Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
Ms O’Rourke: The Order of Business is No. 1, the Disability Bill 2004 — Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 5 p.m. and No. 13, motion No. 12, to be taken between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. There will be a sos between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. Yesterday extra time was sought for the debate on the Labour Party motion on the Morris tribunal reports. I would like to meet the party leaders on the conclusion of the Order of Business for a brief few minutes to see if we can work out something on that. The business due to the taken following Private Members’ business is concluded. Is that in order?
Mr. Finucane: It is more than seven years since the Good Friday Agreement. There have been many false dawns together with much frustration and fudging. David Trimble’s political career is over and support for the SDLP has eroded while Sinn Féin’s support has increased. The marching season is about to commence. I wish the Taoiseach good luck in London later where he will meet the DUP. He is focused on talks again having had recent meetings with Sinn Féin. We can reflect on the commitment made by the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, at the beginning of the UK election campaign when he said he would advise the IRA to end paramilitary activity. There is speculation it will end and I hope there will be an announcement in this regard in the near future because with the marching season upon us, a cloud will hang over Northern Ireland. We would all like to see the Good Friday Agreement advanced and I hope it will be in the next few weeks.
Cancer statistics were published recently and a worrying trend emerged in the high incidence of prostate cancer in the south west between 1994 and 2001. The roll-out of BreastCheck nationally has been criticised on the basis it is not happening quickly enough. However, I would like the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to discuss this issue. The test for prostate cancer is simple. Many older men prone to the disease have medical cards. If the Tánaiste were to introduce a free test for prostate cancer, it would demonstrate a little imagination and action on her part. The test is very simple and there is proof that if prostate cancer is detected early enough, it is a treatable illness. Male illnesses of this type can often be forgotten about. I would like to see a step taken towards doing something about this cancer.
Mr. O’Toole: We debated the OECD report on third level education one month to six weeks ago. The debate was a good one but the issue was not debated elsewhere. In the same week as that report’s publication, the OECD published a report on child care that was not discussed anywhere. Senator O’Meara raised the matter of the NESF report yesterday. She has also raised related issues occasionally. It would be timely to discuss both reports now. I am conscious that serious presentations are being made to the Taoiseach on this issue at present. I support the Senator’s call for a debate on the matter at a time when mortgage costs for many young people are less than child care costs. This is a matter we must examine.
I support Senator Finucane’s proposal about expanding the availability of free prostate cancer tests. I raised the issue that every workplace should ensure all workers are facilitated with an annual blood test that would perform prostate, cholesterol, liver, diabetes and other tests. This can be done very easily, efficiently and simply. Much of it was available to Members of the Houses in recent times and will soon be available again. The way to address this matter is to ensure every workplace puts in place opportunities for all workers to access blood tests which would cover these important issues. Senator Henry has spoken of the importance of diabetes checks and the difficulties diabetes creates. Blood tests could be a positive development in that regard.
Ms O’Meara: I could not help but notice this morning that the Government appears to be waking from its slumber on the subject of child care. For some Ministers, there are indications they see the possibility of important announcements on the matter. I suspect we are a long way from action but I welcome the issue being on the agenda. My party will take some credit for this. As Senator O’Toole has said, it would be no harm to have a debate on child care issues.
The OECD report has been mentioned and the Leader and I discussed it previously. I have not read the NESF report yet but I assume it will be available. The Government has made proposals, if they amount to proposals. Let us have a debate and see if we can advance the issue on behalf, not only of the parents of Ireland, but of the children of Ireland also.
I support the calls for a debate on Northern Ireland. We wish the Taoiseach well today. We have had some very valuable debates on Northern Ireland and, though we are running out of time before the summer recess, I ask the Leader to consider arranging such a useful debate.
Mr. Minihan: I join with previous speakers in seeking a debate on child care. No single party has a monopoly on advancing this issue. From interacting with the community, all politicians recognise the need in this regard. Of late, all parties have been putting forward proposals. All parties deserve to have these views aired so we can reach a consensus to advance initiatives and directives in the interests of parents and the community. I would welcome such a debate.
I agree with Senator Finucane’s comments on prostate cancer, which is a worthwhile consideration that should be taken on board. It would be remiss of us if we did not have a debate on Northern Ireland before the end of this term and I urge the Leader to try to facilitate such a debate.
Mr. Bannon: Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to have a debate on the charges imposed under the Freedom of Information Act 1997? These charges are impacting negatively on public access to information. Transparency and accountability form the cornerstone of every democracy. As we have learned recently, there has been a 33% decline in the numbers accessing the services provided for under the Act in the past two years due to the high charges imposed by the Government. The Taoiseach promised a review of the legislation approximately one and a half years ago but nothing has happened. In all other European countries, no charges are imposed.
Mr. Bannon: They consider people having access to information to be the pillar of democracy. The high charges imposed by the Government are having a negative effect on this country. We need a review and a debate on the issue.
Mr. Hanafin: Will the Leader arrange a debate on VRT? Allowances are made in cases of disability, wherein vehicles are allowed tax relief if they are fuel efficient in terms of using alternative fuels. In light of the number of people being killed on our roads, perhaps we should consider reducing VRT on vehicles that pass certain very high safety standards in order to incentivise the companies that import them to advance safety features so we can reduce the carnage on the roads and do something positive.
Mr. Norris: I support Senator Finucane’s call for screening for prostate cancer. I have it done every year as I have had a prostate problem for some time, which happens to most men over a certain age. The blood test is simple and is a good idea that should be done.
The Senator also raised the matter of BreastCheck. I received a communication this morning from Age Action Ireland pointing out that, though there is a dip in the incidence of breast cancer for those in their 40s, rates start to increase again for those in their 60s. Women over 64 are excluded from the BreastCheck service, which is wrong. This is a form of ageism. We should make the service available to everyone as it is just as much a difficulty, tragedy or trauma for a woman of 64 or over as it is for someone younger.
I wish to raise the issue of immigration procedures, asylum seekers and so on. We must monitor this situation on an ongoing basis. I received a letter from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, concerning the Kennedy-McCain Bill in the US and our Government’s tremendous activity in lobbying for our unregistered and undocumented people in America.
Mr. Norris: I support the Government in this but we have an arbitrary, capricious and unchristian system here. Will the Government consider removing from the Constitution the provisions referring to Christianity, as it is plainly not prepared to act upon them? I have a great regard for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, but he suggested recently it was regrettable that we must observe international human rights agendas when allowing people into the country. I am sure it was an off-the-cuff remark but, as with Donald Rumsfeld, these ideas travel downwards. The process can be very difficult sometimes. The phone system does not work. The office is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for a few hours. The switchboard operator will say one is wasting time trying to get through. As public representatives, is there not a special number for us to get through? There is no accountability.
Tomorrow is Bloomsday. To mark the occasion last year, a Lebanese scholar of international reputation was refused a visa to read a paper. I managed to get her into the country. I know of a situation where a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, wants to do a degree, an extra special little exam and was refused one week——
Mr. Norris: I am. There are situations all over the country of people who have been here for five years and who are being thrown out. This is not what the Irish people want. The Leader knows that the decent people of Athlone rallied around a family being deported. A seven year old boy was left behind when his family was sent back to Romania. A man who converted from Islam to Christianity and who is threatened with death if he goes back was sent back. Some of the people sent back were monitored.
Mr. Norris: A mother stated that she was afraid her daughter would be subjected to female circumcision if she went back to her country of origin. The reason she was not allowed to stay in Ireland was that her older daughter had remained at school in her native country. However, the officials did not realise that this tragic mutilation had already happened to the older girl and nothing more could be done. Officials do not know all the facts and they are making important decisions. They are not, but should be, accountable. A register of deportation decisions should be set up and monitored. We should also ask the Human Rights Commission to examine the situation.
Mr. Glynn: I support Senator Finucane in his calls for a debate on men’s health and I have asked for such a debate on several occasions in the past. We have debated women’s health in this Chamber, and rightly so. The incidence of prostate cancer is increasing. I am guided by Senator Henry’s knowledge in stating that the PAS test, while providing some guidance, is not a conclusive test.
We also had a discussion on diabetes in tandem with the debate on the obesity report but diabetes, particularly type 2, merits a standalone debate. I exhort the Leader to encourage the Minister for Health and Children to debate type 2 diabetes in this House and to initiate a screening programme for this condition. A great number of people are suffering from type 2 diabetes and an even greater number do not even know they have the disease.
It is time the matter was brought centre stage in this House. Let us invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to hear definitive proposals from her on what is to be done about prostate cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Mr. Coghlan: I support Senator Finucane in his call for a debate on Northern Ireland and on men’s health. I welcome what has been said about child care and the proposals that are forthcoming. Perhaps a debate could be arranged on the matter after the National Economic and Social Forum child care document is published.
I have previously raised the issue of the cost of company law compliance statements for businesses in this House. Small businesses in particular are being penalised unfairly. The matter has been referred to the Company Law Review Group and I urge the Government to speed up that process. The threshold for compliance statements should be €20 million rather than €5 million or €7 million on turnover and €15 million rather than €7 million on balance sheet. I ask the Leader for a debate on the matter with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Mr. Mooney: I support the calls for a debate on child care but I cannot let Senator O’Meara’s comments go unanswered. This Government has been wide awake to the realities of child care and has spent hundreds of millions of euro since the programme was initiated in 1997. My friend and colleague, Senator Cox, raised the issue repeatedly at Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings when she was first elected. Several other party members did the same.
The phenomenal expansion of the economy has overwhelmed us. The number of people now at work has increased dramatically and last week it was up by a further 30,000. There are almost 2 million at work compared to 1.1 million less than ten years ago. It is inevitable that a response cannot be as quick as would be desired. I welcome a debate on child care and the report from the National Economic and Social Forum. There are areas that need adjustment but it is neither fair nor accurate to suggest that the Government has not been aware of this issue. The initiatives that have already been put in place and those that are forthcoming will go a long way towards addressing the problem.
I support everything Senator Norris said on immigration. This House was ably represented last week on the lobbying mission to the United States but while there, lobbyists were aware of the Achilles heel of Irish immigration laws. There is probably as great a need for immigration reform in this country as in the United States.
Dr. Henry: I support Senator Glynn and all Senators who called for a debate on what is essentially preventive medicine. I also ask for some action on the various reports produced over the years that support preventive initiatives.
The debate on the Morris tribunal report in Private Members’ time tonight does not cover an issue that concerns me and I urge the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to address in this House why he is continuing to pursue Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin through the courts. They are being pursued regarding information they gave to a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and apparently the case is due to be heard on 5 July. Senator Higgins and Deputy Howlin——
Dr. Henry: We, as taxpayers, object to a matter being pursued which will probably be settled on the steps of the court and cost a fortune, knowing the cost of senior counsel on a daily basis. Why can it not be stopped? I am interested——
Dr. Henry: I understand what the Cathaoirleach is saying but must we continue to have such cases settled on the steps of the courts at enormous expense to the taxpayer? I ask the Leader to investigate the matter.
Ms White: I support the calls for a debate on child care. I wish to inform colleagues on both sides of the House that I have been working on child care on a daily basis for the past eight or nine months.
Ms White: I am calling for a debate on the matter and if any Senator, on either side of the House, wants to hear my child care proposals, he or she can come to the Carmelite community centre on 27 June.
Mr. U. Burke: Over the years we have debated road deaths and carnage and their causes and all possible measures to improve road safety have been proposed. It is strange, therefore, that the National Roads Authority, NRA, has decided to object to the provision of off-road facilities on new road projects. It has joined groups like An Taisce, Dúchas and others, in objecting to improved infrastructure.
The NRA has stated that it has a strategy of improving signage to direct trucks and other vehicles off main roads and into towns and villages. This seems to be contrary to the original idea behind new and improved road structures bypassing such population centres. I ask the Leader to urge the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to intercede immediately and request the NRA to conform with all other European countries in providing off-road stoppage points for services and rest. The authority has said that Ireland is not big enough for such facilities. However, many trucks there are fitted with devices to measure hours of driving and if one examines the road death statistics, many are caused by articulated trucks, driver tiredness and related problems. I urge the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to indicate that he will discuss the provision of off-road facilities with the NRA and ask it to move away from the negative action it is taking by objecting to service stations, which would be required to go through the normal planning procedures.
Dr. M. Hayes: I support what Senator Burke has said regarding stops and rest points along motorways. I think it is a great source of danger and I would be glad to have a debate on this issue in the House if the Leader could arrange it.
Mr. Feighan: I also join with other Senators in calling for increased awareness of cancer, particularly through BreastCheck. In my own area in the west of Ireland, there has been an ongoing campaign where many promises have been made but so far, BreastCheck has not been rolled out. A woman from the west of Ireland has more chance of dying from breast cancer because the screening service is not available.
With the advent of summer, there are trampolines in every garden around the country. Two or three of my constituents brought this to my attention. Many accidents resulting from the use of trampolines have happened. We must address the issue of safety in their use. Many trampolines are fitted with safety nets. We could possibly call in the relevant Minister to raise awareness of the availability of safety nets and possibly to make the fitting of trampolines with safety nets compulsory because they have been a major cause of accidents in the past few years.
Mr. Dooley: I join Senator Maurice Hayes and Senator Ulick Burke in calling for the intervention of the Minister regarding the recent publication by the NRA of its proposals regarding rest areas on motorways. I have pursued this issue for quite some time with the NRA and have had a number of written contacts with it. It is wholly inappropriate to expect motorists and truck drivers to leave motorways to get services. It is driving trucks into small towns when the rationale behind the construction of bypasses was to make this unnecessary. Far more seriously, it affects motorists.
We all try to get to our destination as quickly as possible and to expect people to leave the motorway for a rest is unacceptable. It is leading to deaths on the roads. I understand that dual carriageways and single carriageways are required to have lay-bys approximately every 15 miles. It is ludicrous that the same rest areas are not present on motorways. At present, a person can drive from the Border to Portlaoise without encountering any road stop. This will lead to deaths on the roads. Recent statistics show that fatigue is one of the growing causes of deaths on the roads. The only way to overcome fatigue is to provide rest areas and stopping areas for people to get rest.
Mr. McHugh: I endorse the calls by Senator Finucane and Senator Minihan for a debate on Northern Ireland. It is both timely and necessary. We must look at this in a positive light. We have moved on since 1997. I do not wish to underestimate the experience of Senator Leyden and Senator John Paul Phelan in Palestine where they had guns pointed at them. However, guns were pointed at people on a daily basis in places like Strabane and Aughnacloy. This is something we have moved on from and which we feel is part of our distant past.
We should have a positive debate on Northern Ireland regarding resources and the sharing of resources. There is considerable cross-Border activity with regard to economic expansion along the Border area at local county council, urban council and chambers of commerce level. However, this has not been transformed into proper action at national level. On the one hand, we are producing reports like the national spatial strategy, which encompasses the likes of Derry alongside Letterkenny.
Mr. McHugh: A hospital in Altnagelvin, which is five miles across the border from Donegal, offers breast screening but this service is not available in Donegal. The proposed gas pipeline between Derry and Letterkenny has proved to be economically unviable. If it is economically unviable it has been established in deference to the political will on both sides of the Border. The debate that we need in this House is for national politics to transcend the local. We need a debate as a matter of urgency.
Mr. Kitt: I support the calls for a debate on child care and I commend the Government on the major funding provided for child care. Eery successful group in Galway has received approximately €1 million. However, I am concerned that there is now talk of putting a limit of €1.1 million on all child care projects, something with which I disagree. While expensive child care proposals are submitted, they deserve our support. Local authorities have a role to play in providing sites for child care centres because it is not easy for a group to get money and then be told it cannot spend it on purchasing a site for a child care centre.
I also support calls for the NRA to provide rest areas on motorways. This debate has been active for some time. Other Senators mentioned some facts relating to this issue. On this morning’s edition of “Morning Ireland”, it was pointed out that the NRA could not name any other country in Europe in the same situation as Ireland. I understand a small country like Luxembourg has rest areas every 15 to 20 minutes apart on major roads. It is time that we had a debate on this issue and the NRA had a change of view.
Dr. Mansergh: Without detracting from the importance of the economic cross-Border issues mentioned by Senator McHugh, I hope that we would have some important political developments by the end of this session that would make a debate worthwhile. A television series that was broadcast a few years ago was called “Endgame in Ireland” but in a sense, that is still ahead of us.
I support the calls made by all Senators from all sides of the House regarding the NRA. The idea, as I understood it, was to have a continuous motorway or dual carriageway between our major cities. This is gradually being put in place. It is ridiculous to suggest that people add another 20 minutes to their journeys by going off into the nearest town or village for a rest. Purpose-built areas, perhaps in conjunction with places where motorists turn off motorways, are essential. The NRA is going against the unanimous political consensus in this House.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Finucane, who is the acting leader of the Opposition, certainly set the agenda for the many debates here this morning. He wished the Taoiseach well but raised the fact that it has been over seven years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. I have already written to the Taoiseach asking him if he would come to the House before the end of the session to debate Northern Ireland.
Senator Finucane also raised the matter of prostate cancer statistics in the south west and the fact that there is now an easy blood test which can detect the early traces of prostate cancer. The BBC also reported last night that a new early test for breast cancer has been developed that can detect precancerous tumours that could turn cancerous. It would be worthwhile if both these tests could be provided. A very fair point was made about men’s health. Senator Glynn has raised the issue many times. It would be a change, and a necessary one, to hold such a debate.
Senator O’Toole raised the OECD report on child care and the NESF report, which has just been released. Senators O’Meara and White highlighted these, particularly the advisability of free one-year preschool care for all children entering primary school. Senator O’Toole also called for each workplace to have facilities for blood tests.
Senator O’Meara said she is pleased that child care is on the agenda, as am I. I could not help but smile when the Senator said that certain Ministers might want to take credit for it. She is correct. As we know, it is women, with the honourable exception of Senator Minihan, who have led the debate on this and kept the matter to the fore. Senator O’Meara put it on the national agenda at her party’s national conference, which was interesting. There was also a call for a debate on Northern Ireland but, as I said earlier, my letter has been sent to the Taoiseach.
Senator Minihan asked for debates on child care, Northern Ireland and prostate cancer. Senator Bannon spoke about the charges for freedom of information requests and said the Taoiseach was to review this after a certain period. I understand he is doing that. Senator Hanafin asked for a debate on VRT while Senator Norris spoke about screening for prostate cancer and, for women over a particular age, screening for breast cancer. He also spoke about the capricious system of decision making on asylum seekers. It is totally capricious at present. I will seek a debate on it because I cannot get the information I need without seeking it formally.
Senator Glynn sought a debate on men’s health, particularly on type two diabetes, screening and other health issues for men. Senator Coghlan asked for debates on child care, men’s health, Northern Ireland and the cost of compliance statements for small firms. However, if there is no compliance, matters such as health and safety and so forth will not be dealt with. People cannot have it every way. The compliance requirements on firms might appear onerous but they are necessary.
Senator Mooney spoke about child care and pointed out that the expansion of the economy has meant that we are scrambling to catch up on such matters. We have to catch up now. This House was well represented in discussions with the legislators in Washington who are dealing with the undocumented Irish in America. The delegation was well aware that we have an equal if not greater problem in that regard in this country.
Senator Henry sought a debate on preventative medicine and asked why two Oireachtas Members are being harassed through the courts, which is costing money. The Cathaoirleach replied to the Senator but I will try to speak to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, before he comes to the House tonight and put the Senator's question to him.
Senator White is working on child care daily. This issue has gone from being unwelcome to it generating acclaim for the Senator from all sides of the House. I hope the Senator does not disappear into the Carmelites where she is due to have her next meeting.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Ulick Burke spoke about the NRA. It is putting forward a hopeless policy whereby one is expected to keep driving regardless. The NRA representative said on the radio this morning that motorists could go into a village or town but the purpose of the bypass is that they do not do that. Motorists will have to bring their truck or car into the town or village.
The problem is that Ireland is a latecomer to road building. After World War Two the other countries in Europe built all their major roads but we did not. Now that we are doing it, we seem to see these things as fripperies. They are not. It is essential that there are rest locations of various types. The matter was treated in a flippant way this morning by the representative of the NRA. I intend to telephone the NRA. Is it mad? The country will have gorgeous roads everywhere but motorists will have to leave them to use toilet or rest facilities.
Senator Maurice Hayes strongly supported Senator Ulick Burke. Senator Feighan asked about BreastCheck. The Tánaiste has given the definitive date of 2007 for the roll out of BreastCheck in the west of Ireland.
Ms O’Rourke: Senator Feighan also raised the matter of trampolines and safety nets. It is a consumer issue if there are safety concerns about the increasing use of trampolines. At nearly every children’s party a trampoline is hired for the occasion. Senator Dooley also raised the issue of rest areas on motorways and said he had raised it previously. The lack of these areas could contribute to road deaths because tiredness will affect motorists.
Senator McHugh asked for a debate on Northern Ireland which would focus on the economic and commercial possibilities of using resources both North and South in a combined way to bring prosperity to both parts of this island. He offered the example of Altnagelvin Hospital, which provides breast cancer screening and treatment while five miles away in Donegal women must travel to Dublin for it twice and three times a week by bus. That is an obvious area in which there could be sharing. There is some sharing of health facilities North and South but the Senator’s suggestion is most interesting.
Senator Kitt spoke about child care and suggested that local authorities provide sites. Senator Mansergh is hopeful of important political developments regarding Northern Ireland by the end of the session. It is the same for the Taoiseach. We wish him well but he must get up each morning to deal with the North and say: “I have hope; I have optimism.” He keeps working at it non-stop. One would think that by now he would be battered down but he is giving it his all. We must hope that this is not another false dawn.
I wish to notify Members that two new Bills will come before the House to be dealt with before the end of session — the electoral Bill, which deals with the redrawing of the constituencies, and the commission on child abuse legislation.
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