Tuesday, 27 February 2007
I have no wish to play politics with the issue I wish to raise with the Taoiseach today. I am deeply concerned at the breaking news that allegedly involves a 14 year old boy at the centre of a paedophile ring in Dublin. Apparently this young boy's mother became aware of extremely inappropriate texts on his mobile phone and, having quizzed the young boy, it became apparent that he was being sexually abused by up to ten men. He has given detailed evidence of his experience. It is alleged that among the ten men in question were a member of the teaching profession and a fully attested garda.
There is no worse tag in society than that of paedophile and there is no worse nightmare for a parent than that of paedophilia. How many parents in this country have asked their children, over the years, to contact a garda if they had information or difficulties in this regard? I do not wish to discuss the case under investigation but it would make a parent's blood run cold.
I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that a certain seediness has crept into Irish society and it is now the case that the sexuality of young children is being commodified. These reports, if true, make a mockery of the safeguards and criteria we lay down to protect our children. Perhaps the Taoiseach could indicate any current reports he has on this matter as it is of such import. If it is true that a 14 year old boy has been sexually abused by a paedophile ring of ten men, it may be that there are others, perhaps a significant number, who have been abused similarly. From that perspective, this is a most distressing incident and one that is of very serious import for thousands of parents and children and the Government.
On some matters I can give details to the House, while on others I cannot do so. I join with Deputy Kenny in saying that this is a very disturbing and worrying matter and the information, in so far as I have it, fits both categories. The House can be assured that the Garda is conducting a painstaking investigation into the serious allegations that have been made. The reports, as outlined by the Deputy, are at least partially true. In so far as I have the facts, at the end of last week, the mother of the boy in question, having seen the abusive, sexually-orientated messages on his mobile telephone, went in to Santry Garda station and handed the telephone over to the Garda. She did the right thing. Following an investigation over the weekend, I can confirm that a serving member of the Garda Síochána has been suspended and is under investigation along with a number of other persons. I cannot confirm reports as to the professions or identities of the other people but I can confirm a number of other people are under investigation. The investigation is at a critical stage and, as one would expect, the Garda will not give any information. It would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment, other than to say the case is being treated very seriously by the Commissioner and senior gardaí.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I hope the Garda investigation is full and comprehensive. I suggest that the Minister for Education and Science, through her Department, run an information campaign on this danger to young people, making particular use of the schools network. I also suggest the Taoiseach speak to the chief executives of the mobile telephone companies. From speaking to a number of them in the past, I am aware that it is possible to block pornographic material on mobile telephones. Just as it is possible to block collections or forms of words on computers in schools, so too it may be possible to do something in respect of mobile telephone text messages. That is not the main issue, however, in the sense that at least two members of noble professions are allegedly involved in this case.
In December 2003, Deputy Enright made a series of proposals in respect of vetting those working with children. Vetting is crucial given the number of parents over the years who have advised their children to speak to a garda if they have a difficulty or problem. This matter is most distressing.
As I pointed out last week, this issue is about protection and information about protection. Did the Taoiseach consider issues arising from the referendum on protection for children over the weekend? No difficulties arise in respect of the zone of absolute protection or the criteria which can be laid down for the use of soft information. Perhaps the Taoiseach has considered having the matter dealt with speedily in view of the fact that the proposal is not opposed in the House.
I hope this most serious development will be followed through by the Garda as urgently as possible. I also hope that no other unfortunate children have been caught in this paedophile ring and that, arising from the Garda investigation, all necessary steps will be taken to deal with this most insidious destruction of innocence. The issue extends beyond politics and concerns every public representative and parent.
I acknowledge the correctness and speed with which the mother in this case acted. It has been difficult for her. Obviously the Garda must undertake a painstaking investigation into very serious allegations which are being treated in a very serious manner. People in positions of trust must understand that they have to be seen to be far removed from anything that breaks that trust. This is the reason that early reports on the case in question, on which I do not have all the facts, paint a disturbing, worrying and sinister picture.
On the broader question raised by the Deputy, a number of excellent campaigns about the safety of children were recently launched by the Minister of State with special responsibility for children and the National Children's Office. A campaign was launched in education about the safety of the Internet and information and communications technology. As of this year or last year, all new teachers have been vetted and the Garda has procedures in place. As Deputy Kenny will be aware, it is not always easy to find these people in vetting systems. The Garda investigation into this case has moved very quickly. These matters only came to light last week. The Garda is at a critical stage and is following through its investigations.
The Minister of State with special responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is anxious to talk to Opposition spokespersons to try to come to a conclusion on the constitutional referendum. I am hopeful this can be done over the next few days.
Has the Government altered or varied in any way the Cabinet decision of last June concerning the siting of the national children's hospital? Did the Taoiseach read today's edition of the Irish Examiner, which has secured information under the Freedom of Information Act to the effect that the Government was counselled during the month immediately prior to the Cabinet decision that the most feasible solution was a hospital under single governance with a campus on the north and south sides of Dublin? I refer to the advice of Professor Denis Gill, a kidney specialist, who wrote to the Taoiseach stating that such a solution would make historical, geographical, religious and, perhaps, political sense. He also stated that it is difficult to envisage there not being a paediatric service on both sides of the River Liffey. Having regard to the controversy caused by the decision made on the site of the new hospital, the acute distress caused to many parents by the prospect of having to travel in today's congested traffic conditions to a single inner city site, and the decision of the board of Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children at Crumlin, will the Taoiseach state clearly whether the Cabinet decision of last June stands or has been varied?
Will the Taoiseach comment on the fact that when one reads more deeply into this matter, one finds that McKinsey & Company consultants were brought in and recommended a single, 300-bed hospital as the ideal solution for a population of 4.2 million? The previous Government plans for the relocation of Temple Street and Crumlin hospitals show it was planned to construct 650 beds. Consultants were then brought in, however, and we were told that 300 beds would be the ideal solution.
It seems the Government can no longer make any decision without relying on an extremely expensive consultants' report, or hiding behind it as the case may be. In many instances these consultants — I do not necessarily refer to McKinsey Consultants — are told by some senior person what answer is sought. When they produce that answer, they get bucket loads of money in return. One hears some of these consultants on the radio telling us that although their names decorated the notepaper on which the reports are written——
There has been no review of the decision of last summer. The position some years ago was that there were three children's hospitals in Dublin, each providing secondary care services for their respective catchment areas, and two providing tertiary care services on a national basis.
Following its establishment, the HSE set up an external review of paediatric tertiary services. This review found that the population and projected demands of the State could support only one world-class tertiary paediatric hospital. The joint HSE and Department of Health and Children group was established to progress the necessary actions to set up a world-class tertiary paediatric hospital. That was the decision and the process that took place. There is no change in this regard.
This means that the children's wing of Tallaght Hospital will continue to function except for the national element, that is, work that cannot be done other than in a state-of-the-art facility. Children's beds will continue to be provided in several hospitals around the country. The recommendation, however, is that there should be only one centre of excellence to deal with specialised cases. Two units are not required.
Prior to this recommendation, the position was that Crumlin Hospital would either stay where it was or that Temple Street Hospital would move to the Mater campus and that both would handle what would be considered sophisticated and more complex cases. The review group said "No" to this option on the basis that it was not necessary for a country this size. The recommendation was that simple cases would be facilitated in several locations, which, in Dublin, would include Tallaght Hospital, and that specialist work should be done in one unit. Negotiations are ongoing between the various groups because there is not agreement in this regard.
The Deputy is correct that Professor Gill gave me the advice that there should be two sites, which is what was going to happen before the external review was undertaken. Professor Gill's view was that agreement would never be reached between the medics on two separate locations. Previous to that, there was concern that the position of Temple Street Hospital would be eroded and that all the work would move to Crumlin. This issue has been ongoing for some years. Following the external review, the recommendation was that our population and the State's projected demands could support only one world-class tertiary paediatric hospital, wherever it was to be located.
Nobody is disputing that complex and specialist medical procedures ought to be done at one site. The issue raised by Professor Gill is whether it is feasible not to have a campus both northside and southside, taking into account also that some 40% of the children seeking treatment will come from outside Dublin. Has Professor Gill's view not been borne out? The Government's position sounds credible enough until one looks at it closely. The Government is sheltering behind the review group which, as the Taoiseach put it, said "No" to the original plan. Prior to that, however, other Government bodies recommended 650 beds in two locations.
So what if the review group recommended one site with 300 beds? The Government was previously proceeding with the plan to provide 650 beds on two sites and a large amount of money had already been spent on the Mater site as part of this plan. We are now proceeding on the basis that Tallaght Hospital has been seriously downgraded and commitments given on the charter are not being observed. Crumlin Hospital says it refuses to be "shoehorned" into the site at the Mater. There is serious traffic congestion in Dublin city and one cannot park a bicycle at the Mater Hospital. Yet the Taoiseach says there is no change in the Government decision and that it will go ahead with a single-site solution based at the Mater Hospital.
I do not believe this decision will persist regardless of which parties are on that side of the House after the election. There is widespread acute distress among thousands of parents in west Dublin, north Kildare and west Wicklow about the deprivation of services at Tallaght Hospital. In respect of the catchment area and high reputation of Crumlin Hospital, nobody knows what will happen in circumstances where it refuses to co-operate with what is now proposed. The Taoiseach has not told me much that is new. I am surprised to hear him reaffirming the Government decision.
The Deputy asked me whether there is a change in the position and I said there is not. I am sorry I cannot tell him anything new. The Deputy is well aware of the history of this issue, as am I. The position several years ago was that we had three hospitals in Dublin providing secondary care services for their respective catchment areas. I do not see any change in the Tallaght position, whatever happens. Tallaght Hospital has not undertaken sophisticated specialised work and so there is no change in its position. There was a question, since Harcourt Street Hospital closed down, whether cases have been taken in either Temple Street or Crumlin hospitals. There is no question that both of these are excellent hospitals.
Before the establishment of the HSE, the intention and plan, for some 20 years, was to move the Temple Street site to the Mater campus and set up a new unit there, something I strongly supported. The view was that Crumlin Hospital, because it was an old hospital built when the State had few resources, should be rebuilt on that or some other site and should continue as a children's hospital. The HSE's view, however, was that to go ahead and build new hospitals at the Mater and Crumlin was the wrong action to take. This was the professional view of Professor Drumm and others. The HSE brought in an international team to examine the issue and it formed the view that there should be only one specialist unit — not one children's hospital — to do the sophisticated work. That is its position and there is no change from that.
The external review of paediatric tertiary services recommended that the population and projected demands of the country could support only one world-class tertiary paediatric hospital. It did not mean there would not be children's facilities or beds in other hospitals.
A shocking report published today by the European Environment Agency states that in Ireland, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector since 1990 were almost six times higher than the European Union average. This confirms the report last week by the Environmental Protection Agency that ten years after minimal targets were agreed in Kyoto, ten years during which this Government was in power, this country has doubled those emissions. Worryingly, it was not just in the early days of this Government but in 2004, 2005 and 2006 that the increases continued apace, with transport being the biggest contributor, particularly road transport, while emissions from air transport have also drastically increased.
The Environmental Protection Agency puts the increases down to increasing vehicle numbers, larger vehicles, increased reliance on private cars and increasing road freight. It points out that emissions from energy generation in the State are also a factor. Does this not reflect a total failure by the Government in its ten years in power to make any serious effort to implement definitive policies that would drastically cut carbon emissions?
Specifically, the Taoiseach is presiding over the complete winding down of rail freight transport. The Government has failed to transform public transport infrastructure to enable tens of thousands of people in cities and towns, and I include myself, to change from being forced into private transport to taking public transport. The Government has not curbed the crazy situation where airlines are allowed to relentlessly advertise in competition with each other to convince us to go everywhere every second weekend just to blow our noses, while attacking workers' conditions to maximise their profits.
A third of the population lives in Dublin so why do buses from the hugely populated suburbs such as Swords or Ongar still proceed at a snail's pace daily, mired in traffic while meandering like Wanderly Wagon around estates before getting to the city centre, when an efficient system could be implemented, with continuous bus corridors and enough buses that would get people from Clonee to Dublin city in 35 minutes, enabling tens of thousands to transfer to public transport? That is the way forward, why is it not being done in a proactive way?
As usual, I do not agree with Deputy Joe Higgins. It has been the success of the economy and the generation of growth and employment which has brought us to this position, not the opposite.
On the growth in transport emissions, we are behind most European countries in car ownership but increased prosperity has brought about increased car ownership rates, one of the main reasons the country is above the target for greenhouse gas emissions that we must meet in the next few years.
Transport emissions pose a particular challenge to this country but they are only one element of greenhouse gas emissions. Seven of the EU 15, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain, are much further from the EU targets than Ireland in the report the Deputy referred to. Our progress is reflected in the emissions intensity of the economy. In 2004, emissions per unit of GDP were only 48% of what they were at the 1990 level, while the equivalent figure in the European Union is 78%. The growth in transport emissions reflects that a significant volume of fuel, petrol and diesel sold for use outside the State is accounted for in our country's emissions.
Our massive investment in public transport under Transport 21 covered the issues the Deputy raised. It is central to putting transport on a more sustainable footing in Ireland. In addition we continue to take measures to incentivise low emission vehicles and bio-fuels. In the budget in December, we announced a rebalancing of vehicle registration tax and road tax.
From January carbon dioxide emissions rather than engine size will provide the basis for these taxes. The proposals and rebalancing initiatives are currently open for public consultation.
I agree about the bus corridors, that is why we bought over 100 new buses. I also agree with the Deputy about rail transport, that is why we bought 60 new rail cars, with 12 being introduced this month. There are other plans to buy more buses.
There has been huge progress on the quays thanks to the success of the port tunnel in taking trucks from residential areas, which will help the environment in these areas. The Deputy's support in trying to convince people to put more bus corridors in place is welcome.
The Taoiseach did not, however, get to grips with the essentials of the question. Why are public transport subsidies among the lowest in the European Union under this Government over the last ten years? Why are our electricity generating stations burning more peat now when alternative energy sources have been available for years and have not been sufficiently invested in by the State to replace carbon emitting generation?
Is it not extraordinary that in this country and internationally, faced with this real crisis that everyone agrees threatens ecosystems and humanity, the political establishment will establish a stock exchange in carbon emissions to move the issue into another speculators' charter, buying and selling the right to pollute? Is that not an incredible indictment of the approach of this and other Governments?
Two Ministers last week were out pretending to be champions of the taxpayer with regard to the legal costs of the planning tribunal, one of whom has responsibility for emissions.
No, I am merely contrasting that with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government ignoring the massive fines and waste of taxpayers' money he is leaving the country exposed to by virtue of not cutting emissions back.
Instead of these transport plans for 2015 or whenever, could we have practical, immediate measures, particularly with regard to bus services in this and other cities, that will enable us all to make the switch by tens of thousands to public transport, giving us a better quality of life in the process?
In the past year we have invested more than €80 million into Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus — I believe it will be the same this year — and there are the new Korean trains. The Deputy cannot make those arguments without acknowledging that there is huge investment. It is not in the future, in ten or 15 years' time.
It is happening now. There has probably been more investment in the past two years than there was at any period over the decades. It is an enormous amount. The entire public transport budget for this year is not much short of €800 million.
The Lanesboro peat station and the peat station in the midlands both operate with new technology which is highly efficient. Security of supply is obviously enormously important. The Finns, who are on top of the list in all these issues, use peat because of their resources. If the Deputy believes we should not be doing that, he has the wrong end of it. We have a high reliance on fossil fuels for power generation. Last week I spelt out what we are doing in the agricultural sector and cement production. We also have a high level of fuel purchases for use outside the State. It is estimated that 10% of petrol and 25% of diesel sold in this country was consumed outside the State. Those figures, of course, are put in as 18% of total emissions from road transport.
On the question of things being done now, we have set a steeply ambitious target to deliver one third of electricity from renewable sources of energy. We have maximum use of new technologies for co-generation of power stations. We have biomass and planning for the use of carbon capture and clean coal generation, all of which is happening now. Creating opportunity for farmers in bio-fuel production, creating a new bio-fuel industry in the country, introducing a minimum requirement for the use of bio-fuels in State-owned and public transport vehicles, starting with Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, both of which have been instructed to move all their existing fleet to 5% biodiesel blend——