Thursday, 10 February 2005
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 1 the Garda Síochána Bill 2004 [Seanad] — Second Stage; and No. 15 the Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 — Second Stage (Resumed).
Within the next half hour the International Monitoring Commission will publish its report. When will the Government give its official reaction to the report? I understand the Government has had advance sight of the report and the House would like to be party to whatever comments and reaction the Government might make in this regard.
Today will also see publication of a report into the sad death of Róisín Ruddle. The Order Paper contains a Nurses (Amendment) Bill. It is a sad reflection on our health service to plan for a known shortage in intensive care nursing. I understand the report will indicate that the Department of Health and Children was aware for years of this growing problem. What changes will be made to address these shortages? We read in the newspapers this week that the national task force on medical staffing has been abandoned by the Government. What does the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children propose to do to allow a proper debate on this matter in the context of greatly needed reform in the nursing area.
We all feel great sympathy for the family of Róisín Ruddle on a terrible tragedy. I hope that at least some good can come of the matter. Will the Tánaiste finally recognise the serious deficiencies in the flow of nurses into our hospitals? We have a major problem in retaining nurses, particularly in the Dublin hospitals, even though a sufficient number of them is being trained. When the report is published will the Tánaiste allow a full debate in this House? We are all extremely concerned, particularly as no new nurses will graduate or qualify this year due to changes in the training scheme. I urge the Tánaiste to agree to a debate on the report and the issues relating to it in the House at the earliest opportunity.
Does the Tánaiste agree that the sad and tragic death of Róisín Ruddle is symptomatic of the crisis in our health service? We do not seek the world-class health service the Tánaiste has promised. Instead, we would like a simple assurance. Can she promise the House that she will speedily implement the health strategy? That is all we are looking for. We do not expect the fantastic health service the Tánaiste has promised at this stage, but simply a basic health service.
I raised issues relating to the death of Róisín Ruddle earlier under Standing Order 31. I join other Deputies in appealing to the Tánaiste, who is responsible for this area as Minister for Health and Children, to consider the report into the death of Róisín Ruddle, which will be published today, and subsequently to take a proactive approach to the critical needs within the acute hospital services system. I emphasise the importance of tackling the shortage of front-line health care workers.
Deputy Bruton asked about the report of the monitoring committee. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will make a statement when the report is published.
Our thoughts today are with the parents of the late Róisín Ruddle, Helen and Ger Ruddle, who have had to come to terms with the tragedy of the unexpected death of their daughter at the age of two. The publication today of the report on her death will cause them to recall in stark detail the trauma they suffered at that time. We have to learn lessons from what happened in this case. Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin has taken corrective action on foot of many of the report's recommendations. Earlier this week, I met the new manager and director of nursing who have been appointed. A number of the report's recommendations on the management of the hospital have been taken on board. In particular, a person has been appointed to take charge of the recruitment and retention of nurses.
We are changing the requirements for entry into the nursing profession. Deputy McManus has acknowledged that a graduate programme is being put in place. Some 1,640 nursing students were recruited this year. We need to establish a graduate programme for midwifery and paediatrics to shorten the timeframe for training in such areas. It can take up to eight years to become an ICU paediatric nurse. There is a worldwide shortage of such workers. Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin has been given the resources to help it to engage in international recruitment. I discussed the hospital's plans to recruit overseas with its officials the other day.
There are more nurses in the Irish health service, proportionately, than in almost any other country in Europe. We have substantially more nurses than the UK. We need to ensure that the particular shortages of nurses in intensive care, paediatrics and other areas are addressed. There is substantial interest in the new education programme for nursing. The number of students who applied for nursing last year was eight times greater than the number of places. It is clear that we have to resolve some of the issues relating to retention. I have had discussions with the nursing authorities in that regard.
Nurses from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and many European countries are going overseas as well. The report into the death of Róisín Ruddle contains recommendations about gaps, particularly in ICU, which affect cardiac and other serious forms of surgery. We need to ensure that intensive care units are staffed at all times so they can deal with patients who require surgery.
It is obvious that Deputies will be given copies of the report. I am sure they would like an opportunity to study it. Some of the issues raised in the report were discussed during the debate on the Private Members' motion tabled by Fine Gael this week. The Minister intends to issue a statement when the report is published.
I assume Deputies would like an opportunity to study the report before it is discussed in the House. I would have thought that such an approach would be better.
I would like to raise two issues. Will the Údarás na Gaeltachta Bill be introduced in the House before the Údarás na Gaeltachta elections take place on 2 April next? When I walk in here every morning when the House is sitting, I look up to see the tricolour flying over Leinster House. As I was coming in this morning, however, I noticed that the flag was missing. Does the Tánaiste know anything about it? Does Deputy Ó Caoláin know anything about it?
When the Tánaiste was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, she promised that the employment permits Bill would be introduced. She confirmed to the House that it would provide for a change in procedures so that permits would accrue to individuals rather than to companies. Her successor, Deputy Martin, gave a different indication on "Morning Ireland" this morning. When will the Bill be published? If the Government has already approved the heads of the Bill, is it the case that there has been a change of policy since the Tánaiste left the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment?
Many family law cases have been ongoing for two or three years. The family law Bill needs to be introduced as soon as possible. The Chief Whip said it is expected that the Bill will be published in 2005. Is it possible that the Bill will be introduced sooner than that?
They are the doctor-only medical cards. For somebody who was so critical, the Deputy seems very anxious about them. As I stated previously, in light of legal advice, legislation is required and it will be presented to the Cabinet on Tuesday week.
A few weeks ago, the Taoiseach assured the House that peace had broken out regarding the strategic national infrastructure Bill. It is good to see the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Justice, Equality and Law Reform sitting side by side. Will the legislation contain references to incineration? The original idea was to fast-track incineration. Will it be dropped?
Everyone in this House will welcome the apology for the denigrating terms that were used in one of our national newspapers to describe lone parents. However, there are questions on this matter that require a legislative response. Do we genuinely seek to remove welfare traps from our welfare code? Will the Social Welfare Bill address this? Do we genuinely seek to maximise the chances that parents will raise children together in the context of enduring commitments to one another?
Will the House be presented with the Bill to ratify the constitutional treaty of the European Union before or after Easter? Given that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is beside the Tánaiste, will she ascertain from him the position on the building control Bill? Will it be presented to the House before the summer recess?
The Bill on the constitutional treaty will not be presented to the House before Easter. It will be after Easter and before the summer. The building control Bill will be introduced in autumn of this year.
With the permission of that Ceann Comhairle, can I, too, ask the Tánaiste if she will allow time today or use a mechanism to address the report into the death of Róisín Ruddle? Having been a friend of her family and a fellow parishioner all my life, I extend my sympathy to them on their tragedy.
I am sure the Tánaiste is aware that the National Aquatic Centre, which cost €70 million to build, had its roof blown off in high winds after Christmas. This has absolutely flummoxed engineering experts in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. It involves a consortium——
The reason I ask is that the Ceann Comhairle sent me and my colleague Deputy Wall a letter indicating that he would not take questions on the National Aquatic Centre because it is not covered under any legislation. He relented subsequently and allowed to me an Adjournment debate, but my colleague Deputy Wall——
Why is the Social Welfare Bill on the agenda for next week but not yet published or available to Members of the House? Time and again, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have made commitments to the House to the effect that there would be a minimum of two weeks allowed to examine major legislation.
On the company law consolidation and reform Bill, is it the Tánaiste's intention to disengage from Shannon Development and transfer it to the IDA and other national agencies for job creation, given that 70 jobs are to be lost in Shannon this morning?
The company law consolidation and reform Bill has nothing to do with Shannon Development, as the Deputy well knows. We will do whatever is in the best interest of the region.
Will the Tánaiste allow time to discuss the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty in light of the differing approaches being taken in respect of Iran, for instance, and the news emerging from North Korea on the extension of its nuclear programme?