Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
This is a technical amendment as the Central Bank Reform Act 2010 provided for the Central Bank to take over the functions and personnel of the financial services authority of Ireland and its commencement has given rise to this amendment, that is, there is no longer a financial services authority of Ireland. I ask the Deputies to accept the amendment.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We view this as a technical amendment and do not oppose it. Will the Minister of State clarify whether the newly appointed Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Reilly, will take any of Report Stage in the course of the time allotted for it either today or tomorrow?
Deputy Róisín Shortall: I am not in a position to clarify that for the Deputy. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, is not available today because he has another engagement. I will clarify with the Deputy later, if Report Stage runs into tomorrow, who will be taking it.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I have no objection to these amendments. However, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be aware that I have just now, upon sitting down to proceed with Report Stage, been handed a letter by a member of the Oireachtas staff from the Office of the Ceann Comhairle. This methodology of dealing with important legislation is absolutely outrageous. This is the first sight or indication I have had of a ruling made by the Ceann Comhairle’s office. It is of such importance that I request the indulgence of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to convey the letter’s contents. It states:
This is an absolutely outrageous proposition. Indeed it is absolutely arguable that the ruling is incorrect because what I am seeking to establish by this series of amendments is the right to critical representation in regard to the midwifery profession. The ruling is totally unacceptable. There is no engagement, no consultation; it is arbitrary and presented without means of redress. That is an absolutely abhorrent way of doing business in this House. It is important that people whose particular role will be affected by this legislation — their work and the service they provide — know what has happened here. I strongly object to this and will contest it in regard to the relevant amendments as the opportunity presents.
Deputy Clare Daly: I am somewhat shocked at what Deputy Ó Caoláin indicated has been done. I am new to this procedure, this being my first time to participate on Report Stage of a Bill. I have waited all morning to support the amendments put down by Deputy Ó Caoláin, proposals which are critical for the foundation of maternity care in Ireland for the next quarter of a century. The provisions in the Bill will have a dramatic impact on the practice of midwifery, one of the oldest, and predominantly female, professions in the State.
I am not sure how to proceed. Is it normal for a Deputy to be told in the course of proceedings that his or her amendments are out of order? The proposals in question are critical and a failure to implement them will present a serious problem for midwives and for pregnant women, who have a right to choose a particular type of maternity care. Maternity services are already under threat and the profession requires protection. Deputy Ó Caoláin’s amendments seek to provide that protection. Will the Leas-Cheann Comhairle offer some direction?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Ceann Comhairle’s ruling in these matters is final and Deputies’ objections must be taken up with his office. Under Standing Orders, such rulings are not to be debated in the House. I can only advise the Deputies of that and suggest that they raise their concerns with the Office of the Ceann Comhairle.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am not seeking to prolong this discussion, but I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to appreciate that Report Stage had already commenced when this letter was handed to me. The opportunity for taking it up with the Ceann Comhairle is post the event. It is after the effect. That is simply and absolutely not the way to address hugely important legislation which has been long awaited. There is no reason whatsoever that I could not have been informed of this ruling in advance and afforded the opportunity to debate it with the Ceann Comhairle or whoever is at the back of this directive.
To strike a more positive note, I am happy to withdraw this amendment in support of amendment No. 4 in the name of the Minister for Health and Children. I welcome the principle of consultation on the board’s statement of strategy and the putting in place of a mechanism for that purpose, as set out in amendment No. 4. My amendment No. 3 is encompassed within amendment No. 4 and, in fact, the latter offers a wider opportunity for engagement. The context of amendment No. 3 is the argument presented by the former group of Opposition spokespersons on health, which included the Minister, Deputy Reilly, in the previous Dáil. I am pleased the Minister has brought forward some of the positions he articulated in opposition into his role in government.
The pity in all of this is that there was not more consultation directly with the affected professions, namely, nurses and, in particular, midwives, in advance of the drafting of the Bill and during the course of its drafting by the former Government. That is what has given rise to many of the deficiencies within the legislation, deficiencies which I have endeavoured to correct. Unfortunately, I will not have the opportunity to argue for some of my proposals because of the Ceann Comhairle’s ruling, but I will persevere in regard to those that are allowable. Hopefully we will see a better product at the end of the debate.
The points made by the Deputy were made on Committee Stage by him and other Opposition spokespersons, and those points have been taken on board. Amendment No. 3 refers to “consultation with the nursing and midwifery professions” and my amendment goes beyond that in proposing a broader consultation to include the public and other relevant organisations and bodies.
The Deputy claims there was a lack of consultation in devising the provisions of this Bill. There was extensive public consultation in the preparation of this Bill and meetings were held with various stakeholders, including the unions and directors of nursing and midwifery. This is information I have been given in respect of what happened last year in this regard but I urge Members to accept amendment No. 4 in the spirit in which it is tabled. It takes on board the points that were made on Committee Stage and goes further by providing for a wider consultation.
I believe this is the very first opportunity, certainly for this Minister for Health and Children and perhaps also for the Government, to introduce a practical reform in the manner in which State boards are appointed. This issue has been a focus of some debate in the House over the past couple of weeks and the new Government has presented itself as a Government of change and reform, especially with regard to the political system, public service and political appointments. Both Fine Gael and the Labour Party have spoken of giving Oireachtas committees real powers of scrutiny, which I would welcome and greatly support. I believe this amendment certainly offers such an opportunity. It simply requires that An Bord Altranais agus cnáimhseachais na hÉireann, the nursing and midwifery board of Ireland be appointed “subject to the approval of a Joint Committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas [that has been] assigned the role of examining matters relating to health”. The reason I have styled it in this manner is because at present, there is some uncertainty as to the structuring of Oireachtas committees on foot of the establishment of the new Department of children. It is unclear to me whether it is intended to establish full Oireachtas committees to shadow separately both the new Departments of health and children or to continue to have an Oireachtas committee on health and children even though there will be two Departments under Deputies Reilly and Fitzgerald, respectively.
In the last Dáil, the then Fine Gael spokesperson on health and children, Deputy Reilly, proposed an amendment that was exactly like the one I have tabled today. This is very important as I have welcomed in respect of amendment No. 4, the Minister’s following through of the logic of the position he took up in the previous Dáil in address of this legislation. This is another opportunity both for Deputy Reilly and his colleagues throughout the Government to address both a need within this legislation and to walk the walk in respect of appointments to State boards. One little thing I noticed during the election was that the Minister’s colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton, published the following in Fine Gael’s own reform proposals: “all ... appointments of CEOs and Chairman of State Boards will be vetted by a Dáil committee, with all other Board members vetted by the Public Appointments Commission”.
I believe this amendment is very reasonable and straightforward. It constitutes a relatively mild reform and I can discern no good reason the Minister would not accept the amendment and live up to the spirit of the position articulated by both Fine Gael and the Labour Party both in opposition and since they have formed a new coalition after the general election. I commend amendment No. 5 to the Minister of State and would appreciate her acceding to it.
Deputy Clare Daly: I support this amendment. This Bill is one of the first items of legislation before the new Dáil and in that sense, it provides Members with a good opportunity to set an important precedent with regard to the appointment of State boards. The fact that the board would be subject to the approval of a joint committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas is more democratic and involves the entire House in a more democratic way. This can only benefit the professions involved and through that, the recipients of the health care they provide. The Minister of State should comment on the fact that when in opposition, the Minister for Health and Children supported the insertion into legislation of demands such as this but that on gaining power and becoming part of the Government, he has not incorporated those amendments and opinions that presumably he held dear and stood over at the time. Why, on coming to power, does he not incorporate something for which he supposedly fought in opposition? This is an extremely worrying trend, particularly on such important matters that have a precedent for the broader question of State boards in future.
Deputy Róisín Shortall: I assure both Deputies that the new Government is highly committed to the principle of having transparency in respect of the appointments being made to State boards. Both parties to the Government have identified this in their respective election manifestoes and in the programme for Government. It has been highlighted as an issue with which the new Government intends to deal at an early stage in the context of a reform agenda. This issue is in receipt of early attention at present. As we speak, policy is evolving in this area and proposals will be brought forward shortly on how best to ensure there is close public scrutiny of all appointments made to State boards. The Government is absolutely committed to the principle of having transparency in this regard and everyone has learned lessons from the mistakes that were made in the past. While concrete policies have not yet been put in place, this will be announced shortly in the context of the aforementioned reform agenda.
I wish to make some points regarding the board under discussion at present. The board will comprise 23 members, of whom 11 will be nurses or midwives and 12 who will not be nurses or midwives. An important balance has been struck and agreement was reached in this regard. As for how these nominations will be made, of the 11 nurses or midwives, two will be nominated by third level colleges, one nurse and one midwife, one director of nursing or midwifery will be chosen from the Minister from a list compiled by the HSE in accordance with the procedures specified by the Minister. Eight will be elected by the various professions and there will be one general nurse, one children’s nurse, one psychiatric nurse, one intellectual disability nurse, one midwife, one public health nurse, one nurse engaged in the education of nurses or midwives and who is employed in the public health sector, as well as one nurse engaged in the care of older people. Twelve board members will not be nurses and midwives and again the composition of these 12 members is prescribed. There will be one medical practitioner, who will be nominated by the Medical Council, one to be nominated by the Minister for Education and Skills, two to be nominated by the HSE, one to be nominated by the Health and Social Care Professionals Council, one to be nominated by HIQA and one who will be from the voluntary sector.
This will leave five public interest members to be appointed by the Minister. Consequently, the ministerial appointees constitute a small minority of the membership, namely, five members out of 23. As for the aforementioned five public interest members appointed by the Minister, it is open to the Minister to advertise these positions to the public, which is what is being considered by the Minister at present. The Government and its spokespersons already have given commitments to advertise such appointments on, for example, the relevant Department’s website or in the national media. This is one option, while another is to use the Public Appointments Service to assist in the selection of suitable members. This is under active consideration by the Minister at present and one or other of these options will be chosen in due course. I wish to make clear that the Government is committed to the principles that have been outlined by the Members opposite. The Government made an issue of this question at an early stage after the election and we are determined to bring transparency to all appointments to public boards. This is how we intend to proceed in respect of the five remaining public interest members who are not nominated by relevant public bodies.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It is a case of Lord make a saint of me, but just not yet. What policy decision must the Government take to afford a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas a scrutiny and vetting role in respect of the appointment of a State board? Why would we not agree to do that? I was willing to believe the Minister had not tabled the amendment because it was an oversight and that the Minister of State would accept the amendment, given that it represents the position our respective parties argued consistently in the period prior to and since the election. The Government will carry out these reforms, but just not yet. This is incredible. All we are asking is for a joint committee of the Houses to have a role in approving the makeup of boards. This is a reasonable position and one to which the Government parties allegedly hold.
On two levels, the Oireachtas committee on health is outside the loop because the Bill is going to provide that “the Minister shall appoint”. The committee is being rendered redundant. Where reform of matters relating to State boards is concerned, the Government has missed a golden and important opportunity to walk the walk. It is talking the talk, but there is no delivery. This was a minor test and I do not accept that it can be kicked to touch.
While I welcome the Minister of State’s participation, the Minister, Deputy Reilly, who was the lead Opposition voice on health for a considerable period, would have been blistering of the absence of the then Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, if she had not attended to handle particular legislation. This is the first Bill under his area of responsibility to be laid before the Thirty-first Dáil. Why in heaven’s name is he not present as the Minister for Health and Children to deal with Report Stage of this important Nurses and Midwives Bill? He has a long record of criticism of the former Minister for her absences and lack of interest on so many occasions, but he is not demonstrating a good start in terms of this critical legislation by not being present in the first instance and by failing to reflect an important amendment that he should have adopted or, at the very least, on which he should have advised the Minister of State to indicate acceptance.
Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Like Deputy Ó Caoláin, I am disappointed the Government is not taking the amendment on board. Before the election, the Government parties were adamant about how appointments should be made to State boards. Despite the opportunity presented by this amendment to do so, the Government will not accept it. This is evidence of how the Government has talked one game and played another since taking office. In recent weeks, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, announced with great fanfare in the media that he would advertise some roles on boards at his Department. However, a chairman was appointed to the board of Bord na gCon without any such reference to advertising. When the Taoiseach was asked in the Dáil about whether the new chairman would need to appear before any future committee, he replied that, while the chairman would do so, he would stay in place unless he made a total hames of it.
Deputy Charlie McConalogue: This amendment presents us with an opportunity to implement some of the talk and ideas that the then Opposition came out with prior to the election. Unfortunately, the Government is advertising some small roles to try to hide the fact that it is business as usual. I urge the Minister of State to reconsider the amendment.
Deputy Róisín Shortall: With all due respect, it is a bit rich to make such comments. The Government has only been in place for the past six weeks, yet a great deal of progress has been made. We have signalled our intention to open up the question of appointments to State boards and to bring transparency to the area. I have outlined the situation that pertains to the 23 members of the board in question, in that only five members will be appointed by the Minister. It is not an entirely straightforward matter to bring appointments before an Oireachtas committee, as our committees are not yet in place.
We are at an early stage in the lifetime of the Government and we have signalled how we intend to proceed, that is, shining a light on public appointments. The Minister stated that, where the five appointments that fall to him are concerned, he is considering how best to open the process up, including whether to advertise those positions on the website or in the national media or whether the process should be given over to the Public Appointments Service, PAS. There is clarity about how he intends to proceed. He wants to make it as open as possible and, if Deputies give him just a little opportunity, he will revert with his consideration of how best to proceed.
The majority of the board’s members are appointed by the relevant professional bodies. Is Deputy Ó Caoláin suggesting that they all appear before an Oireachtas committee? What would the logistical implications of doing so be? It is not a straightforward matter. It has always been the tradition that, where professional bodies nominate or elect their representatives, those nominees will be accepted by the Minister. The Deputy is proposing something entirely different, a complete break with procedures, by suggesting an opening up of those nominations. It is appropriate that the Minister should accept the professional bodies’ nominations. He intends to open up the question of the five remaining public interest members. He is examining the issue and will announce how he intends to proceed shortly.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I am not seeking to do as the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, suggests. Approval by a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas is an important procedure and I have no doubt that such a committee would not be undoing the selected or elected nominees of the respective component parts of the professions involved. However, the committee should be given the role and responsibility.
While the Minister of State made the point that the Minister only has ultimate control over a certain number of appointments, the opening statement in this section of the Bill is that the board shall be appointed by the Minister, and so it should be. However, the committee should have a role and, under my amendment, it would give its approval. This is a proposal many would support. As to the notion that it cannot be adopted today because the committees are not in situ, the Seanad election procedure will conclude next week, shortly after which we will have the establishment of the various committees of the Houses. There is no impediment to accepting the amendment and proceeding as it sets out because those committees are not yet in situ.
The Minister of State claimed the observations of my colleague in the Fianna Fáil Party were a little rich, but I welcome them and I had hoped to hear the same from the Government benches, that is, now is the correct opportunity to put down a clear marker of intent to ensure we stand up to what has been articulated heretofore and to ensure a new beginning in terms of State boards. It is unacceptable that we are not going forward in such a way. I intend to press the amendment.
|Adams, Gerry.||Boyd Barrett, Richard.|
|Calleary, Dara.||Collins, Joan.|
|Collins, Niall.||Colreavy, Michael.|
|Cowen, Barry.||Crowe, Seán.|
|Daly, Clare.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Donnelly, Stephen.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Ellis, Dessie.||Fleming, Sean.|
|Healy, Seamus.||Higgins, Joe.|
|Kirk, Seamus.||Lenihan, Brian.|
|Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.||McConalogue, Charlie.|
|McDonald, Mary Lou.||McGrath, Finian.|
|McGrath, Mattie.||McGrath, Michael.|
|McLellan, Sandra.||Martin, Micheál.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Murphy, Catherine.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.|
|O’Brien, Jonathan.||O’Dea, Willie.|
|Pringle, Thomas.||Smith, Brendan.|
|Stanley, Brian.||Tóibín, Peadar.|
|Bannon, James.||Barry, Tom.|
|Broughan, Thomas P.||Butler, Ray.|
|Buttimer, Jerry.||Byrne, Catherine.|
|Byrne, Eric.||Cannon, Ciarán.|
|Carey, Joe.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Collins, Áine.||Conaghan, Michael.|
|Conlan, Seán.||Connaughton, Paul J.|
|Conway, Ciara.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Costello, Joe.||Coveney, Simon.|
|Creed, Michael.||Creighton, Lucinda.|
|Daly, Jim.||Deasy, John.|
|Deenihan, Jimmy.||Deering, Pat.|
|Doherty, Regina.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Dowds, Robert.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|Farrell, Alan.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Anne.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Fitzpatrick, Peter.||Flanagan, Charles.|
|Flanagan, Terence.||Gilmore, Eamon.|
|Griffin, Brendan.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|Harrington, Noel.||Harris, Simon.|
|Heydon, Martin.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Howlin, Brendan.||Humphreys, Heather.|
|Humphreys, Kevin.||Keating, Derek.|
|Kehoe, Paul.||Kelly, Alan.|
|Kenny, Seán.||Kyne, Seán.|
|Lawlor, Anthony.||Lynch, Ciarán.|
|Lyons, John.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||McGinley, Dinny.|
|McHugh, Joe.||McLoughlin, Tony.|
|McNamara, Michael.||Maloney, Eamon.|
|Mathews, Peter.||Mitchell, Olivia.|
|Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.||Mulherin, Michelle.|
|Murphy, Dara.||Murphy, Eoghan.|
|Nash, Gerald.||Naughten, Denis.|
|Neville, Dan.||Noonan, Michael.|
|Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Donovan, Patrick.||O’Dowd, Fergus.|
|Penrose, Willie.||Phelan, Ann.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Quinn, Ruairí.|
|Ring, Michael.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Sherlock, Sean.||Shortall, Róisín.|
|Spring, Arthur.||Stagg, Emmet.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Varadkar, Leo.||Walsh, Brian.|
On Committee Stage the Fine Gael spokesperson raised the issue of the election of the first president of the board. This amendment which will provide for the board to elect the first president rather than his or her being appointed by the Minister is now being proposed. I hope I will have the support of Members in that regard.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It is a pity we did not see the same positive approach being adopted the last time. I welcome the amendment which improves the Bill by allowing the board to elect its own president. It also provides for the election of a vice president. It replicates an amendment proposed by the previous Minister when we reached a certain point on Report Stage. As Members know, this Bill, with the Child Care (Amendment) Bill, is back for recommencement of Report Stage. My recall is that this amendment also met the intention of the previous Minister. I welcome its inclusion and the spirit behind it. I only wish it was reflected in all of the matters we are addressing today.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I ask the Minister of State to clarify what she has just proposed. Is she moving amendment No. 7? She used the word “recommitted”. Will she clarify the impact of that proposal on this amendment?
Deputy Róisín Shortall: There are a number of amendments in respect of which the Bill needs to be recommitted. My understanding is that if the House agrees to recommit in respect of amendment No. 7, the Bill will automatically be recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 10, 12, 16 and 17 also.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Recommittal is necessary in respect of this amendment, as it does not arise from Committee Stage proceedings. It also requires recommittal under Standing Order 136, as it involves a potential increased charge on the Exchequer. That is the explanation I have for the recommittal.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Is the Minister of State indicating she does not propose to proceed with the amendment at this point? What is the impact of what she is asking us to do? I wish to argue strongly in favour of amendment No. 8 as a better alternative to amendment No. 7 in the name of the Minister. This is the first reference to recommittal with regard to any of the amendments we have addressed so far. I seek clarification of the net effect of what the Minister of State is asking the House to agree to. Are we to have a full opportunity now, or continuing tomorrow, to address amendment No. 7, amendment No. 8 in my name, as an alternative, and all of the allied amendments in the group? Sadly, from the list of amendments I sought to have included in the group amendments Nos. 9, 11, 13 to 15, inclusive, and 18 have been disallowed. Very much is at stake here. I do not wish to indicate assent until I know exactly what the Minister of State seeks to achieve.
Deputy Clare Daly: I ask for clarification. Do I understand the basis for this decision is that there would be a potential charge on the Exchequer and, therefore, the amendments must be recommitted? However, the same reason was given for ruling Deputy Ó Caoláin’s amendment out of order. What is the basis for the distinction?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I explained that as best I could to the Deputy in so far as it relates to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle. The Minister of State looked for agreement on the recommittal and we shall address that matter when the House reconvenes.
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