Dáil debates

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

1:15 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The House has agreed that, for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency only, the rapporteur's report of the Business Committee shall not be read out but shall be taken as read. Arising from it there are just two proposals to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with today's business agreed? It is not agreed. I call Deputies Barry and Pringle.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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We have arranged for a debate to take place about the keeping of files on the families of children with autism who had the temerity to take legal action against the State and I welcome the fact that we have a debate. To have a proper session on that, we need to have - if the Deputy speaking now might excuse me - a situation where the Ministers who are in the Cabinet who are or have been Ministers for Health, namely the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, the Minister, Deputy Harris, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, available to answer questions in that debate. That is not part of the arrangements and needs to be which would mean that the debate would need to be a bit longer. I am also not in favour of shunting Deputy Pringle’s very important motion on direct provision off the agenda as it should be included in it. I propose that the Business Committee would meet today and arrange the debate in such a way. On that basis we do not accept the proposal as it stands.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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There are two issues I wish to raise. The first is the changes in the Covid-19 arrangements which were announced last night on television by the Taoiseach and which should be debated in the Dáil here as well, particularly the changes in the vaccination programme. Time should be made available for that.

The debate on the "Prime Time" programme last week is vitally important. I note that the Government has accepted that the debate will take place and have shunted the asylum seekers’ debate to tomorrow because of that. Time should be made available today for that debate and I have made a submission under Standing Order 42 on that, as I know other Members have also done. This debate should be taken today as a priority because it is very important, as should the other debate. I thank the Ceann Comhairle.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I too want to look for change to have time here to discuss the very serious situation of An Garda Síochána not being given the vaccine. It was number ten on the list and now it has gone way down below and we do not know where it is on the pecking list. An Garda Síochána is our front line.

I also want time to be made available for the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, to come in to correct the record of the House, as Deputy McNamara has asked for. The Minister told us there would never be penal provisions with regard to public worship offered by a priest and that a priest could not be summonsed, fined or imprisoned. Now we are told the opposite by the Taoiseach, the Garda and others. I want time for the Minister to come in to correct the record of the House and not have us told lies in the House.

1:25 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I support my colleagues who have raised the issue of the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. It is bad enough that individuals were forced to go to the courts to vindicate their rights but it is immoral that there is any assertion that information was being collected that would force them to withdraw those particular actions. There is huge concern among people who have taken a case against the State to vindicate their rights or to address issues of misdiagnosis or malpractice that such files exist, not just in the Department of Health but in other Departments. It is imperative that this issue is fully clarified, not just with regard to autistic children but to the Pandemrix narcolepsy cases, the audiology misdiagnoses in the west of Ireland and even with regard to cervical cancer cases. We need absolute clarity on this and we need the Minister to come before the House today to clarify it.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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With regard to the "RTÉ Investigates" issue, as a member of the Oireachtas health committee, and without wanting to pre-empt what the Taoiseach might say, nobody in the House has a monopoly on the sense of disgust, alarm and shock at what unfolded and emerged in the documentary. Interestingly, it is safe, genuine and sincere for me to say the Oireachtas health committee has adopted a very non-partisan approach to this. We are seeking every relevant witness to come to address the committee and be interrogated by it on the details of what happened, whether it be a Minister or a senior official. This will happen. Our objective on the Oireachtas health committee is an objective shared with every Member of the House, which is that we get to the bottom of the issue and get as much truth and as many facts as possible. I also acknowledge this will take a little bit of time. I assure the public and all those stakeholders in the autistic position, whether parents or children, that the House and committees of the House could not be taking this matter more seriously.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank Deputy Lahart. For the sake of accuracy-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am not sure that it is appropriate for a Government Deputy to speak, mar dhea, on behalf of everybody in the House when it is abundantly clear that the will of the House is for statements from the Ministers, including previous occupants of the Department, to establish facts, publish the review report to which the Taoiseach referred earlier, for us to have full disclosure of the facts and to have an assurance that the families and children on whom these files are held have actually been informed of that fact and have access to those files.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Again, for the sake of accuracy, I did not propose or make any alteration for the proposed agenda for the week. The Government amended the agenda, I would have thought in an attempt to take on board the request from Members to have a particular debate. Does the Taoiseach want to address this matter?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There will be statements tomorrow on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme and the issues raised in it. There will be 100 minutes provided for the debate tomorrow, in accordance with the wishes of the Business Committee and the House. Again, I say to the House in respect of Deputy Barry and others, and I am very clear on this, the role of government is to act as advocates for children. In my role as a Minister with responsibility for education and health my objective was always to prevent litigation and to provide the services, particularly in education. We made huge progress at the time. Relative to the time it was groundbreaking with regard to the mainstreaming of special education. We can see this in the numbers of special needs assistants and resource teachers. It was a big change in itself. My impulse, and as leader of the Government I can say the approach of the entire Government, is designed to provide services for children in education and health, to advocate for children and to do better because we can do better and we need to do better. Things are far from perfect and I do not like situations where families of children with special needs are constantly in a position of fighting for additional services. This is something we will continue to work on.

I take some issue with Deputy McDonald's dismissal of Deputy Lahart's genuine contribution that we just heard. Just because he is a Deputy on the Government side of the House it does not invalidate his objectivity on this question or his sincerity. Sometimes Deputy McDonald's party leaves the mask slip and loses any sense of its democratic impulse and endeavours to suppress other people in the House who have a legitimate perspective on these issues.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you, Taoiseach.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I would welcome the Oireachtas Committee on Health assessing it. This is an important point with regard to examining this issue in its entirety and bringing forward witnesses. I want the full truth on this out there. I have no issue with that happening.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot get into a lengthy debate now. I thank the Taoiseach.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Department itself is preparing an urgent brief that will facilitate Deputies also. This is an important point because assertions are being made. I welcome the fact that objectivity is being brought to this also.

I take what Deputy Naughten has said, that this is a broader issue with regard to other litigation relating to vaccines and other issues. The debate will be held tomorrow, with statements and questions and answers in the House. This has been facilitated.

Deputy Pringle raised issues that we discussed on Leaders' Questions earlier, with regard to some aspects of yesterday's announcement. There are time constraints on what can be achieved.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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As I understand it, on Monday the Ceann Comhairle received requests from a number of Members for a Standing Order 42 debate on the Adjournment on this issue. Subsequently, the Government proposed changing the agenda for tomorrow. The Business Committee had agreed the agenda for tomorrow last Thursday. I would like clarity on how this has happened. We requested the Ceann Comhairle to provide a debate and he came back and said there was no need because the Government was giving time for a debate. When did the Government actually propose to do this? Was it on foot of the motions going in and the Ceann Comhairle's request to the Government or was it totally independent?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I do not liaise with the Government on these matters. What happened was quite clearly this. Under Standing Order 29, the Government's prerogative is to determine the business of the week and how it will be taken. This is what the Government has done. I considered carefully the two requests from Deputies Naughten and Pringle under Standing Order 42 for a special notice question on this matter. Since the Government had at that stage already agreed to have a debate, it was not in order or appropriate to have Standing Order 42 special questions accommodated also. There is no need to have two debates on one issue. We are trying to make the best use we can of very scarce time.

I call Deputy Tóibín and I ask him to be very brief.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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This issue is of such import that 100 minutes is absolutely not satisfactory. It goes to the heart of what is happening in the HSE day in and day out, where the HSE is in combat with patients and the only way people can get justice is through the court system. It also goes to the heart of ministerial responsibility. We need to know what former Ministers with responsibility for health knew about this. How can something like this happen without Ministers knowing about it? Last week, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, said this issue was raised a couple of times in the Department. The democratic mandate has been mentioned. Only six minutes are being allotted to groups such as ours. Surely we have a democratic opportunity to question the Taoiseach and former Ministers with responsibility for health on this issue.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Everyone will have the opportunity to question when the debate takes place. I am conscious that I have a list of 36 people who want to ask questions on promised legislation. They are having increasingly less possibility of doing so because we are eroding the time.

Is the proposal for dealing with it agreed? I call the Taoiseach.

1:35 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I ask Deputy Tóibín to withdraw the statement he just made to the effect that the HSE is in combat with patients.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Yes.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Let us get a sense of perspective here. The HSE and the many people who work for it day in and day out are working to protect the lives of people. That needs to be acknowledged. It is outrageous that a Deputy would say that. The Deputy made a general statement that the HSE is in combat with patients. That is an outrageous statement.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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It is not outrageous.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It lacks perspective. It lacks any balance. We are talking about people who are on the front line, working every day to protect people.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach has made the point. We do not need to have a debate about it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I think that should be withdrawn.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business agreed to?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Níl.

Question, "That the proposal for dealing with Wednesday's business be agreed to", put and declared carried.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is the proposal for dealing with Thursday's business agreed to?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Agreed.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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It is not agreed. I want to see all the former Ministers for Health in the Cabinet taking questions in the debate. I want to put the matter to a vote if that is not agreed.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Precisely how many Ministers would the Deputy like to see? If we are going to vote on something, we need to be sure what it is we are going to vote on. How many Ministers and going back over what period?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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The four Ministers in the Cabinet, namely, the current Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen, Donnelly, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste. The latter three are all former Ministers for Health.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy. Is it agreed that the Government will facilitate that?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Government has laid the order before the House. This is apportioning blame in advance. There is an Oireachtas committee that can examine everything, and there is no issue there. Again, in the context of the assertions that have been made, I stated earlier that I never authorised anything. Innuendo, of course, is Deputy Barry's favourite pastime - to damn people by innuendo and by making assertions he cannot stand over.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Taoiseach.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is outrageous carry-on but it is nothing new from the Deputy. I say again for the record what I said earlier, namely, under no circumstances would I ever authorise any breach of patient-client confidentiality or the collection of dossiers on people or children in terms of their rights. The opposite is the case in terms of my political record. I fought for children's rights from the very beginning. Since I became a councillor or a Deputy, that is what I have been about in politics, with varying degrees of success, that I acknowledge. The bottom line is my commitment has been very clear. I would not stand over some of the assertions that were made in the programme, if they happened, particularly the documentation relating to a psychiatrist apparently being contacted. That is wrong and I certainly would not authorise that.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We cannot have a debate on the floor of the House.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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No one can justify in any way the breaching of patient-client confidentiality.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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To be clear, the proposal is merely that the former Ministers for Health in the Cabinet answer questions in the course of the debate. It is a simple democratic point. The Taoiseach doth protest a bit too much, methinks.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Strictly speaking, it is a matter for the line Minister. There is no precedent of which I am aware for retired or former Ministers to come in and answer to the House. In any event, the proposal for dealing with tomorrow's business has been challenged and I am going to put the question.

Question put: "That the proposals for dealing with Thursday's business be agreed to."

The Dáil divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 18; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Mick Barry and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.

Question declared carried.