Wednesday, 30 April 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Dan Boyle: Today’s business is No. 1, the Twenty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2008 (Reform Treaty) and No. 2, the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2008. It is proposed that the 28th Amendment of the Constitution Bill will be taken at 4.15 p.m. and will adjourn at 6.15 p.m. if not previously concluded. The spokespersons may speak for 15 minutes and all other Senators for ten minutes. Senators may share time with the agreement of the House. On No. 2, the Private Members’ Bill, moved by the Labour Party, entitled the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2008 to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and to conclude not later than 8.15 p.m. It is also proposed that the business of the House will be interrupted from the conclusion of the Order of Business until 4.15 p.m.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: This side of the House does not agree to the Order of Business. We will oppose it on the grounds that the Health Service Executive is once again implementing a regime of dangerous and cruel cutbacks across the health service. We have the very serious situation where the trade union IMPACT and its 28,000 health workers have sanctioned industrial action. They say that they are doing this because the current cutbacks which they are experiencing in the services are harming patients, putting extra pressure on staff and have led to promised health service improvements being shelved.
We also have the serious situation of the pharmacy dispute, known to Senators across the House. What is the Government doing? Apparently the independent chair has made some recommendations. Is the Government accepting his recommendations so that this dispute does not escalate and cause patients to suffer? We are all getting telephone calls from patients who are concerned about their medication and about what is going to happen if this dispute goes to the edge as it appears it might.
Many Senators will have seen the television programme last night about homeless people in Dublin. Senator Paschal Donohue raised this matter in the House some weeks ago. The television programme “Prime Time” reported last night that seven homeless people died in a two-week period over Easter. These seven people died while at least five major facilities for the homeless in Dublin were either lying idle or were under-utilised owing to cutbacks by the HSE. I must ask Senator Boyle what the Green Party is doing in Government. What can he tell us about these cutbacks and the scale of them? What action is being taken to reform the HSE and deal with the bureaucracy that is spoken about by everybody? This is the critical issue. Frontline services are being affected and so are patients, as IMPACT has highlighted. I will oppose the Order of Business to allow for a debate on these important matters today.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Fáilte go mór roimhis an cine ata déanta ag an Rialtais mar gheall ar ainm mo shean bhaile fhéin, Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. Mar a dúras go minic roimhe seo bhítrí ainmneacha i gcónaí ar an áit sin agus beidh trí animneacha i gcónaí ann. Mar chríoch don scéal, níl aon ró-athrú déanta, ach fáiltím go bhfuil sé déanta. Níos mó agus níos tábhachtaí ná sin ná go ndúirt an tAire go bhfuil sé chun reachtaíocht a chur chun cinn a dhéanfadh cinnte de go mbeadh aon sórt pobalbhreith nó plebiscite i measc muintir na háite níos tábhachtaí ná aon sórt ordú a dhéanfar faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. This idea of giving rights back to people at a local level is important, especially in the sense that any plebiscite taken under local government legislation will always overrule any decision taken under the Acht teanga. I look forward to the legislation which will do that.
That is behind us, however. Níos tábhachtaí ná sin ná gur mhaith liom cuireadh a thabhairt don Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta teacht isteach go dtí an Seanad chun dul chun cinn sna Gaeltachtaí a phlé. Bheadh orainn féachaint cén dul chun cinn tionsclaíochta agus fostáiochta atá déanta, an tionchar atá ag na cutbacks atá ag tarlú i gcúrsaí feirmeoireachta, na deacrachtaíó thaobh tionscail na hiascaireachta, agus an tionchar atá acu siúd ar fad ar mhuintir na Gaeltachtaí. Ba bhreá agus ba mhaith an rud é go mbeadh díospóireacht againn ar an méid sin agus ar an dul chun cinn atá déanta ó thaobh an teanga agus polasaithe teanga.
Cuireas ceist ar an tSeanadóir Ó Casaide cúpla seachtain ó shin an mbeadh díospóireacht againn ar an tuarascáil ón gCoimisinéir Teanga. These are serious issues in which the Government has a significant interest and investment. We should have a great debate on it. More than anything else, ba mhaith liom ó thaobh Chorca Dhuibhne féin de go ndéanfadh an tAire gach iarracht le déanamh cinnte de nach mbeadh aon deighilt i measc muintir na leithinse sin mar gheall ar an tranglam ar fad faoi ainm na háite agus má bhíonn, go gcuirfeadh sé droichead thar an deighilt sin.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I am sure everyone in the House will join me in wishing the Taoiseach well later on today in his historic address to the joint session of the US Congress. I hope he will use the occasion to raise awareness of Ireland and I hope he raises the plight of the undocumented Irish during his address. I also hope he extends an invite to the average American to visit these shores. We had a wonderful debate in the House last week on tourism and it is clear this is one area than can help create more jobs for the Irish economy. Next week the Taoiseach will meet the First Minister in the North at the opening of the new Battle of the Boyne commemoration site in Oldbridge, County Meath. That facility is expected to lead to about 100,000 people visiting County Meath every year. Initiatives such as this can help to counter the bad news emanating from the Irish economy.
This morning we saw the ESRI report which says consumer confidence is at its lowest level ever. Nine out of ten people expect unemployment to increase in the next year, so it is issues such as tourism investment that can help counter the bad news. However, it is time we put in place a strategy for preparing for further rises in unemployment. In particular, we need to ensure there is investment in adult education so that people can retrain, upskill themselves and take advantage of other opportunities in the jobs market.
An Cathaoirleach: A large number of speakers are seeking to raise questions with the Deputy Leader. As the leaders of the various groups have completed, I ask other Senators to be brief and we will try to accommodate them all.
Senator Ann Ormonde: Last week I spoke about the impending legislation curbing the sale of alcohol, especially in off-licences and supermarkets, and the use of alcohol. While I welcome the new legislation, I believe it must be coupled with a debate that will involve the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, local authorities and education initiatives. Account must be taken also of the rural transport initiative. This is a societal issue, as I have argued many times in this House.  We must ask how we curb the sale of alcohol. It cannot be done by legislation alone, as I keep repeating. The responsibility rests with us all and requires interdepartmental thinking.
Before the legislation ever reaches this House, Senators should have the opportunity to discuss the rural transport initiative with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, to hear how it will affect rural life in this country. I am all for anything that will curb binge drinking and tackle that problem. We cannot do it by legislation alone. Nevertheless we must also consider what is happening in rural Ireland. Have we done anything about the rural transport initiative? How will that work? We have all seen ghost towns throughout the country. Unless we do something to curb that as well we are failing the people of all of Ireland. We need to reactivate life in our communities at large. This is a big issue for society. The responsibility rests with all of us to work together along with introducing legislation to tackle this very serious problem. I ask the Acting Leader to investigate having these discussions with the various Departments before legislation comes to the House.
Senator Paul Coghlan:
I also warmly welcome the announcement of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, on Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. As Senator O’Toole has said, this is proper
recognition of local democracy. The Minister proposes by way of legislation to ensure that such plebiscites will be honoured in future, which I greatly welcome.
I am not so sure I welcome his announcement about the additional 10,000 hectares to be included in an SAC in the Kenmare River area. I hope people will not be ambushed or taken by surprise and that all the maps associated with it will be made available to people and particularly to landowners. There seems to be confusion in the area. I am sure it will be the Minister’s intention to ensure everybody will be properly informed and have due notice to make their arguments on proper scientific grounds in regard to the validity of such a proposal or otherwise.
I endorse the remarks of Senator Fitzgerald regarding the HSE and the crisis in the health service, not least the continuing threat to the community drugs scheme as a result of the failure so far to agree with the pharmacists — although I understand there are some last ditch talks in place because of the pending legal action to be heard tomorrow in the High Court. I hope they will reach fruition in advance of that action and it will not be necessary for any people to suffer. We know the people who would suffer — those most in need. The elderly, sick and infirm would suffer. Concurrently there is a crisis facing final-year pharmacy students, some of whom have been writing to us. They had a right to pre-registration placement, which could now apparently be denied to them unless this issue is solved. That is another serious reason for resolving the matter.
The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill, which was passed by this House and completed Second Stage in the other House, seems to be lying somewhere in abeyance. Is it intended to proceed with its Committee Stage in the other House and if so when? The property services regulatory authority Bill has been long promised. If we had it we would not have had the recent headlines over whatever is going on between some members of the auctioneering profession. We should stress it is only some members of the auctioneering profession because most of them are very dutiful as members of their institute.
Senator Larry Butler: I wish to raise the matter of St. Colmcille’s Hospital as Senator Fitzgerald has already mentioned. There is a very serious issue there, with 16 deaths in the hospital related to this new bug, C. difficile. The microbiologist post that should have been filled some months ago has not yet been filled. The position is shared between St. Vincent’s Hospital and St. Colmcille’s Hospital and I do not think this is good enough. The Health Service Executive must take responsibility for this as must the management of the hospital, who allowed this to happen.
Senator Larry Butler: Contract cleaning in hospitals should cease and it is time specific people were employed for that purpose. Contract cleaners leave hospitals and work elsewhere. They may then bring serious bugs back into hospitals by moving from one area to another. There is no control in this respect of cleaning services within hospitals.
It is also important that management ensures proper health and safety regulations apply because this is not being done correctly in St. Colmcille’s Hospital. I was chairman of the steering committee in that hospital for a number of years and I know that the nurses, doctors and consultants there are fine, decent and good people who deliver a very good service. However, management there has been remiss in raising hospital standards to the required level. The beds are far too close together but this issue does not apply only to St. Colmcille’s Hospital, it has been detected in Ennis, County Clare, and various other hospitals. It is a major issue that attacks the elderly. If one’s uncle or aunt is of a certain age and goes to hospital he or she may not come out. The reality is that a most dangerous bug has been discovered and a microbiologist is needed on site to assess the situation in a laboratory. This is the only way the bug can be controlled.
I know others are anxious that I complete my contribution and I thank them for their forbearance because it applies to my area and is important. I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for accountability and for the Minister to ensure this does not happen again. We probably would not know about this if it were not for the coroner.
Senator Phil Prendergast: I wish to ask the Deputy Leader to consider the very serious issue of assaults on psychiatric nurses. In 1993 three nurses were stabbed in Artane and one of them has not worked since. They were not paid compensation and, after a long and arduous process, the HSE eventually decided to create a scheme for nurses that would provide a degree of compensation for injuries and assaults causing injury. However, the proposals breached the commitment given to the union by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, which set out that any nurses’ scheme should be consistent with the guidelines of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The PIAB asserts that a broken nose is worth €15,000 to €20,000 in compensation but under the nurses’ scheme it is worth €3,000. Similarly, a limb fracture was valued at €15,000 to €83,000 by the PIAB but is valued at only €3,000 under the nurses’ scheme. This is a sad reflection of how psychiatric nurses are treated by the Minister and the Department of Health and Children. An urgent review is necessary.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association started industrial action today in the form of a ban on overtime. Psychiatric services are in desperate need of a serious evaluation of service standards and the types of challenges that face psychiatric nurses every day. We are all too aware of the issues that affect people with mental health disorders in our society and I will not belittle them. There is an urgent need for this scheme to be put in place for nurses, particularly psychiatric nurses. The Labour Court recommendation, which was agreed, must have a meaningful value for nurses and compensate them accordingly when injured on duty.
Senator John Hanafin: I wish to raise a question about the Irish Council for Bioethics. It appears the council’s board is “independable”. “Independable” to me means they have the gloss of independence but are entirely dependable to give the result required. Recently, by a margin of 13 to nil, its board came to a decision that affects life. Approximately 60% of the country holds pro-life views, yet 13 people on a committee, unanimously, made a decision that affects life. State funding is going to this organisation and the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction. Out of the 38 members of each body’s board, only one spoke out for pro-life values.
I inquired of the mathematics department at University College Dublin as to the chances of this voting record happening arbitrarily. It is statistically improbable at the least. People are being chosen for committees because of their “independability”; in other words they can be depended on to do what is required of them. This is unacceptable with State funding. It is important the Irish Medical Council will have truly independent people appointed to its board.
Senator Liam Twomey: With regard to Senator Hanafin’s comments, both bodies were established and their boards appointed by Ministers. As for the Irish Medical Council, half its members are appointed by the Government and the other half elected by doctors. It has nothing to do with statistics. It is the Government’s job.
There is more hypocrisy in the House today. The only consistency shown by the other side of the House is in its criticism of the HSE. Yet, every time the House has a division on a health issue, Members on the other side fully praise the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. They cannot have it both ways.
The problems with the HSE go back to how the Government established the HSE and, in turn, failed utterly to reform the health services. I call on the Deputy Leader to have an honest debate on what is happening in the health services with homeless people dying on the streets, the lack of mental health services across the country and, particularly, the severe budget cuts coming down the track in the second half of the year.
The Government side claims it has nothing to do with it because it is the responsibility of the HSE. It is the responsibility of the Government. I am looking for honesty from Government representatives instead of speaking out of both sides of their mouths. There are problems with the HSE but the Government side refuses to acknowledge this. They claim the Minister for Health and Children is doing a great job. If she were, why are people dying in our hospitals because of hospital acquired infections? Will the Government side answer that question honestly?
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: I agree with my fellow Kerrymen, Senators Joe O’Toole and Paul Coghlan, in their welcoming of the decision by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, on the Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis issue. He has shown the wisdom of Solomon on the matter and I hope both sides will be satisfied with his verdict. I know I will be.
I commend the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Trevor Sargent, who yesterday launched the organic farming action plan. Will the Deputy Leader invite the Minister of State to outline to the House the imaginative programme he has in mind? It is a challenging document, which seeks to achieve 5% of all farming to be organic by 2012. He has made remarkable progress in the area. Any farmer with 55 hectares or more in the REP scheme can switch to organic farming and receive grant aid in excess of €20,000 for the first two years and €16,000 per annum thereafter without having to apply for REPS 4.
The Union of Students in Ireland are lobbying Members today on problems faced by students. It has presented a very good case. The most critical problem for students at present and one of several problems raised by the union is the matter of student accommodation. I understand the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has promised that there will be a report on this matter. I ask that the Minister expedite the publication of this report and that the Deputy Leader would secure this.
I support the comments of my colleague, Senator Larry Butler, on the issue of various bugs in hospitals. We have seen problems in hospitals throughout the country. There seems to be a new super-bug appearing every so often. There have been deaths in hospitals as a result, whether it is Ennis or Loughlinstown hospitals. Recently the mother of a friend of mine, a woman of advanced years but in reasonably good health, was admitted to a hospital in County Kerry. One week later she succumbed to one of these bugs and is now unfortunately dead. It is not for Senator Buttimer to challenge the Government on this issue as it is not a matter of finance, but a matter of procedure.
Senator Shane Ross: Senator Coghlan spoke on the issue which I wish to raise. It was also raised by one of the Senators on the Government side of the House last week. What has happened to the auctioneering Bill? It has been promised for years. Senator O’Toole and I brought up this matter approximately five years ago and it has been promised every year since then. It is relevant today because, as I am sure the House is aware, there has been a very serious series of incidents where The Irish Times has been fed with false information by auctioneers.
Senator Shane Ross: This has resulted in the creation of a false market in housing. This is far more serious than the issue I raised last week regarding the lack of financial regulation in the stock exchange and in other areas. Whereas the problems in these sectors are serious in that there may or may not be factors causing a distortion in the market, in the housing sector there is a false market being created which is leading first time buyers — the most vulnerable people in society — into believing the prices of houses are higher than the actual market price. This behaviour is illegal.
It is vital we discuss this issue as it appears there is no one who can do anything about it. There is no body with authority. The regulatory bodies, despite what Senator Coghlan said, have done nothing. It has been happening under their noses for a long period of time, yet they did nothing until the story was rumbled at the weekend by a newspaper. Now we have a situation where the National Consumer Agency has announced that it would give the auctioneers 48 hours to stop it.
Nothing is to be done about the cases that have already happened. The National Consumer Agency will not prosecute those responsible. For some reason auctioneers have been given an amnesty for the sins already committed and I see no reason why that should happen. I can only draw one conclusion which is that auctioneers are a protected species of rogue in Irish society. They are protected because they have such muscle——
Senator Shane Ross: The reason they are tolerated is the reason I was interrupted in this House. It is because there are so many of them in the Oireachtas, the Seanad and the county councils. These people must be brought to book.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: Go raibh maith agat. It is with some regret I received An Cathaoirleach’s letter stating that I cannot raise the issue of the consolidation of the department of the marine under the Adjournment because of a lack of ministerial responsibility. The answer spoke for the issue I was trying to address, however I will try to address it another way.
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s party is in Government and she may wish to raise it with some people in her party. They may be able to do something about it. The Senator may also be able to raise it at a later stage.
Will the Acting Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to discuss a serious issue I have encountered in respect of the Control of Dogs Regulations 1998? Some ten breeds described as dangerous are required by the regulations to be on short leads and muzzled when in public places. There is a proliferation of rottweilers and so on around the country. A number of people have approached me concerning dogs of the breeds in question gaining access to private properties. While they have knocked children down, they have not yet mauled anyone. According to the Garda and dog wardens, the dogs are not considered dangerous until they have bitten someone. Will the Minister determine whether there is a gap in legislation, as a dangerous dog outside its owner’s private property should be muzzled? If a person with young children is enduring multiple property incursions by a dangerous dog from nearby, his or her children’s right to move outside their house is being denied. There is a gap in the regulations. Someone need not be mauled before something can be done.
Senator Eugene Regan: While a debate on the referendum Bill on the Lisbon treaty, in respect of which there has been ongoing discussion in the House, has been arranged, I wish to comment on recent polls detailing how narrow the vote on the referendum will be. Judging from the experience of the first Nice treaty referendum, people either do not tend to turn out or vote “No” when there is a lack of information. When there was full information before the second Nice treaty referendum, people turned out and voted “Yes”.
We are in the phase of “Lisbon II” because there has been a period of disinformation and misinformation by the “No” campaign. It is important to record a significant lie made by the “No” campaign, namely, that the Lisbon treaty would jeopardise the 12.5% corporation tax rate. While the economy may be fragile, such statements are not only misleading, but entirely untrue.
Senator Eugene Regan: I appreciate the Cathaoirleach’s help. Herr Pöttering confirmed that there would be no impact on Ireland’s corporation tax rate. The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, confirmed this position emphatically when speaking at the National Forum on Europe, as did the chairman of the Referendum Commission. It is important to stop this lie. The other lies propagated will be exposed in this second phase of the treaty. Politics should not be based on lies and we all have a responsibility to expose them.
When will the requested debate on the economy occur? There was a time when we could not discuss it. The outgoing Taoiseach stated that there should be no negativity, pessimism or politically motivated attempts to talk down the economy. Last September, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, stated that the economy’s fundamentals were fine. I ask that those who discuss the deteriorating economy during the debate will not be accused of being unpatriotic.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Tááthas orm go bhfuil socrú ann maidir le “Dingle — Daingean Uí Chúis”. Ní dóigh liom go gcabhraíonn conspóid den tsaghas seo le chur chun cinn na Gaeilge. Is cinnte nach bhfuil sé i ndáil leis an dea-thoil atá ann don teanga ar fud na tíre. Bheadh sé i bhfad níos fearr coimhlint den sórt seo a sheachaint, más féidir.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú: Tugaim faoi ndeara le blianta fada anuas an dea-thoil atá ann don Ghaeilge. Tá an t-aontas atá ann i leith na Gaeilge thar a bheith soiléir sa Teach seo. Is é sin an bunchloch is fearr. Má fhéachaimid siar ar stair na Gaeilge, tógfaimid faoi ndeara go raibh go leor easaontas ann le blianta fada. Is minic gur bhain easaontas den tsaghas sin leis an pholaitíocht. Ní chóir go mbainfeadh an teanga náisiúnta le polaitíocht pháirtí ar chor ar bith. Tááthas orm go bhfuil deireadh leis an ré sin. Aontaím go mbeadh sé an-chabhrach cuireadh a thabhairt don Aire teacht anseo chun an ábhar seo, agus rudaí eile dearfacha atá déanta le tamall bhig anuas, a phlé. B’fhiú tuarascáil an gcoimisinéir teanga agus an gradam nua atá ag an Ghaeilge a phlé freisin. Dúirt mé cheana go raibh mé an-sásta leis an óráid a thug an Tánaiste, ina dhúirt sé go mbeidh an Ghaeilge mar thús áite aige in aon obair a bheidh idir lámha aige.
It would be helpful to invite the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, or the Tánaiste, who has also expressed interest in the language, to attend the House. I am glad the Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis controversy has faded into the background because it did not help the goodwill that exists for the language or further the efforts which have been made to promote it. Virtually everybody agrees that a new environment has developed for the language and it would be nice to be kept up to date on developments.
Senator David Norris: I received a strong letter from Professor Patricia Casey demanding that I retract unscripted statements I made on the Order of Business some time ago. I am happy to take this opportunity to do so. I had suggested that in evidence in the High Court in the Zappone case she gave an inaccurate and misleading account of research. Professor Casey pointed out that the research was published after she gave that evidence and, in fact, she was becomingly modest in the case. According to the summary by Ms Justice Dunne, Professor Casey, “confirmed that she herself had not carried out or published any studies on same sex relationships”, which makes one wonder why she subsequently engaged in controversy in The Irish Times through articles and letters in which she quoted this research.
I would like to be accurate for the record by noting that the author of one of the reports cited by Professor Casey in her articles and letters, Anna Sarkadi, wrote in a letter to The Irish Times that, “we feel it is important that conclusions based on our research results are correct and truthful to what the original design of the study allows...Prof Casey’s conclusion...is not valid based on our findings.” Professor Casey also referred to UNICEF, in which regard a letter was written to The Irish Times by Melanie Verwoerd, executive director of Unicef Ireland stating, “Prof Casey’s reference to Unicef, with regard to the current debate on same-sex marriage and parenting, is incorrect and unacceptable.” It also flew in the face of the report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the Australian Psychological Association, the Canadian Psychological Association, the Royal College of Psychiatry, the National Association of Social Workers in the USA and the American Psychiatric Association. Therefore, Professor Casey’s modesty in the High Court was well-earned and very honest.
Senator David Norris: I am happy to confirm this matter. Since the original offence was not published, I am at a loss to find how she suffered any substantial damage to her reputation. I hope, however, this will restore her reputation in the eyes of the public and the courts.
I regularly listen to the radio and I have heard about politicians being chastised for writing letters in rape cases. Yesterday, a horrible performance took place on the airwaves in which a Roman Catholic priest was savagely and venomously impugned by a hysterical mob who set upon him because he practised on air the virtues of Christ in the Gospels. I find that outrageous.
Senator David Norris: A vengeful and nasty spirit is abroad and the question of sexual abuse by priests within the church was, most unfairly, added to the equation. That man is a Christ-like figure who deserves to be commended. He also felt strongly for the Polish girl who was the victim of the assault. This is a nasty trend in the media that should be stopped. I recall writing for a newspaper some years ago that carried a front page headline stating, “Connell Visits Pervert Priests in Prison”. I took an article in the newspaper the next day to ask where else should he be in the footsteps of Christ except visiting the sinners? There is a nastiness abroad and we should call a halt to it.
Senator Paddy Burke: I support Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment to the Order of Business. I am disappointed with the Minister for Health and Children in regard to the pharmacy dispute. She put in place an independent committee but nothing appears to have happened. A report has been published but no progress appears to have been made regarding this dispute. Even at this late stage something should happen immediately because we are in a dangerous position. Patients and medical card holders are anxious to know what will happen. The pharmacists are anxious also. The Minister should come into the House as a matter of urgency and inform Members on the up to date position in regard to this issue.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on maternity services. Speakers have called for debates on other aspects of the health services but it is important for us to focus on the state of maternity services in our hospitals. I met last week with an organisation called the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services — Ireland, a group formed last year by mothers dissatisfied with the services they had encountered in hospitals. They are a consumer-led campaign group, the members of which I understand have already met the Minister and who are prioritising, in particular, the publication of annual clinical reports and statistics on maternity hospitals. It is appalling that in 2008 we still do not have full statistics, for example, on rates of induction and Caesarian sections across our hospitals. Such a proper reporting system would also help us to pick up on serious deviations from the norm and bring about prevention of future appalling tragedies like the Dr. Neary tragedy. The creation of national guidelines for clinical practice in maternity care is another priority for the association. We should have a debate on that and on a national independent auditing body for maternity services.
We would do better in this House if we debated positive steps to improve maternity and reproductive health services rather than spending our time criticising and sniping at independent experts who have been appointed by the Government to deal with issues such as the bioethics issue addressed earlier. We should not impugn the integrity and independence of such experts simply because some Members do not like the results or outcome of their research. I do not believe there is such a word as “independability”. That amounts to impugning the integrity of experts and we should be cautious before we do that.
Senator Ivor Callely: Will the Deputy Leader arrange to provide us with a briefing document that would clarify the situation that prevails regarding the discussions with the pharmacists on the reimbursement issue and the new contract? Those two issues are a source of concern to community pharmacists and the general public.
Could we also get clarity on the issue of contingency plans, which we were advised by the Minister for Health and Children were in place but I understand they are only being worked on? I am somewhat confused because we heard from the Minister some weeks ago that the Health Service Executive had all this in order but now at the 12th hour we are led to believe that may not be the position.
I seek a detailed report on the issue of homelessness. What funding is available to tackle homelessness, what agencies receive the funding and what service do we obtain for the funding provided to each agency? When we receive such a detailed brief, I ask that we have a special debate on homelessness in the House.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I join with Senator Fitzgerald in calling for a debate on the Health Service Executive, particularly relating to the issue of homelessness. The “Prime Time” programme last night revealed that seven people died on the streets over Easter in the capital city of Ireland. We are told this was down to a lack of resourcing involving facilities and staffing.
I put it to the Deputy Leader that this is not good enough in a modern, 21st-century Ireland. Last night, immediately after the programme was aired, I walked from the top of Grafton Street to the bottom and seven people were sleeping homeless or begging on the main thoroughfare of our capital city. It is a sad indictment of the legacy of this Government. In the words of the eminent Fr. Harry Bohan, “The Celtic tiger, wonderful though it is, may have made us lose touch with people, roots and soul”. That is the legacy and we need a debate on the matter.
With regard to the issue of MRSA, it is not about having beefy matrons or contract cleaners; it is about enhancing the role of part-time and contract workers and having political accountability in the running of the Department of Health and Children and HSE. We should have a debate that is honest and genuine. Those on the other side of the House should stop playing one game, going into parliamentary party meetings and chastising Ministers in private before going out in public to march with them.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I add my support to Senator Fitzgerald’s amendment to the Order of Business. My first area of concern is the pharmacy dispute. I have discovered over the past few days, through phone calls and meeting people, that there is a real fear among older and sick people across this country about access to medication. It is now clear that contingency plans were not in place and the proper independent mediator established at the outset should have been left in place and adhered to by the Minister. It is very wrong. I ask the Deputy Leader that a statement on the dispute be made before the conclusion of business.
I concur with remarks on homelessness. What struck me most remarkably about the “Prime Time” programme last night was the fact we have state of the art buildings available to homeless people. As a result of embargoes on staffing and ludicrous reductions of expenditure in penny-pinching of an irrelevant type, the buildings are not being staffed and used. That is criminal beyond measure. I ask the Deputy Leader to address that question and have the Minister face the issue in the House.
Senator Ormonde raised the issue of alcohol. I am a great believer that it can be best addressed through a legislative framework and regulation. I put it to the Cathaoirleach and the Deputy Leader in particular that the proposition should be debated here and brought before Government that we put in place an infrastructure for the young people in this country to give them an alternative. In every town in the country there should be a drop-in café for young people. This could be achieved cheaply and could result in a very effective social centre and alternative to the drink culture.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I assume that when the father of the House, Senator Ross, was addressing the question of what he describes as rogue auctioneers, and then generously and correctly stated a number were not so, he had the Cathaoirleach and my colleague, Senator Coghlan, on top of the latter list.
The real crisis the world faces relates to a shortage of food and the possibility of major famines and general hunger. This is happening at the same time agriculture is experiencing major difficulties as a result of the desire to reduce rather than increase production. I request an early debate on matters such as the increasing number of food shortages. The latter is evidenced by the fact that in the past five to six years the world consumed significantly more food than it produced. We must aspire to ensure that the farmlands of Ireland, Europe and the world are used to produce animals and food in order to cater for the needs of humanity.
The crisis relating to the dire and alarming number of food shortages is even greater than that of climate change. It requires urgent political attention, particularly in the context of the forthcoming WTO negotiations. We are attempting to resolve this problem in the wrong way.  We must ensure that agriculture in Ireland and throughout Europe is strengthened, not weakened. Irish farmers and their European counterparts should be paid premiums to produce food, not to allow their lands to lie fallow.
Senator Pearse Doherty: Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Tuathail ag cuartú díospóireachta ar chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. D’iarr mise go dtarlódh seo tamall fada ó shin agus d’iarr Seanadóirí eile, ina measc an Seanadóir Brian Ó Domhnaill, an rud céanna. Tá an díospóireacht sin práinneach. Tá an tuarascáil againn agus tá sé ráite ann go bhfuil 15 bliana fágtha ag an nGaeltacht. Ba cheart go mbeadh plé sa Seanad fá dtaobh den cheist sin.
Ba mhaith liom fosta iarraidh ar an Leas-Cheannaire ceist a chur ar an tAire Sláinte agus Leanaí, an Teachta Mary Harney, a theacht isteach go dtí an Seanad. There is no doubt the Minister must return to the House. On the previous occasion she appeared, the Minister referred to so-called cutbacks. Regardless of the spin relating to figures and increases at budget time, patients do not care about the additional funding being made available to the HSE. All these people are concerned about is why hospitals are reinstating service levels that applied two years ago. The hospitals are going backward rather than forward. Patients on medical cards are concerned when they cannot have their prescriptions filled immediately. The Minister cannot answer questions in respect of these matters.
As stated in last week’s debate on patient safety, the Government is hiding behind the Minister and she is hiding behind the HSE. It is time we engaged in an honest debate regarding all the issues that affect the health service. A Senator on the Government side referred to the need for people to wash their hands in order to stop the spread of MRSA. Everyone knows that is an important factor. However, isolation units and additional beds are also important. I am familiar with a nursing home in Donegal where, on foot of cutbacks, there are no cooking staff available at weekends and where a carer who is charged with looking after two patients with MRSA is obliged to enter the kitchen and prepare food. That is why MRSA is prevalent across the health system.
I interrupted Senator Regan when he was referring to the Lisbon treaty because some weeks ago when I informed the House that Fine Gael and Labour MEPs support the Pisani-Ferry report on tax harmonisation across the EU, the Cathaoirleach stated that I should leave the matter until the debate on the Bill. We have already had a month’s worth of statements on this matter. I am the only person in this Chamber who will publicly vote against the Lisbon treaty.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I support calls for a debate on the HSE and the health service. Today, we have already heard about deaths from hospital acquired infections, homeless people dying in the streets and difficulties with psychiatric services, pharmacists, etc. Yesterday, I rang a community welfare officer in Waterford on behalf of a person who was seeking assistance by means of the housing aid for the elderly scheme. I was informed that applications relating to the scheme have not been dealt with for many months as a result of staff shortages. Community welfare officers have been instructed not to deal with these applications.
This is an attack on the elderly people in our community. Their applications have not even been acknowledged and will not be addressed until staff shortages have been attended to. This is diabolical. The HSE is in an absolute mess and the sooner people on the Government side of the House agree that is so, the better. They should do something about it. That is what the public want. When will the all-party motion on Zimbabwe be dealt with?
Senator Rónán Mullen: I enjoyed Senator Norris’s delightfully mischievous clarification of matters as requested by Professor Patricia Casey. On the basis of what he quoted from Professor Casey, it is important to note that she——
Senator Rónán Mullen: I will do so but I wish to make a point of clarification in defence of a person who is not present. Professor Casey is one of the few people who has not sought to steal a march by misquoting. Like the Swedish researchers, she is conducting a review of the research available, which shows the importance of involved fathering. With due regard to some people who may not like that, it is difficult to see how a lesbian couple, however loving they might be, can provide for involved fathering, which is what all the research shows to be important.
Senator Rónán Mullen: I support what Senator Ormonde said about the issue of drink driving. I note the Government has decided it will note the recommendation from the Road Safety Authority on the proposed reduction of the legal blood-alcohol limit. It is important for us to have a debate about this. Last week, Senator O’Toole called for the evidence to show the link between road fatalities and the relevant blood-alcohol limit. Research from 2003 shows that where alcohol was involved in road deaths, one quarter of those involved were below the legal limit. It is important for us to discuss the matter but, as Senator Ormonde said, we should do so in context. If we are to change the limit, we need to examine the penalties so that we will have public support at all times for whatever is proposed and the fabric of our community life will not be endangered by a law which might be well intentioned but not properly thought out or contextualised.
Senator John Paul Phelan: I echo the sentiments of my colleague, Senator Bradford, concerning the emerging food shortages that have come to light across the globe in recent weeks. When does the Deputy Leader envisage we will have a discussion on the World Trade Organisation talks? It was supposed to happen during the week of the former President Hillery’s funeral. I was hoping the debate would take place this week but I earnestly request that it should occur next week at the latest.
I also join Senator Fitzgerald and others who have sought a debate on the health service. One aspect of the service which clearly did work was the community drugs scheme, yet it seems appalling that the scheme is on the verge of collapse. The Government and the Health Service Executive in particular have not done sufficient work to try to resolve the matter before that collapse comes about. The discussion on the health service should include the emerging problem with general practitioner numbers. Yesterday, I heard an astonishing statistic that 50% of GPs in this country are due to retire within the next ten years and we do not have sufficient places for medical students to fill these positions.
I join Senators O’Sullivan and Keaveney in wishing to know when the Student Support Bill will come to the House. I understand it is being taken on Second Stage in the Lower House at the moment. Senator O’Sullivan referred to the issue of accommodation. Eight months ago a commitment was given by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to establish a task force on accommodation for third level students, but it has not yet been acted upon. Perhaps the Deputy Leader will divulge when it will be.
Senator Dan Boyle: Many Members raised the question of the health service, including Senators Fitzgerald, Coghlan, Butler, Prendergast, Hanafin, Twomey, O’Sullivan, Burke, Bacik, Callely, Buttimer, O’Reilly, Doherty, Cummins and John Paul Phelan. A request has been made not to accept the Order of Business on the basis of discussing many of the items outlined by Senator Fitzgerald in her opening contribution. There are a number of difficulties in acceding to that request. First, the time required to arrange for a Minister to be available to attend the House is not consistent with allowing such a debate to take place today. Second, the agenda for such a debate is far too wide-ranging. Requests from Members have included a revision of HSE services, threatened industrial action, the pharmacists dispute, homelessness and the situation regarding general practitioners.
The area of health has not lacked discussion in this House and the Minister for Health and Children has been a regular contributor to such debates here. I am confident that at the earliest opportunity we will be able to return to some or all of these matters for debate. However, it ill behoves the House to become directly involved in some of them because the hope lies in ongoing activity elsewhere, especially concerning the pharmacists’ dispute. It is best left to the independent people who have been appointed in that area to seek a resolution.
The wider question of issues such as homelessness does deserve a debate in the House. Many of us were taken by the contents of the Prime Time programme last night. I can inform the House that publication of the homelessness strategy, as promised in the programme for Government, is imminent. It will allow for a debate in the House on how that ongoing problem is being tackled. It is not just a problem concerning the lack of economic opportunity for those concerned because the issues of substance abuse and mental health are also involved. It requires a co-ordinated approach and the provision of health services for homeless people is a particularly important part of that. I hope Members of the House can contribute to that debate when it takes place.
Senators O’Toole, Ó Murchú, Coghlan and Doherty referred to the decision by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to recognise the plebiscite that has been held in Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis about the naming of that town. Senator O’Toole also welcomed that the Green Paper on local government reform, which is up for consultation at the moment, encourages the idea of a greater use of plebiscites for local decision making. I hope many Members of the House will agree to that when the White Paper and subsequent legislation are published.
There were further requests for the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to address the House on wider issues, especially concerning the promotion and standard of the Irish language as well as the recent report of an Coimisinéir Teanga. There have been several requests for the Minister to attend the House and it is hoped that he will do so at the earliest opportunity. Given the events scheduled in the Dáil next week, none of us can presume who will be serving in what portfolio. That will determine who can come to the House and when.
Senator Dan Boyle: I am not going that far especially. Senator Hannigan welcomed the Taoiseach’s address today to the joint Houses of Congress. Everyone here will be happy to be associated with those remarks. He also referred to the need to address tourism issues and the role of Irish emigrants. I am sure these themes will be addressed. The Senator also asked about the recent ESRI report which fits in with a contribution from Senator Regan on the current state of the economy. This side of the House is open for a debate on the economy at any time. The statistics concerning consumer confidence are affected by media and political comment because we are not experiencing a recession. The worst we are experiencing is a slowdown in the rate of economic growth.
Senator Dan Boyle: Senator Ormonde mentioned the impending legislation on alcohol, which has been raised on the Order of Business before now, particularly the report of the alcohol advisory group. Senator Mullen referred to the recommendation of the Road Safety Authority concerning the blood-alcohol level.
Senator Coghlan asked about the Kenmare river special area of conservation. I will bring that to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I am confident the proper procedures will be followed in terms of public advertising and consultation about it. There was also a question about the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Bill from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is still before the Dáil and is awaiting Committee Stage, which is dependent on the committee having time to deal with it. The committee is currently dealing with the Immigration and Residency Bill and other important legislation.
Senator Butler asked about the situation at St. Colmcille’s Hospital and the deaths that have occurred as a result of MRSA. It probably would be of interest to have a debate on MRSA. I understand standards are improving slightly although Ireland still compares badly. It is on the same level as countries such as the UK and the United States but is far below best practice that exists in Denmark. There are numerous reports on the matter. It is a question of having proper management in place in the health service and in individual hospitals to enforce standards. A debate would help bring that about.
Senator Prendergast spoke about the dangers experienced by psychiatric nurses, while Senator Bacik brought up the issue of maternity services. Legislation on nurses and midwives is due before the House within the next 18 months and this would be the proper vehicle for discussing the services and conditions of nurses in the health service and the provision of maternity services. We will find out when that Bill can be introduced in the House.
Senator Hanafin asked about the bioethics board and the opinions of people appointed to the board. I would hope that every member of our society is pro-life, although it depends on how one defines that.
Senator Dan Boyle: The issue of how boards are appointed and who appoints them is open to political debate. Members should be aware that the forthcoming broadcasting Bill will include a provision for the involvement of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in appointments to new State bodies in the broadcasting sector. The committee will be the vehicle for making those appointments. That is a new departure whereby Members can take responsibility for how people are appointed and how they should act in the public realm.
Senator O’Sullivan asked about organic farming and the rural environment protection scheme and welcomed the strategy produced by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Trevor Sargent. I will convey that welcome to the Minister of State. I believe he would be willing to come to the House to debate it.
That debate might include the issue of food shortages which was raised by Senator Bradford and Senator John Paul Phelan. Agriculture has an important role in meeting the challenges of global food shortages. The debate should be as wide ranging as possible. Not only are there risks of food shortages internationally due to imported bio-fuels, and we could grow bio-fuels easily in this country and not bring about food shortages, there is also the question of getting the balance right between tillage crops and reliance on meat. The amount of food grown to feed animals, cattle and pigs is also a contributing factor in causing food shortages. The debate could also focus on the effects of that. The issue is that there be an appropriate balance in agriculture. I believe every Member of the House could contribute to that debate.
Senator O’Sullivan mentioned the Union of Students in Ireland while Senator John Paul Phelan asked about the commitment to the task force on accommodation. I understand the Minister is to introduce a report on how that procedure can be followed. The task force reported a number of years ago and brought about some changes in student accommodation. Some of those recommendations resulted in tax reliefs under section 50 of the Finance Act.  However, those reliefs are about to expire and there is a need to re-examine the issue of student accommodation. I am confident the Minister will make a statement on it.
Senator Keaveney and Senator John Paul Phelan asked about the Student Support Bill. It is being discussed in the Dáil and will be sent to the appropriate select committee. I am confident the Seanad will have an opportunity to discuss the Bill before the summer recess.
Senator Norris and Senator Mullen raised points on which I cannot comment because they did not have anything to do with the Order of Business. Perhaps the Senators might deal with the matter outside this Chamber.
Senator Burke referred to Transport 21. I accept we should have a debate on this. Transport 21 is progressing well in some areas. Many of the roads projects, for example, are either on or are ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the public transport infrastructure. If we investigate, debate why that is happening and it encourages the appropriate agencies, such as the Railway Procurement Agency, to advance the public transport initiatives in Transport 21, the House will have done a good job.
Senator Callely asked for a briefing document on the pharmacists’ dispute. I presume that is possible. I will inquire and ask that Members be provided with it. Members are conscious of the 1 May deadline and it would be useful to be as well informed as possible.
The Senator also asked about the funding available to the various agencies that deal with the homeless. I will try to acquire that information although it is likely that the homelessness strategy will contain much of it.
Senator Bradford and Senator John Paul Phelan asked about the World Trade Organisation talks. I understand the Minister is available and we are endeavouring to allocate time next week for that debate.
Senator Keaveney asked about the Control of Dogs Act and whether the regulations can be modified. I will inquire about it from the Minister but an animal welfare Bill, which will consolidate much of the legislation in this area, will be brought forward within the next 18 months.
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Carty, John.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||de Búrca, Déirdre.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Glynn, Camillus.|
|Hanafin, John.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|McDonald, Lisa.||Ó Domhnaill, Brian.|
|Ó Murchú, Labhrás.||O’Brien, Francis.|
|O’Donovan, Denis.||O’Malley, Fiona.|
|O’Sullivan, Ned.||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||White, Mary M.|
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Doherty, Pearse.||Donohoe, Paschal.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||Norris, David.|
|O’Reilly, Joe.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Phelan, John Paul.||Prendergast, Phil.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Last Updated: 18/11/2010 18:43:14||Page of 11|