Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: We echo the Cathaoirleach’s very kind remarks and wish Alan well. We spoke last week of how proud we were of his achievement in becoming a Member of the European Parliament. We hope the experience he has gained in the Seanad will stand him in good stead in the many years to come as a Member of the European Parliament.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Aviation (Preclearance) Bill 2009 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, European Parliament (Irish Constituency Members) Bill 2009 — all Stages, with the Order for Second Stage and Second Stage not to be taken before 5 p.m., with spokespersons having ten minutes to speak, all other Senators seven minutes, on which Senators may share time, and with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at the conclusion of Second Stage.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: The public is outraged at the ongoing cancellation of operations for children in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, should be asked to outline to the House the funding decisions which have led to the ongoing cancellation of vital surgery for young children. Given the wealth this country has had, it is outrageous that young children’s operations are being cancelled in this centre of excellence. I ask the Leader to convey our views on this matter to the Minister.
A number of Members on this side of the House are concerned that, on an ongoing basis, we are taking all Stages of legislation on the same day. I am concerned at the management in the House of this matter and ask the Leader to ensure there is time between the different Stages of a Bill so that we can consider them adequately.
Perhaps the Leader will comment on the spat between him and the Deputy Leader on the filling of the two Seanad seats, for which there will be an internal election. We do not yet have Seanad reform and therefore the public will not have a say in the filling of these seats. When will the Seanad by-elections be held? Will an additional seat be offered by the Government to the Green Party as part of the ongoing political drama in which it is engaged and, if so, does that mean the filling of these seats will have to wait until the programme for Government has been renegotiated in the coming weeks and months or will it be tackled immediately? Will the Government give us a date for the by-elections?
I ask the Leader to ensure there is debate in the House before the end of this term on the Lisbon treaty guarantees. We should not take the public or its vote for granted in the lead up to the vote on the Lisbon treaty. We must discuss in the House in a timely manner the detail of those guarantees.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I also wish to be associated with the words of congratulation to former Senator Alan Kelly on his election. I wish him well in his time in Europe. It is a very difficult job to represent the most important part of Ireland. I look forward to his work and encourage him to sell the European message as loudly and articulately as possible, as I have no doubt he will, especially over the next six months. I wish him well in that regard.
The bartering and bargaining with Seanad seats, trying to buy spiritual indulgence and gain by offering seats to the Green Party, reminds me of the old sin of simony. It is unseemly and unacceptable. It gives the impression of the old all-conquering invader walking up the beach with baubles for the native Greens, having trinkets to buy them off and little bits of broken mirrors to pull them over to one side and calm them down. It is unacceptable and it offers another reason for the need for Seanad reform to come to the fore.
Senator Joe O’Toole: It is not good enough. This House is constitutionally far too important to be demeaned and diminished by having its seats used as a barter and a trade to buy political security. This should be looked at very closely.
Senator Joe O’Toole: My offer to the Green Party is that among us we will certainly find it possible to put forward an alternative candidate, for whom its party members might like to vote along the way. The seat should be left open in that regard. One of those seats was not a Government seat and that should be respected, as would be done on a local authority, to ensure the seat ultimately goes to a non-Government person. There is much to be done in terms of Seanad reform and this is one more example.
On at least three occasions over the past year I raised the importance of, and my frustration at the lack of support for, the Iranian opposition group, the Mojahedin organisation, which seems to be ignored by the West. This was especially the case when the previous President of the United States took the view that one either did business with that renegade regime or else invaded it. There is a third way which is now apparent, but we left it too late. We might have supported those people who came looking for our support. It is a bit hard to listen to Gordon Brown. A year ago his Government called these people terrorists and he was fighting in Europe to stop them getting recognition as a legitimate, peaceful, democratic opposition. There is much to be done. I ask the Leader to bring to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, our concern that he would show support for the opposition in Iran and for the courage and bravery of the people on the streets there.
Senator Alex White: Our thoughts and solidarity should be with the tens of thousands of people who took to the streets in Tehran over the past 48 hours and who are still protesting at events in Iran in recent days. Whenever I see such demonstrations and such a response by people in their tens of thousands, I am struck by the fact that when people abandon fear, anything can happen. Many people in Iran have abandoned fear and have taken the political situation, which belongs to them, into their own hands. They are out on the streets seeking to vindicate their civil and democratic rights.
I wish to be associated with the congratulations to my colleague, or as they say in the European Parliament, my dear colleague, former Senator Alan Kelly who is now a Member of the European Parliament. We are also congratulating today many people who have been elected to positions in local authorities around the country, mayoralties and so on. It is right we should congratulate them. However, we are reminded by this, unfortunately, of the constraints and limitations in the powers of elected mayors, deputy mayors and local authority members throughout the country. This is a timely occasion to raise this issue. Last week I asked the Leader to arrange a debate in the House about Dublin. In early or mid-May, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government made an announcement in respect of a directly elected mayor for Dublin and, perhaps, other cities.
I would like the Leader to arrange an early debate on how and in what manner the Minister intends the directly elected mayor to operate, because he has made significant claims in that regard. He said on 13 May, “I am making the most significant change to leadership in Dublin since the foundation of the State.” That is a big claim and I would like to understand how the mayoralty of Dublin will work. What sort of legislation is it proposed to introduce? I presume there will be legislation, because if there is not, there will be no changes in the powers.
I do not see any colleagues from the Green Party here, but I am sure they are close by. I, like many others in the country, would enthusiastically support the position of directly elected mayor, but it must be a position of power. It must be a position that has real authority associated with it. Otherwise, it simply grafts a post onto the existing weak system of local government. I made the point previously in the House that we have a very weak parliament in Ireland. We have an even weaker system of local government. We now have a good opportunity to debate these issues. Will the Leader ensure the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government comes to the House to facilitate such a debate at the earliest possible time?
Senator Terry Leyden: I share in the congratulations to our former colleague Alan Kelly on winning a seat in the European Parliament. I thank him for visiting us today to say goodbye to the House. I have no doubt he will make a major contribution in the European Parliament on behalf of Ireland. I wish him every success, health and good wishes.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to come to the House, this evening if possible, to make a short statement on the robbery of 15 computers from the offices of the HSE at Lanesborough Road, Roscommon town, at some time on Friday night or Saturday morning? Some 13 of the 15 computers stolen were encrypted, but two were not. One of the computers contained very sensitive material that could affect people’s livelihoods. This seems to have been a well-organised, targeted and sinister robbery. I question the lack of security in the offices and believe there was no closed circuit television in place. Many people are concerned that sensitive material on the stolen computers, including information on individuals’ livelihoods and health status, including mental health, could be used for blackmail purposes. The laptops may also contain information regarding social workers’ dealings with members of the public. This is an extremely serious matter.
I wish the Garda Síochána well in its inquiries into this matter and hope arrests will follow. The incident is sinister because it was carried out with the strategic purpose of stealing computers belonging to managers in the Health Service Executive office in question. If the Minister chooses to make a statement in the other House, she should also acknowledge the Seanad by making a statement in this House outlining what occurred in this case and what steps are being taken in other Health Service Executive offices to protect computers.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I warmly congratulate former Senator Alan Kelly on his election as a Member of the European Parliament. He will do the country, his party and himself proud and I have no doubt he will be as capable an advocate in the European Parliament as he was in this House. I wish him well in this important role and have every confidence he will serve the country well. I also join Senator Leyden in extending my best wishes to all those who were elected to local authorities. They, too, have important responsibilities.
The issue I raise is the need for this House to be at the forefront of job creation efforts. This is the greatest onus on the Oireachtas at present. Members must exhort the Government to create jobs, debate the issue of job creation, propose new ideas for generating employment and do everything in our power to assist job creation efforts. The main issue I encountered while travelling around the north west constituency during the recent European election campaign was the need to create jobs. I met large numbers of able bodied people at home at hours of the day when many of them used to be at work. This is a serious issue.
In this context, I draw the Leader’s attention to a report published today which was commissioned from Deloitte by the Irish Wind Energy Association. According to this document, the wind energy sector has the potential to create 10,000 jobs in the next ten years. Achieving this will, however, require major investment in the national grid. The IWEA report, the Spirit of Ireland proposition and the Fine Gael Party’s recent jobs plan all suggest employment can be created in the wind energy sector. Will the Leader convene a special debate before the recess on the potential to create jobs in the green energy sector? A full-day debate is required to tease out this issue. The House owes the country nothing less.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I congratulate former Senator Alan Kelly on becoming a Member of the European Parliament. Senator O’Toole should note that the Government recently treated the Opposition to Senator Cannon.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in raising the issue of Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, which appears to be sending out mixed messages. On the one hand, some people are being told their child cannot have an operation while, on the other, either the hospital or Health Service Executive has stated that operations are not being cancelled on account of cutbacks. We need clarity on this issue. Vulnerable groups in the community, particularly children, must not be used as pawns. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to provide information on what is taking place in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children?
This is national cycle to work week. Unfortunately, despite raising the issue of safety for cyclists for years, I have been unable to persuade others to take the issue as seriously as I do. Yesterday, while walking for about one and a half miles after leaving the House, I was passed by at least 18 cyclists who were clearly taking part in the cycle to work initiative. Only three of them were wearing reflective jerseys, two bicycles had back reflector lights and none of the bicycles had a front light. To comply with cycling protocol and the law, one is supposed to display a front white light and a back red light and wear reflective gear, otherwise one can be fined €1,000. I ask the Leader to find a mechanism to advocate safety for cyclists and respect for other road users. Currently, it is not so bad because the days are long, but the same cyclists operate at night when they cannot be seen and they are a danger to themselves and to others.
Senator David Norris: I wish my colleagues a very happy Bloomsday and thank the Government, particularly the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, the Minister, Deputy Cullen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, for their continued support of the James Joyce Centre. We have had visitors from all over the world. Russia’s leading composer was there last week. This week there was a visit by one of the leading experts on the application of stem cell technology to the treatment of leukaemia. We are particularly pleased that in this difficult time of recession we have increased our footfall at the Joyce Centre. It is a really remarkable tribute to the centre.
I opened a bridge at lunchtime today and I looked around the Irish Financial Services Centre. It is very reassuring to see the activity and the energy down there. It made me think that the Celtic tiger is not a mirage. However, sometimes democracy is. This by-election is not an election, it is a farce. Commentators are talking about it on the radio as we speak and are asking whether the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, will give a seat to the Green Party. We all know what is going on. It is a ready-up. There are fewer than 1,000 voters. Be frank and admit it. It is a rotten borough and do not let anybody give us a lecture about democracy.
Senator David Norris: Let the newspapers take note. With regard to the Lisbon treaty referendum, bring on the discussion. I would like a straight answer this time about armaments, not abortion or conscription. What is the status of the European armaments group? I would like to be able to campaign for the Lisbon treaty but if I do not get an honest answer this time, I will be out again against it.
Senator John Hanafin: On the recent local elections, I ask the Leader to make inquiries as to whether it is due to an agreement or legislation that there is media blackout on the day of an election. The Irish Daily Mail should be recategorised from a newspaper to a journal of the UK Independence Party——
Senator John Hanafin: ——because its headline was nothing short of absolute politicking. It has no integrity as a newspaper for independent journalism. I also question so-called independent commentators who are former chairmen of political youth groups, former Ministers and former Taoisigh. It is possible for any of us who have been in political life to be truly independent commentators — I certainly find it difficult to believe it is. Perhaps that is something the regulator might look at. When we are looking for equity and fairness, those who categorise themselves as independent commentators, whose pores exude a particular point of view — individually, they are fine men — have a political preference and are not independent commentators.
Senator Michael McCarthy: Like my colleague, Senator Alex White, I would like to raise the issue of local government. As we all will be aware, a number of people were elected first citizens of their respective cities and towns last night. It is a very important point in the careers of those involved and it is a huge honour to become first citizen of one’s area. We congratulate all those who have been elevated to the position of mayor. However, that raises a very important point, namely, the statement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, that he will reform local government and create the position of directly elected mayors. Some town councils, including one in my area, have budgets of less than €40,000. They have absolutely no executive functions and are not rated as councils, so the position of mayor is symbolic.
I call for a real and honest debate about local government. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, should come into the House and spell out exactly what he intends to do regarding the directly elected mayorship of Dublin and if he intends to give the mayor real powers. We need to model it on the system in place in London, where Ken Livingstone was mayor of a local authority which had executive powers. Can we bring the Minister, Deputy Gormley, in to discuss this matter?
We also need commitments from him that we will not suffer the drastic cutbacks throughout the country we are currently witnessing in, for example, Cork, where as a result of starving local government of funds recycling centres are being scaled down in areas such as Kinsale and charges are being introduced in neighbouring towns such as Bandon, where people will be forced to pay excessive amounts to access a service that, until recent times, was free of charge. Recycling initiatives are a fundamental part of local government and it is a mockery that a Green Party Minister would starve local government to the point where people are being charged for recycling goods.
I would also like clarity on the issue of Crumlin Hospital. I listened to many programmes yesterday and mixed messages were coming through on whether operations had been cancelled and for what reason. It is very important to get clarity on that.
I wish the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, well in the final agreement to copperfasten the guarantees on taxation, neutrality and social issues. Perhaps we could find time on the agenda, when all of this has been sealed, to have a full discussion on the Lisbon treaty and discuss the points about which the public at large were very apprehensive.
Before we break for the summer, it is important we start the ball rolling in this Chamber. I have always said we should use this Chamber for any issues that arise regarding Europe and we have a golden opportunity to set the ball rolling on the Lisbon agenda and treaty, which will come up in October.
Senator Eugene Regan: Regarding the Lisbon treaty and the guarantees which are now being put in place, I welcome the progress that has been made. As Senator Norris said, we need clear language on this and we are getting that. We had a confused, emotionally charged referendum campaign on the last occasion and it is time to end the emotional blackmail that existed at that time. We now have clear language being introduced in the decision of the European Council. It will be lodged with the United Nations.
There is a precedent for this, namely, when Denmark rejected the Maastricht treaty and it was eventually all incorporated into EU treaties. We know from the last year how important Europe is to us. We are getting support from the European Central Bank and there are political guarantees for a small state like Ireland. There are people who want to isolate us, benefit their own agenda politically by an isolated Ireland and create social unrest.
We have to get this referendum right. We need to start the debate in this Chamber. We all have a responsibility to ensure we ratify the treaty this time and get on with the business of the State and resolve our economic problems, but the prerequisite for that is to endorse and give a mandate for the ratification of the treaty.
Senator Jim Walsh: I join my colleagues in congratulating former Senator Kelly and wish him the very best in his newfound position. He reminded me he can look forward to a five year term. When we look at Seanad reform, the question of a fixed term should be examined.
I support the call for a debate on local government. It is opportune to have such a debate. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, has been looking at this area. The installation of a directly-elected mayor in Dublin should only be a very small part of overall local government reform. We need to rebalance the controls exercised at central Government level with those of local government. Our local democracy system is weak in comparison with those of most other western European countries and this needs to be addressed. There is a need for balancing in terms of the power vested in the executive side of council. There is an opportunity in a wide ranging debate for us to move towards achieving real local democracy in this country, an issue not addressed by successive Governments in the past despite pledges to do so.
We need to ensure councillors are properly resourced. While many good people lost their seats in the recent local elections there is a great deal of new talent coming on to local authorities. It is important they are utilised and given the resources to enable them to do their job properly. There are many demands on councillors. What they are paid is far from commensurate with the workload of any conscientious hardworking councillor. While people in the media might like to denigrate this, it does not stand up to scrutiny when one considers the responsibilities, workload and the range of expertise required of them. We need to debate this issue.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames: I congratulate former Senator Alan Kelly and wish him well in Europe. Politics is about people’s lives and the positive effect it can have on the quality of their lives. Today, I am particularly dismayed to hear that only ten of the 128 special needs classes which the Minister for Education and Science proposes to cut won their appeal. In one of the unsuccessful classes, which I know well, there are two children who cannot speak, two children who need to be toileted and another child who regularly appears in the centre of the classroom having stripped off all his clothes. All of the children in this class have multiple disabilities. These seven children are now to be mainstreamed, which makes absolutely no sense.
My question to the Leader is what type of appeals process did the Minister use and how genuine was it. What were the criteria by which ten classes were successful while the others were not? I believe, as an educator, that the Minister is leaving the State wide open to future litigation on the basis of the unmet educational needs of these children. Not alone will the children have difficulty coping, teachers will have difficulty coping. This is a crying shame. I appeal, through the Seanad, to the Minister for Education and Science to reconsider this situation. While the number of children involved is only 500, this move represents 500 children dismissed and forgotten. These are children who in the past may have been placed in institutions and who may now not be much better off unless they receive the resources they need in the classroom. The Minister’s report published a few years ago stated we are not set up to mainstream children with these needs.
Senator Ivor Callely: I wish to raise matters relating to health. Members will be aware of the ongoing discussion in relation to certain abuses with regard to children. Yesterday was World Elder Abuse Day. In this regard, I would like if the Leader could obtain for me a brief on the developments to address the issue of elder abuse, which I understand is recognised as happening in this country today, and an outline of Government policy on this matter. Perhaps also he could obtain for me a copy of the report of the working group on elder abuse, if available. I would be grateful if the Leader could arrange that for me.
I support the concerns expressed on all sides regarding Crumlin children’s hospital. I understand that one of the hospital’s theatres is closed at present and I ask the Leader to find out the reason for this closure. Is it due to a lack of funding or because improvements are being carried out to the theatre? I cannot understand the reason for it given that the budget for Crumlin hospital is €140 million in 2009, which is in line with the provision for 2008. I commend all those who work in the hospital on their commitment and dedication, particularly in light of the funding difficulties we are led to believe exist. I understand treatment levels increased during the first four months of 2009.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I join my colleagues in congratulating former Senator Alan Kelly on his election to the European Parliament. Not only did he run a great campaign but he was, I think, the only candidate to have his own rap song, which I understand has become a cult classic on YouTube. I also congratulate the councillors who were elected lord mayor, particularly Emer Costello, the new lord mayor of Dublin. I concur with other Senators on the need for local government reform to ensure real powers for people in those offices.
I support Senator Fitzgerald’s call for a debate on the cancellation of surgery in Crumlin children’s hospital and the effect of the cutbacks there. Two weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting mothers, who are involved in the magic mum group, of children who are seriously ill and awaiting surgery in Crumlin. These mothers told me in great detail their heartbreaking stories of surgery being delayed or postponed due to cuts. I understand from them that even before the announced cuts, services in Crumlin were seriously inadequate for the level of injuries and chronic illnesses presenting. This hospital is the national centre for very sick children and it is wrong to make cutbacks in such a centre when services were already inadequate. I wrote to the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and the head of the HSE, and I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this issue.
I ask the Leader to indicate whether the legislation promised by the Green Party will be introduced before the end of this term. I refer in particular to the climate change Bill and the civil partnership Bill, which will presumably form part of the review of the programme for Government which the Green Party has sought. These Bills are long overdue——
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I join other Senators in congratulating former Senator Alan Kelly on his election to the European Parliament. The rap song he used summed up his campaign and gave me one of my favourite lines, namely, “his opinion isn’t outdated like lino in kitchens.” I am sure he will do very well in Europe. He received 60,000 votes this time, as he did two years ago when he ran for the Seanad. It is clear that he will have a very long career in politics and we wish him well.
However, the haste of the Green Party and Fianna Fáil in trying to fill his seat is somewhat unseemly. With all respect to failed candidates in the recent local elections, I do not think Seanad seats should be handed out to failed candidates at local elections. The last thing we can afford is to bring this House into further disrepute. The Taoiseach should seek to appoint qualified people to the spare seats an a meritocratic basis rather than engage in partisan favours. I ask the Leader to pass those views to the Taoiseach.
I refer to the Karen people of northern Burma. The European Union has complained to the Burmese Government about the fact that it has driven 3,000 Karen people into northern Thailand. The Burmese Government claims it is an internal matter and that the European Union should not become involved. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, to plead with the Burmese to show some consideration to the human rights of the Karen people.
I want to follow up on a point raised by my colleague, Senator Callely, in light of World Elder Abuse Day yesterday. We had a especially useful and informative debate on elder abuse in this Chamber earlier this year. In particular, the information campaign run by the Health Service Executive whereby it took the unprecedented step of putting inserts in all Sunday newspapers with the helpline number for anyone who has concerns regarding elder abuse was very welcome. I would press Senator Callely’s call to the Leader further by asking that if the Minister comes to the House it would be of particular benefit for the Minister to discuss with Members progression in terms of the inspectorate, not only for public and private nursing homes for older people but also its commencement in respect of residential services——
Senator Maria Corrigan: ——for children and adults with disability and in regard to residential services for non-national children. That would be very useful and I ask the Leader to make those arrangements.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I second the amendment to the Order of Business. I ask the Leader for an urgent debate on the twin issues of co-location and the role of An Bord Pleanála in the planning process. I do so in light of the decision today by An Bord Pleanála to go against its own inspector’s decision to refuse planning permission to the Beacon Medical Group in the context of the co-located hospital in the grounds of Cork University Hospital. It was a wrong decision and a grave insult to the people and to the residents of Wilton that this proposal was given permission to go ahead. It is about time we had transparency and openness regarding An Bord Pleanála. What is Government policy now regarding co-location given that the Minister, Deputy Martin, and his colleague, the Deputy Leader, Senator Boyle, both objected to the granting of planning permission for this hospital?
Senator Jerry Buttimer: It is a folly and an insult to the people that the Leader and the Deputy Leader are fighting over the seat in this House of former Senator Kelly, whom I congratulate on his election to the European Parliament. Are we serious about reform of the Seanad? Do we want to see democracy regarding this issue, which is not in the gift of the Leader or Senator Boyle?
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I hope we will have meaningful reform of the Seanad and that the Leader and Senator Boyle will put their differences aside and support the alternative candidate from this side of the House for the proposed by-election.
I congratulate former Senator Kelly on his magnificent victory in the European elections in Ireland South. I hope he serves the full five years in Europe and that he will come back to contest the next European elections when we will have a renewal of the battle.
It is on a European note that I wish to speak. I support the request from my colleagues for a debate on the Lisbon treaty. We find ourselves in the run-in to another referendum and in an environment where there appears to be support for the treaty being passed. There appears also to be acknowledgement that we need Europe for Ireland to survive and prosper but we are all aware these are the exact conditions that were in place in the run up to the last Lisbon referendum, which was so comprehensively defeated.
The obvious political point to make is that a Government which, during the summer, will be associated with the closure of children’s wards in a national children’s hospital and the preparation of what will probably be the most searing budget in the recent history of our country is the same Government that will be asking the people to vote “Yes” to this treaty. Given the dissolution of the National Forum on Europe it is imperative that debate on the Lisbon treaty and the potential guarantees be brought firmly back into the Oireachtas.
There are two points on which we could well spend our time. First, what is the legal status of these guarantees and, second, what will be the role of the Oireachtas in regard to all matters European? The consequences of this referendum and its impact on the future of our country are truly chilling. If it is defeated for a second time, we will find ourselves on the edge of Europe again, potentially alongside the Conservative-led United Kingdom. That is where we were 100 years ago and I do not want to go back there. The Oireachtas could play a powerful role in making sure that does not happen and I ask the Leader to respond urgently to the request we are all making on this issue today.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I warmly congratulate former Senator Alan Kelly on his election to the European Parliament and I wish him well. I have no doubt he will do very well there. We are very fortunate in Ireland South that we will be served not by one Kelly but by two. With the power of two, we are indeed fortunate in that they will serve Ireland——
As the Leader is aware, we have had an edict or instruction from the Minister, Deputy Gormley, in regard to Killarney National Park and the provision of so-called equine sanitary devices or horse nappies. This was intended to be mandatory from earlier this month but of course it has not happened. My point, which I made previously, is that we cannot have one rule within the park and another on the streets of our town and the surrounding roadways. We talked much in our condemnation of waste. Many of these devices have been purchased but I wonder whether they will go the way of the e-voting machines and be consigned to the dump.
The serious point I make is that it appears there has been no consultation or dialogue in this regard, which one would have thought was a sine qua non. Even at this late stage, I strongly urge that the parties would get together. While I am not suggesting these devices should be required, we need initial consultation and dialogue. If that were to take place, we might hopefully have agreement on a proper way forward.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I listened with shock to the eminent consultant speak about what he termed the “grotesque” cuts in regard to the closure of 45 beds and the cancellation of surgery for seriously ill children in Crumlin hospital. The Minister then had the gall to state this was due to “overstaffing”— that was the word she used. We all received e-mails in this regard and I raised in the House previously the issue of a child being prepared for open heart surgery only to find there was no bed available in intensive care, with the result that the surgery had to be postponed. The definition of elective surgery is the issue here, but I assure the Leader that if a child needs an open heart operation, the condition is life threatening and very worrying for that child and his or her family. I ask the Leader to urgently bring the Minister to the House to discuss this very serious issue. “Grotesque” is the only word I can use to describe it.
It is unfortunate Senator MacSharry is not present. With my Fine Gael colleagues in Sligo, he campaigned vigorously for cancer services to remain in Sligo. On the radio this morning, we heard an interview with Mr. O’Hanrahan and Valerie Cox’s interview with people who have to travel from Donegal to Galway for radium every single day on a minibus, with just one toilet, despite men needing to have full bladders because they have prostate cancer. It is barbaric and an outrage that women with open wounds following breast surgery or due to melanoma must travel on a 16-seater bus from Sligo, to where they must travel from Donegal, to Galway. As the Leader is aware, the position is similar in the midlands and people must travel to Galway, which is 50 miles away. It is not right that people must travel such distances for treatment. There must be satellite centres in places such as Mullingar and Sligo where people can undergo treatments, some of which may take only ten minutes, and where professional people do such outreach work. I call on the Leader to seriously address this issue.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Keaveney, Ormonde, Calley, Bacik and McFadden expressed strong views on Crumlin hospital, which has been an outstanding hospital for decades. We have all played our part in fundraising and supporting the causes of those who have worked hard to fundraise for that hospital. Anything we can do to assist those running that hospital will be done. The people have been very strong in their support of it. I have personal family experience of it as one of my sons was in that hospital for a number of weeks and the care and attention there is outstanding. I will pass on the strong views of Senators to the Minister.
I refer to the request for the Minister to come before the House for an up-to-date response to every issue pertaining to the health portfolio. Senator McFadden referred to an interview on the radio today, which I heard. The situation is unacceptable and unbelievable. Senator MacSharry informed the House of the position of the people of the north west. Members warned about what would happen and their concerns are now being realised. As Senator McFadden correctly stated, we must see what is possible. Some people who require only a ten or 15 minute procedure must travel 200 miles per day to be seen. It seems we should be able to do something about this.
Senator Fitzgerald referred to time breaks between Stages of Bills and the answer is “Yes”. I have always been found co-operative in this area. The Senator contacted me last Thursday about extending time for debate by a day, to which I agreed. It is not ideal and I would like to allow as long a time as is requested, but that is not always possible. As I informed the House, a significant amount of legislation will come before the House in the next four weeks. Depending on how long Senators wish to deliberate on Bills, there will be some very late sittings after this week, particularly on Wednesday nights when we will probably sit until midnight, until the summer recess on 10 July.
I refer to the filling of the vacant Senate seats, I understand there is a timeframe of between 35 and 40 days from the time the writ is moved. This will be no different from any other time. In respect of the electorate, I say without fear of contradiction that there will be a 100% turnout in the total valid poll, unlike one of the panels in the House where it is 33% or 34%.
Senator Donie Cassidy: That has been the case not simply for one election but for the past seven elections dating back to the 1981 election. Other than myself, there is only one Senator in the House who fought the election in 1981. We must bear in mind these experiences and in Seanad reform we must address the situation that has been presented to us. It will be addressed and there will be meaningful Seanad reform.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, Norris, Ormonde, Regan, Walsh and Donohoe called for a debate on the Lisbon treaty and the forthcoming referendum, following the deliberations of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Europe. It is my intention that the Minister or the Taoiseach will come before the House to update it on the deliberations that are taking place this week. Many good and responsible contributions were made today on the Order of Business on this issue and I am very heartened by those contributions. The House will play a central role in the forthcoming referendum which is of the utmost importance to the country and the challenges facing us all in the coming years.
Senators Alex White, McCarthy and Walsh, called for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to debate local government reform and directly elected mayors. I join in the congratulations to all those who have been elected to their high positions as chairmen and mayors of various cities in recent days. On the question of executive powers for the new mayor of the City of Dublin, I would like that debate to take place with the Minister present to see how this matter can be progressed.
Senator Terry Leyden outlined to the House his serious concerns about the missing 15 computers belonging to the HSE in Roscommon. He is concerned about the lack of security and I join with him in wishing the Garda Síochána well in its investigations as everyone in the midlands area is very concerned about this incident.
Senator O’Reilly called for a debate on jobs, job creation and competitiveness. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senator. With regard to the wind energy sector, I welcome today’s announcement that in the midlands area, in the Cathaoirleach’s native County Offaly, in the Walsh Island area, Bord na Móna will participate in a proposal for a wind energy farm which will be very significant for the midlands area and I welcome this initiative taken by Bord na Móna and look forward to it being progressed. Senator Keaveney referred to matters of road safety and I will pass on the Senator’s views to the Minister.
Senator Norris wished all his colleagues a happy Bloomsday and we all join with the Senator in this regard. He referred to the increase in footfall in the James Joyce Centre. As a near neighbour I am still awaiting the invitation but I wish the Senator well and look forward to the rest of the week and continued success because the Senator has been the champion of the cause and he richly deserves all the credit and accolades.
Senator Hanafin asked that inquiries be made as to whether it is due to an agreement or legislation that there is a media blackout on the day of an election. I always understood the day of an election was a closed day in the media. The Senator highlighted an example for the House and I will pass on the Senator’s strong views to the Minister. The regulator could perhaps take a look at this and see what can be done to progress it.
Senator Donie Cassidy: It is a respectful decision taken by everyone concerned and it allows everyone to vote under the same conditions for the 15 hours allowed for voting on voting day. This is a respect which the media, in fairness to them, have always shown and the convention should be continued.
Senator Hanafin also asked for a two-day debate to allow all parties to make their policies known to the people and suggested use of the Seanad as the forum for this debate. I am looking forward immensely to this debate taking place in the House. I have requested the leaders of the groups to meet me after the Order of Business on Thursday morning so that we can plan and discuss the next three weeks’ sittings of the House in a way that will allow some of these urgent debates to take place as well as dealing with the legislation which needs to be passed by the House before the summer recess.
Senator Healy Eames referred to the allocation for special needs classes. More than €600 million has been allocated through the capital programme this year. This is a significant sum in difficult, hard times and is coupled with a total of 7,000 teachers employed over the past number of years. However, I take the point made by the Senator and I will pass on her strong views to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senators Callely and Corrigan wished everyone well in this week which included World Elder Abuse Day, which has been an outstanding success. They referred to the Department’s policy with regard to elder abuse. Senator Corrigan correctly stated that there was an in-depth debate on this subject in the House this year. I will pass on the views of both Senators to the Minister and I support the points they raised today.
I will pass on Senator Hannigan’s strong views to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, regarding the Burmese Government. Senator Buttimer raised the issue of co-location of hospitals and the role of An Bord Pleanála and he asked about the current Government policy on this issue. I hope to have the Minister for Health and Children in the House to deal with all issues pertaining to the health portfolio. Senator Coghlan asked about Killarney Park. I responded on this matter last week. I suggest the Senator raise this on the Adjournment of the House because it is an issue that would ideally suit an instant response from the Minister.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Frances Fitzgerald has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: “That a debate on the cutbacks in funding leading to the cancellation of vital surgery in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, be taken today.”
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Cummins, Maurice.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Healy Eames, Fidelma.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|Norris, David.||O’Reilly, Joe.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Regan, Eugene.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
|Brady, Martin.||Butler, Larry.|
|Callely, Ivor.||Carty, John.|
|Cassidy, Donie.||Corrigan, Maria.|
|Daly, Mark.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Hanafin, John.||Keaveney, Cecilia.|
|Leyden, Terry.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Donovan, Denis.|
|O’Malley, Fiona.||O’Sullivan, Ned.|
|Ormonde, Ann.||Phelan, Kieran.|
|Walsh, Jim.||White, Mary M.|
|Last Updated: 15/12/2010 21:17:14||Page of 11|