Order of Business.

Tuesday, 17 May 2005

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 180 No. 12

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Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Order of Business is No. 1, a referral motion whereby the subject matter of No. 14 on today’s Order Paper is being referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights for consideration, to be taken without debate; No. 2, Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill 2004 — Committee Stage, to be taken at 3.15 p.m. until 5 p.m; and No. 3, Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2004 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m.

No. 1 is a motion regarding a proposal for a directive which aims at promoting the use of mediation in civil and commercial matters. It contains a number of important provisions dealing with the enforceability of mediation settlements, [850]the admissibility of evidence in civil proceedings and so on. The proposed regulation provides for a specific small claims procedure to be available in all member states as an option for those who are seeking a court decision in respect of a small claim that is capable of being specified in terms of a particular amount.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  The Leader may be aware the Government recently established a task force on student behaviour. I understand the task force is due to produce a report in June before its final report in the autumn. Teacher unions have raised the issue of school discipline and student behaviour in view of the small number of violent attacks on teachers and students in the classroom and the low-level disruption evident in some schools. In this context, will the Leader organise a debate to be attended by the Minister for Education and Science for a consideration of this issue?

Today’s edition of The Irish Times covers a report from the National Educational Welfare Board which expresses concern about children who are expelled. This is an issue that concerns us all. However, I am more concerned about the vast majority of students and teachers who want to work and study in a safe and peaceful environment. We must speak up for those students and for the teachers who have a difficult job to do. I only recently became aware that under the Education Act 1998, parents now have a right of ultimate appeal to the Department of Education and Science if they disagree with the expulsion of their child. Schools should have autonomy in this area to decide whether it is safe and proper that a particular pupil should remain in attendance. I am opposed to the notion that the Department can act as a final arbiter in such matters.

We must be clear in our response to bad behaviour. The main losers are students who work hard in difficult environments. We must stand up for them and for teachers who are doing a difficult job. There is no doubt we must put in place many different alternatives for children who cannot attend school for whatever reason but we must focus on those students and teachers who study and work hard. They deserve our full support.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  The Senator has outlined the reason teachers so deserve their benchmarking payments.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  Exactly.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Is this a response from the chianti-drinking socialists?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Brian Hayes has that phrase incorrect. It should be “chianti-swilling socialists”.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I never swill.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Senator O’Toole sounds like a long-playing record.

[851]Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  The report on the western rail corridor was published last week. I remind the Leader of her commitment to a debate on this issue and ask that she arrange it as soon as possible. It is important to show there is political support for the possibilities and potential which can be unlocked through the publication of this report.

The national report on obesity and related matters has been much in the news over the last 24 hours. It would be helpful if the Leader were to ascertain from the authors of this report the country in which the review of primary schools was undertaken. In which schools can we find the vending machines which the report recommends should be banned? Did the authors notice that the vast majority of primary schools do not have GP rooms and that many of those that do are obliged to use those rooms as classrooms? Are they aware that in many areas, providing for physical education becomes impossible in any type of inclement weather and that there are significant difficulties of insurance, location and logistics in organising games, even large-scale games such as those organised by Dublin and Cork city councils? Whereas the ideas are good and would be supported by the education community, work is being done free gratis through voluntary contributions from teachers, parents, school management and, sometimes, the support of local clubs. A debate on this matter would be helpful in order to point out how proposals may be made to work. Physical education is possible in primary schools, as is an interest in games but we need to explore various aspects. Account must be taken of children who are not proficient at competitive games, do not like physical force games or have other interests. Various activities, from croquet to GAA, should be considered to give a child the outlet he or she requires. These actions call for political will but do not require significant sums of money. Teachers will be delighted to become involved.

Some years ago, I proposed in this House that a games co-ordinator for primary and post-primary schools should be employed in every area. It would be helpful if this was so in the context of the important issues which are now faced. I call for a debate on this aspect of the report.

Ms Tuffy: Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  I would also like to debate the issues raised by Senator O’Toole regarding the report of the national task force on obesity. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said he found it shocking that children are not allowed to run around school playgrounds because of fears of litigation. This news is neither shocking nor new. The play policy of the National Children’s Office, which was published some years ago, found that litigation was forcing schools to curtail play. Play benefits many children who might not excel at sports as it provides a less rigidly organised learning opportunity. It is important that we try to tackle this problem.

[852]This issue is not confined to schools. In the context of play policy and playgrounds, the National Children’s Office found that Ireland contains more golf courses than children’s playgrounds. While approximately one golf course exists per 10,000 people, one playground exists per 24,000. I would welcome a debate on this issue.

I wish to raise the report of the World Economic Forum on gender equality, which found that Ireland is 51st of 58 countries in terms of equality of economic opportunity. The employment of women in Ireland is concentrated in poorly paid or unskilled job ghettoes characterised by an absence of upward mobility or opportunity. The report stated that this situation is often the result of negative or obstructive attitudes as well as legal and social systems which use maternity laws and benefits to penalise women economically for child birth and child care responsibilities and discourage or actively prevent men from sharing family responsibilities. I wish to note two issues arising from this finding. First, men also lose out in this situation because they do not receive opportunities to spend time with their children. Second, actions must be taken in the area of child care. This issue was raised last week. Ireland is lagging in terms of ensuring that child care options as well as opportunities to spend time with children are provided to women.

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn  Zoom on Camillus Glynn  I welcome the publication of the report by the task force on obesity. It is relevant to the issue of type 2 diabetes, which I have raised in this House on a number of occasions. A consultant in a medical clinic in the midlands has 3,000 patients who suffer from diabetes. This figure represents cases of which we are aware. What about the many thousands about whom we do not know? This condition rivals cancer as one of the greatest killers of our people. Early detection is important but it will have an adverse impact on the health service. I call for a general screening to ascertain the number of people with type 2 diabetes, a very serious condition which must be tackled head on.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Yesterday’s news was dominated by the report of the task force on obesity but I am sure none of us had to wait for the report to know it was a problem. It is a problem which has been known about for many years. Changes have occurred in Irish society, including an increase in consumption of fast food and changes in schools. One no longer sees children bringing sandwiches to school but when the school doors close at lunchtime, one sees them going down the town and eating chips and all types of fast food. That is the convenience-type culture in which we live. I would deplore the introduction of a fat tax, which has been mentioned from time to time, in an attempt to combat this problem, to act as a disincentive and to put some money in the coffers. If we introduce a fat tax, in many cases we will only penalise those who resort to fast food because it is cheaper.

[853]I have raised the issue of special needs on many occasions and the Leader quite rightly indicated that the Minister was carrying out a review. Last weekend the Minister announced the results of her review and the allocation of 660 extra teachers, of whom 340 will be temporary.

I was present at a public meeting in my constituency last Thursday night attended by 750 people. It was a very emotional meeting at which parents elaborated on the types of situations they faced with their children who were going through the primary school system and who, in many cases, were waiting up to two and a half years for psychological assessments. Even after the assessments, they were not given the results or told whether their children would be entitled to special tuition. Such a situation is a shocking indictment of our education system.

Concerns about small rural schools were also expressed at that meeting. As I have said on many occasions, the devil is in the detail in respect of what the Minister announced last weekend and small rural schools are still concerned that pupils who benefited from special needs education in the past may not benefit from September onwards.

I would like the Minister to come to the House to respond to specific queries on the changes taking place. It is hard for many people to understand this new weighted system. I would encourage such a debate. I assure the Leader that if such a meeting were held in any rural area, parents would relay the situations in which their children find themselves and the types of problems which may impact on them from September onwards.

Mr. Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden  Zoom on Terry Leyden  Although I do not know how serious are the proposals, I wish to raise the proposed €10 travel tax which some mad Eurocrat has brought forward to try to solve the Third World aid issue. Indeed, John O’Shea of Goal has condemned this proposal as absolutely ridiculous. As an island nation, we need air travel. The imposition of further taxation would be a major blow to this country. Whoever brought forward this proposal has done much to undermine the EU constitution which is being discussed at present. This effort to, in a sense, pull the plug on the people’s wish to pass the referendum on the EU constitution should be condemned.

I am glad the Minister for Finance said such tax would not be introduced on his watch. I am sure Commissioner McCreevy will not allow it to be introduced. For those Members who will have the opportunity to debate the EU constitution with MEPs tomorrow, perhaps they might put that proposal to them to ensure the Parliament does not allow any such mad, lunatic fringe to introduce such a tax on the people of this country and the travelling public throughout Europe. I condemn any such proposal. We should remember that the first Nice treaty referendum was defeated. Although the second was passed, the success of the constitutional treaty is not guaranteed. If more of these mad proposals come for[854]ward, I assure the House that quite a number of people will vote “No” in that referendum.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I ask the Leader to communicate the concern of many Members in this House about reports in today’s The Irish Times that the Office of Environmental Enforcement has advised farmers in the Aghancon valley in County Offaly not to engage in drainage projects because of the dangers of residual trace elements coming from wood preservatives. Chromium and heavy metals, which are fairly virulent poisons are present and this issue has been created by the T & J Standish Sawmills development. The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking further information on the issue. It has also prosecuted this company in the past and I understand it secured a conviction. A fresh prosecution for breaches of the company’s pollution control licence is in the pipeline. It was refused retention permission by An Bord Pleanála in 2003. Obviously, the company built the plant and then sought retrospective permission; the matter is going forward to a further appeal.

I have tried to raise this matter several times in the House. The first time was as an Adjournment matter, which was ruled out of order because no ministerial responsibility existed. Thereafter, the Minister was publically rebuked at European Union level and I was able to raise it despite the lack of ministerial responsibility. However, it was decided that the matter was sub judice. It is not satisfactory that the matter can be sub judice for several years while the company continues to develop. I visited the area a week or so ago. The company has expanded right down the valley without planning permission despite these prosecutions against it. Since the matter cannot be debated because of these rulings, perhaps the Leader will communicate the concerns of Members from all sides of the House.

I also ask for a debate on the proposed metro. I have asked for this several times because this is a moment when those elements within the Government who wish to proceed with the metro should be strengthened in their resolve to do so. This was brought home to me this morning while listening to the wireless as someone put figures on the record. Some 4,000 cars per hour make the journey from Dublin to the airport. In a couple of years, it is estimated that the figure will be 14,000 cars per hour. We cannot survive without a metro. It is important that this House, which initiated the debate on the metro, should support the Cabinet in taking a clear decision on this major infrastructural project.

Ms K. Walsh: Information on Kate Walsh  Zoom on Kate Walsh  I support Senator Glynn’s call for a debate on diabetes. As an insulin-dependent diabetic for many years, I am aware there is little public information available. Thankfully, I have never passed out. However, if I did so in this House today, I wonder who might be able to come to my aid. Of course, we have Senator Henry who is a doctor. This is an important [855]debate which we might have at the Leader’s discretion.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to debate the fair distribution of health services throughout the country. In the midlands, elderly and sick people leave their homes at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. three days a week to access dialysis machines here in Dublin, Galway and elsewhere. Those facilities should be located in hospitals such the Longford Westmeath General Hospital in Mullingar, for example. It should be the Minister’s objective to ensure that quality health services are accessible, irrespective of location. Currently — and I raised this last week on the Order of Business — emergency services are not available on a 24-hour basis in the midlands and elsewhere. Cutbacks are occurring as we speak.

Mr. Kevin Kelly, the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, said recently that cutbacks of approximately €200 million in the health service would be necessary between now and the end of 2005. As public representatives, we should be told which frontline services will be hit by the Government between now and the end of the year. This information is factual and was reported in the media last week and the previous week. Funding will be reduced to the tune of €200 million, which will have very serious effects on the delivery of health services and we want to know which services will be affected.

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde  Zoom on Ann Ormonde  I support the point made by Senator Brian Hayes concerning school discipline. This issue has been debated for many years. Discipline is particularly important at this time of the year when teachers are under considerable pressure to complete a programme of work in the run up to examinations but must face out of control blackguards who make their working conditions intolerable. Teachers simply do not know what to do.

I also support the call for a debate on the task force on obesity and particularly note the points raised by Senator O’Toole concerning how we can best integrate a new system into our primary and secondary education sectors. I would go further in arguing that this issue is about community leaders — parents, teachers, doctors and others — playing their part. Fighting obesity involves educating young people about diet and healthy living.

A debate is required on planning legislation, which was to have been revisited at some stage. I acknowledge that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, is always ready to come here and debate issues with Members. I am dissatisfied with the guidelines concerning high rise developments and the gung-ho approach of some county managers in dealing with applications. The Minister should revisit this area and discuss it with the House.

[856]We also need a debate before the next general election on voter registration. This issue becomes very significant at election time when people suddenly discover they are not on the register of electors. The system of registering voters must be simplified. This issue could perhaps be included in future debates on environmental issues.

Mr. Quinn: Information on Fergal Quinn  Zoom on Fergal Quinn  I am surprised that the recent troubles at the THORP reprocessing plant at Sellafield have attracted so little attention because they give us a chance to achieve what we want. The THORP plant has been closed down and will remain closed for a number of months. This closure provides us with an opportunity to push for the permanent closure of the THORP plant. The closure has apparently provoked discussions to this end. I am aware that Senator Ross, in particular, has raised the issue of Sellafield many times. It appears that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is still taking legal action against the British Government over the THORP plant. We should bring the maximum amount of pressure to bear on the British Government and not lose this opportunity to close the THORP plant for good.

When will the new structures that were supposed to be established on foot of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 be established? I read a report in one of today’s newspapers that many problems and questions have arisen with regard to making complaints. The regulations do not appear to have been put in place. Could the Minister come to the House to inform us when they will be put in place?

Mr. MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry  Zoom on Marc MacSharry  I concur with Senator O’Toole’s call for a debate on the McCann report for West on Track, which was published last week. It would be most appropriate if this House would note the contents of the report and debate its many merits. This issue and the lobby for this project are not political. It is a great achievement by all the affected communities on the western seaboard to take the project to its current level. The House should debate the issue before the scheduled announcement of the ten-year transport envelope, which will come up in this session. I would like this House’s views to be taken into account by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, and the Government when the final decision is being made on the West on Track project.

  3 o’clock

I reiterate my call for a debate on national resources, particularly Bord Gáis. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to come to the House so we might discuss that body’s plans, or lack thereof, to extend the network through the north-west above County Galway? As we know, work is proceeding to bring this natural resource from the Corrib field ashore in County Mayo but there are no plans, or even the germ of an idea, on the part of [857]Bord Gáis to make the resource available to the people of the north west.

Ms O’Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  Will the Leader schedule a debate on the issue of breast cancer and ask the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to address the House regarding her detailed plan to ensure BreastCheck is rolled out in the west and south without further delay? When we learn that a high profile person, someone who is in her 30s and is known internationally in the music world, has breast cancer, it brings home the extent of the illness and that it can land on anyone’s doorstep.

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  Many Members of the House, including the Leas-Chathaoirleach, attended the western rail corridor conference in Castlebar on Friday, 13 May. The report received a very positive response from two Ministers. The issue concerns the national spatial strategy and regional interconnections which has relevance for the south east and the west. It also addresses issues such as depopulation, as do the planning guidelines.

The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, launched on 16 May a report presented by the One Parent Exchange and Network, OPEN, organisation about the financial difficulties facing one-parent families. This matter would be well worth debating. The Minister has already shared some of his thoughts with this House on related topics. He has said he will speak with the banks about their refusal to deal with such people, throwing them back to moneylenders. We have a system whereby the European Central Bank sets base rates for interest rates. We should consider putting a ceiling on interest rates so that punitive 100% or 200% rates charged by financial institutions to vulnerable people would not only be illegal but those who demand them would go to jail——

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hear, hear.

Dr. Mansergh: Information on Dr Martin Mansergh  Zoom on Dr Martin Mansergh  ——rather than the people they try to put in jail for not paying such exorbitant debts.

Mr. J. Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  I join with other Senators who have asked for a debate on education, particularly primary education. Senator Brian Hayes and others mentioned the area of school discipline in regard to both primary and secondary schools. This is an area that has not received enough attention in the past few years and is a serious problem in many classrooms. As someone who was a secondary school teacher briefly, I am all too familiar with some of the difficulties for teachers and pupils who are faced with unruly pupils.

I also agree with the sentiments expressed by other Senators, particularly Senator O’Toole, in respect of the report of the national task force on obesity. I know of a school in my parish where [858]the general purpose room is now three classrooms and the schoolyard virtually does not exist because of prefabs. The perimeter of the school has been hemmed in by new developments so there is very little space for children to take part in any type of activity at lunch time or PE time. This is a widespread issue throughout the country and we should have a discussion on it.

My final point concerns staffing issues in primary schools. Last night I attended a public meeting in Urlingford in north County Kilkenny at which a couple of hundred parents gathered to discuss the pupil-teacher ratio. Sufficient progress has not been made in this regard. The Government gave a commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government that the pupil-teacher ratio would be reduced to 20:1, which is not close to being achieved. It is time there was a realistic discussion with the Minister to try to ensure that what is happening in schools such as the one in Urlingford, where there is a pupil-teacher ratio of 36:1 in several classes, does not continue in future. There should be positive action on the issue as a matter of urgency.

Mr. B. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hear, hear.

Ms Feeney: Information on Geraldine Feeney  Zoom on Geraldine Feeney  I support my colleague, Senator O’Meara, in calling for an early debate on breast cancer. We awoke this morning to the sad news from Australia that a certain lady is suffering from the early stages of cancer. This will highlight the issue of breast cancer, particularly among younger women, which is apt. A timely debate in the House would help in that regard. It is not just middle aged women who are threatened and lose their lives to breast cancer, it also happens to younger women. The whole area of education for younger women should be examined. We need to discuss how they are tested, whether by way of mammogram or MRI scan. Over the last couple of weeks, we learned that MRI scans now appear to be the way to detect breast cancer, particularly among younger women, where mammograms heretofore were not picking up tumours in young and middle aged women.

One of our leading oncologists, Professor John Crown, is currently in Florida. He is one of the people who suggests that the MRI scan is the way to go in detecting breast cancer. This will not be cheap. However, given the number of women who lose their lives to breast cancer in Ireland because it is not detected at an early stage, the MRI scan should be made available not just to women of 55 years of age and over, but to all women from the age of 18 onwards.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I wish Senator Walsh very good health. We have enough drama in the House without my becoming involved in emergency medicine in the back of the Chamber.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Hear, hear.

[859]Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I support the Senators who called for a debate on the obesity task force report, which is very important. When I attended the launch of the report yesterday as president of the Diabetes Federation of Ireland, I suggested to the Taoiseach that we could start in Leinster House by leading by example. I suggested that pudding portions could be reduced by 50%.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Never. What an outrageous suggestion. It is disgraceful.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  Senator Norris can have super-sized portions.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Excellent. I do already.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  Exactly. It would be a good idea if we led by example. We lead very sedentary lives and get very little exercise, therefore, we must eat the delicious, nutritious food, of which there are very large portions.

I support the calls for the extension of BreastCheck and the various developments that have taken place. However, we are neglecting one group of women in the country, namely, those families who have hereditary breast cancer. It is approximately one year before other members of these families, including sisters, mothers and daughters, can have a genetic test to determine if they have the similar gene. Is this right? Addressing this issue might reduce the incidence of breast cancer and death from breast cancer among young women, in particular, far more than MRI scans or BreastCheck. We know this is the case and that all it needs is money and people to be put in place in the centre in Crumlin. We are not seeking huge sums of money. A year is a very long time to wait if one wants to know if one has the cancer gene which could cause one to develop breast cancer.

Mr. Moylan: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  I support the many speakers who referred to the obesity task force report launched yesterday by the Taoiseach. If we do not take this matter seriously, particularly in regard to children, we will lose the opportunity to deal with the issue. Children no longer walk to school in towns and villages. Their parents drive them to and from school. That must change and we must allow young children to walk to and from school.

As a former member of the health board, Senator Bannon should know that people in Longford no longer have to rise at 4 a.m. because recently a new dialysis unit was opened in Tullamore to cater for the midland region. I compliment the Department of Health and Children, the Minister and all her associates on opening the unit.

Mr. Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  I too welcome the report of the Government’s task force on obesity. It is a serious situation that more than 2,000 people will die this year from obesity-related illnesses and over 300,000 children are affected by the problem. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and [860]Local Government can also act on this issue. I drive to Dublin every second day and I see footpaths on the bypasses at Longford and Enfield which thousands of people use daily. Footpaths should be incorporated into the plans for any future bypasses or link roads to ensure people can walk.

There has been talk about installing a gymnasium in Kildare House for almost ten years but to date there has been no value for money in that proposal. People have been working on it for the past 18 months but there is no gymnasium. How can we advise people to go out walking and get fit when we do not do so ourselves?

Mr. Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins  Zoom on Maurice Cummins  The National Council on Ageing and Older People published a report today entitled Perceptions of Ageism in Health and Social Services. The research found that many older people are being fobbed off with the answers they receive from the health service to queries about available services.

The study also found the health service guilty of discriminating against older people in several areas. One public health nurse said that many general practitioners will not refer older people because they regard their complaints as part of the ageing process. One former health board would not take anyone over 65 years for stroke rehabilitation.

This situation cannot continue. We must have a debate on ageism and older people. It is apt to have it now and I call on the Leader to arrange that debate at the earliest possible opportunity.

Dr. M. Hayes: Information on Dr Maurice Hayes  Zoom on Dr Maurice Hayes  I support many of the requests for debates but particularly on obesity and breast cancer. These are highly complex issues. People drive their children to school out of concern for their security. Schools do not allow children to play because they accept there is a risk and parents may sue the schools. Society must look at these issues. Senator Minihan made a good point, namely, that the diet of the poor is a poor diet which must be tackled by dealing with poverty.

I suggest that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission arrange for a position paper to be prepared in advance of such debates, particularly on a subject such as breast cancer. Some Members know a great deal about that subject, for which we are grateful, but our debates would be more informed if we had a general position paper. I call for more resources for the Oireachtas Library so a position paper setting out most of the facts would be made available before the debates.

Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  This is Say No to Ageism Week. I call on the Government to develop a new policy on ageing.

In the middle of his second presidential term, Ronald Reagan, then aged 76, said he had cancer, two hearing aids and had been shot at yet never felt happier in his life.

[861]Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  Can the Leader follow that?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Today’s debate has been a lively one. I am glad the Athlone group who had been in the Gallery have left before I reply. They were very welcome.

Senator Brian Hayes referred to the task force on student behaviour which is to produce a report in June. He called for a debate on school discipline, disorder and school expulsions and asked who has the final say on whether a child leaves the school. That could be allied to the difficulties concerning bullying in school and the policy on that issue. A debate on that matter would be useful.

Senator O’Toole said the report on the western rail corridor was published last week. Some Members appear to have received the report while others have not. I did not get a copy.

Mr. O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Was the Leader at the launch?

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  No. Surely everybody should get a copy of the report. We should have a debate on it and we had better get our copies of the report.

The Senator also referred to the report on obesity and pointed out that GP rooms in many schools have become classrooms. He said also that parents, school managers and the community at large are very much involved in organising and carrying out games strategies, particularly community games. He referred to the fact that children had different preferences and that not all children liked physical games. Some may have other inclinations. The issue would make for a useful debate.

Senator Tuffy referred to the report on obesity and noted that sport and play are very important. I agree with the Senator. Through play many children can express themselves and work out difficulties as they perceive them. The Senator referred to playgrounds and the proliferation of golf courses vis-à-vis the number of school playgrounds.

Senator Tuffy referred also to the report of the World Economic Forum on gender equality and women’s economic capabilities. She said men have negative and obstructionist policies towards women advancing in the workplace. A lady who came to see me knows, as does everybody else, she did not get promotion because she had just returned from maternity leave. She will find it difficult to prove but I take the Senator’s point.

The Senator also noted the importance of child care. It is interesting to note how everybody is jumping on the issue of child care, and so they should because it is an important issue. To date, many Members have been prominent with regard to its provision and are bringing forward documents. If that is the case and with such brains as are in the House honed in on the issue of child care, we should get a good policy.

Ms O’Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  Will we be listened to?

[862]Ms White: Information on Mary M. White  Zoom on Mary M. White  Of course we will.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  That would suit Senator Minihan also.

Senator Glynn welcomed the report of the task force on obesity and said it was relevant to the issue of type 2 diabetes. He pointed out that this condition rivals cancer as one of the greatest causes of death. It is lifestyle related. The Senator called for a general screening programme to ascertain the numbers suffering from the condition. That topic was taken up by Senator Maurice Hayes who agreed with the Senator.

Senator Finucane raised the issue of the task force on obesity and asked about the introduction of a fat tax. The Government has set its face against a fat tax. I do not know what it means, unless it is a tax on those foods which are supposed to make one fat.

The Senator also raised the issue of children with special needs. Some 660 extra resource teachers have been provided. These teachers were heretofore called remedial teachers. From now on the child does not need psychological testing. If the teacher is of the opinion that the child is in need of the services of a resource teacher that service will be made available. There used to be a long wait for psychological testing, which was damaging. The Senator asked if the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, would come into the House for a debate on the matter. I have requested such a debate.

Senator Leyden raised the matter of the €10 travel tax proposed as a means of helping the Third World. It is a ridiculous proposal and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, has refused to consider it. Senator Leyden rightly made the point that these proposals will lead us nowhere.

Senator Norris expressed concern about dangers to the environment arising from drainage. He also asked for a debate on the metro. I have asked the Minister for Transport to come to the House to debate that issue.

Senator Kate Walsh supported Senator Glynn’s call for a debate on diabetes. Senator Bannon asked for a debate on the health services. Senator Moynihan made the point that Tullamore hospital has a new dialysis unit.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  That is poor consolation for the constituent of mine yesterday who was told there was a waiting list of 26 for the unit at Tullamore hospital.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  The Leader of the House without interruption.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  We listened to the Senator. I am always very interested in what he has to say.

Mr. Finucane: Information on Michael Finucane  Zoom on Michael Finucane  He wishes to be factual.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  It might be a good idea to have a unit at every crossroads but it is not possible.

Mr. Bannon: Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  What about Mullingar?

[863]Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Senator Ormonde spoke on school discipline. She supported a call for a debate on obesity and asked for a debate on the planning guidelines. I do not know if I have the nerve to ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, to come to the House again. She also asked for a debate on voter registration. I would be very interested in a debate on that subject as would all Members.

Senator Quinn asked for a debate on Sellafield. He said we should be shouting from the rooftops about this matter and I agree with him. He referred to the Taxi Regulation Act 2003. I will make inquiries in that regard.

Senator MacSharry asked for a debate on the western rail corridor. He said it was a testament to all the communities who are active on this issue. He said a ten-year transport strategy is envisaged and it would be desirable if the western rail corridor was included. The Senator also asked for a debate on plans by Bord Gáis Éireann to extend the network to the north west.

I support Senator O’Meara’s call for a debate on breast cancer and BreastCheck. Senator Mansergh referred to the western rail corridor conference in Castlebar. He referred to the OPEN report on the difficulties faced by one-parent families in their dealings with moneylenders.

Senator John Paul Phelan supported calls for debates on school discipline, the national task force on obesity and the use of prefabs in schools. I agree that some schools have erected prefabs in the playground space but this is not the case in every school.

Mr. J. Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  A lot of them do.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  He asked about the pupil-teacher ratio, the PTR. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, has provided 660 extra resource teachers. She is working with the Minister for Finance on the PTR issue and is hoping for a breakthrough before the next budget.

Senator Feeney asked for a debate on breast cancer. She referred to Professor Crown and the MRI scan. I acknowledge her apologies for leaving to go to a meeting.

Senator Henry asked for a debate on the obesity task force and the example being given by the House. I suggest she speaks to Senator Norris as she seems to think his pudding intake was too much.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I am trying to do something to help him.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  That is good.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I want extra helpings.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  We should give up puddings altogether.

[864]Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  That would be nonsense. The Leader is a killjoy.

Ms O’Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I agree with Senator Henry that if genetic testing was attended to, many breast cancers would be detected at an early stage. The pre-cancerous stage is detectable by an MRI scan.

Senator Moylan raised the issue of the unit in Tullamore hospital. Senator Feighan also conveyed his apologies by sign language across the floor of the House for leaving the House early. He asked for a debate on obesity and suggested we should all walk more. He asked why the gymnasium has not been provided. As soon as the gymnasium is provided all the commentators will be giving about it. Senator Cummins said that older people who seek stroke rehabilitation are being fobbed off and are more or less being told: “It would be of no use to you, my dear.” The Senator did not use those words; I am merely saying what might be said.

Senator Maurice Hayes spoke about obesity and breast cancer. Generally people who cannot afford different kinds of food have bad diets. The Senator also asked that a position paper be prepared, in advance of such debates, particularly on a subject such as breast cancer. He did not say who should provide such a position paper and I certainly will not do it. However, his point was that the Oireachtas Library might have the resources to do so.

Senator White referred to Say No to Ageism Week and related all that President Reagan went through at the age of 76, which was good for him.

Order of Business agreed to.


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