Tuesday, 11 June 2019
Northern Ireland: Statements
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute on this important matter. We speak about the North of Ireland, going back to our ancestors and history, and it should be a full part of our country. One objective that I share with many others is that we would again be one country under one all-Ireland government. In the context of Brexit, there are many possibilities that could have adverse effects on our Twenty-six Counties, and it is in that light that so many people are so concerned right around the Republic of Ireland. For the past six months nobody can understand why cattle are €200 per head dearer in the North of Ireland than they are in the South. We appreciate when buyers come from the North of Ireland for our cattle because at least it gives us a vital export market. When we see what factories are doing to farmers, particularly beef farmers around the country, live exports become very important for the farmers in our neck of the woods. They greatly appreciate buyers, whether they are taking cattle up to the North or across to Great Britain.
The great imponderable matter is what will happen if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. We can consider how unfair this would be, as the people in the North of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union. Brexit would affect small employers and exporters, as well as those involved in manufacturing. I have been told by employers in Castleisland, Killarney and mid-Kerry that if there is a hard border with tariffs, there would be severe job losses in parts of Kerry as well as every other part of the country.
We are very grateful for the cross-border directive initiative, which allows us to take patients who would not otherwise be seen here in the South of Ireland to the North. Patients in Cork and Tralee hospitals were put on waiting lists for a simple cataract procedure and have to wait four to six years to have this done, perhaps losing their sight in the meantime. I am glad that almost two years ago Deputy Michael Collins and I started using buses to bring people for treatment in the North of Ireland. We have brought so many people on those buses. A man who went on the first bus had been waiting for a cataract procedure for six years. In the early 1960s, his grandfather had that simple procedure done in Tralee general hospital. People would like to think Ireland has moved on and improved but we have gone backwards as we have to take people who are aged 90, 92 or 94 to the North for treatment. One man with failing sight went because the doctor would not sign the application to renew his driver's licence. He had his cataracts removed in Kingsbridge Private Hospital and got his licence a few days later. These are important issues for people and we are failing in that regard. It is great that we have the opportunity to restore people's eyesight rather than have them lose it.
There is an 82-year-old man getting his hip done today. He would have otherwise had to wait in pain for years for the procedure but tomorrow he will go to a hospital in Kerry to recuperate. It is desperate but there is an opportunity to treat those people who would otherwise be in pain. It would be disastrous to lose that option and we hope the cross-border initiative, under which people can be reimbursed for the cost of the procedure, will continue. As we all know, the Health Service Executive has let us down badly and many people are saying it fails people in every regard. We can see the problems with waiting lists and people on trolleys. No matter how much money is being pumped into the executive, it is not having the desired effect. The cross-border initiative is the one good thing about it.
Many of us desire for the Six Counties to be united with the Twenty-six Counties. We almost had that with the Good Friday Agreement. If anything should happen leading to a hard border between us and the people in the North of Ireland, it would be a pure disaster. I appeal to the Minister of State, as part of the Government, to ensure he does everything to prevent Brexit from happening. People right around the country are so fed up by what is going on and the indecisiveness of those people in England. They cannot make up their minds as to whether they are coming or going. If we were in their position, the whole world would laugh because of what is being done. Their actions are disastrous. They do not know what they want or how they will achieve it. They have said they are leaving and not leaving. They are seeking different conditions. There are people hopeful of becoming the next British Prime Minister and they are trying to sell the story that the European Union will give them new concessions or a better deal. They will not get it and the European Union will not change just because there is a new person in the British Prime Minister's seat.