Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Pearse Doherty: Ba mhaith liom cuir leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Fitzgerald. I support the request for a debate on Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. As a father of two children who had to take those children to hospital at a very early stage, I find what the Government is doing appalling.
Senator Liam Twomey: I add my support to the call for a proper debate on what is happening at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. We are getting so fixated with costs for the services provided that we are making a complete mess of this. The Government has no clear idea where it is going. There is a need for a serious debate on the matter. It is damaging the services being provided at the hospital by its behaviour. There is talk of the Government giving an additional €50,000 a year to consultants and recently we heard that it wants to cut fees to pharmacists by up to 40%, effectively bankrupting the community care services pharmacists provide. Regardless of whether it is right, there seems to be no clear direction. We need a serious debate on the matter.
I was interested in what Senator Hanafin said. He wants people to present policies on €20 billion worth of cuts. I never heard anybody talking about €20 billion worth of cuts and I do not know whether this is a pre-budget statement by Fianna Fáil as to what it will do in November. I was under the impression that there was to be €4 billion in cuts in the next round of budget talks presented by the Government. We have made our statements and would be quite prepared to debate what we feel should be done with the economy. It certainly gives a good indication of the thinking of the Government parties if they are talking about those sorts of draconian measures to cut public spending, which will only make things worse based on what we have heard today.
Senator Ivor Callely: I ask the Leader to arrange a briefing on what are deemed to be savage pharmacy reimbursement cuts which are causing considerable unrest. When this issue was raised a few months ago, the Minister was found wanting in her proposals at that time. From what I am hearing, I could not support the current proposal.
I ask the Leader to indicate the progress with regard to finance being made available by the financial institutions and the application of the code of conduct regarding mortgage arrears for the ordinary mortgage holder and the code of conduct for business lending. The money advice and budgeting service, MABS, plays an important role in advising domestic customers, but perhaps the Leader can indicate what is available to small and medium-sized enterprises concerning difficulties in dealing with some of the financial institutions. At the time, it was mentioned that the banks were committed to public campaigns to actively promote lending. Can the Leader indicate the success of these campaigns and the amount of additional money that is in the system? This is especially important given that the banks say that if mortgage lending is not taken up, the extra capacity will be made available to SMEs. This is an important sector. According to feedback I and a number of my colleagues are receiving, the financial institutions are not playing their part.
Senator Ivor Callely: They are creating serious difficulties for a large number of SMEs by withdrawing facilities they had provided heretofore, yet the information I am being given is contrary to what is happening on the ground. I am putting a marker down on this and ask the Leader to discuss the issue with the other leaders in the House and come back in the coming days with proposals to monitor this matter continually.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I support Senator Fitzgerald and others who have called for a debate on Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. It is obscene that parents with young children are being forced to take to the public airwaves and raise money from other sources to get necessary operations for their children. I have met some mothers of chronically ill children and have heard their concerns. We all welcome the reports that the hospital is going to reverse some of the proposed ward closures, but clearly there will still be restrictions, particularly on outpatient appointments. It is just not good enough for sick children who should be our first priority. I therefore support the call for that debate.
I also support Senator O’Toole’s comments on judges and the voluntary payments they have been asked to make. The sight of Ministers jumping on a bandwagon to attack judges on the basis that they have refused to make payments, when in fact it appears the judges have not yet made payments, is a diversionary tactic. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, who should be looking after children in Crumlin hospital to ensure they receive decent medical care, is using the diversionary tactic of criticising judges when the Government was not honest enough to pass the relevant law on tax.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I am calling on the Leader for a debate on the pension levy and on taxation. Clearly, the pension levy is a tax in all but name. If it had been described as a tax there would have been no requirement for judges to go through these hoops of having to make voluntary payments. It would have been a far more honest approach.
I am also seeking a debate on Iran. All of us in the House will be deeply concerned at the distressing sight of protestors being killed there, apparently by troops or pro-government militia. We are concerned at the apparent problems with the presidential poll and all of us would want to support any movement for true democracy in Iran. We know it is a repressive regime. Earlier, I was outside Leinster House with a group from the Iranian community in Ireland who are seeking a meeting with the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. They want to express their concerns and see what we in Ireland can do. I ask the Leader to facilitate the Iranian community, which is supporting democracy in Iran, with some sort of cross-party motion or debate.
Senator Michael McCarthy: I want to raise the same issues that have been raised by Senator Bacik and others, beginning with Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. It is indefensible that the Government can deprive a hospital as important as Crumlin of necessary funding. Families with sick children are distressed enough and are going through a horrible time as it is. There is no justifiable defence for cutting funding for such a hospital. I urge the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health and Children to attend the House to assure us that distressed families will not suffer further unnecessarily because of cutbacks.
We have debated the pension levy at length in this House. When that levy was introduced I called it a tax, which is exactly what it is, nothing else. The Government has been using a diversionary tactic in attacking members of the Judiciary for the past week because it provides a smokescreen. The time of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, and other Ministers would be better spent in tackling the funding deficit in Crumlin hospital instead of criticising judges unnecessarily.
Senator Dominic Hannigan: I join Senator McFadden in seeking a review of procedures to be carried out at the Slane concert. The concert is almost an annual event at this stage, stretching back to the first event in 1981 when Thin Lizzy appeared. That concert went well and there were no problems, but there were riots in Slane village in 1984 as a result of overcrowding when Bob Dylan played there. Is it fair that the people of Slane are effectively prisoners in their own homes due to things like overcrowding? We need to review how we grant and monitor licences and how we ensure the promoters of these concerts look after the interests not just of concert goers but also the interests of people who live in the area where these concerts take place.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Senators Fitzgerald, O’Toole, Alex White, Norris, Doherty, Twomey, Bacik and McCarthy all called for time to discuss the up-to-date situation on Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. I commend the committee on visiting the hospital this morning. It is something we were all delighted to see happening. There is nothing like meeting those on the front line and hearing at first hand what it is like, so I compliment the committee on its initiative in this area. There is a Private Members’ motion in the Dáil this week, so let us hope the Minister may consider additional resources for the hospital. I will not be found wanting in allocating time in the House when we see how matters progress in the Dáil in the next few days.
Senator O’Toole spoke about his own remarks on Bishop John Kirby. I respect the Senator and admire him for his honesty, integrity and his truthfulness, and I expected nothing better of him than to lead in the great example he gave today.
Senator O’Toole as well as Senators Harris, Mullen, Norris and McCarthy also spoke about the pension levies. No matter what walk of life one comes from in Ireland, everyone must make a contribution. I know the Judiciary will make a contribution in the fullness of time by the end of this year. The lead that has been given by the Government, those in the public service and those in the private sector is reflective of the fact that everyone knows the situation our country faces. We should leave it at that and respect the independence of the Judiciary and the Oireachtas so that each can get on with their work. We do expect everyone to pay their share and play their part in our hour of need.
Senator MacSharry called for an urgent debate on the serious matters he has outlined to the House today. No one could stand behind the facts the Senator outlined to the House. I will consider this matter seriously after the Order of Business. I know that the Minister is coming to the House this week, but the serious issue outlined by Senator MacSharry must be acted upon as soon as possible. I will revert to it on the Order of Business tomorrow.
Senators Cannon and Buttimer called for a debate on mortgage difficulties and banking policy in general. All these matters can be raised with the Minister in the House on the Financial Measures (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 next Thursday. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by my colleagues here.
Senator Glynn again called for a debate on the report on compiling the electoral register. We all have had different experiences from the recent elections. I have already committed to a debate in the House. We will also discuss the Senator’s proposal to make it mandatory for citizens to vote. We can discuss all the proposals the Senator has outlined to the House, and I will allow time for the debate as soon as possible.
Senators Ross, Regan and Mullen called for an urgent debate on the Lisbon treaty. I have already outlined that the Taoiseach will attend this House to debate the legislation on Thursday, 9 July, immediately after the Order of Business. All colleagues will want to be in the House for the Taoiseach’s address and to discuss the matter.
All fair-minded commentators and all of us in public life must say that Senator Ross thoroughly researches most of his comments. He is the longest-standing Member of the House and the second longest Member elected in the Oireachtas. While we may not like what he outlines to the House from time to time, he is quite often correct. What he has outlined to the House about the proposed referendum gives us a stark reality check on what needs to be addressed and the real issue at stake. I commend him for what he has outlined to the House and I look forward to the debate on the legislation on 9 July.
Senator Callely outlined his serious concerns about pharmacies. Pharmacy organisations are concerned there could be high unemployment and further job losses. There are serious concerns in this area. I will endeavour to have an up-to-date briefing on this issue from the Minister.
Senator Callely also called for progress on banking issues and funding for SMEs. He referred to the challenges for SMEs and the code of conduct on business lending. We fully agree with his utterances and with the Minister present in the House on Thursday for the Finance Bill the Senator can discuss these matters.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on Iran. What we see on our television screens is something we would love to debate. I will endeavour to have time set aside before the summer recess to have the debate.
Senator Buttimer supported Senator Harris’s call for the spirit of Lemass. Members on this side of the House have been the true champions of the spirit of Lemass from the time he joined in 1917 up to the present.
Senator Donie Cassidy: We all know what he did when in office. We know the enormous transformation of our country that took place under the former Taoiseach and former leader of Fianna Fáil, Seán Lemass.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The debate that was called for, in which all parties can debate their policies in the House, may not take two days. Some may not even take two hours. Having said that, every party should be given the opportunity and the Seanad is the ideal forum to tease out and discuss these. I will discuss with the leaders of various groups how this can be debated on a meaningful basis. If it is a matter of an extra day or two before the summer recess, let it be. Then we will see what are the meaningful proposals we will discuss in the House to assist the Government and the Minister on this issue and the challenges that lie ahead.
I agree with the sentiments of Senator Mullen and I will pass them onto the Minister. Regarding the update on St. Peter’s Hospital, Castlepollard, three beautiful homes were purchased during the time when the Cathaoirleach and I were members of the Midlands Health Board. I welcome colleagues from the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association from Castlepollard who are in the Gallery.
Senator Donie Cassidy: There are a further 17 patients to be rehoused at the earliest possible time. Senator McFadden and I participated in an Adjournment debate on the matter and I congratulate the Senator for tabling it and the time she allowed me in the debate. On that occasion the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, indicated that 17 more patients are to be rehoused in a further three new houses in Castlepollard at the earliest possible time. I will contact the HSE and the Minister’s office this week to get an update and I will brief the House on the Order of Business next Tuesday.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The concert at Slane Castle over the weekend was a great success and more than 80,000 people turned out to see the magnificent concert staged. There are concerns and improvements are needed but a licence must be acquired to have concerts on a once-off basis. The successful record of concert attendance in Ireland over the past two or three years in particular is above the European average.
I was at one or two of the first concerts held at Slane and the issue brought to our attention today may be put to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on his next visit to the House.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator Frances Fitzgerald has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That a debate on the effects of the budgetary cutbacks on front line services at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, be taken today.” Is the amendment being pressed?
|Bacik, Ivana.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Cannon, Ciaran.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Doherty, Pearse.|
|Fitzgerald, Frances.||Hannigan, Dominic.|
|McCarthy, Michael.||McFadden, Nicky.|
|Mullen, Rónán.||Norris, David.|
|O’Toole, Joe.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Regan, Eugene.||Ross, Shane.|
|Twomey, Liam.||White, Alex.|
|Boyle, Dan.||Brady, Martin.|
|Butler, Larry.||Callely, Ivor.|
|Carty, John.||Cassidy, Donie.|
|Corrigan, Maria.||Daly, Mark.|
|de Búrca, Déirdre.||Feeney, Geraldine.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Hanafin, John.|
|Harris, Eoghan.||MacSharry, Marc.|
|Ó Domhnaill, Brian.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O'Brien, Francis.||O'Donovan, Denis.|
|O'Malley, Fiona||Ormonde, Ann.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Walsh, Jim.|
|White, Mary M.|
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