Thursday, 31 January 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on climate change and energy security, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.30 p.m., with spokespersons having 15 minutes, all Senators having ten minutes, on which Senators may share time with agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the end of the debate for closing comments and to respond to questions from spokespersons.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: Yesterday Senators from across the political divide raised a concern at the judgment on the Ó Cuanacháin family and applied behavioural analysis, ABA, education. There were urgent calls for the Minister for Education and Science to attend the House so that we could have a debate on this matter. What progress has the Leader made in ensuring that we have discussion as soon as possible? I note the Minister commented on it yesterday, while the Minister of State said that he would defer to her on the issue. It would be helpful if the Leader could tell us if he has made any progress.
There has been a continuing drip feed of information on the Taoiseach and I noted the fairly empty Government benches last night during the debate on the Mahon tribunal. When does the Leader expect legislation on this matter to come before the House?
The Taoiseach yesterday opened the Office for Older People and the Office for Disability and Mental Health. We clearly welcome the focus on these two areas, but we need an action plan from both Ministers of State in the areas and we need to know what resources they will get. We could usefully pursue that issue here in the Senate with both Ministers of State. We do not want more bureaucracy, red tape, quangos and more appointments, but we want to see action on the ground. Given the focus this House has placed on mental health issues, last week’s report by the Irish Psychiatric Association, The lie of the land, should be of great concern to us all. It makes for very disturbing reading as it states that the resources from the land banks from psychiatric hospitals do not appear to have been put into the mental health services. Last year saw a reduction in the budget for mental health services. We now have a new Office for Disability and Mental Health, but there has been a reduction in the budget for the area.
We have great concerns about the land banks which are being given for co-located hospitals. At the same time, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, has questioned co-location in Cork. I wonder if this is the beginning of the end of the co-location plan. It appears as if it is full of contradictions and will not enhance public health services, but lead to a deterioration. I would like the Leader to ask both Ministers of State to come before the House so we can find out about the resources and the action plans. This is the second anniversary of A Vision for Change and it is not being implemented. It is an area of great concern to this House and we should be pursuing it in the near future.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I would like to remind the Leader that when we raised the Ó Cuanacháin judgment yesterday we were not seeking a debate on what the judges were doing or seeking to interfere with what might happen in the Supreme Court. It is a very simple request. We believe the State should pick up the bill for the Ó Cuanacháin family. That is really the only issue we can debate because the Leader is right in saying it would be inappropriate to discuss the court case while it is ongoing.
The question of the reception abroad of RTE broadcasts was raised in the House yesterday, and it is an issue that I have touched on many times in the House. I have a file, two feet high, built up over the past 15 years relating to people looking for short and long wave as well as satellite reception and arguing that RTE is the only national radio station in Europe which is encrypted on satellite, etc. I appreciate the reasons behind Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú’s point yesterday, but I do not agree with his solution. I believe the solution is not and does not need to be to maintain medium wave, which is not a very good reception. Long wave is clearer, carries all the stations the Leader mentioned as well as religious services on Sunday mornings and all the sports at other times of the day when they are not available on FM. Long wave is also clear. It can be obtained on the car radio, from Edinburgh to Brussels. It is a much clearer reception.
Rather than focusing on RTE maintaining the medium wave service, the Government in its support for emigrant groups in the UK, should provide a long wave radio service to them from Ireland. It would mean they could get a clearer reception, the cost would be small and this is something we could do. We might also examine the possibilities of broadband radio, which is now available for less than €100 and is easier to use than an ordinary radio. It means they could listen to Radio Kerry, Clare FM or any of the local stations around Ireland, just at the press of a button. The issue raised by Senator Ó Murchú was very important and he is right, perhaps, in saying people might not be able to change over to any new arrangement. We should support emigrant communities in making better radio reception available rather than trying to maintain the current system.
I congratulate the IFA and the Minister for Agriculture and Food on an issue that many Senators have raised over recent years, namely, Brazilian beef. It is a major victory for Irish agriculture and I congratulate the lobbying powers of the IFA. This is a classic example of lobbying groups doing something which is good for the country as well as for themselves. It must be recognised that the Minister has supported them all the way and I said as much when she was in this House some months back.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I want to raise the issue of the recent disturbances in Kenya. I was in Kenya on the day of the elections and witnessed at first hand the queues forming at many polling stations as citizens sought to exercise their democratic right to vote. Naturally, I was disturbed and saddened afterwards to see the consequential riots and disturbances. As many Senators will know, Kenya was, up to these disturbances, one of the most peaceful, stable and vibrant countries in east Africa. Many Irish aid agencies base themselves in Kenya and target their operations from there into Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania as well as within Kenya itself. I am concerned about the potential impact this is having on our aid agencies. Will the Leader ask the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid to come to the Seanad and, perhaps, make a statement on the current state of affairs and how it is affecting the Irish aid programme, including our aid agencies based in Kenya?
I see this morning that the head of the African Union is concerned about the potential outbreak of ethnic violence and genocide in Kenya. Will the Leader impress on the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, the need for the European Union to bring as much pressure to bear as possible, to try to resolve the situation in Kenya and east Africa?
Senator Mark Daly: I am seeking a debate in the House in reaction to the Thatcherite tactics of the Health Service Executive in its negotiations with the pharmacists. If the HSE has its way many pharmacies in rural Ireland will be forced to closed. The Thatcherite tactics by the HSE have been exposed by the issuing of an interim contract on 9 January despite the express statement by the Government and the Minister for Health and Children to the effect that the dispute between the HSE and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union should be resolved by an independent body. The issuing of these contracts flies in the face of this Government’s and Fianna Fáil’s belief in social partnership and I seek a debate on this matter.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I note that there are just three Government Bills on the Order Paper. One is on Committee Stage, one is on Report Stage and I believe it is intended that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will not move the other one. Enlarging on the point made by Senator Fizgerald, could the Seanad hear from the Leader, perhaps, what Bills are to be dealt with this session in the House? This will be a relatively short session and perhaps the Leader might let the House know what is intended for sitting times up to St. Patrick’s Day and Easter week.
Co-located hospitals have been mentioned as well as the proposed use of hospital land and alterations thereto. The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works in the previous Administration, former Deputy Tom Parlon, came up with a plan for a State inventory of surplus State properties, having reviewed all the Departments and their respective agencies. Will the Leader say whether such an inventory exists? Was it every completed? We never heard that it was.
On the matter raised by Senator Daly, I do not know precisely the detail he has in mind, but I would like to support him. I am mindful in particular of the smaller pharmacies in provincial towns, those on the sides of streets that we should like to hold on to rather than have them abolished in deference to larger retail centres and so on. I want more detail of what the Government has in mind in this regard. Picking up on what the Senator said, the situation at the moment is a shambles. Perhaps the Leader might comment on that too.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Yesterday I raised the issue of RTE’s intention to cease its medium wave service on RTE Radio 1. The point I made was that it will affect in particular older members of the Irish community in Britain. I appreciate the comments made by Senator O’Toole on the issue that has now arisen. I know he is an optimist but he knows full well that a big box of long wave radios will not be sent over to Britain to solve the problem and the logistics of trying to achieve that are somewhat far-fetched. Ultimately, this issue will be quietly put to bed and a whole generation — the older generation in Britain — will be ignored in this regard.
Many Senators travel to Britain regularly and come in contact with the Irish community there. If one visits the homes, as I have done, one finds a little bit of Ireland there. If such emigrants are accustomed to receiving RTE Radio 1 in a particular manner, they will not avail of the new technological changes. I am talking about the older members of that community. I know well that after 1 March, we shall be hearing how these people have suffered and that their lifeline has been cut off. That is a pity and whatever money is involved in maintaining this service, I believe, is well owed to the Irish community in Britain. I do not believe we shall be remembered kindly in years to come if we do not take into consideration now the emotional and sentimental impact of this initiative.
The person who communicated to me from Britain on this issue had done a considerable amount of research. He is a columnist in a newspaper, and is not just writing as one person. He has been surveying this issue extensively throughout Britain. I know him and he is genuine. The manner in which he approached this issue on behalf of Irish people in Britain who are affected is genuine, sincere and is an appeal from the heart. It has come to the right place when it has come to Parliament. It has come to the Seanad and I hope that in the debate promised by the Leader for next week we will have an opportunity to discuss it further. I have a great deal more material which I cannot put forward on the Order of Business.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Will the Leader organise a debate on regional development? This is in the context of the proposed Cork to Swansea ferry link which Senator O’Donovan and I raised yesterday. I am disappointed to read in the Irish Examiner today that it is 95% certain a consortium will not run the ferry next year. It seems neither the Members of this House on the Government side nor the Cabinet believe life exists beyond the M50. I am disappointed no member of the Green Party is present in the House because we still do not have a commitment that incentives for the Cork docklands will be included in the Finance Bill.
On Monday night at a public meeting on co-location, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, stated that while on one level a proposed site for co-location is unsustainable he was in favour of it. It is important to the people of Bishopstown and Wilton who will have a co-located hospital foisted upon them that we have this debate.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: I rise to support the request of my colleague, Senator Mark Daly, for a debate on the pharmaceutical issue. Like him, in recent days I was contacted by quite a number of pharmacists in the mid-west region. Many are proprietors of small shops and are far from the large multinationals such as Boots who are able to take on board some of the HSE proposals. Many of them are concerned they will not be able to keep staff employed or to keep their doors open. A certain amount of disinformation or confusion has come from the HSE. I am indebted to my colleague, Senator Geraldine Feeney, who advised me the Joint Committee on Health and Children hopes to bring both sides before it. This would be ideal. Let us have talks across the table without hiding behind propaganda. In supporting Senator Daly, I ask the Leader to advance this matter in his own way.
Senator David Norris: On 19 February 2003, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Michael McDowell, introduced the Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002 to the House.  It took more than a year for it to reach Committee Stage, which it did on 7 April 2004, by which time 150 amendments had been tabled, more than 90 of which were placed on the Order Paper by our former colleague Dr. Mary Henry. Not a single amendment was accepted.
This chimes in with what the leader of Fine Gael in the Seanad, Senator Fitzgerald, stated on mental health issues. Recently, substantial professional interest in this area indicated frustration, particularly with regard to the Central Mental Hospital, where persons who have recovered or who have reached advanced age are appropriate to be released back into the community but cannot be released because of the failure to accept legislative amendments with regard to simple legal machinery permitting the release of these people. In light of this failure on the part of legislation to address the real issues confronting certain people and the management of these hospitals, will the Leader establish whether the Government proposes to introduce amendments of this type into legislation dealing with insanity in the criminal law?
We have increasingly draconian legislation aimed at deporting people with the minimum of legal fuss or capacity for appeal. A number of issues have been raised, including the case of Great Agbonlahor, an autistic child returned to Nigeria, and a young woman with no visible means of support or surviving family members who was returned to the streets of Lagos.
We are blandly assured these people will be all right and that conditions are fine. However, it is never followed up. Previously, I asked for information with which the Leader stated he would come back to me but so far he has not been able to do so. I again ask the Leader to inquire whether any follow up takes place through our embassy in Nigeria and if not why not. We should demand it. If we are fobbed off with stories that when these people are returned to their country of origin nothing will happen to them, they will be able to survive and they are perfectly well, let us know that this is in fact the case. I do not believe for a minute that it is.
I support Senator Daly. I understood the dispute between the pharmacists and the HSE was ventilated at considerable length in this House during the previous session. I also understood a measure of agreement had been reached and that both sides agreed the way forward was independent arbitration. It seems the HSE has made an attempt to create facts on the ground in advance of independent arbitration. It is not appropriate that prior to independent arbitration getting underway the HSE should pre-empt it by coercing pharmacists into an advance agreement.
Senator John Carty: I join with my colleague, Senator O’Toole, in congratulating the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the Brazilian beef issue. I also congratulate the IFA.  As a lobby group, it did tremendous detective work in bringing this to light. This is an opportune time to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House to discuss what was contained in a recent announcement on extra benefits for the sheep sector which is experiencing a difficult time and to discuss REPS 4 in detail. It would be a worthwhile exercise.
Senator Eugene Regan: I wish to add to the observations on the ban on Brazilian beef. I worked for the Irish Farmers Association and represented their interests in Brussels during the 1970s. I agree with Senator O’Toole on the effectiveness of the IFA as a professional lobbying body. The work done by the IFA and other farming organisations in highlighting the difference in the treatment of farmers and beef producers in countries such as Brazil and in the European Union has been vindicated and the decision of the European Commission is very welcome.
The legislative programme for the spring was circulated to us this week. Our leader, Senator Frances Fitzgerald, made the point that we had little legislation in the previous session. It is an issue which also arises in the Dáil. The current legislative programme is very modest. Given the work we did in the previous session, does any real prospect exist of us getting through it or of the Government fulfilling this programme?
The Government is distracted and after a short time in office it has lost its way. I understand why it is distracted. We saw it yesterday with new revelations about the Taoiseach. We also find that when any of his stories, whether with regard to his connection to the Phoenix Park casino issue, his contacts with the tax authorities or his dig-out stories in the Mahon tribunal, are put under close scrutiny they do not bear up and the Taoiseach has been found out.
Senator Eugene Regan: I appreciate it is frowned upon by some people to make such remarks about the Taoiseach, given his achievements. Senator Eoghan Harris has strong views about this matter, particularly in the context of——
An Cathaoirleach: As an eminent legal figure, Senator Regan will be aware that matters before the courts are sub judice. I do not want the House to be brought into disrepute by becoming involved in matters before the courts and would prefer if Senators steered clear of such issues.
Senator Eugene Regan: I am not raising any matters that are in the courts, although a matter related to a prosecution in the courts which a fellow Senator raised yesterday was entirely out of order. I am not speaking about courts but about an issue concerning the Taoiseach. Yesterday, I corrected a matter concerning the presentation by the Taoiseach of his unique address to the United States Congress. I pointed out that the only Taoisigh to have addressed the joint Houses of Congress were the Fine Gael leaders, Liam Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald and John Bruton. When we talk about the peace process we write out of the script all of those who contributed from all parties, whether Garret FitzGerald, John Bruton or Albert Reynolds.
Senator Eugene Regan: It is wrong to appropriate the credit for the peace process to one man and use it as vindication for the Taoiseach and an excuse for not upholding the rule of law. We should address this issue at a future date.
The recent decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions to withdraw a major charge in the case against Mr. Eddie Halvey was somewhat contentious. The DPP stated that he cannot give details about the process by which he arrives at decisions or precise details of a case because it would result in individuals being judged by public opinion and finding themselves in difficulty. This is a reasonable position for him to adopt and one I support.
Nevertheless, I propose that in contentious cases such as the Halvey case which do not occur often but enter public discourse, a commission of three eminent legal persons should sit in arbitration and approve the DPP’s position. As this would require legislation, I ask the Leader to convey my proposal to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Senators should not read into my remarks either implicit or explicit criticism of the DPP who is above reproach and a person of integrity. The issue is one of achieving transparency, due process and the filtering of cases, especially those of a contentious nature. The establishment of a commission would assist the judicial process and support the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I commend it to the Leader for consideration by the Minister.
Senator Liam Twomey: While the life of a young girl in County Cork is being crushed out of her by a spinal deformity, the Health Service Executive indicates it is appropriate that she wait until 2010 before it will consider providing the treatment she needs. Fortunately, someone else has a greater sense of morality than the HSE. Case law indicates that the HSE would lose a case brought before the European Court of Justice and would be required to pay for the girl’s treatment. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Health and Children come to the House to explain the reason the HSE finds it acceptable to allow a young child to die slowly as a result of the weight of her body while it refuses to give her treatment. The Minister should also state whether it is appropriate that the State should not pay for the necessary treatment. This is one of the most immoral decisions I have heard in a long time.
Senators on the Government side should note that a Cabinet sub-committee consisting of the Taoiseach, Minister for Finance and Minister for Health and Children decided to reduce the costs of medication in the health system. The HSE is trying to implement this decision in the pharmacy sector. For this reason, rather than referring to the role of the HSE, it would be more appropriate for those Senators to raise the matter with the Ministers in question.
Will the Leader contact the Minister for Education and Science regarding the ongoing debacle arising from the possibility of establishing a university for the south-east region? Before Christmas, the Government appointed Dr. Jim Port, a British gentleman with many years experience in education, to report on the third level facilities available in the south-east region and the current operations of Waterford Institute of Technology. I understand Dr. Port’s report was presented to the Government before Christmas. Despite having been contacted by the institute of technology, the regional authority and various local bodies in the south east, the Minister has refused to publish the document. Two schools of thought have arisen as a result. The majority of local people believe the reason the Minister has not published the report is that it makes positive recommendations which would compel her to make a positive decision and grant university status to the Waterford Institute of Technology. Regardless of its contents, it is essential the report is published. Will the Leader bring as much pressure as possible to bear on the Minister to ensure the report is published as soon as possible?
I refer to a recent three-part series broadcast on RTE on the State Pathologist, Professor Marie Cassidy. It will be recalled that during my previous term as a Senator, I expressed strong support for Professor Cassidy and requested that additional funding be made available to improve the facilities in south Dublin from which she and her predecessor have operated because they leave a great deal to be desired.
I am unhappy, however, about the disclosure of certain details in the series. I had time to watch the first of the three programmes. Anyone with an interest in pathology or the way our criminal system operates would be interested in the series. Some of the detailed information broadcast about recent sensitive cases, including the discovery of bodies, was highly inappropriate. These cases concern people’s children or brothers or sisters. Professor Cassidy made a serious error of judgment in some of the comments she made.
Senator Eoghan Harris: I wish to correct an impression Senator Regan may have inadvertently left, namely, that the Taoiseach is less than generous in paying tribute to fellow Taoisigh. The Taoiseach, in his Westminster address, was most careful to pay tribute to John Bruton’s work for peace. I was glad to note his comments in this regard. It is not true to state the Taoiseach is cavalier or indifferent. Everyone knows he was personally and politically delighted when John Bruton was appointed European Union Ambassador to the United States and he endorsed the appointment at every level, both privately and publicly.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I raise with the Leader the issue of the primary care unit in Athlone. Before Christmas I asked about the lack of progress on the primary care unit in Athlone since the designs were first drawn up in 1999. The property has been purchased and nothing is happening. I am disappointed that I have got no response from the Leader and that nothing seems to be happening. I appreciate it was Christmas and that, perhaps, it was difficult for him. I urge the Leader to ascertain the position from the Health Service Executive.
My second point concerns the ambulance service, which has threatened to take strike action. In Athlone on a Wednesday there is one ambulance covering the whole area. I ask that the Minister for Health and Children come into the House yet again and give us honest answers on what we are to do when somebody becomes ill in the Athlone area and the ambulance has gone to Mullingar or to Portiuncula Hospital. This has happened. I also ask that she clarify the contracting out of the transporting of patients and the escorting of psychiatric patients, as the system has been changed. We need clear answers from the Minister on all of these issues.
Senator Maria Corrigan: I was hoping to have some clarification from the Leader on my request for two debates that I made prior to Christmas. One was for a debate on the roll-out of the national disability strategy and how we are meeting the needs of people with a disability in such a way as to enable them to take their rightful place as equal members of society. There are still a number of legislative issues to be addressed as at present there is no recognition afforded of their capacity to give consent to various issues and to make choices about various aspects of their own lives, such as where and with whom they live and who should receive the money they receive as part of the disability allowance. A significant sum of money has been allocated in this year’s budget for people with disabilities. It is important that Members have the opportunity to hear where that money will be spent and are given an assurance that it will all be spent in the area of disability.
This brings me to the second request for a debate on the issue of mental health and the implementation of A Vision for Change. It is apparent that the moneys allocated in the budget for 2007 were not spent in the areas for which they were allocated. This area is in great need of funds. The implementation of A Vision for Change has still not progressed, despite the fact that the Health Service Executive said it hoped to have a draft implementation plan by the end of December. It is not acceptable that four years on we are still talking about draft plans for implementation. I should appreciate if the Leader would indicate when we may have two those very important debates.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: Other Senators have commented on the nature of the legislative programme for this session. One of the most prominent Bills concerns the proposal to set up the Dublin transport authority, the objective of which is to implement Transport 21 within Dublin and the Dublin region. Will the Leader facilitate a debate on Transport 21 and its implementation? Two issues merit debate. The first is the degree of change that is taking place in Transport 21. For example, the new plan proposes to put heavy rail rather than LUAS on the Broadstone line. This will seriously threaten the ability of the Grangegorman Institute of Technology to get planning permission for its new master plan and is the kind of policy change that should be debated here.
The second issue is one that was raised at the Joint Committee on Transport yesterday. The leaders of the local authorities within the Dublin area raised the prospect of congestion charging, a proposal not contained in Transport 21. It is the role of elected politicians and our leaders, such as the Minister for Transport, to raise such issues and have them debated in the House rather than leave it to executive managers in local authorities, who have no choice but to deal with the mess arising from the implementation of contradictory plans and for which they must carry the can.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I was encouraged here yesterday to see the consensus across the House on the severity of the legal costs being imposed on the Ó Cuanacháin family from Wicklow who sought an entitlement for an appropriate education for their autistic son in the High Court. The proposal by Senator Ross to seek an immediate debate was a positive one, given that the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, was coming to the House in the afternoon. However, I was disappointed when I saw how the Green Party voted on this issue.
It is clear from the Irish Independent that we are wasting in excess of €35 million on renting prefabs. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Science to attend the House to address this serious issue in the context of our growing population. An extra 13,000 children are coming into our primary schools this year. These prefabs were rented, not bought out. What are the Minister’s forward plans in terms of permanent building structures for our growing population? I would appreciate it if the Leader would respond as soon as possible as this debate was sought prior to Christmas.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Coghlan, Regan, Donohoe and Healy Eames expressed their concern about the decision of the High Court on the case brought before it by the Ó Cuanacháin family. Senator O’Toole suggested that the State should pick up the bill. I will endeavour to see how I can facilitate the request of Members to have this matter discussed in the House without infringing in any way on the separation of the courts and the Oireachtas.
I will address the issue of impending legislation at the end of the Order of Business. On the other matters raised by Senator Fitzgereald and on matters concerning education, I am pleased to inform Members that the Minister for Education and Science will come to the House in three weeks’ time when there will be a special debate on the broad issue of autism. A significant number of young couples find themselves in very difficult positions and to say they are traumatised is an understatement. When one visits these young couples in their homes one realises they receive no assistance in some cases. There are 12 or 14 excellent centres where the service is being provided.
Keith Duffy, who is a champion of this cause, is a great example of what can be done. Early intervention has got to be the order of the day in respect of providing the service. I understand the Minister is looking at this matter sympathetically and I expect an announcement soon. We have a date placed on the Minister’s diary for three weeks’ time, which is the earliest possible date that could have been arranged for a debate of this nature.
Senators O’Toole and Ó Murchú asked about RTÉ’s proposal to cease broadcasting on medium wave. Having listened to the Senators speak on this matter perhaps RTÉ will start an advertising campaign on its medium wave bandwidth and even defer its decision for a couple of months to facilitate those who wish to make an application, such as the Catholic Church and the Gaelic Athletic Association in the UK, and all those other organisations that help the senior citizens and those unfortunate people who had to leave our shores in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. I know hundreds and perhaps thousands of these people as I used to be over there on tour five times a year for two weeks at a time. They would go to all my functions on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It was heartbreaking to see them there on a Friday evening with a smile on their faces. The greatest gift I could give them was to bring over the Westmeath Examiner with the Midland Topic. All these things kept them in touch with home and were very important. The expression this morning by Senator Ó Murchú that it is part of the furniture in their kitchens, bed-sittingrooms or bedrooms to have RTE available was correct as it keeps them in touch with their homeland.
RTE has a responsibility in this regard. The chief executive, Mr. Cathal Goan, is one of the greatest Irish men living in our country at this time. He knows exactly the plight of the emigrant, having been such a wonderfully successful director general of TG4 when it was getting off the ground. In the interests of everything good done in Ireland over the years, I ask that he would rally to the call and begin an advertising campaign to ascertain through the GAA and the churches how many thousands of people will need to have their radios replaced. It is a simple request.
RTE will save quite a lot of money from this change because it is expensive to broadcast on medium wave, which I presume is the only reason the service is being removed. As long as the services on a Sunday morning and all the various other Irish events that can be received in the UK, can be received on another wavelength, we in the Oireachtas would be happy. We are very unhappy at present, however, because people are being left to feel no one really cares. I want it to go out from Seanad Éireann that this House does care and is seriously concerned. We await a response from the director general of RTE on how it will address the situation. We will work hand in hand with the national broadcaster to find how we can facilitate the requests made in the House yesterday and today.
Senators O’Toole, Carty and Regan congratulated the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the IFA on bringing to a successful conclusion the Brazilian beef issue. I will request that the Minister would come to the House to debate agriculture. As Leader from 1997 to 2002, when I called an agriculture debate and put it on the clár, it was always an all-day debate. I look forward to having a meaningful review of the entire agriculture portfolio, particularly the successful conclusion of the Brazilian beef issue, on which the IFA and the Minister have worked hand in hand. I will ensure this takes place at the earliest possible time.
Senator Hannigan raised serious issues with regard to the Kenyan elections and I will pass on his views to the Minister. With regard to the proposed changes to payments to pharmacies, Senators Daly, Coghlan, O’Sullivan, Norris and Carty expressed their support for pharmacists, especially those in rural areas and smaller towns, and those family pharmacists who have given such tremendous service to families for generations. We care about this issue. When our concerns were raised previously, particularly at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting where more than 80% of members expressed their serious concerns, the Health Service Executive extended the scheme, through the intervention of the Minister and others, as I understand it. I have no difficulty asking the Minister to come to the House to update us on the serious request made of me today.
Senator Norris highlighted the issue of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act. I will pass on the Senator’s views to the Minister. I will have inquiries made into the issue he raised concerning the Nigerian situation.
Senator Regan raised the old chestnut of bashing the Taoiseach in various ways while making his concerns available to the House one more time. All fair-minded people will accept there has been no more successful Taoiseach in our lifetime or in the past seven years than Bertie Ahern.
Senator Donie Cassidy:
His achievements stand for themselves. I would not like new Members to give the House the benefit of their inexperience in this area. With regard to his stewardship, when Fianna Fáil was in power, the
ceasefire did not break down.
Senator Donie Cassidy: ——look for parity in regard to the time Senator Regan seems to be able to get on this issue on various mornings. I have restrained myself, although it was not easy, because I have nothing but the height of admiration for all Members of the House. Some Members come to the House day after day with an agenda, however, even though we have placed responsibility on the Mahon tribunal and its eminent judges who we expect to come back to us. We will have an opportunity to discuss this issue for one, two, three or four days. Whatever is required of me, I will afford the time to each and every Member. If Members want a half hour or an hour each, they will get it from this Leader of the House. There will be no muzzling when the issue of the Mahon tribunal comes to the House. I am confident the Taoiseach will be vindicated when he is allowed to give his entire evidence.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I am simply facilitating the Opposition. Points are made on the Opposition side and it is my duty to address them if some Member is not being fair to a Member of the Dáil or Seanad who has delivered to the people.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I will pass on Senator O’Reilly’s views about the DPP to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Senator Twomey called for the Minister to come to the House to explain the issue of the treatment of a child. I have no difficulty in having the Minister come to the House to debate the up-to-date position on matters pertaining to the health portfolio, in particular the unfortunate case of the patient in Cork highlighted by the Senator.
Senator John Paul Phelan called for the Minister for Education and Science to come to the House. As I said, the Minister will be in the House in three weeks so the Senator will be able to raise his points at that time.
Senator McFadden raised the issues of a primary care unit and an ambulance service for Athlone. We now have access numbers for all of the HSE senior executives in every region who can be contacted. We also have the Adjournment on which these matters can be raised, in addition to Private Members’ business when parties can decide on prioritising the urgency of various matters raised by Senators. Information on most of these issues can be ascertained through those channels. Unfortunately, I am not a Minister so those are the ways in which we try to obtain information. I will try to give the Senator all the help I can but she has the same channel for finding the information as I do.
I have given Senator Corrigan my word that we will debate the two issues she has raised. I am endeavouring to find time in the Ministers’ diaries for such matters. Senator Donohoe called for a debate on Transport 21, which would be timely, and I will have no difficulty in arranging time for such a debate. Senator Healy Eames expressed her concerns about educational matters, which can be debated when the Minister attends this House in three weeks’ time.
I wish to update the House on the Government’s proposals for Bills that are expected to be published during this session: Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism — Irish Sports Council (Amendment) Bill; Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources — Broadcasting Bill and Electricity Regulation (EirGrid) (Amendment) Bill; Department of Education and Science — Student Support Bill; Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment — Chemicals Regulation and Enforcement Bill and Employment Law Compliance Bill; Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government — Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) (Confirmation of Orders) Bill and Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill; Department of Finance — Finance Bill and Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill; Department of Foreign Affairs — Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill (Reform Treaty); Department of Health and Children — Adoption Bill and Health (Long-term Residential Care Services) Bill; Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform — Legal Services Ombudsman Bill and Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill; Department of Social and Family Affairs — Social Welfare and Pensions Bill; Department of Transport — Dublin Transport Authority Bill.
The foregoing list comprises 17 Bills which the Government hopes to publish in this session. The Finance Bill is being published today and will be taken in the Dáil over the last two weeks in February. It is proposed to take all Stages of the Bill in this House before St. Patrick’s Day.
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