Thursday, 14 October 2004
Order of Business.
Some 14 months ago, the tragic death of Róisín Ruddle occurred after she was sent home because an operation could not proceed at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. The then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, promised an investigation into the affair but there is still no sight of it 14 months later. Last Monday, operations on two children were cancelled with one child already gowned and ready for theatre. That child's operation was first scheduled for last June but was cancelled. Can one imagine the emotional trauma of the child's parents? Some 20 heart operations on children at Crumlin hospital have been deferred. Will the new Minister for Health and Children take action to rectify the situation at Crumlin hospital to ensure there are no more tragic losses?
I support Senator Finucane on this matter and the fundamental problems behind it need to be examined. There is a shortage of intensive care nurses and the Government claims we cannot produce enough of them. However, the reason for the shortage of nurses is because they go abroad where they are paid twice the salary they would receive in Ireland. The number of training places for intensive care nurses must be increased. Fees must also be waived on the basis that a commitment is given by those trained nurses to work in Ireland for seven years. This is done in many other areas.
This difficulty runs throughout the health system up to consultants. The shortage of consultants is caused by a shortage of doctors. This is because the majority of medical college entrants are women, of which 70% work for less than five years. I accept it is their choice but if I was in charge of training, I would ensure that the outcome took this into account. The shortage of therapists is due to the same factors. If the colleges cannot produce enough therapists, intake to courses should be increased to make it easier for people to train as speech therapists and physiotherapists. These management problems can be fixed. Solutions to these difficulties need to be addressed firmly rather than just talked about. I call for a debate on the matter with the new Minister for Health and Children to find an agreed solution.
I agree with Members on the apparent recurring crisis at Crumlin hospital. It is rich of the Tánaiste to tell the Opposition not to play politics with the issue. Does that mean we should not mention it? It is our moral and political obligation to raise such issues and endeavour to find a solution.
I compliment the Tánaiste and the Progressive Democrats on sorting out Fianna Fáil on the overseas development aid issue. The Tánaiste made it clear there has been no change in Government policy and that it looked forward to Ireland meeting its commitments and reaching the UN target in 2007. I spend a lot of time here giving out about the Progressive Democrats but I compliment them on what I hope will be the restoration of the Government's credibility on the issue.
I wish to put a name on the record which I cannot even pronounce. Lyman Hams is a 13 year old Palestinian girl who was murdered by an officer of the Israeli defence forces last week on the evidence of other members of the same defence forces. That is a worse offence than all of what we saw and which outraged us so much about United States troops in Iraq. We saw nothing as brutal as that. It is time we began to wonder about whether we should allow a state, which apparently tolerates such activities, to be part of what we call the community of democratic states. I say that while being fully aware of the horrible things that have been done by suicide bombers. One cannot run a civilised society if incidents or activities such as that are, in any way, diluted or tolerated. That is why I wish to put that young girl's name on the record of this House.
Can we have a debate on competitiveness? When we have debates on competitiveness, it inevitably ends up being entirely about wage rates. According to the World Economic Forum, this country's competitiveness problems have very little to do with our wage rates and a lot to do with our lack of technological development, our weaknesses in infrastructure, our poor institutional arrangements and the excessively centralised nature of our economic decision making which is good code for the mess the Department of Finance keeps making of everybody else's efforts to operate efficiently. It is high time we had a debate on competitiveness. A good report has been written by the World Economic Forum which should be the basis of that debate. I do not think we are that overwhelmed with business and I ask the Leader to consider it at an early stage.
Much has been said in the past few days about our commitments in Government, including our programme for Government and reaching certain targets, especially in regard to overseas development aid. However, there is one area in which we have more than met our commitments, namely, the €40 million which this Government gave to the GAA two weeks ago to help it complete the great facility which is Croke Park. I remind the Leader I am most certainly not speaking outside of Government. However, I am quite disturbed that €40 million of taxpayers' money should be given out without strings attached. The unspeakable truth, as far as I am concerned——
I am calling for a debate with the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism on our policy on sports development because it is in the programme for Government that we will build a national stadium. We have a national stadium — it is called Croke Park.
Will the Leader request the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to explain definitively the situation in regard to Hanly? We know the hospitals involved and are aware of the concern expressed by the communities they serve. However, everybody awaits Hanly II, if there is to be one.
If there is, many other communities will be seriously concerned about the hospitals in their areas and the services that will be provided to them in the future. Will the Leader immediately request the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to clarify the situation in regard to Hanly and how it will affect health services or how she envisages it can be utilised to improve them? Everybody believes there will be a downgrading of the hospitals concerned. The Minister should come into the House to indicate her thoughts on Hanly II.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the House to discuss planning permission for one-off housing in County Roscommon? Unfortunately, County Roscommon is coming in for much criticism at present, particularly in regard to the application by the President and her husband——
The Leader, who has Roscommon contacts and is from the county, might give us an opportunity to discuss planning in general because we have difficulties with An Taisce whose role should be completely removed from the planning process. Its hand is in this issue and I believe it is behind the objections to this house.
I noted the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children's remarks in the other House last evening during its debate on health, in particular her comments on the Hanly report. It appears from those comments that she thinks the information campaign on Hanly has not been sufficient and that if we only got the right information, we would be persuaded about how Hanly is really good for us. She can fool some of the people some of the time, but she certainly will not fool people into thinking the Hanly report is good for the 26 communities due for a hospital downgrade under the Hanly reform programme. I have asked that the Minister come to the House to set out her health policy, in particular on the Hanly report. I call on her to publish Hanly II as soon as possible. This is an urgent matter considering her stated belief on the Hanly reforms.
Last week I asked to Leader to arrange a debate on children as carers. Will she widen that debate to include issues around children generally, in particular the issue of children in poverty? I ask that this be done soon so we can have a debate on the need for the Government to address the issue of children in poverty in the context of the forthcoming budget because much can be done in it. We clearly now have the resources to do so. As a reflection of our concern about issues around children, in particular those in poverty, I ask the Leader to give urgent consideration to such a debate.
Last week I called for a debate on the issue of female genital mutilation. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children has spoken out against this barbaric custom which has reached our shores. Yesterday, Senator Cox asked for a debate on women's equality issues and, if the Leader so desired, this could be part of that debate.
In one of yesterday's newspapers an article described the plight of two women who were sentenced to death by stoning for adultery when the two men involved walked free due to lack of evidence. We have to speak out against the horrific and barbaric customs and practices that are perpetrated only against women. I call for a debate on this area as soon as possible.
I wish to follow on from Senator Ulick Burke's concerns in regard to Hanly II. We have grave concerns in the north west because of the new alignment of the health constituency base which extends from Malin Head to Thurles in County Tipperary. The people of the north west are not convinced this is a natural region and the matter needs to be examined.
Any health board review has to take into context the natural hinterland with Northern Ireland. We talk the talk of all-Ireland bodies and North-South ministerial councils. In that area we have Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, a hospital in Letterkenny and a hospital in Sligo. That is a natural region. If Hanly II has to take into consideration a decentralised service or cutbacks, we have to look at an all-Ireland health strategy, not just a Twenty-six Counties strategy. It is common sense for us to look across the Border regarding an all-Ireland strategy.
Yesterday, the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland launched its campaign for reform of local government funding. While I agree that to some extent local government will need more funding as we come to the end of the year, and will need multi-annual funding, I am concerned at the CCI's call for a site value tax on properties. This sounds like the introduction of rates on properties, a property tax by the back door. It is very important that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government comes to the House to discuss this issue. We would all agree there is a need for some kind of reform and additional funding in local government but it would not be acceptable to have a return to property tax and rates on property. I would like to discuss the matter at the earliest possible opportunity.
I would like the Leader to arrange a debate on the operation of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. It is clear that insurance companies are still making exorbitant profits at the expense of young people in particular.
I reiterate the call made in this House on many occasions by Members on both sides for the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to live up to his commitment to give the GAA the €40 million he promised it, with no strings attached.
In particular, it would give us an opportunity to commend the GAA on the very positive contribution it has made to the social, cultural and economic life of the country. The €40 million which has been referred to is an acknowledgement in some small way for well over a century of cultural and sporting activity. I agree that there should be no strings attached. There were no strings attached to the volunteerism involved in the commitment of the GAA to Ireland through the years.
I support Senator McHugh's comment on the new health authority areas. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health and Children to come back to the House following her impressive performance last night to outline to us what will be the arrangement in terms of staffing for the four new health authorities as compared to the previous 11 health boards and if there will be job losses. This is a grave concern for the staff of health boards.
In my area of Carlow-Kilkenny the community care headquarters at St. James's Green is to be downgraded, which has given rise to fears of job losses. Meaningful reform would undoubtedly bring about job losses; otherwise, staff will have to be redeployed.
Regarding a debate on sport, Members will agree that Irish people love all sports, including GAA and soccer. While Lansdowne Road is being redeveloped we should play our international games in a proper stadium and treat our own supporters and visiting ones to proper facilities such as those Irish fans availed of in the Stade de France last week.
I support Senator Ryan's call for the Leader to invite the new Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the House as soon as possible. I do not believe the majority of people realise how seriously we have lost our competitive edge. Unemployment blackspots are beginning to appear around the country, such as in Donegal where Fruit of the Loom has closed down and there is no alternative employment available. Our lack of competitiveness has put the continuation of some form of Celtic tiger in serious jeopardy.
A recent newspaper article revealed that Motorola had decided against locating its European finance unit in Cork despite IDA hopes to the contrary. We need to get our act together. We have spoken about it indirectly in the Seanad but we need to have a serious debate about our lack of competitiveness.
I support Senator Leyden's call for a general debate on planning, particularly in regard to An Taisce. Another body that needs to be considered in this context is Dúchas. I accept that the previous Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government made great efforts in terms of dismantling the structure of Dúchas but some issues remain outstanding, especially in regard to the development of infrastructural projects throughout the country.
Dúchas ecologists and some engineers tend to take a retrograde view of the development of infrastructural projects. Most projects involve a long drawn out consultation between Dúchas and local authorities with the result that water and sewerage projects do not go ahead as quickly as they might. This impacts on the issue raised by Senator White, our competitiveness. Without the required level of infrastructure to develop rural areas in particular there is no chance we will be able to develop along the lines discussed. I would appreciate a debate on planning matters at the earliest possible opportunity.
I support my colleagues in the call for a debate on planning. Senator O'Toole referred to a shortage of medical personnel, speech therapists, physiotherapists and nurses. Out of hours GP services in rural areas appear to have many teething problems. There is certainly room for improvement when people in County Galway ring the service and are told that doctors in counties Roscommon and Mayo are covering County Galway.
The former president of NUIG, Dr. Pat Fottrell, is chairing a committee on medical personnel and I hope his report will provide an opportunity for us to debate the issue. I would like to thank the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, for giving us two new surgeons at Portiuncula Hospital as well as funding for a new unit.
Will the Leader arrange, as soon as possible, for Committee Stage of the Maritime Safety Bill 2004 to be taken? We completed Second Stage in this House on 13 June. Coming from a lake county, as she does, the Leader is well aware that there are major problems on our lakes with the indiscriminate, irrational and dangerous use of jet skis and ski boats. I strongly support the call for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come into the House.
I have discovered a practice in restaurants, which is not covered by regulation, as I have checked, whereby itemised bills are not available and where an extra 10% or 12% is charged to parties of six people or more. I always understood that one paid less on buying more in a shop, for example, but apparently not in restaurants. One actually pays more. It is one of the new Irish jokes and it is time it was regulated and dealt with effectively.
The first statement came from the deputy leader of the Opposition, Senator Finucane, on the investigation into the Róisín Ruddle case. Following on from that the operations of 20 children have been cancelled. The Senator asked whether action would be taken. I understand that the Tánaiste said yesterday that the report on the case to which the Senator refers was almost to hand and will be published imminently. She gave that commitment in the other Chamber.
Senator O'Toole referred to a shortage of intensive care nurses and said incentives similar to those in other countries needed to be offered to attract these and other personnel who are in short supply internationally, in the areas of salaries, increased training places etc.
Senator Ryan raised the matter of Lyman Hams, the Palestinian girl murdered brutally by Israeli troops. He wanted a debate on policy in the Middle East. He also called for a debate on competitiveness. Senator Ryan maintained we are becoming increasingly decentralised, which indicates a lack of competitiveness and asked the new Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, to come to the House.
I am not sure whether I can discuss what Senator Morrissey had to say, as the Cathaoirleach takes such a strong line on this matter.
The Cathaoirleach already indicated that this was the position and we will endeavour to get the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, to the House next week to talk about all the relevant issues. Senator Ulick Burke wanted a debate on the second Hanly report and asked where it was. The Tánaiste spoke about this in the Dáil yesterday and said she would like the community to become involved in the debate with her. She felt the correct information has not been disseminated and was keen there should be a good debate on it as she sees this as the way forward.
Senator Leyden wanted the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House to discuss the entire planning issue. I am not discussing any particular case, but An Taisce was singled out by Senator Leyden.
Senator O'Meara noted what the Tánaiste had to say yesterday on Hanly. She wanted the debate on children widened to take into consideration those living in poverty, particularly in the run-up to budgetary submissions. Senator Lydon talked about equality issues and referred to barbaric customs and practices being carried out on women. He called for a general debate on those issues. I do not know where such a debate could be fitted in, but I shall endeavour to find out.
Senator McHugh talked about all-Ireland health facilities and said there was a natural hinterland in Donegal with the North, rather than looking to Thurles. What he said makes sense. Cross-Border co-operation would be far more effective as regards the management of health facilities.
Senator Cox touched on matters concerning the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland. It is clear that the incidents referred to relate to property taxes and cannot be condoned. Senator McCarthy called for a review of the PIAB's work to date, particularly as it affects younger people. The Senator also wants a debate on sport. Senator Ó Murchú called for a debate on cultural and sporting activities. There is strong demand for such a debate and we will endeavour to get the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, here next week.
Senator Browne noted that health board workers were concerned about their employment and asked where everyone will go if the 11 areas are reduced to four. It is a valid question and he also echoed the need for a debate on sport.
May I suggest to Senators Ryan and O'Toole that Senator White never said what numbers she gave either of them. She did say she represented the Simon Community——
——and that was the reason. It is always interesting when one meets someone who says, "I always voted for you", but it transpires it was a No. 4 or something. Senator White requested that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment come to the House and talk about our lack of a competitive edge. Senator Dooley called for a debate on planning and Dúchas as regards interaction with the local authorities. Senator Kitt wanted a debate on planning and mentioned the shortage of medical personnel, which echoes Senator O'Toole's comments. He praised the previous Minister for Health and Children's commitment to Portiuncula Hospital and mentioned that the current Minister is from that area as well. Indeed she is and would take an interest in it.
Senator Glynn asked when Committee Stage of the Maritime Safety Bill 2004, which was the subject of a good debate in this House, would be taken in the House. He also raised the matter of bills in restaurants and said the more one ordered, the more one paid. This is something I need to speak to him about because I need clarification on the matter of additional service charges that he mentioned.