Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008, which is back from committee and will be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on the national waste strategy (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 1 p.m., with spokespersons having ten minutes, all other Senators having eight minutes, on which Senators may share time with agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for concluding comments and questions from spokespersons; No. 3, statements on Malin Head and Valentia Island coast guard stations, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with spokespersons having ten minutes, all other Senators having eight minutes, on which Senators may share time with the agreement of the House, and the Minister to be called ten minutes from the end of the debate for concluding comments; and No. 16, motion 34 re civil marriages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3. The business of the House is to be interrupted between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: I refer to comments made yesterday in the House by a number of Senators on the Government side, which were reported in The Irish Times today, regarding the tribunal lacking due process. The Leader implicitly supported these comments when he said other Senators would do well to take on board Senator Ó Murchú’s views about what had happened in the tribunal to date. The Dáil voted confidence in the tribunal and, as recently as last week, Mr. Justice Mahon said to the Taoiseach’s counsel that if they were concerned about due process, they could go to the courts and take a case. It is a serious matter for Senators on the Government side to take pot shots like this in the House at the tribunal, especially when they make a most serious charge about a lack of due process. I would like the Leader clarify his views on the matter.
The Government has set up a range of inquiries over recent years and I am very concerned that individual citizens feel they are not obtaining the response they would wish for from Government regarding these inquiries. The timeframe for them is also very delayed. For example, the family in the Rossiter case has waited five years for justice and yesterday it emerged that families involved in the Dunne inquiry used a freedom of information application to obtain information they believed was required. Why could they not be given the full report instead of having to obtain additional information in the most distressing way, as they did this week? In addition, the inquiry into breast cancer misdiagnosis, especially in the Rebecca O’Malley case, has been going on for more than a year while the Portlaoise hospital inquiry is also ongoing.
A series of crises occurred and the immediate response was to set up an inquiry and report back, yet several years later no decent mechanism is in place for the families to get hold of the outcome. Will the Leader and the Deputy Leader examine the mechanisms offered by the State to individuals where inquires are carried out to establish whether it can do better than it has to date? Perhaps the Leader will come back to the House with definitive information on the Rebecca O’Malley case, for example. When will that report be made available so that we can learn from it to ensure no other woman will be given a misdiagnosis and then have to wait to find out what happened? It is a serious issue. The State has a problem producing reports and providing answers to citizens. The Westminster Parliament produces such reports quickly all the time. We need to examine the mechanisms we use to try to do better by citizens who experience trauma in their lives and want to know how public policy can change in order that other people do not go through what they have experienced. Will the Leader come back to the House on this as soon as possible on that matter?
I congratulate Senator Callely on last night’s autism partnership meeting which was attended by people from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Despite the Department of Education and Science’s intransigence and lingering animosity, as Deputy O’Rourke remarked, there is clearly scope for cross-party work on putting in place the proper policies and reaching out to the increasing numbers of families who have to cope with autism. An interesting initiative was mentioned last night which involves making space for policy makers, politicians and families to come together and discuss what is needed. This initiative is particularly popular in America but we take a similar approach to other issues. We need to bring these parties together if we are to get the services we need.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I note that the first matter on the Order of Business, a motion on the alteration of Limerick city’s boundary, is to be taken without debate. Although I do not have a difficulty with that, I have not had an opportunity to read or discuss the motion. We never have difficulties taking referral to committee motions without debate because that is the appropriate way to deal with such motions and we always leave open the option of debating them on their return from committee. However, this motion pertains to a ministerial order laid before the Houses and could be subjected to debate if Limerick city is grabbing a portion of County Clare, north Tipperary or even a bit of County Limerick. The name of the town from which I come was grabbed by one of these orders. In that respect, it would be helpful for the people of Dingle to know when the Government’s commitment to give Dingle back na trí ainmeacha atá aici, An Daingean, Daingean Uí Chúis and Dingle. When does the Leader expect that matter to be brought to a conclusion? I have no pressing need to discuss the Limerick city boundary but we might in future get a brief memorandum on such motions.
In the past 24 hours, there has been a certain amount of debate on the question of access to emergency contraception, also known as the morning after pill. We need to have a proper discussion on that issue to develop a clear understanding of what is available. As far back as 2001, the British Medical Association recommended that the morning after pill be made freely available in pharmacies. That is not the case in Ireland, where people have to get a doctor’s prescription. That requirement appears to be unnecessary and the only reason for it is to avoid encouraging too much sexual activity. Other jurisdictions have addressed the issue by requiring that people of a certain age have to go through, for example, a school nurse to access the pill. Research on the issue by Imperial College London concludes that access to the morning after pill does not impact in any way on sexual activity. It is progressive and safe to allow access and I would like an open debate on the issue with either the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or the Minister for Health and Children in the interest of making the pill available to people who need it.
Senator Alex White: I support the call made by Senator Fitzgerald for clarification, perhaps by the Leader, on the remarks made yesterday regarding whether fair procedures exist in the tribunal. I have no intention of trespassing into areas which are the province of the courts but for this House to give the impression that it believes the tribunal does not exercise fair procedures is a very serious matter. The tribunal was set up by order of this House and, therefore, we are bound to avoid giving the impression that we now believe it does not exercise fair procedures.
An Cathaoirleach: I ruled on that matter yesterday. The Chair always endeavours to ensure the House respects the independence of the tribunals in the exercise of their functions. Members have on occasion made certain comments when I was unable to stop them. I said that on several occasions and all Members are intelligent enough not to get involved in any matter that is sub judice.
Senator Alex White: It appears not all are intelligent enough to avoid creating the impression that the problem in this country is the tribunals rather than the people whose actions led to their establishment in the first place.
I have just come from an excellent conference organised by Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society, MEAS. Yesterday colleagues asked the Leader to facilitate a debate on alcohol and alcohol abuse, and I repeat that request today. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, presented some alarming figures on the increase in alcohol consumption in the past ten years. A number of calls have been made for consultation and partnership approaches, with which I agree, but real action is needed on some of these issues.
In terms of the easy availability of alcohol, one cannot enter a garage or shop to purchase a newspaper at 7.30 a.m. without tripping over crates of wine and cans of beer. It was a serious mistake to allow such wide availability of alcohol in so many different outlets and it is manifestly creating real issues in terms of easy availability of alcohol in relatively uncontrolled environments. I commend the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, which of course has a vested interest, on a measured article it published in this morning’s The Irish Times which laments the problems it faces from the demise of the rural, and sometimes suburban, pub. The pub’s place as a centre of social activity in rural Ireland has been greatly undermined by recent changes. Nobody wants to close pubs but we need to restrict in some intelligent way the availability of alcohol. The issue has gotten out of hand in that regard and this House should return to it.
Some Senators disagree but we have to address the issue of commercial sponsorship by alcohol companies. The association of alcohol with sporting prowess through the GAA, rugby organisations and elsewhere is wrong and ought to be addressed.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Yesterday I asked the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to discuss with the House the new nursing home regulations. I would also like her to address the future role of pharmacies in the delivery of health care services.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: I see in this morning’s newspapers that the regulator for the pharmacy sector is considering ways of expanding the services provided by the pharmacy sector to include important primary care services such as screening for diabetes and other common disorders, managing long-term stable conditions and dealing with minor ailments in order that people do not have to attend their GPs.
Senator Déirdre de Búrca: The pharmacy sector has an important role to play in health promotion and prevention. The current stand-off between the pharmacy sector and the HSE is unfortunate because it is in all our interests that the sector takes on a new and expanded role in terms of providing various health services. When the Minister comes to the House, I will ask her to address this issue and her vision of the future of the pharmacy sector and the expanded role it can play in the delivery of primary health care services.
I refer to worrying research findings in regard to the use of anti-depressants. An article which contained a review of clinic trials obtained under freedom of information from the US federal drugs agency and which was published in the Public Library of Science indicated that the use of very common anti-depressants, such as Prozac, Seroxat and Effexor, are very ineffective in terms of their effect on the people taking them who suffer from depression. The HSE spent €5 million on Prozac and €5 million on Seroxat in 2006 and yet the efficacy of these drugs is very much being questioned by the information being released by the US federal drugs agency. It is important we look at this issue as part of our examination of mental health. Perhaps the Minister will address this issue when she comes to the House.
The policy A Vision for Change does not seem to be resourced as originally intended. It is important in terms of the delivery of our mental health services that we move away from an over-reliance on pharmaceutical approaches to dealing with common mental health problems, such as depression, and that we look at alternatives. People who have commented on this research have stated that there is a shortage of alternatives available, including counselling and psychotherapy services, for people who suffer from depression. It is in all our interests to ensure the mental health services expand so that these alternatives become much more readily available and we reduce our reliance on pharmaceutical interventions.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I refer to the sad story in the newspapers this morning about the Navan bus crash and the fact the trial has been postponed because of a lack of space in the court. We should speak to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Reform to ensure that is not a reason a case cannot be heard. My heart goes out to the families of the five girls who lost their lives which must wait a whole year for the case to be heard because of lack of funding by this Government. It makes a sham of the service. The Courts Service has apologised but its hands are tied.
Some 300,000 telephone calls were answered by Childline last year while 300,000 were not answered because of a lack funding. Will the Leader find out why 300,000 telephone calls were not answered? Childline has said it was because of a lack of funding. Were the telephone calls of 300,000 children, who were in a desperate state, not answered?
Senator Mark Daly: I call for a discussion on Fairtrade. As we are in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight, it is important we discuss the part trade can play in the developing world. We, in the developed world, give over €100 billion each year to the Third World but it is estimated that we cost it three times that in our trade policies. The programme for Government seeks that all Departments secure and procure Fairtrade products where possible. This week we hope to become one of the first Fairtrade Parliaments in the world. If the Leader could find time during Fairtrade fortnight to discuss Fairtrade, I would be grateful.
Senator Paudie Coffey: Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to debate the important issue of the protection of our environment? There are many problems in the areas of regulation and licensing and in respect of discharges and emissions from industry and public and private waste facilities. I will be interested to hear what the Green Party, which claims to be the guardians of our environment, has to say about the many licensing breaches by waste facilities and industry. Licensing and the way the law is flouted needs to be addressed.
There are also issues in terms of the role and responsibilities of the Environmental Protection Agency and the local authority environment departments. There seems to be much passing the buck and turning a blind eye. I will be interested to hear what resources the Minister proposes to put into these important areas because the protection of our environment should be a high priority for us all.
Senator Terry Leyden: Will the Leader provide time as soon as possible to discuss the Lisbon treaty? At 12 p.m. today, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs will launch an interim report on the treaty. I am very concerned about yesterday’s protest by the IFA at the European Commission offices in regard to the negotiations at the world trade talks in Geneva and the fact Peter Mandelson seems to be a runaway train as far as they are concerned. He has given concessions which will affect farming in the future. If we lose the farming vote for the Lisbon treaty, it will be defeated.
Farmers are very concerned about this issue. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House to discuss her views on the concessions proposed by Peter Mandelson which will see a 70% cut in the tariffs on beef, zero tariffs on lamb and which will result in halving the cost of the production of beef? The Cathaoirleach will appreciate that if that happens, farming in this country will be finished.
It is a serious issue and it is now being linked to the Lisbon treaty referendum. The IFA is very concerned about it, as are those involved in rural Ireland. Peter Mandelson is misleading the views of the European Commission in this regard and he should be reigned in. It is so serious that the Taoiseach should become involved and call for a discussion at European Commission level about the concessions proposed. If those concessions are given and approved by the majority of the European Commission, it will be the death knell for farmers in this country and for the Lisbon treaty. If that is what the European Commission wants, that is what it will get at the referendum.
Senator Alan Kelly: Will the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come to the House to discuss the important issue of technology investment? In the past couple of days, a number of firms have stated that growth rates will be below what the Government expects, although they are hopeful they will grow as we reach 2010-11. I am, however, concerned that support mechanisms for certain sectors of the economy may not be in place by then.
I refer, in particular, to the technology sector which is growing and needs support given the change in the economy. Three supports are required in this area. The first is education, in which there has been investment across the broad over a number of years. The second is communications infrastructure. I will not raise the issue now but we know that for the past ten years, broadband penetration and our policies in this area have been a disgrace and that we need to do something about that. We will support Senator Ross’s Bill in this regard.
The third support is technology investment techniques. I was disappointed the Minister for Finance did not do something in this area in the last budget. I know there are various techniques for supporting businesses, such as the BES, but the time has come for significant technology investment techniques, through whatever tax concessions or means possible, to support small indigenous SME-type technology companies. We have heard too many stories about companies moving to Silicon Valley and elsewhere because they did not get supports in this country. It is time we woke up and supported these companies because otherwise the intellectual drain out of this country will continue. I do not want that to happen because we need these people. They are the entrepreneurs of the future.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald regarding the length of time it takes to complete independent inquiries. On previous occasions I have referred to the report into the case of my near neighbour, Rebecca O’Malley. Every day this report remains unpublished is one day too many. There is potential for other women to suffer because the recommendations of the report have not been put in place. That is not good enough. The report must be published as soon as possible because Ms O’Malley is fed up and wants the matter to be dealt with.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: I agree with Senator Fitzgerald. We must express confidence in the tribunal, which was established by the Oireachtas and which is presided over by three eminent judges. However, we cannot demonstrate confidence in the tribunal if we do not allow it to do its work. We should await its findings before rushing to judgment.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: If we do not demonstrate confidence in the tribunal and if we peddle leaked information from it in order to rush to judgment, we are not respecting the concept of due process.
Senator David Norris: I support Senator O’Toole’s comments in respect of the morning-after pill. I was astonished to discover that a majority of young women who approach the medical authorities do not, because they were so drunk, know with whom they had sex or if they had sex. This behaviour places in context the Private Members’ debate to take place later.  There are people who do not want to allow respectable gay couples to marry and this is despite the fact that certain individuals from the group of which they are members engage in such questionable behaviour.
I agree with Senator McFadden on the Navan school bus tragedy. It would be extraordinary if this case were to be postponed for a year simply because a courthouse is not available. Surely some facility could be rented to allow the case to proceed.
Will the Leader make time available for a debate on homelessness? I am sure Members on all sides will agree with my request in this regard. I do not like to appear to be continually attacking or undermining the HSE. The executive is extremely large, is obliged to make difficult decisions and has limited resources. It was disturbing to hear Dr. Austin O’Carroll state on radio this morning that everything has been put on hold, that there will be no new investment and that the provision of a 32-bed transition facility for homeless people being discharged from hospital will not now proceed. It is incredible that, in the 21st century, citizens of our wealthy country continue to be discharged straight from hospital back onto the streets, where they may well die. This is despite the wonderful work done by people such as Alice Leahy.
I am seeking information regarding the ultimate destination of this noble House. It is obvious that we cannot transfer operations to the Natural History Museum because it would not be appropriate to do so. There are some extremely valuable exhibits in the museum that would have to be dismantled if the Seanad were to move there. It is extraordinary that we should be moved from a building that may be dangerous into one which is obviously dangerous.
I previously raised the notion, not in a completely jocular way, of the Seanad transferring its operations to the former Houses of Parliament building on College Green which is currently owned and occupied by the Bank of Ireland. If this option is being considered, one of my neighbours informed me this morning that when the building was sold to the bank, the Government of the day meanly included a proviso that it must never again be used for parliamentary purposes. The idea behind this was to neuter the Irish Parliament. Would it not be a fine gesture of republican defiance in respect of the Act of Union 1800 to introduce in Seanad Éireann legislation to reverse the proviso to which I refer?
Senator Dan Boyle: I agree with Senator Coffey’s proposal for a debate on environmental protection. Concerns should be expressed regarding Ireland’s slide from tenth to 34th position in the world in respect of environmental protection. This slide occurred because in the past policies were discussed rather than implemented. The agencies to which Senator Coffey referred should be the focus of such a debate. The programme for Government refers to the need to review and reform the Environmental Protection Agency. The role of local authorities and their willingness and capacity to deal with many environmental problems would be also worthy of a debate.
Members of Opposition parties should be cognisant of the regulatory role their representatives have to play within local authorities. Most local authorities have a large number of members from Fine Gael and Labour. Why is more pressure not being exerted at local authority level in respect of the environmental regulation role? Problems relating to emissions and discharges are meant to be dealt with by local authorities——
Senator Dan Boyle: I welcome the Cathaoirleach’s reiteration of his previous ruling regarding the independence of the tribunal and the tacit expression of ongoing support for its work. It is the responsibility of other Members of the House to respect that ruling on a regular basis.
Senator Paul Coghlan: It is disgraceful that the Minister for Health and Children has sanctioned the behaviour of the HSE in its dealings with pharmacists. As democrats, all Members believe in dispute resolution procedures. Equally, we all subscribe to the view that it is not possible to do business in the absence of dialogue. At present, dialogue is not taking place and there has been a complete breakdown in negotiations. The situation is disgraceful. I call on the Leader — with the goodwill of the House on his side — to address this matter immediately. In my opinion, there is unanimity among Members in respect of this issue.
Senator O’Toole referred to the issue of Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. The situation in this regard is also disgraceful. A commitment was given to the people of the area, who held a plebiscite almost two years ago and made a democratic decision in respect of this matter. We were led to believe the Government had accepted their decision. The Minister met a deputation —Senator O’Toole is more familiar than I with the outcome of that meeting — and added to the commitment that has been reneged upon.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I had been of the impression that this issue formed part of the sub-programme for Government agreed with Deputy Healy-Rae and that he had obtained a commitment in respect of it. There is a great deal of reneging taking place and I would like to hear the Leader’s comments on the matter.
Senator Ivor Callely: I am delighted that previous speakers, including Senator Coghlan, referred to the issue of pharmacists. I concur that there is unity of purpose with regard to resolving the problems that exist. I will raise this matter on the Adjournment later today and I look forward to the Minister coming before the House to comment on it. I hope there will be no disruption of pharmaceutical supplies in the interim. There are many outstanding issues in respect of which answers have not been forthcoming. It is wrong that we are in this position and a resolution must be found. I support the calls of previous speakers in respect of this matter.
Senator Ivor Callely: Senator Mary White and others have indicated that if the matter is going to be resolved, this may happen in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party rooms. We will keep the Senator posted on what happens.
Senator Ivor Callely: When elections are held in other jurisdictions, international independent observers are tasked with monitoring the processes involved. Will the Leader indicate the independent monitoring mechanisms that will be put in place for the Russian presidential election, which is due to be held early in March?
I welcome the contributions of Senator David Norris and others on homelessness and its difficulties. The Leader responded to me on this issue recently and indicated we might have the Minister attend the House to debate the issue. Prior to a debate, could the Leader arrange a briefing document for Members on housing and related issues? Such a document would give a breakdown of people on local authority housing lists, indicating those housing applicants with special needs such as treatment for addiction and mental health issues, as well as vulnerable people and those requiring transitional housing, etc. I understand we are failing in our duties to meet the varied needs of these people.
Equally I support Senator Norris’s remarks on Trust Ireland and the good work of Alice Leahy in that organisation. There are also many other agencies doing tremendous work with people in homeless and vulnerable positions. I mentioned last week the outreach workers who deal with people with addiction. It is a very serious issue which this House should prioritise.
Senator Phil Prendergast: I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to discuss home birth. Many people in this country are denied the right to a home birth. I also seek a discussion on indemnity insurance for independent midwives and the service they give.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: Last week I asked the Leader if the Minister for Health and Children would come into the House to debate child psychiatry. I raise the matter again as a matter of urgency and ask that we would have a debate on this important issue. We should particularly speak about the ring-fencing of beds and the creation of dedicated units for young adolescents suffering with eating disorders. It has come to my notice over the weekend that boys as young as eight or nine are now presenting to their GPs with nowhere else to go. One of them had to resort to Great Ormonde Street Hospital in London for treatment in the last couple of months. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this.
I add my voice to that of Senator de Búrca in her commending the research published yesterday with regard to the effectiveness of the drug Prozac. I commend the knowledgeable professor from Hull, whom I listened to last night. I am always a supporter of research as the more money we can put into it, the better it will be for us and the generations coming after us. In this country alone there are hundreds of thousands of people on Prozac. They should not be frightened. It would be very damaging for their health if they became aware of this debate, not fully understand it and go off their medication.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: It is baffling that day after day, morning after morning, the Members opposite come in here and call for a debate on the future of Irish pharmacy. I respect Senator de Búrca and I understand her position but she is a member of a Government party. What is she and her colleagues on the benches opposite doing about the future of Irish pharmacy, especially in view of the impending date of 1 March?
Senator Jerry Buttimer: What is the Government doing to safeguard the future of Irish pharmacists given the 1 March deadline? In his comments yesterday the Leader spoke about the Minister’s diary. Will he give an update on her availability to come to the House today?
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Senator Feeney mentioned an issue I wished to raise, given we are in Eating Disorder Week. It is an important matter that affects 7,000 people directly and has significant consequent problems for families and society. This Government published A Vision for Change in 2006 and it has not delivered in its commitment. I agree with Senator Feeney’s comments.
A friend of mine has a daughter using services abroad because she cannot get access to services here. That is a terrible indictment of modern Ireland in its treatment of a young girl struggling to cope with life. This is not a political issue. The report published by Bodywise last week indicated resources were inadequate and the commitment in A Vision for Change has not been implemented. It is about time we had a debate on the whole aspect of services relating to eating disorders. We are not addressing the matter. I ask the Leader to organise the debate as soon as possible.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I support Senator Alex White, who spoke about the increased consumption of alcohol and what action we can take to address the issue. I have done much thinking on this but I do not know the answer. I do not believe any of us in the House know what action we should take.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I am blue in the face from talking about the increase in alcohol consumption, what we should do, what parents and the community should do and what responsibility those outside this Chamber have. We can introduce all the legislation and do all the monitoring in the world. I regularly address 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds in schools on this serious problem. I welcome the debate but I fear for the future unless something can be decided on what action we can take. It is beyond us as it is a global issue. We should consider the matter in that context.
I compliment gardaí because they are out on the beat on Fridays and Saturdays at all hours of the night. We wake up on Sunday morning and see the place ruined with bottles, cans and various forms of drink. The retail outlets, such as garages, have a significant role to play in this. Society also has a role to play.
We need a bigger, societal, debate on this issue. The Celtic tiger has been very good for us economically but socially I worry about the future. I welcome the debate and I would like to hear all the views that would emerge as to how best we, as legislators, can work to improve the quality of life for the people in future. I worry about young people and the way they behave.
Senator Coffey referred to the environment and asked that the Minister be invited to discuss how the law is abused. He mentioned the EPA and the role of authorities where licensing is concerned, and how this is being breached regularly, especially in rural areas. I would welcome the Minister here for a full debate on the role of local authorities in administering their responsibilities in this regard.
Senator Feargal Quinn: It was interesting that Senator Daly brought up the question of Fairtrade policy. Senator Norris said to me it must have been an association of ideas because the Cathaoirleach immediately called on Senator Coffey to speak after introducing the topic of Fairtrade. Coffee and Fairtrade naturally go together. We are having free Fairtrade coffee in both of the restaurants this morning.
I mention this because of something brought up by Senator Terry Leyden, namely, the protectionist policy pursued by Peter Mandelson. Mr. Mandelson identified the €100 billion protectionist policy operating in Europe that Senator Daly mentioned. He is working hard to reduce it to ensure a livelihood for those who live in the fair trade areas. Senator Leyden and the Irish Farmers Association may criticise everything he does but he is acting in Europe’s best interests by making sure that we are not protecting ourselves against those in the developing world who have difficulty succeeding.
We have an extra day this year, on Friday. I was impressed to see that the Northern Ireland National Trust has given all its staff a day off and asked them to do something for the environment on that day rather than work as normal. We could perhaps do something for our environment by unplugging our different pieces of equipment that night and get into the habit of watching our electricity use. We waste billions of hours of energy by leaving equipment plugged in or on stand-by overnight.
Senator Mary M. White: I wish to refer to the matter that Senator McFadden raised. According to today’s Irish Independent , “Childline dealt with almost 300,000 calls from children last year — but another 300,000 went unanswered due to lack of funding ... more than 25,000 of the calls were from children looking for help on issues relating to abuse, violence and mental health”. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said yesterday that an out-of-hours service is vital.
In my newsletter to county councillors of January 2008, I called for the urgent implementation of the proposals by the Health Service Executive for a 24 hour a day, seven day a week call service with nurses and psychiatrists available. Every county in Ireland should be linked to this centralised service. The Minister for Health and Children should provide funding for the HSE proposals that are on the table. Every child in Ireland should have access to help from nurses and psychiatrists around the clock, and on Saturdays and Sundays. It is a matter of urgency that we look after our children and that funding to do that is put on the table.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I have repeatedly asked the Leader to intervene in the community pharmacy issue. The deadline is Saturday, 1 March. I can confirm that pharmacists around the country have begun between 500 and 600 legal cases against the unilateral breach of their contract by the Minister for Health and Children and the HSE. A significant amount of taxpayers’ money will be wasted on litigation when those pharmacists are willing to engage with the Minister to save €100 million in drug costs.
Senator de Búrca is in denial when she talks about the new and expanded role of pharmacists. Many pharmacists already engage in the health promotion about which she spoke. Other rural and new pharmacists who would like to do so will go out of business. It is not fair to put people out of business. I do not want to see taxpayers’ money wasted on litigation, as has happened in the Department of Education and Science which has spent €11.5 million fighting parents of children with special needs.
I was out of the House last week when the Leader replied to my request for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to address the serious water and sewerage crisis in Galway, particularly in Clifden. The Leader said that there had been a previous cock-up between Galway city and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: It was never involved in that problem. The bay there is contaminated and an accident would be fatal. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is coming to the House for other reasons this morning but I would like the Leader to invite him here to discuss the overall water and sewerage situation.
Senator Pearse Doherty: I agree with those Senators who have raised the dispute between the pharmacies and the HSE. Boxes of letters are being distributed to Deputies and Senators outside the gates of Leinster House. They contain 475,000 signatures from people throughout the 26 counties calling for intervention in this dispute. It is amazing and crazy that almost half a million people are demanding action yet we cannot even have a debate on the issue in the Upper House of the Parliament. Will the Leader sort out that issue immediately and facilitate a debate today or tomorrow on the pharmacies and ask the Minister for Health and Children to come in to discuss it?
The Leader may be aware of a study on the use of the Irish language within the Gaeltacht which contains many recommendations. One alarming finding is that unless we change Government policy the truest Gaeltacht areas will disappear within 15 to 20 years. Will the Leader in the lead-up to Seachtain na Gaeilge have a debate on Staidéar Cuimsitheach Teangeolaíochta ar úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht?
I have said very little on the tribunals as Leader because there is no point in our interfering in a job allocated to professionals. I will say no more, but that I fully respect the position of the tribunals and the professionals appointed. The Taoiseach led the setting up of these tribunals to put in place all the corrective measures regarded as necessary by politicians of all or most political parties. I am not getting involved but the independence of the tribunals should be sacrosanct as far as we are concerned.
We should all get back to the issues that many Senators bring to light here every day on the Order of Business. It is a pleasure to be able to assist, to have Ministers come to the House to see what can be done, to listen to the views of the experienced Senators here, and those who have experience in other walks of life, to assist the Department, the Government and the Minister in a given portfolio.
I agree with the wishes expressed by Senators about the delays in the unfortunate inquiries to eliminate the suffering of families concerned. We will contact the various Departments after the Order of Business, especially in the case of Rebecca O’Malley. I fully agree with the sentiments that have been expressed and will do all I can to see if we can bring the concerns of Senators to the Minister’s attention, and examine how I can progress any of the suggestions made in this area.
I join with Senators in congratulating Senator Callely in bringing together last night the splendid groups who participated in the autism debate. It is a great idea and a wonderful suggestion to bring together the families and policymakers in any way to assist in any challenge facing any group. I again congratulate the Senator on his great work in bringing everyone together last night.
Senators O’Toole, Coghlan and Norris expressed concerns in respect of motions that come back from committee without having been debated in the House and I will endeavour to have available an up-to-date memorandum on such motions. This is a worthwhile suggestion and I will do everything I can to make it happen. Senator Coghlan again offered his congratulations to the hard-working Deputy from Kerry South, Jackie Healy-Rae. While this was never in doubt, Deputy John O’Donoghue and other colleagues, who have been carrying the flag down there and doing their best for the people of south Kerry, all work just as hard and I wish them all well.
Senator O’Toole and other Senators called for a debate on the morning-after pill and to make it more freely accessible and available. Senator Mary White has been a champion of matters pertaining to children and I can facilitate a debate on this issue in the House. I heard an interview on radio this morning in respect of changing society and all the areas in which the present position must be reviewed. I have no difficulty in setting aside time for such a topic.
Senators Alex White and Ormonde called for an urgent debate on alcohol abuse and referred to the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher. I note there are now 4,000 off-licences in Ireland. This is because public houses are closing down and their licences are being put up for sale. Naturally, the unfortunate people who are obliged to close down their establishments, which had been kept going for generations, are selling them on to the off-licences.
First, if anyone is serious about alcohol, the Cathaoirleach and I, as well as Senators Ó Murchú and Callanan, have been pioneers for life and have never participated in the pleasure of the alcohol dream. The second point of advice to young people is that the gift of sport as fitness is the greatest gift that one can give one’s body. I look around and see many colleagues who could take up the proposal on walking made yesterday by Senator O’Donovan and stay out of such establishments as an alternative. A clear head in the morning is a huge asset to all professions.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Those Senators who appear to be talking from both sides of their mouths should lead by example and I call on them today to so do. One cannot preach the sermon without living the gospel.
Senator Donie Cassidy: —— at the earliest possible time and will endeavour to secure all-party agreement on the motion in respect of statements in the House on alcohol abuse. I call on the leaders of all political parties in the House to join with me in holding an all-party debate and statements on how Members can help the Minister and the Department in this respect.
Senators de Búrca, Coghlan, Callely, Prendergast, Feeney, Buttimer, Healy Eames and others expressed serious concerns in respect of the pharmacy issue. Members are aware that my intention was that the Minister would appear before the House tomorrow. However, she will be in the Dáil tomorrow at the time I had hoped she would come before the Seanad. I am pleased to inform the House that the Minister will be in the Seanad next Tuesday from 5.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., for statements on the pharmacy issue and the up-to-date position in this regard. The Dáil will receive an update on this matter tomorrow. As Members are aware, 1 March is the crucial date. I urge all Members who wish to contribute to speak to their Whips and to get their rota in order for the Cathaoirleach because nearly all Members will wish to speak on this issue.
In respect of the proposal for clinical trials, the €10 million the HSE has spent up to now on various trials, as well as those who are taking the Prozac medication, I have no difficulty in passing on these views to the Minister after the conclusion of the Order of Business or in inviting her to attend the House at another time to discuss the entire portfolio of health in respect of this matter, which probably will require an all-day debate.
Senators McFadden and Mary White raised the issue of the delayed trial in respect of the terrible school bus tragedy. I concur with their sentiments and will pass on their views to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The national Road Safety Authority has a duty to introduce the fitting of black box technology on all registered public transport. I have called on it to so do on two or three previous occasions as 53,000 public transport licences have been granted in Ireland for school buses, ambulances, taxis or whatever. It is the duty of the Government to have in place such black box technology because the cause of such an accident would be known definitively within 20 minutes of it taking place. Members fully support the sentiments expressed this morning by Senators McFadden and Mary White and I will do everything I can to ascertain whether anything can be done through the Minister regarding the request made in the House this morning.
Senators Daly and Quinn mentioned this is Fair Trade fortnight and Fairtrade products are being sold in Leinster House today. I intend to place statements on fair trade on the Order of Business one day next week to measure progress and to discuss how to assist the Fairtrade organisations, which are doing such a wonderful job in this regard.
Senators Coffey and Ormonde called for a debate on waste related matters. Statements on waste management will follow the Order of Business today and I understand the Minister is waiting in the ante-room outside for this debate to take place. Perhaps the particular points raised by the Senators can be addressed in the House this morning.
Senator Terry Leyden, who is the Government’s spokesman on European affairs, referred to the Lisbon reform treaty. I concur with the Senator’s views on Commissioner Mandelson and the serious concerns about which our farmers must be very vigilant. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Mary Coughlan, for her steadfast opposition to his proposals on protecting Irish farmers and the farming community at present. I will endeavour to have the requested debate take place at the earliest possible time.
Senator Kelly called for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come before the House to discuss small to medium sized businesses, which employ more that 800,000 people in Ireland at present, with particular reference to the technology sector. I can facilitate such a debate and have already made a request to the Minister to have a debate on that worthwhile subject.
Senators Norris and Callely called for an urgent debate on homelessness. I heard Dr. O’Carroll’s radio interview this morning and I wish to compliment both him and Ms Alice Leahy, who already has been named in the House, for the great work they are doing. In particular I refer to the night bus that drives around the city of Dublin, as well as to other areas in which great work is being done in respect of homelessness. However, it defies logic to treat someone in hospital for a week or two and then to let that person out with nowhere to go. Such a person will more or less have been put back on the street. This is unacceptable in this day and age and Members will have a lengthy debate on this issue at the very earliest possible time.
All local authorities received a substantial increase in their allocations in recent years. I call on our colleagues opposite, whose parties control 95% of local authorities given their numbers following the outcome of the previous local elections, to assist the Government in ensuring what the Deputy Leader of the House has called on me to take on board. It is important to ensure this, especially when increased allocations have been made for roads, water and sewerage schemes and other essential services and given that local authority members decide where most of those moneys will be spent.
Senators Feeney and Buttimer requested a debate on child psychiatry, with which I agree and I will pass on their views. I can arrange for such a debate to be taken, perhaps in Private Members’ time given that it is only four weeks until the Easter recess. Perhaps political party Whips and leaders would consider facilitating some of these urgent worthwhile requests and assist the House in agreeing to such matters being taken in Private Members’ time.
Senator Quinn made a good suggestion, namely, that on leap year day, 29 February, which is this coming Friday, all households plug out or turn off their television sets and other electrical appliances and not leave them on standby at night-time in particular. When appliances are left on standby 20% of the electricity it takes for them to be fully powered is wasted. The House will join the Senator in calling on all citizens to respond to an energy request on leap year day and, thereby, get into that good habit. People have got into the bad habit of switching off their television sets with their remote controls and not turning them off manually, which one must do to turn off most television sets.
Senator Healy Eames called for a debate on water quality and the sewerage scheme in Clifden. This is an issue that could be taken during in Private Members’ time. Perhaps the information the Senator requested could be obtained more quickly if this matter were taken in Private Members’ time.
Senator Doherty called for a debate on a study on Gaeltacht areas being undertaken. We always have a debate once a year on the Irish language and the Gaeltacht. This is a worthy request and I have no difficulty in arranging for such a debate.
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