Tuesday, 11 December 2018
Order of Business
I echo Senator Clifford-Lee's concerns about the national maternity hospital. As she said, we need some clarity from the Minister for Health as to what will be the position with the hospital. Clearly, women need a new and fit-for-purpose maternity hospital. However, there are still valid concerns about the connections between the Sisters of Charity and St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. There is still an issue regarding the appointment of a public interest director. Even though many of us would query how strong a public interest director could be, it is a real worry agreement has not been reached on the appointment of one at this point. It would be useful to have clarity on this matter. This issue also raises a bigger question about the separation of church and State, and the need to ensure State ownership of hospitals and schools in a country where the Catholic Church retains ownership of the vast majority of primary school lands and many other premises that should be under State control.
Brexit is the biggest political issue facing this country and Britain. Some of us predicted that the vote that was to have taken place in the House of Commons tonight would be postponed given that Prime Minister Theresa May would have been defeated by a large majority. I was not surprised, therefore, that she deferred the vote. However, the real worry for us is that Irish interests may become a bargaining chip in the negotiations between Britain and the European Union. Clearly, that cannot be allowed to happen. As the Labour Party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, said this morning, it is crucial that the Taoiseach holds firm and we see absolutely no watering down of the commitment on the backstop. That is essential. There is a cross-party and all-party political agreement on that matter, certainly in this jurisdiction.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the new year on the recent climate change performance index report that ranked Ireland as the worst country in the EU in terms of performance on climate change on a whole range of indicators. The report shows that, far from being a leader in tackling climate change, Ireland is a laggard. The Government needs to take urgent action on this matter. Last Friday, I spoke at a protest organised by Labour Youth, Young Greens Ireland and others. It was a red-green alliance and we called on the Government to take substantive steps to tackle climate change. It is most disappointing that there was no action on carbon tax in the most recent budget. As the Leader knows, there are four Private Members' Bills before the Dáil that the Government could sign up to, all of which would make a contribution to tackling climate change and moving towards emissions reduction. We are performing badly and there seems to be little political will to do anything about this in government. We need an urgent debate on this matter, specifically on the new report which confirmed how poorly this country is performing when compared with the rest of the EU.