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.
This Bill seeks to address the small number of cases where retired employees who were legally not permitted to marry persons of the same sex before a particular date may be deprived of certain pension benefits.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, to the House. I also welcome the opportunity to debate this Private Members' Bill, which the Labour Party group of Senators introduced on Second Stage on 20 January of this year. On that date, it was not opposed on Second Stage by the then Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton. We have now brought the Bill back on Committee Stage and it is unusual in the sense that it is a Private Members' Bill going through Committee Stage but we anticipate we will have cross-party support on it. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the House for expressing support for this Bill. I also welcome the many observers here in the Gallery from across the trade union movement and from the ranks of freelance workers, many of whom are in the acting and journalism professions where the issue of bogus self-employed, if I may call it that, is very widespread.
Section 1 provides for certain definitions while section 2 provides for the substantive issue. This Bill stems from a longstanding Labour Party commitment to ensure protection of the right to collectively bargain for vulnerable workers who are freelance, particularly those in the arts, creative and media sectors. Senator Ged Nash and myself have worked on this for some time. It dates back 14 years to a ruling by the then Competition Authority, now the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. In 2004, it ruled, applying a very restrictive interpretation of the Competition Act 2002, that a collective agreement between Irish Equity and the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland was in breach of competition and that was an agreement that has set rates for voiceover artists. To give colleagues something of the practical import of this, until then, it was accepted that, for example, unions could publish freelance fees guides. This is a particular issue in the arts and creative sectors, in acting and so forth, where unions such as Equity and NUJ had long made agreements about minimum fee rates, a minimum floor of rights for freelance workers, many of whom were employees in all but name. I am talking about people like session musicians, voiceover artists and freelance journalists. As result of the 2004 ruling by the Competition Authority, that sort of agreement of setting a minimum floor of fees was now seen as in breach of competition law.
I welcome the Minister back to the House. I also welcome the opportunity to debate this important issue. All of us and others outside the House have spoken of the wider context in which the Bill is being proposed. All of us have seen horrific murders in recent weeks and months. Many have mentioned the shooting today in Lusk and there was another shooting last week very close to where I live in a busy shopping street in the south inner city. All of us have been shocked by the brutality of these murders and shootings and by the recent violence, although we acknowledge they represent only a small number of individuals who are connected to an international and national drugs trade and to criminal organisations. That is the context within which the Bill is being introduced and, clearly, a key aim of the Bill is to act to seek to tackle those involved in criminal organisations at low and middle level. I recognise that tackling organised crime at all levels is a priority for the Government and all of us acknowledge that. There is no doubt that the escalation of crime, particularly in inner city Dublin in recent months, requires a proactive approach.
I and my party colleagues in the Labour Party would emphasise, and I am sure most would agree, that tackling this level of this type of organised crime requires tackling the core issues of disadvantage, of drug use and of tackling these in a way where we do not only have a criminal justice approach. I share Senator Ruane's concern about criminalising addiction and my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin expressed that view recently in a debate on the misuse of drugs legislation. We would clearly support a model that would examine much broader issues and that would redirect attention and investment towards disadvantaged communities suffering from a lack of opportunity. We drafted our amendment along the lines of the amendment, to which Senator Mac Lochlainn referred, concerning the ring-fencing of any proceeds or money confiscated towards disadvantaged communities.
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