Thursday, 14 April 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Investment Funds, Companies and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2005 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes and those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes. The Minister shall be called upon to reply not later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.
As one page of my notes got mixed up with another, I neglected to reply on yesterday's Order of Business to Senators Ross, Glynn and Feighan. If they wish to put their remarks forward again, I will reply today. I apologise to each of the Senators in the House as I have already done in private.
Does the Leader accept that the cornerstone of the primary health care strategy which the Government published in 2001 was a proposal by the then Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, to establish 24-hour general practitioner co-operatives across the country? The co-operatives were termed "primary health care centres". The commitment to establish 600 such centres over the ten years between 2001 and 2010 was underwritten by a commitment to spend €1 billion in the same period on their establishment. We have seen ten pilot projects in five years, only one of which — at Virginia in County Cavan — is up and running. How stands the Tánaiste's latest ten-point plan to deal with the crisis in the accident and emergency sector given that Deputy Martin committed the Government to action over ten years? The plan represents further Government spin on the issue.
There are 400 people on trolleys in acute hospitals across the country this morning despite the Government's 2001 commitment. The primary problem at accident and emergency level is the number of people accessing departments, many of whom have minor ailments which could be addressed through 24-hour general practitioner cover. Does the Government's 2001 commitment to the provision of 600 primary care centres stand? We are halfway through the period in which the strategy was to be implemented but these centres do not yet exist. The Government seems to blame doctors, nurses and those generous benefactors who want to provide money to the acute care sector while doing very little itself to spend money and provide the health care facilities needed to get people off trolleys and into the hospital system proper. I ask the Leader to clarify which policy is in place. Is it Deputy Martin's 2001 policy or the Tánaiste's plan?
I agree that it is time for another debate on the health service, which has featured heavily in the newspapers over the past two weeks for one reason or another. I would welcome the attendance of the Tánaiste to speak to the issue.
We should all recognise that, as many of us have said for years, one cannot have low taxes and state-of-the-art public services. I make the point to Government that we must grasp the nettle and recognise the need to invest in health services with moneys obtained through taxation in one form or another. I find it embarrassing, with all due respect to my Independent colleague, that we will have to go to Dunnes Stores or similar shops to have our injuries attended to in future. It brings it to a low level of ridicule that we cannot get any further than that.
In view of this I call for a rational debate on the health service. I agree with Senator Brian Hayes that the Tánaiste should outline her plan for how it will work with an appropriate timescale attached to it. That would be welcome and would allow people to have an element of certainty. We could also benchmark it as it progressed.
An issue of great concern to the tourism industry in my native county appeared in the media last night and again this morning. I have no doubt Senator Coghlan will have a word to say about it.
The matter relates to the suggestion that the Great Southern Hotels will be sold. They are pivotal to the tourism industry in the south west, in particular, but also nationally. Once again the question arises of how we will reach certainty on the future of the hotels and what decisions will be made in regard to them. The staff, the industry and the people who depend on these hotels need to know what the future holds. It is reasonable to ask the Minister to come to the House and explain what the thinking is about the matter at this time. We can understand that people may have to take hard decisions but at the very least we should know what they are.
I hate to raise a local issue but the north side of Dublin is in danger of being polluted by the stench coming from the south side's sewage. Apparently it has been said that the quantity of sewage——
—— and more importantly and seriously, what does the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have to say about it. When the tertiary sewage treatment system was put in place at Ringsend it was promised that there would be no olfactory fall-out or difficulties arising from it, but that has proven not to be the case. I would like a response on this matter.
On that issue and speaking as a northsider, one of the major benefits, if not the major benefit, to the north side of the tertiary treatment plant at Ringsend is that it transferred all of the sewage from the north side to the south side, which is ideally where it should be. It is something of a disappointment that it managed to get back, albeit as Senator O'Toole so articulately put it, in olfactory form. There is nonetheless a serious issue which affects people directly beside the new treatment plant in Ringsend. Local residents were led to believe there would be no nasty odours coming from it and clearly that is not the case.
I listened to most of Joe Duffy's "Liveline" programme yesterday, as I am sure did some other Members. It was excruciatingly embarrassing. On one level the programme was a bit trite and superficial but nonetheless it was appalling to have one of our major health care provision institutions, the Mater Hospital, effectively being reduced to the status of a pauper on the street looking for charitable donations. Accepting that the programme is superficial and trite, I hope it is played back time and again to those who are responsible for the health system. I hope that if nothing else it embarrasses them into doing something about it.
Listening to "Morning Ireland" on the radio this morning I was struck by Aidan Gleeson who is an accident and emergency consultant of some renown. We have heard stories told by people who have experience in recent months of what has been happening since the current Minister came to power. Mr. Gleeson is somebody who should know what is happening and he was able to tell us very clearly that in the past three months things have disimproved. That is in the face of a commitment given by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she took up power that there would be noticeable improvements. There is a clear message coming from the professionals involved, not just from yesterday's programme, that it is time for Government to get the finger out and do something about this.
A new accident and emergency unit in Roscommon cost €8 million. The cost of staffing it is €2.5 million but nobody has yet been recruited. There was a protest in this regard outside the hospital last Tuesday. The real problem is a question of capacity. There may be a need for temporary buildings to be erected at hospitals for the capacity problems to be solved, but this should not apply to accident and emergency services. The issue of people coming back from the toilet to discover their chairs have gone is a joke. Perhaps it is a conspiracy of the left and is part of its game to undermine the Government.
I asked the Leader of the House about this matter before the Easter recess and we got into a big row about accident and emergency services in Roscommon. There is something very wrong in the state of Denmark. There is something wrong with the whole system and it should be solved but it will not be solved on "Liveline" by Joe Duffy and Ben Dunne.
On Tuesday's Order of Business I called for the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to clarify what is the situation with regard to the ten-point plan for accident and emergency services. It is clear that the whole situation is in tatters. What one must appreciate in regard to a programme like Joe Duffy's is that it is symptomatic of people's frustration that in articulating their concerns, business people would offer three portacabins fitted out with beds and to provide accident and emergency units with lockers. If the Minister wanted an example of the frustration she would have it in that programme yesterday. It is a shocking commentary on the situation that we have come to this. It is all very well to speak fine words at a conference but what people need at this stage is action.
October 2001 was the last time an extra driving tester was recruited. In excess of 120,000 people are waiting for driving tests. Some waiting periods extend beyond a year while the average is 38 weeks. Young drivers come to see public representatives because they are frustrated that they are charged excessive amounts for car insurance because they have provisional licences yet they cannot do the test. The Minister has spoken about penalty points. The Minister of State, Deputy Callely, has come to the House to introduce changes to driving tests. The issue of road safety is regularly discussed. If we want to get all these components in place and resolve this problem it is essential that we appoint more driving testers and do something about the backlog. It has gone on for far too long. This is another area in which action and a positive approach is required by the Administration.
I join in the call for a debate on the health service. Senator Brian Hayes made an important point about out-of-hours doctors' services. It appears that there are two levels of out-of-hours service, one after 6 p.m. and another after 12 midnight until 8 a.m. There is a need to discuss the point of contact with the out-of-hours service and the large areas in rural Ireland that a small number of doctors have to cover. When we come to discuss the health service and accident and emergency care, I ask that time could be provided for this important aspect of primary care.
I do not agree with some of the comments I heard from the Department about privatising the GP service or introducing competition. If that were to happen, rural Ireland would never see any of the proposed private health centres that have been mooted. I would not like to go down that road. I put this down as a marker for when we have a debate, which I hope we will have very shortly.
My issue has been flagged. In the light of Mr. McGann's appearance before the Joint Committee on Transport yesterday and what he said about the Great Southern Hotels having to be closed if nothing is done, it appears that the Dublin Airport Authority made a decision some time ago but that it has been awaiting a decision for some time from Government. He is quoted as saying the status quo is not an option. In light of that, if it is true, will the Leader say where the assurances of both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, now stand to the effect that the hotels would not be sold? I know those assurances or commitments go back 12 months or more, in some instances. However, it is important for visitors who return year after year, and for the staff, to know what is going to happen. It is now out in the open. This situation, as they see it, has pertained for some time. They are awaiting decisions. Do the decisions concerning that group have to take their place in the logjam of indecision and fog that seems to surround everything to do with airport policy, as with Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta and the second terminal?
Mr. McGann also spoke strongly about that yesterday and the increasing number of passengers coming through Dublin. The airport is bursting at the seams. I look forward to hearing the Leader's comments, as a former Minister for Public Enterprise.
I, too, would like to see the development of health centres as promised. However, a distinction needs to be made between health centres and 24-hour cover. There is an efficient 24-hour caredoc system in west Tipperary, which works very well. I do not know to what extent this model exists in other parts of the country, but those are two separate issues.
Like other Senators, I share the concern over the future of the Great Southern Hotels group, which has a series of fine hotels in locations such as Killarney and Galway. It is quite obvious to me that, perhaps understandably, the Dublin Airport Authority does not have an adequate commitment to these hotels which are mostly nowhere near Dublin. The Government needs to find a more suitable company to look after the hotels or, perhaps, establish a free-standing company for them. They are a vital asset and quite understandably the Dublin Airport Authority has other more pressing concerns to do with its major line of business. The Government needs to look for a more appropriate place for the hotels.
I bow to the Cathaoirleach's wisdom. I understand. I support the call for the debate on the health service, but I do not think it is merely a question of increasing funding. I whispered to my colleague, Senator Ross, "Have there not been massive increases?" and he said, "Triple — the budget has tripled". So the answer obviously is not money alone. I would caution against the type of media event we have seen. It is a media event involving portakabins, lockers and all that type of stuff. These are attractive as public consumption for listeners but they do not go anywhere towards addressing the real problem. If these portakabins, lockers, etc., are dumped there are all the problems as regards security, medical attention supervision and everything else to be considered. It is very facile, except as theatre.
It is the same type of thing, perhaps, as driving a bomb into Windsor Castle, with a cardboard box marked "Bomb". The Sun and those types of publications do it all the time. I do not believe it is serious, while there is a need for a proper debate.
As citizens we have a responsibility too. The behaviour of some citizens in accident and emergency departments is an outright scandal. It is a comment on our society if people have to get stand-ins to guard their cushions, pillows or whatever. Who are the people stealing them? What type of values have we got in this society, if this is so? What about the fighting and the drunken brawling that goes on? These people should be arrested. I do not believe it is just a question of belabouring a Minister. We should have a serious debate and accept our responsibility.
I have noticed with interest the debate on the GAA changing its rules and so on.
I told the Senator to refrain. He has just made a false statement and I do not want to be involved in a debate on GAA matters during the Order of Business. A motion is down for statements on sport and it will be more appropriate for the Senator to make his contribution then.
As always, I want to be agreeable and positive. I notice also that there is to be a debate about anti-social behaviour orders, which I welcome. The two could be combined because the GAA, as an organisation for which I have a regard, should be going into the deprived areas of the inner city to council housing estates. Those people have very few facilities. That is why we need anti-social behaviour orders. Groups such as the sporting organisations could play an essential role in providing facilities which would cut down on anti-social behaviour.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue, to the House so we may debate the recent report commissioned by Fáilte Ireland from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which recommends that the regional boards such as North West Tourism should be subsumed into Fáilte Ireland or Tourism Ireland or indeed replaced by another group. This would be a backward step. We embraced the principle of subsidiarity in the Nice Treaty on the basis that organisations and areas that are best placed to make a decision and deal with problems should be allowed to do so. We all signed up to that process. I do not understand why any report should propose that we centralise something that is so good. Boards such as North West Tourism have served us particularly well and will continue to do so. If there is a problem, PricewaterhouseCoopers should be pointing out that, if anything, they are under-resourced. We must enhance their capability to deliver on their mandate by giving them more resources.
I would like to add my voice to the call for a debate, or rather, action on the health services. Mention has been made of services that are available after 6 o'clock in the evening or indeed, a 24-hour service. We have a two-tier health system. If one can afford health treatment one will get it instantly, if not one must wait and go through the agonies being experienced by patients at present. I would include the area of disabilities in the call for action.
I was shocked recently over the case of an eight year old boy from my part of the country who was attending hospital in Crumlin and in desperate need of a new wheelchair. He has outgrown the one he has but he could not get one. Despite the fact that his consultant in Crumlin said, last November, that he was in need of a new wheelchair to prevent pressure sores and to allow for his recuperation so he does not need to re-enter hospital, he does not know whether he will get one anytime this year, because of the lack of available funding. A wheelchair costs in the region of €10,000 to €12,000 and it is a disgrace that a young person in this——
I welcome the submission by Shannon Development and tourism interests in the mid-western region in accepting the many challenges the Open Skies policy presents for Shannon Airport. It is calling for protection measures for the first five years to promote the area as a tourism centre. That is very important. I welcome Shannon Development's acceptance of the challenges to be faced and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to discuss this matter in the House in the near future.
We are being a little unfair to Ben Dunne and those people who made suggestions to Joe Duffy's "Liveline" show yesterday. It may be what Senator McDowell calls trite and superficial. However, it is a meaningful gesture that will make a difference.
There has already been a serious debate on the health services. Gestures of this sort, which may be designed to attract publicity, have a role. If good comes out of it, it is extremely laudable. We must say thank you to those individuals, whose names we will not remember, who offered to make contributions to the hospital in question on "Morning Ireland" and Joe Duffy's "Liveline". They should be acknowledged and not dismissed. It may be a gimmick but sometimes they can be effective.
I will repeat what I said yesterday on the Order of Business concerning the airport issue. It is important that the Leader responds to it. Another development on the issue has arisen today. We must have a debate on security at Dublin Airport. Any Member listening to this morning's Marian Finucane radio programme will realise that it is not just a security issue but a farcical situation. Between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., in response to the recent events, there were queues of hundreds of yards. This tells us that, before, security was inadequate. Now either the authorities are involved in a publicity stunt or there was a serious problem which is only being remedied after inspectors exposed it. The Dublin Airport Authority is not on top of numbers or security. A serious debate on the direction of the Dublin Airport Authority is needed. Many Members may feel that the old regime was better than the new one. While the old regime was rotten, nothing seems to have changed, with the new regime being even worse. I never thought I would say "Come back Noel O'Hanlon, all is forgiven".
A Chathaoirligh, it was not the GAA I mentioned but the DAA, the Dublin Airport Authority. The DAA has responded to these events by saying nobody was harmed and no lives were in danger, a pathetic response. The only reason no lives were in danger was because the bomb that got through was a replica. To say no lives were in danger is an admission of the seriousness of the security situation. It must be debated. The House must not shun away from discussing airports and airlines because the Government is paralysed on this issue. We are seeing a symptom of it in the recent events at Dublin Airport.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children will welcome the opportunity to explain to the House in detail the great work she and her Department are doing. We can knock the Department of Health and Children and accident and emergency facilities. However, we must examine the problems. In my experience, more money is now spent on security at accident and emergency wards than is spent on health professionals attending patients. Many of those who telephoned the radio programmes yesterday have much to answer in how they carried on in the past. While many Members speak of trolleys as beds of nails, in my experience there are top class facilities for people who require them at these wards. I look forward to the Tánaiste attending the House.
The day has come for Aer Rianta not to be involved with Great Southern Hotels. There was a day when those hotels were required near airports, but that has now changed.
On a Sunday evening three weeks ago, a serious road accident involving a young man on a motorcycle occurred in County Galway. The first person on the scene contacted six GPs in the nearby town only to discover none were on duty. The answering machine informed the individual to contact the out-of-hours service, Westdoc. However, the doctor on duty had gone to attend a patient in south Roscommon. When the individual asked for an ambulance, he was informed it would take up to one hour. When the individual asked if the patient could be moved from the ground, a nurse was called who said the injured man should be put in a private car. When they arrived outside the accident and emergency ward at Galway University Hospital, the driver was told to get a wheelchair to bring in the injured man. When the driver said it was too dangerous due to the seriousness of the injury, he was informed somebody would attend. After 20 minutes, the same request was made with the same row ensuing. Four paramedics arrived on the scene upset that the injured party was brought to hospital in such a way. This is the health service in rural Ireland. It is an example of the delivery of a world class health service by the Department of Health and Children.
I am calling for a meaningful debate on the health services that will tackle the reality of the situation for those who need a service. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children has not shown how she will tackle the failure to deliver better health services.
Hearing the strength of feeling from Senator Ulick Burke, reminds us of the need to have Ministers attend the House. A great feature of our democracy is that Ministers can explain themselves to the House. The strength of feeling over the health service is such that the Tánaiste must attend the House and give an opportunity to Members to express those feelings expressed by Senator Ulick Burke. Last year the Hanly report was published with its proposals for the health service, yet it seems to have been sidelined. A debate on the health services is needed.
A debate on the tourism industry is also needed. While Senator O'Toole is parochial in referring to the north side and south side of Dublin city when commenting on the Administration, I will also admit to being parochial on the tourism issue. We have not heard the findings of a PWC report on tourism, commissioned by Fáilte Éireann. This would be an ideal topic on which the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism could attend the House. There is a rumour that the ability to take the steps taken in the 1960s to divide tourism on a regional basis may not be as strong now. The objective then was to ensure tourism was not integrated at the top. The PWC report suggests the opposite. Dublin Tourism is in danger of being sidetracked and integrated with another agency, yet Dublin city is the third most popular city tourism destination in Europe. We must ensure a debate on tourism is on a specific topic, not just covering a general area.
It is urgent that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, come before the House. I regret that the provision of the second terminal at Dublin Airport has become a political football. The airport is most inefficient and incompetent. There is constant congestion and that is part of the security problem. The state of Dublin Airport and its lack of facilities are an embarrassment internationally.
Senator Brian Hayes raised the 2001 health strategy. He said it promised 600 primary health care centres but there are only ten pilot centres and one operational centre in Virginia. He asked that the Tánaiste be invited to the House to discuss her ten point plan. We will issue the invitation today. The health service is the main issue raised in this morning's debate.
Senator O'Toole referred to the odours on one side of the city that are generated by the other side of the city. I will not delve into that. He also mentioned low taxes. I have always been of the opinion that low taxes and world class services do not go together. The Senator also referred to the Great Southern Hotels. The Taoiseach has a great affection for the Great Southern Hotels and would wish them to stay in operation. Whether they should remain under the control of the Dublin Airport Authority, formerly Aer Rianta, is another matter. I agree that the hotels are fine facilities and should be retained.
Senator McDowell raised the health service issue and voiced his disquiet that the Mater Hospital is being put in the position of almost seeking alms. I am in two minds about the Joe Duffy radio show. People wish to express themselves, they are entitled to do so and he is a conduit for that. However, I had a great sense of unease at how the health service was perceived.
Senator Leyden mentioned Roscommon Hospital. Senator Finucane wants the Tánaiste to come to the House to outline her ten point plan. The issue of driving tests was also raised. Approximately 100,000 people are waiting for driving tests but just one person has been appointed in the past three or four years. Senator Kitt raised the health service and the out-of-hours doctor service. He believes accident and emergency services should not be privatised.
Senator Coghlan raised the Great Southern Hotels. He quoted Mr. McGann's opinion that the status quo is not an option. We will invite the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to the House to discuss that range of matters. I agree they are first-class hotels but apparently they are losing money. Senator Mansergh spoke about the excellent Tipperary health centre and the Great Southern Hotels. I accept his point that they are a vital asset but they are a little like an unwanted orphan. Previously, they were part of the CIE organisation. They were then part of CERT before becoming part of Aer Rianta. Now, the Dublin Airport Authority does not want them. They will have to be put in a situation where they will be well managed.
Senator Norris talked about the media event surrounding the health service and pointed out that brawling drunken people are making a mockery of accident and emergency services. He then proceeded to an issue which the Cathaoirleach does not want us to discuss.
I agree. I am delighted that Westmeath did not fudge the issue. Senator MacSharry raised the regional tourism boards and the recent PWC report on the industry. That would be a useful debate but it could be broadened to include other tourism matters.
Senator Coonan raised the health service and referred to the case of a young boy who is awaiting a replacement wheelchair. Senator Brennan commended Shannon Airport on embracing the new era it faces and asked that the Minister be invited to the House to discuss it. Senator Ross thought it a laudable and meaningful gesture that people were responding to the crisis in the health service in the best way they could. He also referred to security at Dublin Airport. I agree with the Senator. I do not care how long I must wait if I can be sure I will be safe. If cutting costs means that security is compromised, it is the wrong approach. The Senator said yesterday that the culture in Dublin Airport remains the same. People demonised Noel Hanlon as the root of all evils at Dublin Airport but it appears that things have not changed.
Yes. I am sure he will take solace from that.
Senator Moylan sought a debate on the health service, the Great Southern Hotels and Aer Rianta. Senator Ulick Burke related the incident that occurred at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening and subsequent events at Galway Regional Hospital. He said it describes the health service in rural areas. Senator Quinn referred to the strength of feeling about the health service about which there is great concern. People are beginning to feel trapped and are wondering what will happen. Ill health affects everybody. We will invite the Tánaiste to come to the House and I am sure she will accept. The Senator also sought a discussion on the PWC report on tourism and mentioned Dublin Tourism in that context.
Senator White raised the provision of the second terminal at Dublin Airport. We will invite the Minister, Deputy Cullen, to come to the House to discuss it.