communities across Ireland.

  The fourth area concerns regional balance and compact growth. Regional balance is crucial. I hope we have ambitious public transport in rural Ireland, as well as in urban Ireland. In terms of compact growth, it is important that is liveable compact growth and that we look to the issues of liveability and make sure families can live in our city centres. That is important in terms of the sustainable development goals, in particular SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities. I feel there are very useful tools and examples there. It is very important that the NDP interacts in a constructive way with local development plans and local representatives.

  Finally, we come to governance.  Governance is absolutely the key. I really welcome hearing about the major projects advisory group and that recognition that more thought earlier in the process leads to better outcomes. I suggest, however, that we need to follow through by making sure we empower all the decision makers along the way to put in more thought earlier in the process. The major projects advisory group is a really positive step but we must make sure that procurement officers and contracting officers are thinking about quality.

  That is why I hope the Government will support my legislation and will send a signal by supporting my Quality in Public Procurement (Contract Preparation and Award Criteria) Bill 2021 this Friday, which will make it clear that when we think about public spending, we think about quality and price. That has happened successfully in the Netherlands, where they have seen their capital infrastructure being delivered on time, to a higher quality and without significant additional costs because they ask for all the information up front and at the beginning level. My Bill will also ask the Minister, and I will really make this important, to make sure that we set a minimum target of 50% quality on projects over the EU public works threshold of €5.35 million. We have seen what happens when we let lowball bids win or when we deal with supplementary claims after the fact. The national children's hospital was 75% price and only 25% quality. I am hoping the Minister will support my Bill as part of the reform and as a signal of commitment to the reform of governance to make sure we get more from our public spending, do more with our public money and get better capital infrastructure for all our citizens across this country.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan Well said.

Senator Róisín Garvey: Information on Róisín Garvey Zoom on Róisín Garvey Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I thank the Minister for taking the time to come into the Chamber today. I acknowledge the supreme extra challenge he faces as a Minister at this time. I thank him for committing to a review of the national development plan as a result.

  The existing national development plan is not fit for purpose on climate. There is no strategic environmental assessment and it did not provide any numbers for specific emissions reductions. It does not recognise the climate impacts of new infrastructure. That is why this review of the plan must update it to include climate proofing. On that issue, for example, look at flooding and the amount we spend on hard engineering as a short-term localised solution when catchment area-based solutions cost a fraction of the amount. Instead of just solving the problem in one place and shoving in on to the next place, catchment-based solutions are fantastic. They cost less, effect change on a large scale and improve biodiversity and prevent farmers having to worry about flooding. As a rural dweller, I see farms, half of which flood regularly now as a result of our changing weather patterns. We really need to take seriously proper investment in catchment area solutions.

  From a Green Party perspective, rural transport infrastructure is key. We have done well so far this year. I welcome the commitment in the programme for Government that the updated national development plan will prioritise public transport projects that enhance regional and rural connectivity in line with the national planning framework for additional funding. The programme for Government committed to a transformation in transport funding with 10% of the capital transport budget for walking, 10% for cycling and the remainder allocated in favour of public transport over road building and maintenance by a factor of 2:1. It is crucial that this is reflected in the updated national development plan. We need all of it and, unfortunately, the Minister has to deliver on it.

  We must support, improve and expand public transport options in rural areas and so far, I am really grateful for the extra services Local Link now provides. It is providing services in places where we never had them or where we had them once a week, if we were lucky. Personally, I try to use public transport all the time coming up and down to Dublin. However, the last train to Ennis, County Clare, is at 5 p.m. Unfortunately, the last bus from Limerick to Ennis leaves five minutes before the last train. We also need, therefore, to have that joined-up thinking. We need to now get Irish Rail and Bus Éireann on board in order that they link up with each other. A person could, therefore, get the train to the bus and then link up with his or her Local Link service. We are a small country. We could get this right if we put energy into it. We must embed the principles of balanced regional development clusters and compact growth, as Senator Higgins mentioned, and improved connectivity to deliver a just transition.

  On the point of greenways, with which everybody is now on board, I wrote the farmers first policy as an amendment to our strategy on greenways in the Green Party policy on rural development. I urge the Minister to look at that because before we decide where greenways are going, we must engage with the landowners.  Best practice is not sticking to the old railway line or trails and sometimes it can involve moving to the edge of the land. We need to consider that because once we have the landowners onboard we can progress instead of spending many years trying to get these things off the ground. We must put farmers first and I urge the Minister to read the Farmers First policy document that I authored.

  We must shift to active transport. Expenditure wherever there is walking and cycling is crucial as it will give people options and make the roads safe for everybody. The Minister must engage with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. We have roads narrower than the path in the Chamber yet there are speed limits of 80 km or 100 km, which is absolutely insane. Some lad on a computer in Dublin came up with these speed limits and it is absolute madness. Old people are afraid to walk on these rural roads, kids cannot cycle on them and dogs get killed on them. There is a huge issue with ridiculous high speeds being allowed on rural roads.

  At present, a quarter of all nine year olds are overweight. A big part of that is because they cannot physically move safely around the place. If we could give children independent travel and freedom to move again then that will be a huge step. It will also save us having to spend huge amounts of money on health services. Such an initiative makes economic sense and health sense.

  Another big issue for me is that it is very difficult for people to live above shops in villages and towns. As a result, the lifeline and lifeblood have been drained from villages and towns. People now live in a suburbia-type scenario and that is not just in cities but in villages and towns. We need to simplify the bureaucracy and the costs around having a dual purpose for shops. Many of my friends have attempted to do this work but got caught up with huge expense yet still cannot live above the shop due to the rigmarole that exists at the moment. I urge the Minister to consider this matter. We need to take a town centres first approach and get as many people as possible living in towns and living above the shop instead of having the dispersed settlement patterns that have occurred over the last few decades. One can see this pattern in Dublin since Covid arrived because only the people who live in Dublin city centre are visible. One sees nobody because nobody lives in cities any more as they have all moved to the suburbs. If one wants to learn from the mistakes that were made in America where they just threw everybody out to suburbia and made them all car dependent, a move which they now regret, then one must watch a brilliant film called "The End of Suburbia". It is one of the best films ever made on how to get it wrong and how we can learn from the mistakes made in America.

  In terms of water infrastructure, as I said earlier today on the plinth when the Green Party launched a motion on water, we cannot build any houses until we have water infrastructure. In Broadford and Miltown Malbay in County Clare, we have all of the money, the sites, and the houses have been designed and are shovel-ready, but without water infrastructure there will be nothing built. Therefore, we must take water infrastructure seriously and invest in it.

  Infrastructure deficits in Ireland impact on the provision of safe and secure drinking water. They lead to pollution and environmental damage. They present a challenge to achieving sustainable development across urban and rural Ireland. Water supply must be put before housing need because one cannot have people moving into houses if there is no running water. Continued investment in infrastructure coupled with innovative and modern approaches is absolutely necessary and fast becoming an emergency.

  Of course we need the national broadband plan to be rolled out as soon as possible and people are always saying so. We have had some good successes in County Clare because people can now avail of ten Wi-Fi hubs at a very low cost. I welcome more of that investment and let us see the plan rolled out as soon as possible. We can borrow money cheaper than ever before so if we do not invest now then we will never do so. Now is the time and I wish the Minister the best of luck with the review.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Aisling Dolan): Information on Aisling Dolan Zoom on Aisling Dolan I thank the Senator for making great points. It is also very important to increase LocalLink transport services. I call Senator Gavan and he has six minutes.

Senator Paul Gavan: Information on Paul Gavan Zoom on Paul Gavan I thank the Acting Chairperson and it is nice to see her in the Chair.

  I welcome the Minister. The speech has been interesting and I want to address it as much as I can in the few minutes that I have got. Let us start with the first point. It is good that he is examining the level of public investment and whether it needs to be adjusted. Sinn Féin is clearly of the view that investment needs to be significantly adjusted. It needs to be adjusted because the current targets are just not strong or ambitious enough. As has been said earlier, we are in a unique time in terms of being able to borrow at extremely low levels of interest, at zero and minus interest rates, and there is so much to be done. As the Minister will know, historically we have had very poor levels of infrastructure and very poor levels of investment over decades so now is the opportunity and the time to change that.

  I would reference housing. At the minute, our target is 10,000 social housing units but that is not enough. The Minister knows that 10,000 units will not solve the crisis so we need to up our expenditure significantly. I would also cite healthcare because we know that the Sláintecare report, which all parties agreed on, is not going to be achieved within the initial ten-year timeframe because of underinvestment. So the good news is that it is in the Minister's power to address that and I sincerely hope he does so.   I want to hone in on what Senator Higgins said, and I welcome her Bill which will be introduced on Friday. She will have Sinn Féin's full support because when we are talking about the national development plan a key point is how we use public procurement. Unfortunately, it has been used in far too narrow a way for far too long. The Netherlands is an excellent example. Last Friday, Sinn Féin launched our own community wealth building policy, which is very much based around the issue of public procurement also but where we do public procurement differently and get anchor institutions working locally and nationally to work together to ensure that more of the wealth is retained within communities. It is a different way of doing public procurement. It also actively encourages the development of co-operatives, particularly worker co-operatives. This has been tried and tested and shown to work in Preston, Ayrshire and in parts of the United States. It is a new way of looking at spending public money in a way that benefits people as opposed to the money being vacuumed out of the local economy. I urge the Minister to look at our policy document, which was launched last Friday. It is a new way of doing business. It is practical, is tested and it works.

  I need to talk to the Minister about regional balance and, in particular, about Limerick, where I am from. When this initial development plan was launched the Chamber of Commerce in Limerick said it was a huge missed opportunity and one that would be regretted for generations to come. It particularly cited the failure to look at Shannon Airport as a means of rebalancing our economy. The Minister will know that Dublin currently accounts for 43% of our GDP so we know that current policies in terms of regional balance have failed. We know that policies right up to the Government that the Minister's party supported until last year did not address the issue. Now is the Minister's opportunity to address it. It will not be addressed without a substantial shift in funding. It will not be addressed without ambition and in Limerick, we are crying out for ambition. It is interesting that the head of Irish Rail told us that Limerick is uniquely placed for a light urban rail system because all the tracks are still owned by Irish Rail. That is not the case in most cities but we still have them. Sinn Féin has been championing light rail in Limerick for ten years. No one else has bought into that proposal. I ask the Minister to look at it again. We know that the number of cars in Limerick are projected to double between now and 2050. That will create chaos but not if we invest properly in public transport. The opportunity is there. To date, unfortunately, the political will or the ambition have not been there. It lies again in the hands of the Minister and I ask him to actively look at that opportunity.

  I would like an update on the Foynes rail project. It is good that it is in the plan. It was due to be completed by 2022 but clearly that will not be the case. I ask the Minister for an update on when that rail link is likely to be completed. It is a very ambitious rail link that will be good for our communities, not just in terms of the port but in terms of potential commuter lines working their way back into the city also.

  I call on the Minister to be ambitious. My concern is that there are two very conservative parties at the heart of this Government. Already, we heard the Tánaiste last week reference the worries about inflation. There is no inflation. Economists are telling us this is the best time to be ambitious, to borrow and to address that lack of investment that has gone on for decades in terms of capital and public infrastructure. The Minister has only one opportunity to get this right. What we are looking for, as he reviews this plan, is a huge leap in ambition and investment. That regional balance is key.

  I will cite one other issue that I have heard others mention in this Chamber mention previously, namely, a rail spur to Shannon Airport, which was mentioned back in the 1990s. I believe the Minister's colleague, Mary O'Rourke, initially looked at it in the 1990s. If we are serious about changing the fact that nine out of ten planes fly from Dublin - thankfully, they will start flying again - we have to build the infrastructure across the west of Ireland. One of the best ways to enhance Shannon is to build that rail spur, which has been discussed for decades. It needs to be done.

  I am disappointed that, to date, there has been a lack of detail around the way that investment in public transport will be rolled out over the coming years. I hope that in the revamped national development plan we will see that detail, ambition and a sea change in terms of the current projected investment because there is not enough at the moment. As it stands, it will not address housing. It will not address the need to build a national health service. It is in the Minister's hands. I call on him to do that, come back with ambition, look at that regional balance in particular and give us the ambition we deserve in Limerick city in terms of public transport, infrastructure and investment.

Senator Pat Casey: Information on Pat Casey Zoom on Pat Casey I welcome the Minister to the Chamber.  I also welcome the review of the national development plan. Senator Gavan mentioned that he was looking for a link to Shannon Airport. He may get it more quickly than the one to Dublin Airport at the rate we are going for that particular link.

  He made another point about now being the cheapest time to get money. For someone who is in business and is being asked to borrow more money, it always has to be paid back at some stage and we must remind ourselves of that, even though when it is the State's money, one might not be quite as concerned.

  The review of the national development plan was warranted and indeed necessary. The plan was framed at a time where we did not think we would be living with Covid-19 nine months on. The review was agreed prior to our knowing what the impact Covid-19 would have on how we live our lives into the future. There is an element missing in this review, which is the impact Covid-19 will have on how we as a society live into the future because the NDP is aligned and fully linked to the national planning framework. We must admit that Covid-19 has changed some clear policies in the national planning framework. People are talking about primary legislation whereby employers will have to give every employee an opportunity to work to work at home, which will change the whole dynamic of society and how we look at it. When we look at capital investment, if that is the way in which society is moving, such investment should move in that direction, rather than where the national planning framework specifies at present. Even in the area of public transport, if we are all going to start working from home, if that is a figure of 20%, that will change the dynamics as to where the investment in public transport should be.

  We also need to look at the impact Covid-19 has had on the city centres, which probably have experienced an impact worse than any of the rural areas. How do we re-vision our cities of the future as a result of Covid-19? The national planning framework does not take account of that. Although I appreciate the review, my concern is whether there is a way in which we can Covid-19-proof it. How can we take the Covid-19 policies we are talking about here, bring them into the national development plan and align these with the policy of the national planning framework?

  Many people have spoken about Irish Water and our water infrastructure. This is the one critical piece of infrastructure needed everywhere, regardless of whether one is in a city or small village. Given the remit under which Irish Water was set up and the horizon within which it was trying to operate as to commercial viability, the small towns and rural villages were never going to get a say in respect of that capital funding. While I accept that each local authority has been asked for its three priority projects and I hear that another scheme may be announced during the summer, that is not good enough. I have always said that a percentage of the funding that is given to Irish Water every year should be ring-fenced for villages and towns with a population under 5,000 persons. That would mean there would be a continuous fund available to villages and towns under that population size, which would allow them to grow at a sustainable level. Two dynamics in respect of housing are happening at present and these play into this debate. There is great demand in our cities and urban areas while there is no demand in the rural areas. There are staggering prices in urban areas, whereas builders will not build houses in rural areas because it is not viable to do so. There are two competing actions needed to address both situations. A key part of that is there is no infrastructure in our villages to attract developers into them.

  Town and village renewal is also critical as we move forward, with the over-shop living initiative also being mentioned. When we looked at this issue in the housing committee, we found many of the problems concerned regulations and standards because one is dealing with older properties. The question is how, when one goes to renovate them, does one convert them to the standards of today, as opposed to the previous standards. There are issues around ventilation and fire specifications, which may prevent this. We need to look at how we can overcome that.  We need to revitalise our towns and make them into living spaces where people can raise their families in a nice environment. From a local authority point of view, we are aware that the commercial side of towns is much too big. We need to make that side more compact and enable people to live outside it.

  In the few minutes I have left it would be remiss of me not to mention Wicklow, which lost out on public transport in the previous national development plan. Specifically, rail was never mentioned and the Government just maintained the existing level of services. The cost of the Arklow waste water treatment plant has increased to over €100 million. That project will be presented to the Minister's Department. People in Arklow have waited over 30 years for a waste water treatment plant and Irish Water is currently being fined on a daily basis.

  We can invest all we like in housing and I agree that we should do so. However, the bottleneck occurs in the process of delivering housing. It is the planning process and the process in the Department that are causing the bottlenecks in delivering housing.

Senator Garret Ahearn: Information on Garret Ahearn Zoom on Garret Ahearn I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. This is the first opportunity I have had to speak with him here and I wish him well in his role. I listened to his statement at the start of the debate. I welcome the review and his comments regarding the need to review costs. This year, we have spent more money than we have ever spent in any calendar year. When putting together a plan for going forward, like the national development plan, we need to make sure that what we are investing in is cost-proof.

  One of the main things that jumps out at me, given the area I am from in Tipperary, is broadband. The Department has supported Tipperary with €118 million to invest in broadband and it is important that we welcome that. Just under 26,000 premises in Tipperary are within the intervention area, out of about 77,000. When investing this money in communities like those in Tipperary and around the country, we must do it as quickly as possible, because the more we talk about broadband coming to areas and what percentage of the population now have high-speed broadband, the more we remind the people who do not have broadband that they do not have it. This morning, I got a call from a father who, like most people at the moment due to Covid, is working at home. His wife is also working from home and their kids, who would normally be in school, have been doing their schooling from home for months. There are five people in their house trying to work or attend school with poor broadband service. Broadband is being delivered in an area only 500 m down the road from them, while they are waiting for their broadband. If we have learned anything this year, it is that we need to invest in broadband.

  We must recognise the growth in population that will happen over the next number of years. This plan sets out where we see ourselves in 2040, with the population growing to roughly 6 million. Not everyone can live in Dublin so we need to invest in areas outside of it. The investment provided by the Department of Rural and Community Development has been very successful. In Tipperary, just over €35 million has been invested in a range of schemes, from town and village renewal schemes to other schemes to rejuvenate towns, give them an extra lease of life and encourage people to come back into urban areas within rural settings. That is important. Another round of the rural regeneration fund will be coming through soon and areas of Tipperary have made applications for that funding. An application of €3.3 million has been made for Cashel town park. This project would develop a town park right at the bottom of the Rock of Cashel, creating a beautiful setting that would connect the town centre of Cashel to the Rock of Cashel. For a town like Cashel, the last year has been detrimental as regards tourism. Cashel is obviously very well known outside of Ireland and it has been hampered in the last year due to a lack of tourism.  I have been working with a local councillor, Declan Burgess, who has been very active on the town park project. It is a project that exemplifies everything we are trying to do through investing in rural areas and I hope we will be able to do it.

  I was reading the national development plan that was published a couple of years ago. One of the very first lines in it states the fundamental objectives of the national development framework is to reinforce accessibility between key urban centres of population and the regions. One of the biggest issues we have, and one of my biggest concerns, is the N24 between Limerick and Waterford. It is the worst regional road in the country. Under the national development plan it is to go to design stage, but I have serious concerns that it is not high on the list of priorities of the Department of Transport or the Minister. Will the Minister see fit to continue the N24 to design stage? The contracts are out for the Cahir to Limerick section and then the Cahir to Waterford section. It is the worst primary road in the country. The average speed between Waterford and Limerick is 65 km/h. The average speed that people should be doing on such a primary route is 90 km/h. They are the only two cities not joined by a decent road. At the very least, design stage of the project needs to remain in the national development plan and I ask the Minister to do this. The Minister is familiar with the road that goes to Carrigaline. This is just as bad with regard to traffic congestion.

  I concur with what Senator Davitt said about planning applications. It is important we extend them by two years. Many developers and people have planning permission that is due to expire, and if they have to start the whole process over again, it will delay everything, including the building of houses, and this is not good for anyone. Something should be done about this.

  A number of people spoke about Irish Water and I have spoken about this a number of times. We need to invest in Irish Water. We need to align the priorities of Irish Water to the priorities of the local development plans of local authorities because they are not aligned at present. I thank the Minister for coming to the House.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I welcome the Minister to the House. I feel a bit bad standing up here today because the Minister has had so many demands made to him for funding and we are €239 billion in debt since Covid-19 hit the country. I am not sure how quickly the economy can bounce back. Certainly some parts can but others will not bounce back that quickly.

  With respect to the national broadband roll-out, I welcome the progress to date but I have some concerns. In particular, I am concerned about the ambition of National Broadband Ireland to grow from 900 to 2,000 staff, given the shortage of skills in the country in fibre optics. The Government should have seen this coming and laid on courses in further education and third level to take care of it. I believe the Government is now doing so and I would like the Minister to confirm this.

  I taught courses in IT for more than 25 years before I came to the House. The one thing I learned during those 25 years is that technology moves forward at a pace that can be quite fast. This brings me to my concern that we are in the middle of spending a small fortune on fibre-optic connectivity, which we expect to last ten or 15 years. If I know nothing else, I know that ten to 15 years in IT is an awfully long time. Has the Department or the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications considered the plan B outlined by Brian Flanagan with respect to the use of low-earth orbit satellites? Recently, the EU prioritised the delivery of high-speed broadband by satellite and has launched a major programme to establish a European-led low-earth orbit satellite service by between 2025 and 2027. I believe 11 companies already operating in this country are capable of delivering satellite broadband. I know people will say the upload and download speeds do not compare with fibre optic but over time they will improve. It certainly would bring connectivity to the darkest corners of this country. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of fast reliable broadband to ensure people of all parts of the country can avail of remote working, education and essential online services.  The previous speaker mentioned families with a number of members trying to access the Internet in a home at the same time.

Currently, 40% of households and businesses in Mayo are without adequate broadband services. National Broadband Ireland's timeline indicates approximately 18 months for the national broadband plan to be delivered in the Ballina and Castlebar areas but it has admitted that areas further out in the county will have a longer wait for the service. Deputy Michael McNamara has stated that rural Clare will remain a broadband black hole right through 2021 and nearly a third of Kerry homes and businesses do not have a quality broadband service, with some people paying for two services monthly in the hope of having a usable signal. Mr. Elon Musk's corporation approached the Department of Rural and Community Development last year and the Starlink product will initially involve just a single household. There has been progress but Covid-related delays have set us back.

In an interview with the Irish Farmers' Journal, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, explained that delays are down to people being unable to install the infrastructure and we cannot get people from England. This is why I speak about the training that should have taken place. Given how critical broadband is to the functioning of every area in the economy, what plans are in place to make up for the lost time and will the Minister now consider looking at satellite services for more remote areas?

I constantly hear the term "balanced regional development" but such a concept does not exist and is not possible. The centralised approach of government is probably wrong and we should focus more on regional stakeholders who have the drive to maximise growth and development in a region. The top-down system of driving regional economies limits the capacity of a region to exploit its unique strengths. For example, we must move away from stripping local authorities of their powers. Before anybody says that does not happen, I should say that it does. Councillors who recently made submissions were told the submissions they were making to local authorities would be overturned by a Minister or a Minister would have the final say. Surely local people should have the final say.

My colleague from Sinn Féin mentioned traffic congestion in Limerick and it is now a feature of Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Dublin and several other large towns in the country. With respect to Cork, Limerick and Galway, is it not time for us to look at financing light rail systems? A number of different systems are available in the world other than the Luas-type system, which is heavy rail and not good enough. I know some people in Galway are exploring very light rail systems with Coventry City Council, and it is something we should consider, along with the development of park-and-ride facilities. In Galway it can take two hours to get across what is a relatively small city. Cork can be a nightmare, as the Minister will be aware. I see time is running out but we must look at light rail as an alternative with decent park-and-ride facilities.

I have some comments on Brexit, the ports and airports. Dublin and Rosslare ports have done much work to counter the effects of Brexit but we need to see lo-lo facilities developed more in Waterford because ro-ro is not available in that neck of the woods. The ports at Cork and Foynes must also be developed. We should look at the airports and particularly Shannon for export and import facilities through the air.

Senator Niall Blaney: Information on Niall Blaney Zoom on Niall Blaney I welcome the Minister to the Chamber to discuss the NDP I am delighted to see him here. He has had very trying times over the past nine months since taking office and it has certainly been a baptism of fire. That fire is far from being put out. Recovery and getting enough vaccines into the country is now to the fore but the consideration of where we go for the next 20 years is vital.

  The timing of the NDP review is good. Since the onset of Covid-19, there has been a great opportunity for reset in considering how businesses and workers operate in this country.  There needs to be a new approach from Government and a change of policy in relation to that. The national development plan 2020 to 2040 gives a real chance to put right the whole concept of balanced regional development. As the Minister knows, I come from the north-west. This affects not just county Donegal, but the whole general area of Donegal, Derry, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Sligo and Leitrim. This is an area of roughly 500,000 people. There has been neglect there, in my own county in particular, since the Troubles and we have been playing catch-up ever since. Now there is an opportunity to put that right. It needs to be grasped within the national development plan.

  Since 2000, the early days of my political life, I battled hard with the Taoiseach at the time, Bertie Ahern, to have the N2-A5 upgraded to motorway status like other routes across the country. I made the argument at the time that traffic figures on the N2-A5 were over and above what they were on the Limerick route. Halfway through the Waterford route and even the Galway route, figures were no bigger at that stage in 2000. While that route was planned to go ahead, following the protracted negotiations of the Good Friday Agreement afterwards, it was shelved by the southern Government. People in the west are happy since then as they received a motorway to Wexford. Fair play to them for achieving that. It was back on the cards again but then the Stormont Assembly was taken down. That set the project back another three or fours years. It is vitally important the A5 project is driven from here because there is no interest from politicians in Northern Ireland to drive this project. There never was from day one. It is important we drive it because the hinterland on either side of the Border is neglected as a result of that. It is only by this Government driving the project that it can be delivered. I want the Minister to ensure this happens.

  There are other opportunities that can come about as a result of the national development plan. A good friend of mine, Hugh Friel, is a Fanadian from the parish where I come from. He was once CEO and financial head of the Kerry Group and later was head of Tourism Ireland. He has been living for many years in Kerry. We often have conversations about tourism and how things can develop because we have lost out so much tourism-wise in Donegal. We are not at the table at all. We have not realised the same things as have the likes of the hotels in Killarney. While a lot of that was driven by the people themselves, there were also incentives provided over the years. Donegal has been cut off because of the Troubles. We believe there is an opportunity to level the playing field. There needs to be incentives provided. I come from an area called Fanad. We have a beach that has been voted the second most beautiful in the world. We have a lighthouse that was also voted the second most beautiful in the world. We have many other attractions but there are no beds and no hotels. Areas like that need to be looked at and given an incentive. Those pockets around the country need to be identified and separated and given tax incentives to bring proper tourism facilities to those areas.

  Hugh Friel put one thing into my mind and it was in relation to marinas. He took me to a few in Kerry. Anywhere those marinas were built, the rest of the infrastructure followed afterwards. We know from the Volvo Ocean Race in Galway that there is tourism potential which we are not tapping into. Through the 20 year period of the national development plan, there is an opportunity to start building these around our coast so people can use out coastlines. There is hopping potential. There are opportunities within our waterways to provide smaller marinas. There is an opportunity to incentivise those small start-ups. There are many which are starting up.  In areas that have not started up, these are some small incentives to encourage people to take up the cudgels and provide tourism services in locations that are attracting numbers but that do not have the requisite facilities in place.

Senator Paddy Burke: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister. This is the first time that I think I have got an opportunity to congratulate him and wish him well in his role. I served with him for approximately four years on the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. I know only too well how good an operator he is and I have no doubt that he will be an excellent Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Having said that, I do not envy him because he is facing into difficult years, especially in light of the amount of money that had to be put aside for the pandemic payments, etc.

  To continue on from Senator Blaney's contribution on marinas around the west coast, anyone who has a boat that he or she wants to moor along the west coast for the winter would have to go to Kilrush in County Clare. I do not think there are any marinas north of Kilrush. I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Blaney in that regard.

  I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the review of the capital expenditure plan. Things have changed greatly since the plan was first put in place several years ago. Several speakers have alluded to the situation where many people are now working remotely from home and more people, we presume, will be able to work from remote areas in the future, especially as broadband infrastructure is put in place. That will be an objective and there is much to be gained from it. We all like to see the GAA progressing in counties, but several counties are winning everything in both codes at present. Having people working remotely, however, will help many counties because it will bring people into places where they were not before.

  As several Senators stated, we have great problems at local authority level with one-off rural housing. This matter must be examined because there is a great need in this regard. I ask that the Minister consider giving some sort of powers to local authority members to allow them to raise planning issues at local authority level. It has gone beyond the ridiculous when a councillor cannot raise an issue concerning planning at a council meeting. Where does accountability come into things? Where does transparency come in? If councillors have put a planning framework in place, then surely they should be able to ask questions about the transparency and accountability of that plan. It would be only right and fitting for councillors at certain times of the year to be able to raise issues regarding how such a plan is progressing and where it currently stands.

  There is a great need to look after our town centres and to put incentives in place to do that. There is no other way to achieve that objective. The Minister is aware that such financial incentives and grants were put in place several years previously and money was spent when such schemes existed. I remember in former Minister Pádraig Flynn's time that there was an incentive to look after our towns. I forget the name of the scheme now. A resort initiative was then put in place by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and I think there was also another scheme in this context. We saw, however, when those schemes were created that money was targeted and put into those locations concerned. The only problem I saw with those initiatives was that proper plans were not put in place first. There was no overall planning. It was all ad hoc activity done piecemeal, which was not to the best advantage of those schemes.

  The schemes in question allowed hotels to be built where there would otherwise have been none.  Multi-storey car parks were built. Housing was built; perhaps some of it was built in the wrong areas. Those schemes built those pieces of infrastructure throughout the country. Therefore, while some people might say that they do not work, they certainly work when it comes to targeting investment into some areas. While the urban renewal schemes are great with regard to putting up or doing up public buildings or putting in place public areas, they alone will not bring private and capital investment into areas. I believe it will have to be incentivised. The Minister should look at that with regard to this plan. It will and does work. An overall plan should be put in place, however. It was the one piece missing out of all the other schemes that were put in place previously. Much could be learned from them. It will work, however, and I hope the Minister will look at it.

Senator Fiona O'Loughlin: Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin The Minister is very welcome. We appreciate his taking the time to come and discuss with us the review of the national development plan. It is good that the Minister is looking to the future to ensure we are sufficiently prepared for transition to a post-Covid-19 world. That is certainly something we are all looking forward to.

  In his few words at the start, the Minister emphasised that he wanted to see a national development plan that was forward looking and ambitious, and to realise opportunities in rural Ireland. I am taking rural Ireland to mean outside Dublin. All too often, counties like my county of Kildare suffer because they are not seen as part of rural Ireland but as part of the Dublin's commuter belt. Yet, we have many challenges in which we need to have direct investment, not least broadband and public transport.

  When one talks about the national development plan being an important economic developer and stimulus, as well as providing confidence, it also gives hope to people. While we face this pandemic and can only travel within 5 km radius, except for essential purposes, it gives a sense of renewed purpose when our citizens recognise that Government understands what we are all going through and that good thought and investment is being put into what will make our world a better place post Covid-19.

  Important also in what the Minister said is that there will be a thorough assessment regarding projects and assessment of costs in making sure they are realistic and absolutely up to date. All too often in the past, we have gotten weary of projects overrunning both on budget and time. The tweaks the Minister is bringing into the national development are very welcome.

  There is no doubt that investing in infrastructure is at the heart of providing a better quality of life for all our people and ensuring they have the opportunity to live sustainably within all our communities. There are lessons to be learned from what we have undergone over the last 12 months in terms of investment in our recreational facilities to ensure we all have appropriate parks and green space and, of course, children's playgrounds, which are always necessary in society but particularly so now.

  Well-targeted investment has the power to be transformational for all of society. Again, it is essential we get value for money and go back to the tweaks the Minister is bringing in to ensure the record budget of more than €10 billion he has committed to over 2021, which is quite incredible, is well-invested. It is not just about the number of euro that are invested, but it is about making sure we get absolute value for money.   I thank the Minister for giving the public the opportunity to have its say on the NDP by way of the consultation process. I understand he will bring forward the results of that consultation in the spring. I took the opportunity to make a submission because, as I mentioned, we have many challenges in County Kildare, particularly in the town in which I live. Newbridge is the commercial heart of south Kildare and there has been a steady pace of development in regard to housing, etc. However, that has led to rapid development and congestion in some places and underdevelopment in others. We must ensure that services are maintained and we also need to encourage continuous investment and growth. Newbridge had an overall increase in population of 5.5% from 2011 to 2016, yet we have had absolutely no investment in our infrastructure.

  We were very disappointed last week when the application for the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, funding for a second bridge in Newbridge was turned down. There is only one bridge in the town, as the Minister knows from his visits there with me. There are six schools in Newbridge, with more than 4,000 students, and most of them are located very close to the bridge. This causes huge congestion at certain points during the day. It is absolutely essential that we get funding for a second bridge and then a third bridge. We also need to have safe walkways and cycleways for all the students coming to school. I include the small village of Athgarvan. There is no secondary school there and the young people living in the village have to come to Newbridge for school. There is no footpath between the two centres.

  Newbridge has no community centre, which is something that should be accessible to everybody in every town. There is a monastery for sale in Newbridge and I hope we will have the opportunity to secure funding that would support the purchase of that building for a community centre. The continued funding for blueway and greenway facilities is very important. An extension of the sewerage schemes in Rathangan, Kilcullen and Allenwood South is hugely important.

  Education provision also comes under the NDP. In this regard, I draw the Minister's attention to the need for a new secondary school in Newbridge and a replacement for Coláiste Íosagáin in Portarlington.

Senator Emer Currie: Information on Emer Currie Zoom on Emer Currie It is lovely to see the Minister in the House again. Even though the cost of the Covid crisis, financially, economically and socially, has been monumental, I am still optimistic about the future. We have the same raw ingredients that pulled us out of the last recession, including one of the most educated workforces in the world and the youngest population in Europe. Our cost of borrowing is low and our reputation for financial management is high. In the recent past, we had full employment and the fastest-growing economy in the eurozone. Despite all the ongoing sensitivities around Brexit, we are a valued member of the EU-27 team and the Single Market, and we are committed to the growth of an all-island economy.

  At the same time, the problems we faced only 18 months ago are still fresh in my mind and are a warning to us for the future. Our economic recovery took off after the last recession but we did not have the public infrastructure to support it following the lack of investment in certain areas over the years. We must try to avoid that fate again. We have been held back by our lack of social and public infrastructure but we have seen through the Covid crisis that we can do things differently. The rule book has been thrown out when it comes to work practices and the naysayers have been proved wrong. We have shown that we can meet the challenges and do things differently. We need to rebuild our culture and infrastructure around the learnings of the past year. It is clear to me that quality of life, equal opportunities, regional balance, work-life balance and sustainable lifestyles are key.

  One of the greatest trends during the Covid period has been the flourishing of mixed-purpose or mixed-use communities and the decline of single-purpose communities. We have seen how people working from home have flourished in places such as Castleknock and Blanchardstown, which I represent. People have been upping sticks and moving to different parts of rural Ireland.  We are concerned about city centres. I take issue with anyone who suggests that city centres are dying. It is areas where offices or retail have dominated that have suffered the most, not city centres per se. It just so happens that our city centres are dominated by single-purpose uses. Surely it is an opportunity for us to make cities more liveable, to be more like European cities where families can live. Perhaps it is not working from home that will hollow out cities but an over-dependence on single-purpose areas. It is a much more sustainable way to live. The 15-minute city is based on hyperproximity principles, mixing residential areas with office and employment opportunities and social infrastructure made accessible by active transport and all accessible to each other.

I speak as someone who is from a suburban area, who has seen how main streets have suffered and who can see the potential that is in front of us now. I am a great advocate for the town centre first strategy. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, that we need a joined-up strategy with supports for people in rural areas, suburban Dublin and city centres for local businesses, families and quality of life. We need investment if we want to change the way we live and work as well as in traditional areas such as schools and community centres. I agree with Senator Kyne that we desperately need a fund for community centres. That is the case in Dublin West. However, we must also encourage new types of investment in services such as community childcare and community co-working spaces. It does not have to involve new buildings. One of my ideas is that some of the closed Bank of Ireland branches, which are key buildings in towns, could be used for co-working spaces.

The Minister is aware of the 300 hubs we have in Ireland and how they are mostly enterprise hubs rather than co-working hubs. Running a co-working hub can be difficult to sustain financially without anchor tenancies. I suggest that the Minister would consider giving individuals the €3.20 per day tax relief companies can get. I ask him to consider its application to hubs, so that it could be used to provide a stipend to an employee using a hub. That would also help sustain hubs in the long term.

A design-and-build approach could also be considered, so that instead of communities themselves investing in hubs across the country, we could have a design-and-build approach based on preferred suppliers that could kit them out to a high standard for a better return on the investment. All of these measures must be taken strategically. We can line up investment in multipurpose centres that are co-working hubs and provide community childcare with Project Ireland 2040. We do not want hubs to be developed randomly around the country. We should invest in them strategically. Local authorities are really interested in this but they require funding, as they do not have specific funds and they have not been updated. I have lots of other ideas. We have started talking about remote working, but we have not started to talk about making communities ready for it. We talk about broadband, but we need to go further than that.

Senator Malcolm Byrne: Information on Malcolm Byrne Zoom on Malcolm Byrne I thank the Minister for coming in for the debate on the national development plan. A review of the plan will be crucial as we emerge from this difficult period. I encourage him to be ambitious, imaginative and creative. I wish to refer to six general themes under the plan that I think the Minister must consider. There is the post-pandemic social and economic recovery, the question of climate change, to which colleagues have referred, the rapid pace of technological developments and an ageing population. It is a fact that we are getting older as a country. We must also look at Ireland's place in a post-Brexit world and in an increasingly globalised society. The NDP should also contribute in some way towards the development of a shared island.

  I noticed that the Minister mentioned that the post-pandemic recovery must be in line with the national planning framework.  I agree, however, with a number of my colleagues, including Senator Casey, that we need to review the planning framework in light of changes we have seen in work practices because of Covid. I also agree with Senators Kyne, Higgins and O'Loughlin about the importance of community spaces. That is not just about open spaces, it also has to be about our theatres, sports facilities and other amenities that are part of our community and that make us who we are. Those things are often put aside in the big projects but it is crucial that they be part of this national development plan. It also means that we need to look at the creative industries and how we can support them through the development of studio space, infrastructure and skills in order that they can continue to grow. Colleagues have already mentioned climate change and that means looking at how we invest in our infrastructure, particularly when it comes to coastal protection.

  Senator Craughwell made reference to the rapid pace of technological development and I am concerned that, as a country, we are not geared up sufficiently to look at that. The Senator spoke about fibre and we are talking about 5G technologies but we should be preparing for the possibilities to which 6G technology will give rise in the next decade. We also have to look at a situation whereby most of the forms of employment in which we are engaged will be dramatically changed. Blockchain technology will revolutionise banking, finance and public administration. I have to ask the Minister the extent to which Government is ready for all of that and is prepared to invest in further and higher education to upskill all of our citizens?

  I mention the creation of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The Minister knows that it was a passion for Fianna Fáil to create that Department but if its work is simply administrative in nature, it will have failed. The Department needs to prepare people for the changes that are coming down the line as a result of developments in technology and ensure that all of our citizens can be upskilled and reskilled to be able to avail of that. Under this national development plan, that requires significant investment in our further and higher education institutions and particularly in the new technological university sector. The national development plan has to make a major investment in the upskilling and reskilling of all of our citizens.

  We are going to have an ageing population. We have learned lessons from Covid but we have to look at how we will redesign our towns, cities and rural communities to ensure that as all of us are getting older, we are able to live as independently as we possibly can, and that the infrastructure is able to meet the needs of an ageing population. I have always been struck by the statistic that one in five teenagers will live to the age of 100 and that one in three babies born this year will live to the age of 100. Are we prepared to create a society that will be able to cope with that form of an ageing population?

  This is a post-Brexit world and Senator Currie mentioned the fact that Ireland is an active and proud member of the European Union. We should always have that outward-looking aspect to our policy. That means we have to ensure the national development plan supports that. It means our ports and airports are equipped to be able to deal with that and infrastructure is crucial in that. I will make one local point about Rosslare Europort. It needs to be developed as a tier 1 port and we need to see the M11 motorway completed all the way to Rosslare. I do not just mean that from the point of view of its importance to Wexford. It has a national importance in a post-Brexit scenario.

  In the context of the national development plan, we need to look at how we can support the development of a shared island. That is not just about infrastructure routes or new roads. It is about co-operation in areas of education and research to make sure that as an island we can face all of those challenges together. I set the Minister the challenge that he would be ambitious, imaginative and creative. I know he has the ability to be all of those things and in the context of the review, I look forward to seeing that it can be measured against those goals.

Acting Chairperson (Senator John McGahon): Information on John McGahon  Zoom on John McGahon  Is it agreed that Senators Cummins, Murphy and Crowe will share a six minute speaking slot? Agreed.

Senator John Cummins: Information on John Cummins Zoom on John Cummins I will try to make six minutes into two minutes. I thank the Minister. I will try to be brief and confine my points. The national development plan in the context of the national planning framework is very important for areas such as County Waterford, which is identified as one of the strategic areas in the national planning framework for population growth of 30,000 to 35,000 between now and 2040. I have said it before and I will say it again that I believe the litmus test for the national planning framework and the national development plan will be the successful development of Waterford and the growth plans set out in the national planning framework. This development can be in connectivity, health, education, housing and regeneration. The Government has made the significant investment of €110 million in the North Quays project and last week an investment was announced of €27.6 million from the urban regeneration and development fund for the city centre. There are many development plans for brownfield sites and concentric city centre development.

  My colleague, Senator Ahearn, mentioned the development of the N24 between Waterford and Limerick. It connects the mid-west to the south east and goes onwards to Rosslare Europort. Exports via Rosslare Europort are particularly important in the context of Brexit. Piecemeal development of bypasses around towns will not cut it. They will not reduce the travel times on interurban routes and the national planning framework aims for an average speed of 90 km/h. Bypasses around small sections will not cut it. The N24 is critical in this context, as is the development of the Waterford campus of the technological university of the south east and the further development of University Hospital Waterford's campus. I have a lot more to say but I will leave it at that.

Senator Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I started with six minutes and I am down to one and a half minutes and if I do not start now I will lose that. I thank the Minister for being here and say well done on his stewardship of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I will have to condense my speech. The purpose of a national development plan should be to make Ireland a better place for us all. Perhaps in the past we did not speak as much about communities and places of leisure but they have become crucial. Like everybody else, I want to be a bit parochial and speak about County Roscommon and all it has to offer. I have already spoken in the House about coming here in 2016 and meeting a person from Dublin in the bar one evening. I was asked where I came from and when I said Roscommon the reply was that the person passed through it on the way to Westport. I want people to stop in Roscommon. I want people to look at the beauty of that county and study its history, and infrastructure is important for this. I thank the Minister for his support for the N5 project, which we are trying to get finished. The N4 runs through the county and there is a bypass at Carrick-on-Shannon. We also need a just transition in our locality. This is very important given the demise of the ESB and Bord na Móna. For 70 years they were the economic lifeline of our region and it has badly hit north-east Roscommon. I know the Minister is well aware of this. When we speak about a national development plan we must ensure the creation of extra jobs in the area is a priority in the plan. I know through the investment being made at present it is happening and I hope it will continue.

Senator Ollie Crowe: Information on Ollie Crowe Zoom on Ollie Crowe I welcome the Minister. The good news for the House is that he is a great friend of Galway and a regular visitor to our city. He is well familiar with the issues I want to raise in the 90 seconds that I have. To state the obvious, unlike Limerick and Cork the ring road is essential as is its funding.  We have committed to it in the programme for Government and I welcome that. As alluded to earlier, the development and upgrade of Galway Harbour and the docks has huge potential. The outlying of the western rail corridor and the connection across the western seaboard is vital. As mentioned a number of times this afternoon, the silver bullet highlighted by Covid-19 and the pandemic is broadband. It can revitalise rural Ireland and the western seaboard. It is essential that we continue to invest in broadband.

  The Minister will be well aware that the city of the tribes is choked. It is paramount that the funding for the outer ring road committed to in the programme for Government is delivered. I welcome the Minister's co-operation in that regard and his continuous assistance to the people of our city.

Senator Jerry Buttimer: Information on  Leas-Chathaoirleach Zoom on  Leas-Chathaoirleach I welcome the Minister and I wish him well in his brief. His stewardship of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will be judged not on his current actions, but his future actions. The majority of us in this Chamber today are not from Dublin. There is an over-reliance on Dublin in this country that needs to be addressed. That would be the Minister's legacy, in part. The national development plan is, as stated by IBEC, a growth enabler for the regions, be that Cork, Roscommon, Limerick, Galway or Waterford. We must ensure that the regions prosper. The Minister and I come from Cork, which is projected to be the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country. Building on the announcements of the urban regeneration development fund last weekend, we must ensure that the building blocks are put in place. Central to that work is the airport in Cork in terms of connectivity and the enhancement and attraction of foreign direct investment. Also, provision must be made for multiannual funding for the airport and we must collectively support the development of the new runway.

  Many of us approach the Minister with the begging bowl in terms of projects north, south, east and west. If money is to be cornerstone of what we are at, then it is all for nothing. We must ensure that we build sustainable communities for people. Developing on the trend of Senator Byrne, never before has a national development plan been so important. It is not about being ambitious; it is about the necessity of the plan for our people. In a post-Brexit, post-Covid-19 world there must be new synergies developed and new partnerships created with local government at the centre. I ask the Minister to challenge and reclaim government for the politicians at urban, local, rural, central level. Let Government reclaim from the civil servants the role of Ministers and parliamentarians, delivering for our local authority members. We must develop a new country, as already articulated.

  Today, councillors are working on city and county development plans. I appeal to the Minister and to all members of Government to give them the pay rise. Let us give them the proper remuneration for the job they do. The Minister was previously a member of a local authority, as were many of us in this Chamber. We must not allow politics at local or national level to be for the chosen few. It must be open to everybody. The Minister is a person of incredible sincerity and integrity. We can make a lasting impression on the next generation in what we do today. I wish the Minister well. He has my full support.

  This is the most important debate we will have in the Seanad, in my opinion. I accept this is not the fault of the Acting Chairperson, Senator McGahon, but to shoehorn it into a two-hour debate such that what many of us have to say must be condensed into six minutes is not acceptable. It is important to make that point.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Michael McGrath): Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath I thank all the Senators for their contributions to the debate. It is really tough when one has only one or two minutes to cover such an important issue.  Anyway, it is clear to me from the contributions made that there is broad support in this House for the ongoing work in respect of the review of the NDP. The importance of public capital investment is recognised by Members. An ambitious public capital investment programme will be at the heart of the recovery of the economy. We are fortunate to be in a position where we can access funding. We now have a record level of public investment with an envelope this year of €10.8 billion, representing more than 5% of GNI* and we compare well in European terms. This is in stark contrast to what had to be done a decade ago when public capital investment was cut because funding was simply not available.

  At the end of this process we will reach what will be a much reformed but exciting and ambitious new national development plan. There has been fantastic engagement by the public and by all stakeholders as part of the public consultation process. We received in excess of 560 submissions, which is many multiples of the number we had during the previous review of the plan. That is a measure of the appetite that exists to get this right. There is recognition of how central this will be to the development of our country over the next decade and beyond.

  It is not only about economic recovery; it is about social recovery as well. This point has been well made by several colleagues. The country will have to undergo a journey when we come through the Covid-19 pandemic. We have a renewed appreciation of many of the facilities that are in our communities and, in some cases, the lack of facilities elsewhere has been underlined during the pandemic. I am determined to ensure that many of the facilities touched on by colleagues today form part of the new NDP that will be unveiled in the coming months.

  Reform will be at the heart of this process because it needs to be. We need to do some things better. That is why I am determined that we improve the governance and oversight of the delivery of major projects. We need to learn from the mistakes that have been made in the past. We will have a new major projects advisory group. External members will be appointed to the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board. The positions on both of these bodies will be filled following an open competitive process that will be advertised by the Public Appointments Service shortly. That is the right way to do this.

  In the coming months we will finalise what will essentially be a new NDP for the coming decade to 2030. We will give line Departments the certainty of a rolling capital ceiling for the next five years. We will have the overall envelope for public capital investment to 2030 to allow us to develop the country in a planned, targeted and co-ordinated way. We need to get the most out of what is a record level of public investment.

  I wish to give colleagues an assurance of our absolute commitment to the national broadband plan. The Government is engaging with National Broadband Ireland with a view to trying to bring that forward in any way that it can be done to examine the potential for acceleration.

  Climate will be at the heart of the new NDP because it needs to be. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications will bring forward a new climate Bill shortly. It will go to Government tomorrow with amendments. This will have to be a key driver in the new NDP and we all have to recognise that.

  Capital is not only about the hard infrastructure that we often think about. A new and modern Ireland is emerging. That is why we set up the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. That will be an important part of the new NDP, as will the digitalisation agenda. An extraordinary volume of work is going on across government to drive innovation in this area. We need to consider what role the NDP can play in driving the new economy and the upskilling that will be required.

  We will take account of the impact of Covid-19 in respect of the changes it has brought about in society. Project Ireland 2040, even as currently structured, provides for three quarters of the growth to be outside of Dublin, with the main centres for growth being Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.  The shared island unit and the priority that we are affording to investment in the Border counties in the NDP and also in PEACE + will be very much at the core of what we are proposing.

  Finally, we should acknowledge that there are bottlenecks in the system. Money is not always the constraint in delivering public capital projects and we are determined to reform the way in which we deliver them. That is why there will be a new planning and environmental court and why we will examine the scope and the grounds on which judicial reviews can be taken because sometimes they are used simply to stall projects. We need to make sure that projects that are in the national interest can continue to be developed as part of the NDP. I stress that the role of line Departments is absolutely central here in that they will determine the core projects they wish to prioritise as part of the review of the NDP. The role of my Department is to pull it together, to co-ordinate and lead the review and to sign off on the final document.

  I thank colleagues for their contributions. The debate was short but I am happy to come back to the House again to engage further on this as we move towards the finalisation of the new NDP later this summer. I thank everyone for their contributions. I listened carefully to the debate and heard some really good contributions.

  Sitting suspended at 5.46 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.

  6 o’clock

Family Leave Bill 2021: Committee and Remaining Stages

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I formally welcome the two Ministers to the Seanad which is meeting in the Dáil Chamber.

SECTION 1

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 5 and 6 are related. Amendment No. 6 is consequential on amendment No. 5. Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, 5 and 6 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. I call on the Minister for Justice to speak to the group of amendments please.

  Government amendment No. 1:

In page 5, line 18, to delete “Family Leave Act 2021” and substitute “Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2021”.

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I thank the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, and the team in his Department for facilitating the introduction of these amendments. I also thank Senators and, of course, colleagues in the Dáil.

  There are five Government amendments from the Department of Justice to the Bill. They have, essentially, the overall purpose of making suitable legislative provision in relation to the operation by the courts and by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, of the personal injuries guidelines, which, as Senators will know, were adopted recently by the Judicial Council under the Judicial Council Act 2019.

  The key Government amendment is No. 5. It provides for the newest insertion into the Bill of Part 9 that deals with the amendment of the Judicial Council Act 2019 and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003. Essentially, this amendment sets out that any case that is currently before the courts would be assessed under the old guidelines.  Any case that has already been heard or assessed by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and potentially is going to the court would also be heard under the old guidelines. Any new case that is currently with PIAB but that has not been heard would be assessed under the new personal injuries guidelines. About 19,000 cases will be assessed under the new personal injuries guidelines. This amendment is to ensure fairness so that cases which are already going through the court system or have been assessed can continue under the figures that have been set out prior to the introduction of the new personal injuries guidelines.

  Government amendments Nos. 2 and 3 deal with the bringing into operation of Part 9 of the Bill. The amendments include a standard commencement provision conferring the function of bringing Part 9 into operation by order on the Minister for Justice instead of the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Government amendments Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, provide for amendment of the Short Title and the Long Title of the Bill arising from the proposed inclusion in the Bill of the matters relating to the operation of personal injuries guidelines adopted by the Judicial Council.

  I thank the House for its agreement to take these Government amendments and I also thank the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for facilitating them.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I welcome both Ministers to the House. I reiterate some of the points I made on the first occasion we had Committee Stage, which is to express my regret at seeing unrelated amendments being shoehorned into a Bill. I know that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, agreed that it was not ideal. We are all agreed that it is not an ideal situation. This is a Bill that is coming from a different Department. Department of Justice amendments are being inserted into a Bill introduced by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The original purpose of the Family Leave Bill was very much welcomed by all of us, but it is utterly unrelated to the provisions we are now dealing with through these Government amendments.

  Having said that we are not opposing the amendments. We accept the need for them. The Judicial Council decision to adopt the personal injuries guidelines was made very recently, on 6 March. The Minister, Deputy McEntee, indicated that this appeared to be the next suitable Bill in which to place the amendments. We certainly accept that. However, we believe the amendments deal with transitional matters that could have been put into the original Act had greater thought gone into it. None of the amendments really deals with the guidelines themselves which are not before the Houses. The Oireachtas has in effect already legislated to give effect to the guidelines in section 99 of the Judicial Council Act. In a sense we are not making any substantive changes through these amendments which are purely technical and addressing omissions.

  I again put on the record my concern that we are seeing unrelated amendments inserted into a Bill which was self-contained and for a specific purpose. To that extent amendment No. 1, which changes is the Title to the Family Leave and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, would generally be acknowledged as being poor legislative practice.

  I make one other point in respect of the changes in the guidelines which are now to be brought into effect. While all of us are very much in favour of seeing premiums reduced and very conscious of the enormous difficulties the high cost of insurance has created for many people, which is the rationale put forward for introducing this legislation, clearly the personal injuries guidelines are very much in the interests of the insurance industry which wants to see the cost of awards coming down. We need to ensure that there is a quid pro quo and that the insurance companies pony up, meaning that we see premiums reduced as a result of this so that the effect is positive for clients of insurance companies. If awards are to be reduced, individuals paying for insurance must feel a benefit. It cannot be one-way traffic on this issue.

  I have a question on the wording of the amendments. I know this relates to the later amendments Nos. 5 and 6.  If I may just ask-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly They are being discussed together.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Yes. Nos. 1 and 3 anyway. I think they are just technical amendments but Nos. 5 and 6 are more substantive, albeit that most of the changes are relatively technical. It is very welcome that provision will be made for those claims currently in being. On amendment No. 5, I have a question as to the wording of the new section 99(a), which substitutes a new subsection in the Civil Liability and Courts Act. It refers to a personal injuries action commenced on or after the date on which section 99 comes into operation. Of course, the whole of the new Part 9 will not come into effect until the Minister for Justice appoints that day. I am wondering about two issues. First, when is the date of commencement likely to be and, second, what is meant by commencement of a personal injuries action? What specifically is the trigger for a personal injuries action to be commenced? The Minister might address that. I presume there will be more detail on those issues, perhaps in regulations, but it will be a crucial issue for those people who have live claims as to whether this Act will apply to them. What is the nature of that prospective effect?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly I thank the Senator While she legitimately makes the point that she is not totally comfortable with the arrangement, she will appreciate it was agreed on the Order of Business to do this-----

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik Yes, absolutely. I will not oppose-----

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly -----and she is not opposing it. I appreciate that very much.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I welcome both Ministers to the House. Both of them have had very constructive engagement with the House. I realise it is probably in the spirit of constructive engagement that they are accommodating the joining together of two issues in this Bill but I echo what Senator Bacik said. It is a concern and something we want to guard against in legislation. We have a strong tradition of having direct purpose, focused legislation where the policy goal and intent is very clear. We do not go the route we have seen, for example, in the US where gun laws are tied up with food stamps and educational provision or create a dynamic where we almost have hostages to fortune in that something one loves and something one does not like are tied in together. That might not be the case in this instance but it is important that we try to avoid that practice as much as possible.

  That said, I recognise that the amendments are looking to address an issue. I will not oppose these amendments but I have some concerns. I believe there may be an opportunity in the Dáil to tease these out in further detail but I have concerns in respect of injuries. Wearing the hat of my membership of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters, for example, I am very aware that while there have been cases of the abuse of injuries actions and inappropriate awards, there have also been cases where people received very low injuries awards and felt the cost of an injury or a disability they have acquired for decades of their lives. I always express a note of caution in terms of some of the narrative we see in respect of personal injuries. It is very important that care is taken to make sure that is addressed properly.

  The amendment I welcome most is No. 3, which gives the Minister for Justice discretion in terms of the commencement date. I urge her to ensure Part 9 is not commenced until we have had a clear signal and message from the insurance industry that it also intends to adjust its costs. We have heard worrying messages to the effect that it is glad we are looking at personal injuries but that it will take a long time for that to filter through. What Senator Bacik described as a quid pro quo is very important. We must see clear signals of intent, particularly when we look to injuries associated with car accidents, for example. We know that there is less car usage. This year, due to Covid-19, that has reduced the number of claims that may have been made in a typical year for, say, workplace or road traffic accident injuries. There are always variables at play but it is important that the industry shows it is willing to make changes and shift the practice in this area.  I urge the Minister to make the best possible use of amendment No. 3 by making it clear that the Minister will not be commencing Part 9 until we see something more in the response from the relevant companies.

  I am sure that others will also get a chance to tease these out and perhaps deal with amendments Nos. 5 and 6 in somewhat more detail in the Dáil debate.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I apologise for the confusion. I was confused about which amendments we were taking in the group.

  The new personal injuries guidelines that will come into effect under section 99 of the Judicial Council Act, which amendment No. 5 would, were adopted by the Judicial Council on Saturday, 6 March. These guidelines will set the level of damages to be awarded for different types of personal injuries. The new guidelines will replace the Book of Quantum, which has been used by the courts and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board to determine the level of awards. The Judicial Council and the personal injuries guidelines are both a function of the Judicial Council Act 2019, legislation which Sinn Féin facilitated. We did so, particularly in relation to the personal injury guidelines that were formulated and adopted under section 7 solely on the grounds that it would provide regularity in the level of personal injury awards and in doing so would reduce the cost of insurance for motorists, home owners and small businesses.

  The insurance industry has lobbied hard for a reduction in personal injury awards for some time. Indeed, insurers have formulated and disseminated a narrative around the cost of claims and insurance fraud to justify the high cost of insurance. Sinn Féin has been instrumental in holding the insurance industry to account and exposing the inaccuracies of that narrative.

  In its most recent report, the Central Bank has found that despite the cost of claims in motor insurance having fallen by 9% in the past decade, the average motor insurance premium has risen by 35%. The practice has been exposed of dual pricing whereby insurers target loyal customers and charge them artificially high premiums where the price does not reflect the likely cost of claims but the likelihood of customers to renew.

  Nonetheless, any measure that can contribute towards a reduction in insurance prices is in the interests of consumers and for that reason we supported the Judicial Council Act and we support the adoption also of the personal injuries guidelines and amendments Nos. 5 and 6, which provide for the early coming into operation of these guidelines.

  Under the amendments the courts will use the guidelines for personal injury proceedings coming before the courts from the commencement of section 99, except proceedings arising from an assessment made by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and rejected before section 99 comes into operation.

  The amendments will also provide that the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, on the commencement of section 99, will stop using the Book of Quantum and instead will use the new guidelines when assessing claims. Any claims before the board that have not been assessed will be assessed having regard to the guidelines and the Book of Quantum will no longer apply. That is fair and equitable. Sinn Féin will support these amendments so that newly adopted personal injuries guidelines deliver reduced costs for consumers. It is therefore disappointing that the insurance industry is already trying to row back from commitments to reduce prices in light of these new guidelines.

  We will support amendments Nos. 5 and 6.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney I welcome these amendments. I appreciate that while it is not ideal there has been an urgency and a speed to ensure this is on a proper statutory footing as quickly as possible.

  I echo the sentiments of all the other speakers that there needs to be a quid pro quo, which was very eloquently put by Senator Bacik. We need that. I had my own experience last week in getting a quote for car insurance from a broker that I have used for the past three years. I decided I would shop around and do the novel thing. The Seanad was not sitting last week so I had a little bit of time. My first quote was for just over €600. The lowest quote I got was for just over €300, which is nearly half. When I went behind the second broker it was exactly the same insurance company that was quoting on both occasions.  Something is going on that is not based on personal injuries alone, it is also based on the transparency of insurance companies in quoting for insurance because that is scandalous. I have printed out both and sent them off to the insurance company in question because it is scandalous that it could quote me exactly the same insurance in two different guises, one half the price of the other. That is not down to personal injuries. It is down to profiteering on the basis that people do not have that momentum to move or to shop around, and they tend to just renew what they have. In that regard, we need to hold out and we need to keep the pressure on.

  It is good that we have both Ministers here, the Minister with responsibility for implementing this personal injuries aspect, with insurance in the background behind that, and also the Minister with responsibility for children. At the moment, we have a crisis in childcare insurance and the childcare companies are being hit with massive increases in their bills this year. I know that is nothing new and has been going on for the last 18 months, but it is something we need to address. There are no better people than the two Ministers to address it.

Deputy Helen McEntee: Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee I reiterate my thanks for the facilitation of these amendments. I appreciate it is not the ideal way to introduce amendments. As Senator Bacik outlined, this is the quickest way to make sure the new personal injuries guidelines could be applied as soon as possible and, most importantly, that people would start to see the benefits of these reductions. Of course, where people have genuine cases and where they have been wronged, they are entitled to damages and they will still get those.

  Although it is outside my scope, the guidelines that have been set out by the Judicial Council deal with many of the soft tissue injuries and other injuries that have been causing a lot of concern, whether for play groups or the types of businesses that are suffering, and payouts have gone from averaging up to €25,000 to between €500 and €3,000. We have seen quite a significant reduction and, obviously, what we want now is to make sure that is passed on to businesses, individuals, community groups and everybody else.

  This is not just myself but also the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. All of us are working in our respective Departments but engaging with the sectors to make sure that in everything we do, the benefit is felt first and foremost by citizens, community groups and businesses. There is a Cabinet sub-committee on insurance meeting this week where we will be discussing these guidelines further, as well as the engagement the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, has had with the insurance groups. We expect this will be reflected in their own quotes as well.

  As the amendments are being introduced, Senator Bacik asked where this applies. There are two parts to this in that everybody will initially go through the PIAB and only about 2% will end up in court. Anybody who is already at the court stage will be assessed under the old guidelines and the book of quantum. For anybody who has been assessed and is in the PIAB but has rejected that assessment and wants to go to court, he or she will also be assessed under the old guidelines. This applies to anybody who is currently with the PIAB but who has not reached that assessment. Looking at the figures, there are about 19,000 who are currently in the PIAB but have not been assessed, so they will benefit from the new personal injuries guidelines that have been set out. Obviously, we want to introduce them as soon as possible so they will see the benefit and we will start to see that change. It is important to have these guidelines so there is fairness and, where somebody has gone through an old system and is working on that basis, it does not suddenly change halfway through.

  I forgot to mention there is a second amendment as part of Part 9. It essentially states that there will be a Judicial Council review of these guidelines in three years time. The question was asked how that would apply if there was a change. What we are simply saying is that the same approach would be taken. If somebody was in court or if somebody already had an assessment, the new guidelines we are now introducing would remain and, if there is a change in three years time under the review, the same approach would be taken. It is simply to outline that.

  In terms of the timeframe, there are two commencements I will have to make. The first is the change to the Judicial Council Act and the second is based on this new part. It can only be done once this Bill is approved by both Houses and signed, so I imagine that will be in a matter of weeks. As I said, I will be meeting with colleagues from the Cabinet sub-committee on insurance and will obviously be receiving an update from the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, and others in terms of their engagement with the insurance companies.  It is important that we introduce these changes, see their knock-on impact and, most importantly, that individuals, businesses, community groups and everybody negatively impacted by the high cost of insurance see a reduction in that cost. If we do not see that a reduction, I will review changes by the end of this year. If there are no changes by that stage, we will have to look at other options. I assure Senators of that.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I thank the Minister for her response, particularly the final point she made. Sinn Féin will submit amendments in the Dáil on Committee Stage to allow the Central Bank to draw up regulations to require insurance companies to demonstrate how those reductions have been passed on to individuals, consumers, businesses and community groups.

Senator Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy As this is a Government amendment, naturally I will support it. An important point was made by Senators Bacik, Warfield, Seery Kearney and Higgins on the price of insurance. I think somebody mentioned that the childcare sector has a massive challenge with insurance at the moment. I hope the message will go out loud and clear this evening that we want to see insurance companies respond in a positive way to the childcare sector by giving it the assistance it needs. This is important legislation and these are important amendments. In the times we are in, we would like to see every sector of society co-operating and assisting other sectors.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I thank the Minister for her full response. It is helpful to hear the commencement date of the legislation is likely to be soon. I think the Minister said it will be a matter of weeks. It is also helpful to have the Minister's clarification as to who is covered and what is meant by the phrase, "a personal injuries action commenced on or after the date". In respect of the 19,000 claims currently before PIAB which have not yet reached assessment stage, there needs to be utter clarity as to what is the cut-off point. Is there any danger of dragging until this is all brought into effect, to the detriment of individuals before PIAB? I wonder about that. I know it has been flagged for a long time that this will come in.

  Like Senator Warfield, I welcome the Minister's point about needing to look at other options if premiums are not reduced as a result of the changes and the introduction of personal injuries guidelines. It is important, as Senator Murphy said, that a message goes out to insurance companies that, as legislators, we agree to these amendments and this new regime in the expectation that insurance companies will do their bit and bring down premiums rapidly as a result.

  Senator Murphy mentioned the childcare sector. That sector has been so affected by this, as the Senator said, and we all hear about that. There are many other small businesses and individuals who face hefty premiums and have seen no reduction despite previous changes that have been made. That is an important message we should send out today.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 2:

In page 5, line 19, to delete “other than Part 4” and substitute “other than Parts 4 and 9”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Government amendment No. 3:

In page 5, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
“(4) Part 9 shall come into operation on such day or days as the Minister for Justice may by order or orders appoint either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision and different days may be so appointed for different purposes or provisions.”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Section 1, as amended, agreed to.

  Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.

NEW SECTION

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:
“Reporting

4. (1) The Minister shall, not later than 12 months after the passing of this Act, carry out a review of the operation of this Act.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the Minister, as part of the review, shall:
(a) conduct policy and budgetary analysis on a potential further extension of leave under this Act, from five weeks to nine weeks;

(b) consider the degree to which EU Directive 2019/1158 requires further transposition into Irish law; and

(c) consider the need to increase the rate of payment for leave under this Act.
(3) The Minister shall, not later than three months after the commencement of the review under subsection (1), make a report to each House of the Oireachtas on the findings of that review, including proposals for policy and legislative reform.”

 I thank the Minister for being in the Seanad today and I welcome the Bill to the House. It proposes to increase paid parent's leave from two weeks to five weeks, which is a significant increase that should be applauded. It reflects growing social understanding of the importance of parents being supported by the State and our social and employment policies to spend more time with their newborn children in those critical weeks, months and years. This time is crucial for a child’s future development and well-being. I also welcome the decision to include an expansion of the adoptive leave benefit to include same-sex couples. This is an important and welcome change.

  However, I am tabling amendment No. 4 today which references some of the unfinished business in our broader parent's leave policies and systems that have been left untouched in this legislation. They were the subject of specific recommendations in the pre-legislative scrutiny report published last month by the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, of which I am a member. It is rare that primary legislation moves through the Houses in this area, making this a rare opportunity to go further in supporting new parents in their caring roles, with all of the positive impacts this has on gender equality, female participation in the workforce and allowing the State to play a leading role in challenging outdated gender stereotypes on parental care responsibilities. This issue has come into even greater focus with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the interruptions its effects have had on in-person formal education and associated child caring.

  It is, therefore, unfortunate that some of these opportunities have not been grasped. It is through amendment No. 4 that I hope to ensure that work can continue on the outstanding issues identified by the joint committee even after the Bill is enacted. The amendment would make it a statutory requirement to review the operation of the legislation within a year of its passing and, within three months of the review, to deliver a report to the Oireachtas on recommendations for policy and legislative change arising from the review. In subsection (2), I have set out certain specific matters that the Minister would be required to consider. These largely reflect some of the recommendations of the joint committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny report that need further consideration and commitment from the Government on implementation.

  I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for its excellent work in preparing a full Bills digest on the legislation. The service has done considerable analysis on our pre-legislative scrutiny report and its impact on any changes made to the legislation between the heads of Bill and the versions introduced to the Oireachtas. On the seven recommendations that our committee made, the library has assessed that five of them have not been reflected in the legislation the Minister has brought forward, which is a shame. Our recommendations reflect the views of the stakeholders in this area and elected public representatives. While I welcome that two important recommendations on retrospective payments and eligibility have been implemented, it is from a desire to see action on the remaining recommendations that I have tabled this amendment.

  In the amendment, I have asked the Minister to consider a further extension of leave under the Act from the proposed five weeks to a further nine weeks. This reflects recommendation 1 of the joint committee’s report. The Minister stated in his reply to the analysis produced by the Library and Research Service that further consultation would be needed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to increase the financial allocation from budget 2021. Can the Minister confirm that this consultation will be undertaken and that he intends to seek such an increase for budget 2022?

  Subsection (2)(b) would require the Minister to consider the further transposition into Irish law of EU Directive 2019/1158 on work-life balance. The directive requires that member states introduce two months of paid paternal leave by August 2022. It is, therefore, clear that even with changes to this legislation, we will fall short of meeting that commitment. I have, therefore, included this provision to ensure that work will continue on a statutory basis to ensure we are endeavouring to meet this commitment in a timely fashion. While I recognise that an extension has been granted to meet this requirement by August 2024, I would much rather see Ireland taking a lead role and meeting the deadline on time rather than needing an extra two years to do so. This provision is included as an empowering one to assist the Minister in taking on this leadership role on a Europe-wide basis.

  The final part of the amendment would require the Minister to consider increasing the rate of payment under this Act, which is currently set at €245 a week for maternity, paternity, adoptive and parent's leave. As the Minister will be aware, uptake of the various forms of parental leave has been low in Ireland. This has been attributed to a number of factors, including a lack of flexibility, which we are beginning to tackle, cultural norms and perceptions around gender roles in child-rearing and, crucially, the low compensation levels which are a strong disincentive to take leave.

  Furthermore, as an entitlement is tied to PRSI contributions and is not a stand-alone statutory entitlement, Ireland remains one of only seven EU member states with a statutory right to paid parental leave.  In the case of parent's leave, the rate and duration of payment compares quite unfavourably to other EU countries. Furthermore, in an analysis by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, it has been found that because the rate is so much lower than average weekly earnings, parents are often at the mercy of their employer’s decision to top up their wages, placing them in a more vulnerable position where they may choose not to access leave at all.

  Another concern is the gaping distance between the end of access to paid leave and the beginning of access to statutory childcare support, which our committee found to be in the region of 17 months, where many countries have no gap at all. It is clear that radical action is needed to reform the system of parental leave supports, including the gradual replacement of unpaid parental leave of 26 weeks with a paid entitlement. It is in pursuit of this goal that I have included subsection (3).

  I welcome this Bill overall but the extension proposed does not go far enough and the Minister will have to return to the Oireachtas to make further legislative amendment in order to meet the bare minimum of two months of paid leave set out in the relevant EU directive anyway. Many of the stakeholders who gave evidence to the children’s committee were disappointed by this piecemeal approach when it was open to the Minister to tackle this matter more comprehensively and in line with our committee’s recommendations.

  I would have liked to have addressed more issues in my amendment but the considerable speed at which this Bill has come through the Oireachtas after the publication of our pre-legislative scrutiny report meant that was, unfortunately, not possible, particularly with respect to our important recommendations on lone parents. I ask that this amendment be accepted as a gesture of goodwill and as an indication that just because a commitment in the programme for Government has technically now been implemented, that work will not end here and there is an ambition to go above and beyond just the baseline of our national and European commitments.

Senator Fintan Warfield: Information on Fintan Warfield Zoom on Fintan Warfield I wholeheartedly support Senator Ruane and commend her on bringing forward this amendment. We agree with the proposed review of this section after 12 months as this will provide scope for the potential increasing of parental leave. This would mean both parents would be able to avail of any extension to leave in future.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins: Information on Alice-Mary Higgins Zoom on Alice-Mary Higgins I am very happy to support the amendment from Senator Ruane. I support the Bill in its spirit. We highlighted very much last summer the fact that many families had used maternity and paternity leave in a very short period because of Covid-19 and responsibilities arising from its effect. The same occurred with many who might have previously spread parental leave over five or ten years, using it when a child most needed that parental support.

  It is really positive that we have family leave and the measures are also positive. I also welcome the measures relating to adoptive leave for same-sex couples, which are important. I echo Senator Ruane's comments, however. I realise, given the speed at which this Bill is moving, that the amendment might not be accepted today. Although I hope it is, I hope the Government will commit to working with us and bringing through this report if the amendment is not accepted. We must address the other aspects of the EU directive and there are concerns. The gap to the beginning of the early childhood care and education scheme is one of points where we know, for example, women fall out of the workplace. It is a danger point and there are major consequences when people leave the workplace this way.

  It is really important for us to address this question and really examine how the Bill works for those who are parenting alone. It is important we remember the rights of the child, which are fundamental to this Department and in the Constitution. It should not be the case that the child of somebody parenting alone is in any way potentially disadvantaged by provisions in this legislation. Such children should get the same amount of care, and it should be central in our thinking. I hope the Minister will indicate that he will engage on these matters and other recommendations from the committee that are not addressed in the Bill before us today.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I support the amendment put forward by Senator Ruane and ask the Minister, as Senator Higgins has done, for positive engagement on these important issues. We have all been supportive of the Bill on the expansion of family leave provisions generally but the purpose of the amendment, as so eloquently expressed by Senator Ruane, really does deserve positive engagement from the Minister and his Department.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney I echo the sentiments of the amendment while also appreciating that the Minister, at the previous Stage of debate, gave a commitment to review when it comes to people who are parenting alone and experience particular hardship. That was one of the disappointments that came out of the pre-legislative scrutiny. Certainly, there is disappointment in the provision for lone parents. However, I do hear the Minister and I am holding him to it. The Minister has given a commitment to look at lone parents later in the year in a comprehensive way, and perhaps it goes against the spirit of, or would complicate, what is being legislated for here.

  I acknowledge that we have until 2024. In light of all that is going on at present, it seems feasible and correct that we would review and, if we can, increase the financial provisions and support the Minister in any way to make those arguments when it comes to arguing over the budget at the pre-budget submission stages because the level of payment certainly is prohibitive in some instances for people availing of the statutory entitlement to leave. At the end of the day, this is about spending time with our children. This is about having that opportunity.

  I welcome that, by default, this is the first time that parents in a surrogate-born situation will be able to avail of a statutory benefit as part of this measure.

  I support the spirit of the amendment but ask the Minister to guarantee that he will review it on an ongoing basis.

Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration (Deputy Roderic O'Gorman): Information on Roderic O'Gorman Zoom on Roderic O'Gorman I thank Senator Ruane for her amendment and all the Senators for speaking on it. I understand the spirit in which this amendment is put forward and I am committed to working with Senators, and indeed Deputies, on the issues that are raised here. A legislative requirement to bring forward a review of the nature described by Senator Ruane's amendment is not necessary at this time because the work that the Senator describes is work that is being carried out on an ongoing basis.

  We are reviewing the provisions we make for family leave on an ongoing basis. Indeed, that is amply demonstrated by this legislation, where we have increased the provision from two weeks to five weeks per parent but, more importantly, we have also looked at not only doing it in the first year but spreading it out over the first two years. That is a significant change from legislation that was introduced only in 2019. That is evidence of the fact that my Department and our new colleagues who joined from the Department of Justice in recent months are keeping an eye on this.

  It is not the only piece, as the Senator will be aware. We have spoken on many occasions on the issue of domestic violence leave as a specific area of leave that we are looking at. I am hoping to concrete legislative proposals by the end of this year. There are other elements, particular around the area of flexible working, that we wish to continue to advance.

  On the general scope, we are not leaving this issue when this legislation is passed. This is an issue we will continue to revisit.

  Particularly on the issue of the budgetary impact which Senator Ruane specifically referred to and the requirement to increase the number of weeks available for parent's leave - we are talking about paid leave that is available to both parents and that cannot be transferred - we have a commitment in terms of the directive to reach a target there, originally by August 2022 but now August 2024.  We can increase the number of weeks in the future through statutory instrument rather than opting for legislation again. The main reason we are taking the legislative route on this occasion is the move from one year to two years. That is the part that required the statutory intervention. I am on record as saying I want to increase the number of weeks of parent's leave per year. I said that on a number of occasions even before this legislation was introduced. I believe that is where our focus must be, because the concept of shared responsibility and support for shared parenting during those early years is crucial. That is why I want a focus on that.

  I cannot make absolute commitments today because I have to engage with colleagues. The Minister for Social Protection is responsible for the payment of the benefit and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has ultimate responsibility for the budgetary allocation. The cost of the measures we will pass in the next number of weeks is not insignificant at €28.9 million in a year. That is approximately €9.5 million per week. That cost is value for money, but it is significant so I cannot make an absolute commitment to the sequencing of how we will achieve that. However, I will be working in each budget to seek to address and increase it.

  There are other elements of the work-life balance directive on which we must continue to work. Addressing parent's leave is an important part of it, but there are other elements, particularly in terms of flexible working. That is being examined in conjunction with the wider remote working strategy. While they are linked, they are also separate. Flexible working should not be merged with the concept of remote working as flexible working is specifically to support parents in their caring role.

  A number of Senators raised the value of the benefit at €245 per week. Obviously, it is directly linked to the value of the maternity leave, paternity leave and adoptive leave benefit. We would be wrong just to look at the weekly amount of the benefit for parent's leave, as the review proposed by Senator Ruane suggests. I am certainly open to examining the value of the wider family benefits that are paid, but they have to be examined in conjunction with each other. We cannot just take one and separate it from the others. Again, that is a matter not just for me but also for the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, and ultimately it requires the support of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath.

  There is increased take-up of parent's leave. In the first 12 months, some 13,000 individuals took it up, which is just over 1,000 per month. In January this year, slightly fewer than 2,500 people took it up, so the uptake is increasing. However, it is something we will continue to examine.

  I will work with Senators both in the context of speaking to these issues in Commencement matters in the House and, in particular, through the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. I am happy to engage on these issues. I want to work on broadening and strengthening the elements of support the State provides to families.

Senator Lynn Ruane: Information on Lynn Ruane Zoom on Lynn Ruane I thank the Minister for his response and his engagement. I accept and trust what he says in terms of the continued engagement with the committee and individual Senators. I will not press the amendment. I look forward to working over the next year or so to complete everything that is mentioned in the amendment.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Sections 4 to 29, inclusive, agreed to.

NEW SECTION

  Government amendment No. 5:

In page 16, after line 18, to insert the following:

“PART 9

AMENDMENT OF JUDICIAL COUNCIL ACT 2019 AND PERSONAL INJURIES ASSESSMENT BOARD ACT 2003

Amendment of Judicial Council Act 2019

30. The Judicial Council Act 2019 is amended by—
(a) the substitution of the following section for section 99:
“Amendment of section 22 of Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004

99. Section 22 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 is amended by—
(a) the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):
‘(1) Subject to section 100 of the Act of 2019 and subsection (1A) (b), the court shall, in assessing damages in a personal injuries action commenced on or after the date on which section 99 of that Act comes into operation—
(a) have regard to the personal injuries guidelines (within the meaning of that Act) in force, and

(b) where it departs from those guidelines, state the reasons for such departure in giving its decision.’,
(b) the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1):

‘(1A) The court shall have regard to the Book of Quantum in assessing damages in a personal injuries action where the action is commenced—
(a) before the date on which section 99 of the Act of 2019 comes into operation, or

(b) on or after the date on which that section comes into operation in relation to a relevant claim where—
(i) an assessment was made under section 20 of the Act of 2003 in relation to that claim before the date of such coming into operation, and

(ii) that assessment was not, or was deemed not to have been, accepted in accordance with that Act.’,
(c) in subsection (2)—
(i) the substitution of ‘Subsection (1A)’ for ‘Subsection (1)’, and

(ii) the substitution of ‘in a personal injuries action to which that subsection applies’ for ‘in a personal injuries action’,
and
(d) the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (3):

‘(3) In this section—

‘Act of 2019’ means the Judicial Council Act 2019; ‘assessment’ has the same meaning as it has in section 20(1) of the Act of 2003;

‘Book of Quantum’ means the Book of Quantum that, immediately before the coming into operation of section 99 of the Act of 2019, stands published by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board under the Act of 2003;

‘relevant claim’ has the same meaning as it has in section 9 of the Act of 2003.”,
and
(b) the insertion of the following section after section 99:

“Consideration of personal injuries guidelines as amended in certain circumstances

100. (1) Where the Council adopts amendments under section 7(2)(g)(ii) to the personal injuries guidelines, for the purposes of section 22(1) of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 the court shall continue to have regard to the personal injuries guidelines in force immediately prior to the adoption of the guidelines as amended in assessing damages in a personal injuries action where the action is commenced—

(a) before the date on which the guidelines as amended are adopted, or

(b) on or after the date on which the guidelines as amended are adopted in relation to a relevant claim where—
(i) an assessment was made under section 20 of the Act of 2003 in relation to that claim before the date of such adoption, and

(ii) that assessment was not, or was not deemed to have been, accepted in accordance with that Act.
(2) In this section—

‘Act of 2003’ means the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003;

‘assessment’ has the same meaning as it has in section 20(1) of the Act of 2003;

‘relevant claim’ has the same meaning as it has in section 9 of the Act

of 2003.”.

Amendment of section 20 of Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003

31. Section 20 of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 is amended by—

(a) in subsection (4), the substitution of “Subject to subsection (5), an assessment shall be made” for “An assessment shall be made”, and

(b) the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (4):
“(5) In making, on or after the date of coming into operation of section 99 of the Judicial Council Act 2019, an assessment in relation to a relevant claim of the amount of damages for personal injuries the claimant is entitled to, assessors shall—

(a) have regard to the personal injuries guidelines (within the meaning of that Act) in force, and

(b) where they depart from those guidelines, state the reasons for such departure and include those reasons in the assessment in writing under section 30(1).”.”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Schedule agreed to.

TITLE

  Government amendment No. 6:

In page 5, line 12, after “nine;” to insert “to amend the Judicial Council Act 2019 and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 to make further provision in relation to the operation of personal injuries guidelines adopted by the Judicial Council;”.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Title, as amended, agreed to.

  Bill reported with amendments.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Joe O'Reilly Zoom on Joe O'Reilly When is it proposed to take Report 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.

  Bill, as amended, 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 When is it proposed to sit again?

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: Information on Mary Seery Kearney Zoom on Mary Seery Kearney Next Friday at 10.30 a.m.

  The Seanad adjourned at 6.57 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 26 March 2021.


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