Ireland needs a pay rise – Labour’s Living Wage Bill will deliver it

  • Hundreds of thousands of low paid workers in Ireland would benefit from a Living Wage.
  • Labour proposal would be phased in over three years.

Labour Laois representative Eoin Barry has called on government to support Labour’s Living Wage Bill 2022 which was introduced in the Dáil this week (Wednesday, May 11th). Mr Barry said it would deliver a much-needed pay rise for workers in Laois, and deliver on the long delayed commitment in the Programme for Government.

Mr Barry said:

“With the cost of living soaring and inflation at a 22-year high, Ireland needs a pay rise. The purpose of Labour’s bill is to amend the National Minimum Wage Acts to provide for a pathway to a living wage over three years and we are calling for immediate government action to deliver on this Labour Party bill.

“A living wage provides for needs, not wants, and is defined as the hourly rate of pay that makes possible a minimum acceptable standard of living, is evidence based, and grounded in social consensus.

“At present the minimum wage is set at €10.50 after the most recent 30 cent increase in January but it is not based on the cost of living.

“The living wage for 2021 was determined at a rate of €12.90 per hour. That is a €2.40 per hour wage gap that would make a real difference to the lives of so many people in XX.

“As recently as 2018 one in five workers were categorised as low paid, earning just below €11.90 per hour, or about 380,000 people. Transforming the minimum wage into a Living wage will also list the wages of many other workers.

“Our Bill would transform the low pay commission into a living wage commission and assign it new duties to enable it to make recommendations. The Bill provides a definition of a living wage, meaning an annual wage that, in the opinion of the commission, if paid to a single adult person living alone and in full-time employment would afford that person a standard of living that meets the person’s needs at a minimum but socially acceptable level.

“Only by changing the remit of the Low Pay Commission can we begin the work of implementing a living wage.

“People in Laois are having to cope with an unprecedented spike in the cost of living, a spike that is affecting every household, individual, family and community across Ireland. The costs of fuel, rent, housing, food, childcare and basic services are rising. Even the price of basic items like bread and milk are rising.

“All of us are hearing daily from constituents in Laois who are feeling a real squeeze and whose incomes are no longer enough to meet the rising cost of living that they face.

“Ireland needs a pay rise, and we need to start with those on the minimum wage by transforming it into a Living Wage.”

Labour bid to ban gambling ads once and for all

Labour Area rep has called for the government to fast track a Labour Party Bill that will ban all gambling advertisements. Labour’s Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021, which aims to regulate the advertising and sponsorship of gambling, will be debated in the Seanad at second stage this Wednesday (23rd, March).

Mr Barry said

“The huge and incessant bombardment of gambling advertisements during Cheltenham has reiterated the clear and present need for a full ban on ads to protect people from falling into a life of problem gambling and addiction in Laois.

“Unfortunately we know from recently published research from the Health Research Board (HRB) that there is over 12,000 problem gamblers in Ireland and a further 125,000 people who are ‘at-risk’ gamblers. 

“We need to see real intervention from government on this. I am calling on government to fast track Labour’s bill to ban the ads that target those ‘at-risk’ gamblers and have the potential to ruin lives, devastate their families and communities and leave the person suffering from addiction feeling hopeless.

“As well as the ads on the tv, young people are bombarded with gambling ads on their phones through ads on social media channels and the sheer volume of these ads is having a huge impact on vulnerable people. Labour’s bill would take swift action to protect those at risk of developing addiction. 

“There have been multiple reports on gambling addiction over recent years. Indeed, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland indicated a dramatic rise in gambling disorder referrals since Covid the ‘lockdowns’. Coupled with the HRB report, it’s clear that we need to act fast and put controls in place now to protect those who are vulnerable to behaviour addiction.

“The level of addiction and affliction in communities up and down this country demands serious action. It’s time to see real action from government now”.


TCD Hustings 2022

This Thursday I participated in the TCD hustings for the Seanad Bye Election.

With so many candidates participating our groups were divided into two halves and I was in the first one.

You can watch the full of the debate at the link below or watch a clip of my answer to the first question here.

Full debate here

Recognising PhD Researchers as Workers

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In recent years there has been an increase in discussions around mental health for students. On Friday students in Trinity campaigned to increase access to counselling and support services. I support these calls, As a psychotherapist, I have provided this type of counselling to students and believe it should be more accessible.

The issue around Mental Health concerns for PhD students is of particular concern. Dr Zoë Ayres has been a particular advocate around academic mental health and I’ve followed her work with great interest.

In an Irish context addressing this issue can’t be solved by providing extra counselling on its own. This is a systemic issue and requires fundamental change, not just in the rights of students and PhD researchers but also in their access to housing and the support they need to address the rise in the cost of living.

PhD researchers provide essential work in our Third Level System. They provide teaching, research and other tasks that keep our universities functioning. In the broader Irish economy, PhD researchers play a major role in attracting investment and knowledge-based companies to set up in Ireland. Their contribution to the Irish economy is very significant.

Despite this, the stipend provided to PhD researchers is minuscule, most need to supplement their income with additional work. When this additional work is added to their already significant workload it means they are working far more than the mandatory maximum hours set out in Irish employment law.

Even with the extra work, PhD researchers struggle to have a living income in Ireland. The cost of living is increasing rapidly and this reduces the spending power of researchers even further. The housing crisis places a significant extra burden.

PhD researchers often work alone and the various stresses that they are under mean they are at a higher risk for experiencing problems with their mental health.

For these reasons and more I support the call by the post-graduate workers alliance for their recognition as workers, their right to a living wage, entitlements, pensions right and access to housing.

This would require a significant investment, however, we need to consider this expense in context. Ireland competes with other countries for PhD researchers and we should try to ensure that they want to work here. Secondly, this is a small cost in comparison to the economic benefits of high-quality research being conducted in Ireland. Finally, the third level funding problem cannot be solved by PhD researchers, a PhD shouldn’t mean sacrificing your physical and mental health.

By acknowledging PhD researchers as workers we can address some of the systemic issues and provide a system where high-quality research continues to happen in Ireland.

How we respond to the War in Ukraine

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The war in Ukraine, started in an unprovoked and senseless attack by Russia has resulted in widespread devastation and destruction. For Ukrainians the war has rapidly upended life as they know it, many have died, property has been destroyed. 

As with all wars children will pay the heaviest price of this conflict. Thousands have been forced to flee. Many will lose a parent or an important adult in their lives, homes and communities will be lost. The bonds of childhood friendships will be broken and education disrupted. We only have to look to the example of Syria, Palestine and Tigray to see the devastating impact that modern wars have on children and young people. 

For Ukrainians living abroad the War will provoke a sense of grief, stress and worry that is impossible to put into words. The trauma of waiting for news of a loved one living in a war zone is a burden no one should have to face. 

The thoughts of the world are with Ukrainians. We should ensure that no matter where they live, that they are supported and all forms of humanitarian aid, psychological and medical support are provided to those that need it. 

For those of us watching and following the news the war has provoked a sense of shock and dismay. It is in some ways a similar feeling of dread to the days after 9/11 or start of the Covid 19 Pandemic. War on this scale is a paradigm shift, the world we knew before is now changed. 

Understanding the emotions we feel watching the Ukrainian war from afar requires us to hold two  paradoxical beliefs. An understanding and empathy for the victims of the war but also an acceptance of our own feelings of witnessing it. 

Acknowledging that watching and following this news is stressful and upsetting is important. Following the war on social media can provoke particularly intense feelings. To cope with this feeling people can and will choose different options. Some will choose to share news the feel strongly to get a feeling of support from others about while many may choose to limit what news they follow and may mute particular topics they find upsetting. 

No matter what people choose, it’s important to remember that how people choose to interact with the news is not a reflection of how strongly they care about the victims of the conflict or for the victims of other conflicts for that matter.

For many the best way to cope with the feeling the war has provoked is to look for ways to help. It’s natural when witnessing global conflicts that people feel a sense of helplessness. Already we see local organisations arranging fund raisers for Ukrainian people or some may choose to become political active and protest against the war. 

The war in Ukraine will have impacts on a global, societal and individual level. In Ireland as a small neutral country we can choose a response that meets the humanitarian needs of the victims and de-escalates the conflict. As a society we can acknowledge that this news is another profound shock after a period of significant turmoil, we can also acknowledge the many Ukrainian people that live in our communities and offer them support. Finally on an individual and family level we can decide where we receive our news, how we talk to children about it and how we respond. 

Postal Ballots out today

The Ballots for the upcoming Trinity Bye-election are now in the post. 

I’m asking for your number 1 vote. 

My three main policy areas are 

Supporting our front line health care workers

Reforming our Mental Health services

Tackling the rise in the cost of living

I’m asking for your number one vote and Ballots must be returned by the 30th of March.

Supporting our health care workers.

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During the course of the pandemic, health care workers risked their health and wellbeing to provide care and support for their patients. Long before vaccines were available they took on huge personal risks for both their health and that of their families. 

Two years later the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt in our health service and while restrictions might be lifting the pandemic is far from over for health care workers. There will be no returning to a pre-covid health service. Covid will remain a threat and some of the adaptions and innovations developed during the pandemic will continue to be used. For health care workers successive waves of covid infections and the cyber attack have resulted in a widespread feeling of exhaustion and frustration. 

At this point, it’s time to look at where we are at present and plan for the future. It’s clear that overcrowding continues to be a major issue in our hospitals. 

This overcrowding is placing a significant burden on health care workers. Given the sacrifices they have made in the last two years, it’s prudent that simple public health measures like mask-wearing on public transport and shops should continue until the overcrowding reduces.

Outside of our hospitals, waiting lists for a range of health care services continue to grow. For example, there are now approximately 100,000 children waiting for access to dental care. It’s clear that meaningful reform and a new scheme is needed to meet their needs or the entire medical card scheme is at risk of collapse. 

Similar waiting lists are evident in a range of health services, all of which increase the pressure on staff and increase the risk of burnout. 

It’s clear that meaningful reform is needed in the recruitment and a large increase in training places for health care courses. This means a plan that crosses governmental departments and focuses on long term outcomes. For many specialities training takes many years and increasing the number is going to take time. Recruitment from abroad may also need to occur. 

Even more important than recruiting new staff is ensuring the people working here want to continue doing so. Aside from new training places, the government should focus on reducing the burden on health care workers and improving the overall quality of their work experience. On a larger basis, this may mean addressing pay and conditions, particularly in light of the housing and cost of living crises. It can also mean addressing smaller issues, making sure canteens are available at weekends, free car parking and improved workspaces and environments. 

During the pandemic, the health service showed some remarkable innovations. From the rollout of the vaccines to the use of telehealth consultations were innovations that would have been unthinkable a few years ago but which showed the ability of the service to adapt to a crisis. This flexibility should be carried forward in the years ahead and the health service must be ready if a new pandemic occurs or a vaccine-resistant variant emerges. 

Reform in the health service needs to occur, it should start with a clear priority of supporting the health care workers that made such huge sacrifices for everyone.

Lower Public Transport Fares Needed Now

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  • Labour highlights delays to Youth Travel Card and Flexi Tax-Saver Travel Ticket.
  • 20% cut in fares taking too long as cost of living soars.

Labour Representative Eoin Barry has called for lower public transport fares now to help tackle the cost of living and support people to get back on public transport.

Labour representative Eoin Barry said:

“The 20% cut to public transport fares won’t come in until May. People are already struggling with the high cost of living, and as Covid restriction are lifted, now is the time to encourage people back onto the bus and train.

“There’s been lots of commitments from the government to support public transport, but they all seem to be on the long finger.

“The Budget promised half price fares for young people aged between 19 and 23 but we still have no idea when this will become a reality. All we’ve been told is mid-2022.

“This week the Labour Party revealed that there are no plans yet in place to ensure the half price fares for young people apply to all commercial operators which provide a lot of services outside of the main towns and cities. Once again rural areas are being left behind. When this announced in the October Budget we were told it would apply to the national transport network.

“With more people availing of flexible working arrangements after the pandemic, maybe spending 3 days in the office, and two working at home there is a need to also update the annual TaxSaver ticket to make it more flexible. For commuters this is a major concern. Ensuring people make greater use of public transport is central to meeting our carbon targets.

“Transport affordability and access remains a huge issue for students and young workers in terms of the cost of living, as well as having a crucial role to play in climate action. We need action, not words, from this government.”

Tackling Bullying in the modern world.

Bullying has existed throughout human history. During the 20th century, the stereotype of the strong male bully gained traction and is the dominant version of bullying present in public discourse. 

In reality, bullying is a pervasive form of abuse and one that millions of people experience around the world, often on a daily basis. Its perpetrators are as likely to be female as male and a majority of them are considered popular with their peers or work colleagues. Its impact on the physical and mental of people cannot be overstated. 

We all know that the advent of mobile phones and social media changed the nature of this abuse. What may have ended at the school gates or in the workplace could now occur 24/7. We also know little has been done by social media companies to regulate or stop this abuse. 

What hasn’t been acknowledged is the trauma that bullying can cause and the pervasive nature of this trauma. So even if the message doesn’t happen online – people still live with the abuse all the time. 

The modern research on ambivalent loss highlights the challenge people face when they are confronted with situations that challenge or change their sense of self and identity. Bullying by its very nature undermines peoples sense of self. 

The question we have is how to tackle it. 

Firstly we need a public health campaign on the reality of bullying – how it can appear and challenge some of the stereotypes and common misconceptions involved.

Secondly, there should be an independent statutory process for handling claims of bullying, regardless of the setting in which it takes place. This would ensure a uniform standard for investigation and would also bring to light serial perpetrators. The creation of this process would require inter-departmental work and would be a challenge. However, if the pandemic has thought us anything it is that the agents of the state can quickly adapt if faced with a crisis.

Thirdly social media companies should be required to stop bullying on their platforms and permanently ban anyone who perpetrates it. In particular, they should focus on the pervasive abuse that women, LGBT people and ethnic minorities experience online. This new form of oversight should form part of the independent regulation of social media companies. One which would also take into account the harm they cause to young people’s mental health and the addictive nature of their design. 

Finally, a specific law should be introduced to make it a criminal offence to suggest or encourage someone to take their own life online. This is a particularly dangerous form of abuse and should be treated with the utmost seriousness by the law.

Improving access to early interventions to support young people and their mental health

Ireland has experienced a rise in Mental Health problems in recent years. This has been made worse by the pandemic but it was already a growing issue in the past decade. 

Many mental health issues first emerge when people are young and often there is a delay from when a young person seeks help to when they receive the support they need. 

At present, the government funds a variety of different services from dedicated CAMHS, Primary Care and Adult Mental Health Services to organisations like Jigsaw and Pieta House. In secondary schools guidance counsellors often provide therapeutic support and intervention and universities provide counselling.

The first port of call for many seeking help is their GP. GPs not only refer young people to specialist services but also provide crucial ongoing support. Many are frustrated with the waiting times or the rejections they receive when seeking support for young people. Too many GPs feel they need to provide additional support to make up for a lack of local services.

In addition to the various organisation providing support, our emergency services provide crucial input out of hours and many young people receive support in their local paediatric hospital. The HSE text support system was an excellent innovation and ensured rapid access to support for young people in a crisis. 

At present we have a system where multiple services provides support to young people’s mental health but where the integration between services is often weak or non-existent. 

This leads to a situation where young people are delayed in receiving the support they need and this means they are more likely to need more intense intervention from specialists services or require urgent admission to hospital. 

The ad hoc funding model means there is a geographic disparity with some areas lacking the input of organisations such as Jigsaw, which provide crucial therapeutic support to young people in distress. 

To address this situation we need to change how the system operates. The first priority must be that any young person who seeks support for their mental health receives it. 

This means having an integrated referral system where organisations work together to ensure every young person receives the support they need. The organisations could form hubs that accept referrals and direct them to the correct service. This would reduce the workload on GP’s who would only need to make one referral and it would mean people wait less time to be seen. The development of geographic hubs should help to highlight areas where additional funding or access to certain treatments is required. 

It may be necessary to develop easy to access drop-in supports for young people could where they could access counsellors and youth workers and address issues that may not meet the threshold of CAMHS services. This is available already in some areas but needs to be available to all. This may mean changing the funding or organisation of some service providers that currently exists. It should also be done on self-referral basis. 

Research from the UK shows many young people value the input of their GP in supporting their mental health. GPs should be able to receive additional supports for their work with young people. 

Increasing the number of inpatient beds must be a priority to reduce the number of young people attending adult psychiatric units or their local paediatric ward. This would mean young people would access age-appropriate services in their local area and it would reduce the pressure on local general hospitals. 

It’s clear that the way services are provided needs to change and the funding model can be simplified to meet the needs of young people. In addition to this further funding will be required to hire mental health clinicians. 

Finally, we should ensure that everyone working with young people has training in suicide prevention. This should be mandatory for everyone that currently has to complete children first training. This research should be evidence based and the use of this training may help reduce the risk to young people who seek help and support.