Tuesday, 15 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: The Order of Business shall be No. 46, Euro Changeover (Amounts) Bill, 2001 – Second Stage (resumed); and No. 47, Agriculture Appeals Bill, 2001 [Seanad] – Second Stage (resumed). Private Members' Business shall be No. 112, motion re industrial relations.
Mr. Noonan: As the House is aware, the Government failed to take any decision to tackle the growing crisis in the health services yesterday despite the fact that, as it faces into its fifth year in office, there are still people on waiting lists who were on them when it came into office four years ago. Waiting lists numbering some 28,000 persons are unacceptably high. The national cancer strategy is in disarray. Accident and emergency departments are in chaos. Bed shortages  mean that patients are being denied life saving treatment. Services for children are woefully inadequate. The Government cannot agree on what to do next. Will the Taoiseach use the same excuse as his predecessor, Mr. Haughey, used in the 1989 election campaign, “nobody ever told me how bad it was”?
Mr. Quinn: In view of the collective responsibility provisions for Cabinet decisions in our Constitution, will the Taoiseach explain the extraordinary repudiation, if not a downright declaration of no confidence, proclaimed yesterday by the Minister for Finance in the Minister for Health and Children when he not only said extra money would not be available but that the money that had already been given to the Minister had been badly spent?
The Taoiseach: In reply to the questions raised by the two Deputies, the Government is continuing to work on the health strategy, which has continued over the winter months. We will benefit greatly in the short term and into the future from that detailed background work in which the Minister for Health and Children has been engaged to deliver our policies. That follows on from the last review in 1994. We have examined areas such as hospital bed capacity—
The Taoiseach: —hospital doctor working practices, primary care needs, training, deployment and rewarding of nurses and the use of resources within the system. Yesterday we heard of the progress that has been made by the Minister for Health and Children. More than 80,000 more hospital treatments are being carried out than were carried out a few years ago, 1,300 more nurses are working in our hospitals, 250 more consultants are delivering medical care and there are 1,250 more residential places. At last we are  dealing with the areas of mental, physical and sensory handicap.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Before the Taoiseach continues, I remind the House that Deputies Noonan and Quinn were afforded the courtesy of putting their questions without interruption and I ask Members on each side of the House to afford the same courtesy to the Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach: —500,000 people have been in receipt of excellent in-patient services and there are 250,000 day patients. Some 14,000 more people are working in the health services. We have put in place the necessary resources. There was criticism of the cancer strategy, but the difficulty was that there was no cancer strategy in place. Such a strategy in now in place. The area of disabilities was not dealt with in the past, but we are now dealing with it.
I remind Deputy Noonan that in the period during which his party was in Government, numbers on waiting lists increased by 27%, but they have now fallen by 9%. We will continue to deal with all these issues. Resources will continue to be put in place to try to improve the health service. The excellent work being done in the Department of Health and Children and by the Minister will continue.
Mr. Noonan: Never was so much spent by a Minister for so little return. Did the Taoiseach watch his Minister on the 6 o'clock News yesterday evening? When he was pressed as to why decisions were not made at Ballymascanlon he said it was not a decision-making meeting, it was a meeting for reflection on ongoing policy and the third of a series of meetings, the previous  ones having been similar and having been called by the Taoiseach last year on the housing crisis and on the traffic chaos in Dublin. Can we expect the same progress to be made on the health service as has been made on the housing crisis and on the traffic chaos in Dublin arising from the Cabinet's reflective days away last year?
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Health and Children should be congratulated by everybody in this House. Yesterday he organised a detailed presentation on the serious issues affecting the health of this nation into the future. Unfortunately, very little reflection was done in previous years as there were very few resources available.
The Taoiseach: He is building on what he has done for the past four years. I repeat information some Members do not want to hear. There are 80,000 more hospital treatments, 14,000 extra staff in the health services, capital programmes are at an all time high, an enormous amount of money has been put into the area of physical and sensory disabilities, for the first time ever the area of mental handicap is being dealt with, there are more nurses and services available and more is being done for the health of this nation than ever before.
Mr. Quinn: I am delighted the Taoiseach has such confidence in our health system, but I wonder if it is shared by all the citizens of this State. Does the Government accept the judgment of the European Court on Human Rights on the Loughgall killings that found, in essence, it is an absolute right of citizens to have an independent mechanism for the investigation of police complaints? When will legislation be introduced to provide for an independent Garda complaints service or authority?
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform referred to these matters recently and about that necessity, but legislation on it is not currently before the Govern ment. The Minister indicated that in dealing with cases in the future, such as the Abbeylara case, we will have to move from the position we had. The Government will have to consider how that will best be done, on the far side of the investigations currently before the House and cases we will have to deal with.
Mr. Quinn: The Taoiseach seems to be misinformed as to what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said. He rejected proposals for a legislatively based independent complaints system. Is it the Government's position that for as long as it lasts in office we will have to wait until we are dragged before the court in Strasbourg, given that our system is at variance with the findings of the judgment? Is it correct to assume that the Government is not prepared to bring forward legislation which would provide for an independent complaints board or procedures for citizens who have complaints against the Garda, and that we would remove the current system where the gardaí investigate complaints against themselves by themselves?
The Taoiseach: My understanding is that what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said was that at present these investigations are not on a statutory basis and that he would not bring forward legislation but he would seek to put a more independent element into the current investigations' system. I presume his view is that he can do that without putting it on a statutory basis.
Mr. Quinn: Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Last week on 8 and 10 May this House was promised by the Government that Report and Final Stages of the Children Bill, 1999, would be scheduled for today. It was on a preliminary schedule for business but we were told that, due to conflict among Departments and the Attorney General's office, the matter had not yet been resolved. Is there any hope of us ever seeing this legislation?
The Taoiseach: The Children Bill was to be before the House this week, but unfortunately, the amendments were not completed. The Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Health and Children had been working on amendments. There are 25 Government amendments. They were only circulated today and that would not have given the Opposition a  reasonable chance. We will try to get the Bill rescheduled as soon as possible.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Within the past half an hour I had a telephone call from a constituent who is numb from the hips down, sitting in a hospital accident and emergency ward and they do not even have a seat for his wife.
Mr. G. Mitchell: Is it intended to re-introduce the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill so that the House can be given an opportunity to discuss the failure of the Cabinet meeting at Ballymascanlon yesterday to address—
Ms Fitzgerald: There have been stories of people with disabilities travelling in the engine  rooms of trains. What priority is the Taoiseach giving to the legislation on disability? When will a strong disabilities Bill be brought forward so that rights can be enshrined for people with a disability?
Mr. Gilmore: I want to ask about four Bills which have been published by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government but which have not yet been brought through this House, the Local Government Bill, the Waste Management Bill, the Road Traffic Bill and the Electoral Bill. When will each of those Bills be brought to this House for Second Stage?
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): On promised legislation, last Thursday the Minister for Public Enterprise told the House at Question Time that CIE was refusing to make available information and documentation for the inquiry on the Kiltoom rail crash and that she was consulting the Attorney General—
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): It shows an appalling contempt for the Minister. Why has the Rail Safety Bill not been brought forward as a priority? This would certainly eliminate any possibility of contempt being shown by CIE for the right to an independent inquiry?
 Mrs. Owen: I want to ask the Taoiseach about legislation, No. 60 on the list of promised legislation, the Medical Practitioners (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, and about an announcement in the budget which is relevant to this legislation. Is the Taoiseach aware that in the budget the Government announced that everybody over 70 would be eligible for medical cards from 1 July next? Is the Taoiseach aware that there is no clarity about this matter?
Mr. Broughan: When will the Family Mediation Service Bill be taken? I was present earlier this afternoon when the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, launched the service. Is the Taoiseach disturbed by the reports today that—
Mr. Stanton: When will the Irish National Petroleum Corporation Limited Bill be published? Will it be published before any deal is signed at the end of this month to sell the oil refinery to  Phillips/Tosco so that we will have time to debate the issue?
Mr. Rabbitte: As the guarantor of Members of the House, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, do you intend to take steps to try to ensure that the practice of Ministers replying on the Adjournment and giving irrelevant, often contemptuous answers, which frequently miss the point of the issues being raised by Deputies might be addressed?
Mr. Howlin: A promise was made in the House by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform subsequent to a court decision to establish the parole board on a statutory basis. Has work been completed on that and when will the legislation be published?
The Taoiseach: It will not be published until next year. The heads of the Bill are expected in June of this year but the drafting of the Bill, which will contain almost 70 heads, will take at least nine months.
Mr. Flanagan: Remarks at the weekend attributed to the Tánaiste quote her as saying she favours the introduction of legislation to ban strikes. Will the Taoiseach tell us when this legislation will be published?
Mr. Rabbitte: The Minister of State with responsibility for consumer affairs is flapping about helplessly pleading with publicans to introduce voluntary price stability. Does the Taoiseach propose to introduce legislation to control the price of drink, having regard to the disproportionate contribution it makes to the inflationary spiral that the Minister for Finance—
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