Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

2:30 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)

I would like to mark the passing of Nuala O'Faolain, the broadcaster, journalist and author. Her stark ability to call things as they were was never more visible than in her approach to her recent illness, including an interview on the public airwaves. May she rest in peace.

Can the Leader give an update on when he proposes to have a debate on agriculture in the House? We will have statements on rural development this week but there are huge concerns in the farming community regarding the World Trade Organisation negotiations. This matter has become linked to the attitude of the farming community to the Lisbon treaty. It is critical that we have an opportunity to discuss the range of issues in this House and for the Government to outline the stand it will take on the negotiations. This is a matter of concern to a number of people on this side of the House.

This afternoon I want to focus on the issues highlighted in the "Prime Time Investigates" television programme last night. In this regard, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to discuss the lack of front-line services available to children in crisis situations. In the programme last night, social workers were interviewed anonymously because they feared the impact speaking out publicly could have on their jobs. This raises many questions. They spoke of the lack of services and the lack of people available to respond to calls relating to children at risk. This is serious because children's lives are at stake and there have been a number of reports in this regard over the years, including the Kelly Fitzgerald report and the report on Madonna House. There have been numerous reports on children in the care of the State and there is a commission sitting at present to investigate abuses that occurred in care in a previous generation. Now young people are at risk in communities and no social or care workers are available to investigate the most urgent cases.

The new Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, has spoken of republican values but what kind of republic does not give support to front-line staff to deal with emergency cases? What kind of values has the Government had for the past 11 years? It has received report after report. The Health Service Executive asked the Department of Finance for money to fund front-line services but it is not available. Some 2,800 front-line staff have been taken out of action since September due to the ban that has been imposed.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow us discuss these issues because many Members on this side of the House raised this matter when the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, was in the House but did not receive satisfactory answers.


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