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.
I welcome the Minister of State. It is welcome this week that we are marking International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which was yesterday. It is a United Nations day aimed at promoting the rights and well-being of people with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and increasing awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. It is worth remembering the purpose of the day when we are reflecting on the current state of society for persons with disabilities here in Ireland. I have listened to the other contributions and acknowledge the work done on this issue by our colleagues, particularly Senator Dolan, whom Senator Ruane rightly commended for his unstinting work in highlighting issues for persons with disabilities and inclusion and equality since the start of his time in this Seanad in 2016. I also acknowledge Senator Conway, who has really been to the fore on this issue for Fine Gael.
As Senator Conway says, undoubtedly we should acknowledge the immense progress that has been made on advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in recent years. In schooling and education we now have much greater resourcing and recognition of the need to ensure supports for children with additional needs and to ensure accommodation for persons with disabilities in education. That is fairly well established. We also have increased awareness about inclusion, which is part of the United Nations aim, through initiatives like those which others have mentioned, the exhibition that was launched yesterday, Someone Like Me at City Hall, and the Purple Lights campaign that has been promoted by the Disability Federation of Ireland. The Labour Party website went purple yesterday to mark the Purple Lights campaign. These are all important initiatives to enhance and increase visibility. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and we have pushed to ensure that there is inclusion of disability and disability-proofing in our international development programmes. I commend Irish Aid and the Government's work on that issue. That is all positive.
Today is the day that British Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50. She will address the House of Commons on the issue within the next hour. The Seanad's Brexit hearings are a welcome initiative, but we also need to consider raising the issue of Brexit in other debates in the House. Yesterday, we in Labour published our detailed Brexit policy, outlining 20 concrete actions that the Irish Government should be taking. We expressed our concern at the lack of detail from the Government regarding what it proposed to do as the Brexit negotiations got under way. What positions will it take?
The Government needs to ensure that adequate money - €1 billion from the rainy day fund - should be deployed for the capital investment likely to be needed as a result of Brexit. A €250 million Brexit trade adjustment fund should be set up to support directly Irish businesses that suffer because of trade upheaval with the UK. New transport connections will be needed, in particular at major ports and airports. Others have pointed to the instability in Northern Ireland. The prospect of Brexit negotiations is not helping that situation. A special status for Northern Ireland needs to be incorporated in the negotiations. At a minimum, a new Irish protocol to the EU treaties recognising the common travel area, the Good Friday Agreement and the unique situation of the Irish Border must be negotiated.
There have been disturbing signals about what might happen because of Brexit. In an article in today's The Irish Times, Ms Patricia King points out the downward pressure likely to be applied as a result of the UK no longer having to observe minimum terms and conditions of employment as set down in EU treaties. The concern is that there will be a race to the bottom among Irish businesses. Pressure will be placed on Ireland and other EU countries to reduce the quality of workers' terms and conditions.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, back to the House and I congratulate him on his reappointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I look forward to working with him, as I am now Labour Party spokesperson on foreign affairs.
I commend the Government on the work that has been going on as detailed in the Minister's speech. This has included interventions such as the Taoiseach's article in The Guardian, supporting the "Remain" side while being sensitive to the fact that this is a matter for a different jurisdiction. However, it is clear that we have a major interest in this as citizens and residents of the neighbouring island. The Labour Party leader, Deputy Howlin, was in England last Thursday campaigning on the "Remain" side among the Irish community there.
It is impossible to take part in today's debate without mentioning, as others have done, the brutal murder of Jo Cox on Thursday. We paid tributes to her yesterday. We note that today would have been her 42nd birthday. For many of us the ugly rhetoric that had come to characterise some of the anti-immigration arguments on the "Leave" side consolidated the view many of us had of strong support for the "Remain" side. That ugly rhetoric was perhaps summed up in the awful poster revealed by Mr. Nigel Farage, MEP, last Thursday, which clearly plays on racist sentiment.
We have a direct connection. We have a very close relationship with Britain. For some of us it is closer than that. I emigrated to England and voted in previous British elections as an Irish citizen resident in England. Indeed now as a Dublin University Senator, I represent many Irish citizens who have a vote in the referendum. Some weeks ago I spoke with Trinity alumni in Derry and have been in contact with Trinity alumni branches throughout Britain and Northern Ireland. I am very heartened to hear back from so many of our graduates there who are so passionately on the "Remain" side and have been doing a great deal of work canvassing other Irish citizens resident in Britain to seek their support for the "Remain" side. I speak with people such as Nick Beard, whose blog on headstuff.org provides very compelling reasons for the UK to remain in the EU.
I speak with Brian O'Connell from the Irish4Europe campaign group. He has noted that with over 600,000 Irish-born people living and working in Britain, it is a larger group than citizens from many other EU jurisdictions and could be very influential in the result of the referendum, particularly given how close the sides appear to be according to polls.
As many have said, if the UK votes to leave, one of the main concerns for us on this island would be the citizens in the North. Most of us are very dismayed at the position that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, has taken on the "Leave" side, not seeming to recognise, as the historian, Roy Foster, has said, that a vote for Brexit could be disastrous for the advances we have seen in relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland. We should not take for granted the huge role the EU has played in British-Irish relations and its role in the peace process. British and Irish partners sitting as equals side-by-side at international tables of the EU from the early 1980s onwards arguably did more than many things to improve British-Irish relations and to begin processes leading to the Good Friday Agreement. That is an important factor for us.
It is also important not to be dismissive of all of the arguments on the "Leave" side because clearly there are people on the "Leave" side who genuinely believe in Brexit without adhering to the horrible rhetoric of Mr. Nigel Farage, MEP, and his allies in UKIP.
Some of the arguments on the "Leave" side indicate a very high level of disillusionment with the EU - a sense of a democratic deficit, as Senator Higgins mentioned, a sense of concern about democracy and decisions being made by an unelected Commission. Many of us feel that consolidated action is required to tackle that. We need the added voice of Britain at the table to help us in countering that and putting the case, for example, for a social Europe and in putting the case for the need for the EU to have a united front facing crises such as the economic crisis felt so recently and indeed the crisis of so many refugees seeking to enter Europe.
There are also very strong arguments to remain on economic and social grounds, in particular the strong economic evidence so many have pointed to. The ESRI, for example, has pointed to enormous losses for Ireland as a crucial partner with the UK. There are many reports on the adverse economic effects for the British economy should the Brexit side prevail.
However, there are also very strong social arguments for remaining in the EU. We should not forget that the Nobel committee presented the EU with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, noting the EU's work over six decades in advancing peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. The EU serves as an example to many other countries of what can be achieved through solidarity and transnational co-operation.
The EU's work in terms of the social Europe and progress for equality and in particular for women's rights should not be taken for granted. The SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has emphasised the progress for women as a result of EU membership. Also in Britain, Frances O'Grady of the Trades Union Congress published a report entitled Women's Rights and the Risk of Brexit, making the point that Brexit risks turning the clock back decades on hard-won rights. The socialist movement in Europe has a strong tradition. The red flag of the Labour Party was first marched under in 1831 in Merthyr Tydfil by oppressed miners and red remains the colour of many of our social democratic partners in Europe, such as the SPD in Germany. We see a strong sense of European and national identity emerging from these movements around workers' rights, trade union rights and women's rights.
While the decision clearly rests with others tomorrow and not in this jurisdiction, for us the Brexit debate clearly raises many worrying sentiments and we need to challenge some of the arguments for Brexit and meet them with confidence because the European project of an open society of international solidarity of trust and mutual co-operation is an ideal that is worth supporting and worth building upon in co-operation with our neighbours. We need to have the confidence and leadership here and elsewhere to counter racist and narrow-minded commentary about immigration and we need to plan for a brighter future.
My hope along with that of so many others is that the UK will vote to remain and we can all work together to face the crises that will confront the EU in the rest of the 21st century.
Trinity life for International Students - Thank you to those who have graduated and voted from abroad
I grew up in Cork but the family moved to Dublin when I was 14, so throughout my time as a Law student at Trinity, my family home was in Dublin – and for all Dublin students, it is great to have family support close by. So I know it can be very difficult for international students who may have travelled long distances to study in Trinity, far from their family homes. In 1989/90, when I was President of Trinity Students Union, and student welfare was a big priority for us, we kept an open door policy and all of us as SU officers worked hard to ensure students had as much support as they could get, particularly international students.
International Students are to this day very important to the Trinity community - I want to wish you all best of luck with the exams. Also to say a great big Thank You to all those Trinity alumni who have moved abroad following graduation, who are voting now from Australia, the US and Africa, among other places - and who have already given me their No.1 vote and sent kind messages of support! If re-elected, I hope to continue to raise any issues that you as graduates living abroad would like me to raise in the Seanad. Thank you!
Trinity College Dublin organised an event last week 'Meet the Candidates', where all 16 #TCDSeanadElection candidates were given 4 minutes each to speak to the audience. It was also live streamed on Periscoope TV for anyone who couldn't make it.
I took the opportunity to run through my Trinity life, my legal career and my Seanad record. Here are my 4 minutes - #VoteIvanaBacik No.1