Secretarial Assistant Pay Scale issue raised on Order of Business

Posted on December 04, 2019

Ivana Bacik

Senator Ivana Bacik

I welcome the Cathaoirleach back; it is good to see him back with us. I commend all our colleagues who are taking part in Senator Ruane's football match tonight. It is good to hear about it and may the best team win.

I support Senators McDowell, Gavan and Ruane on the issue they have raised about the pay of secretarial assistants in the Seanad. It is something we have all been aware of and Senator Gavan is correct that we have not been giving it enough attention.

The issue needs to be urgently examined given that the secretarial assistants in the Seanad are on a different pay rate from parliamentary assistants in the Dáil. There is not an equivalent rate for the Seanad. We must consider this matter given the workload and the great work being done by all of the secretarial assistants in the Seanad. Of course, I include in that Ms Ursula Ní Choill who works with me and does an enormous volume of work.

As Senator Gavan said, SIPTU has raised this issue for some time on behalf of the secretarial assistants. I raised this issue with my parliamentary party yesterday and I encourage all Senators to do the same with their own groupings and parties. My party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, told me that he has raised the issue on a number of occasions and it is being raised at various levels, particularly at the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform and so on. All Members need to push this matter within their groupings and as individuals, which I am happy to do. I also join others in calling for a debate, in the first instance, but seeking movement on this issue by the Government.

I join others in calling for a debate on cycling. I have raised the issue on a number of occasions of facilities for cyclists in the Oireachtas. Next week there will be a meeting of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and I have asked for facilities for cyclists to be on its agenda. I ask colleagues to support this issue, particularly to raise it with any of their colleagues who are on the commission. We should have covered cycle facilities in the Oireachtas and we should be seen to encourage cycling instead of an always having an emphasis on car park spaces. Cycle facilities and promoting cycling are important. We must be seen to lead on it for all of the health and environmental reasons that have been raised, which is something that I will continue to do as a regular and committed cyclist.

I refer to the points that Senator McDowell made about China. I was intrigued to hear him speak about red China. We have referred to his age on a number of occasions

On a more serious note, the Senator will be glad to hear that the issue of human rights abuses in China has been raised on a number of occasions at meetings of the Joint Committee of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, of which I am a member. We hope to have a meeting on such abuses in the new year. Clearly, the dreadful crackdown on the democracy protests in Hong Kong has been a issue of concern for all of us. There are Irish students in Hong Kong on exchange programmes who have been affected by this. I support the Senator raising this concern.

Finally, I ask the Leader for a debate on hate speech. Yesterday, at a meeting of the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination in Geneva, the deputy Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality is reported to have said that given the recent raising of concerns about speech by different candidates in the by-elections, this State needs to do more on hate speech. We must bring forward legislation to ensure that we have adequate legislation in place to ensure hate speech is adequately tackled in our laws, which is long overdue. The University of Limerick has done a great deal of work on the matter, as well as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and others. We need to frame the legislation sensitively and clearly to ensure that it is not an undue restriction on freedom of expression.

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