Tuesday, 31 May 2005
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the aviation action plan to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than five minutes before the conclusion of the statements; No. 2, Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill 2004 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m.; and No. 3, Disability Bill 2004, Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed 20 minutes.
Will the Leader make time available this week for an emergency debate about the disgraceful revelations in the programme on RTE last night concerning a nursing home? While the programme focused on one nursing home and most homes, private and public, are run in an exemplary manner, there is widespread public concern following last night's programme. It is clear that we need a statutory independent inspectorate which can issue reports in a more transparent way than is done by the Health Service Executive. Does the Leader agree that the health authorities should have the power to close down nursing homes which clearly are in contravention of public health regulations and regulations governing treatment of the elderly? This is a very serious matter which has exercised the country since the airing of last night's programme. The Minister of State with responsibility for the elderly should come into the House before the end of the week to make a statement on the matter.
I ask all Members on all sides who have expressed views in connection with the ratification process of the European constitutional treaty to hold their fire and not take up entrenched positions in advance of the Council meeting in mid-June when all member state Prime Ministers will gather to discuss the position after the French decision. Clearly, the French "No" vote, is a body blow to the treaty. We need time to reflect on it and see the consequences. Irrespective of one's position on the treaty, 90% of what is in the treaty is already in place in existing treaties. That will continue in place irrespective of the other 10% which is new. We need to learn from the decision in France and consider the anticipated domino effect — the objective that one country's support would lead to ratification in other countries. That will become unstuck now. I ask Members not to take up strong entrenched positions in advance of the mid-June meeting between all the EU Prime Ministers and leaders.
I join Senator Brian Hayes in asking for a debate on nursing homes' treatment of the elderly and congratulate a former Member, now Deputy O'Dowd, who was crucially involved in this matter. I say that because he is a former Member of this House and a fine politician not from any partisan view because there are many on the other side who are equally concerned and have a professional commitment in this area. It was very worrying to see the development of bed sores. Last night's broadcast was an excellent informational programme on which RTE should be congratulated for having taken the risk. Attempts were made to prevent RTE showing it. The programme highlighted issues such as the development of bed sores. Most people just assumed, as I did, that bed sores develop automatically in certain circumstances when people are old but the experts said there is absolutely no reason for them if people are turned in their beds in the proper way. We have learned a great deal from the programme, which was quite shocking.
We should consider legislation in this area as we must strengthen the inspectorate. What is the point of giving warnings to those who are inspecting? If it is announced in advance that inspectors are coming to inspect a nursing home, one blows one's chances of finding anything wrong. A nursing home has never been fined or closed although there are 30 nursing homes against which there are complaints. I do not believe this is confined to private nursing homes. Those elderly persons in the care of the State need to be looked after also because I know there are problems in that area, partly because of understaffing, pressure being exerted on people and so on. One could not say that in the case of private nursing homes charging €45,000 per year. I would expect to get cocktails at 4 p.m. and to be turned every half an hour if I so decided.
As this is an issue that affects all of us, either directly or through our relatives, the Seanad should properly consider it.
I wish to raise one further item, a bank robbery involving a shooting in Navan, because it is a most interesting situation and one that should give pause for thought. People are horrified by the increase in gun crime. I trace it all back to the so-called republican community because it helped to introduce guns and drugs into this country but that does not mean we cannot examine the position. It is very important to examine the situation. I was horrified to listen to the unending stream of gloating calls to the radio which said the gardaí should have shot them all. The callers had no sympathy for the families but the families may not have had anything whatever to do with it and they are human beings.
I also feel great sympathy for the gardaí who are decent, fine people. I understand one garda was in tears which is a very human response. However, when there is a situation where no shot was fired from the other side and several shots came from Garda sources, it is in the interests both of the Garda Síochána and the citizens of this country that there should be an independent inquiry. Otherwise we will be told that what we have in the South is a shoot to kill policy——
The Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, said in a newspaper article in reference to Deputy Costello:
As if to add insult to injury, Costello referred to the Lusk shootings with the extraordinary phrase: "Where people die as a result of Garda action, there must be a proper procedure for an independent investigation into such incidents. Is this how Costello and the Labour Party perceive what happened" and so on.
I endorse what others have said on the subject of nursing homes. What we saw last night was deeply shocking. This situation was inevitable, given the utterly chaotic way in which nursing home places and nursing homes have been dealt with in the past number of years. The former Minister for Finance, Mr. Charlie McCreevy, put in place a tax break and the creation of places has been driven entirely by the need to get bricks and mortar in place before a certain date and not by any planning nor any assessment of the available staff, nor by any assessment of the need in a particular area. There are now too many places in some parts of the country and too few in others. There are also too few public places everywhere and inadequate staff numbers in most of the country. This type of abuse arises because of the lack of an adequate inspectorate. It is high time we had a proper debate on the subject in this House and in the other House.
I also largely agree with what has been said by Senator Brian Hayes about the result of the French referendum on the EU constitution. In the next few weeks or months it will be necessary, as has been said by the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Jack Straw, to reflect on whether this is the appropriate way to ratify the treaty. We thought we might organise a virtuous domino effect but we are very likely to produce a negative effect instead. At the very least we are looking at a situation where getting the treaty ratified by even those countries that seem willing to do so will lead to a measure of atrophy in the workings of the EU Commission and the European Union in the next two years as we struggle from one referendum to the next. We must consider what is to be done.
I ask the Leader to convey our congratulations to the newly-appointed French ambassador and through him to the newly-appointed Prime Minister of France, Dominique de Villepin. I attended a lecture which he gave in Dublin Castle last year, as did other Members of the House. He is a man of great knowledge, notwithstanding his politics. He also knows a great deal about Ireland and he could reasonably be called a friend of Ireland.
Over the past several weeks there have been calls in the House for debates on lawlessness and crime because people are rightly concerned about these issues. With regard to the incident at Lusk, the first and most important thing to say is that nobody wants to see the loss of human life in any circumstances. It is also important to say that members of the Garda Síochána are putting their lives on the line for the citizens of the State——
In many of the media reports subsequent to the event in Lusk it did not appear that this fact was taken into account. The House should express its gratitude to the gardaí for the way in which they look after us, the public and the State. There should be no compromise on that and to say it is not to be in any way unsympathetic to the loss of life. We must decry the loss of life and we await the reports that will be made on the incident. It is essential that the House reaffirms its support for the forces of law and order in the State.
On the matter of the French referendum on the EU constitution, the French people have spoken and it would be appropriate for us to reflect on and debate the outcome. The best time to do so would possibly be after we have considered the outcome of the ballot this week in the Netherlands and next month's EU Council of Ministers meeting. One of the difficulties is that such referendums are increasingly becoming votes of confidence in the government, which is being confused with the merits of the constitutional treaty. As one who is an enthusiast for the adoption of the constitutional treaty, I hope we will support it here.
We were all appalled by what we saw in the "Prime Time" programme last night from which serious issues clearly arise, most centrally related to the rights of patients. Having seen the programme it seemed that the rights of the patients had been trodden upon, which is not acceptable. We look forward to measures being introduced to deal effectively with the issues that were raised. In the face of a rapidly aging population it was appropriate to introduce measures to encourage investment in nursing homes. What takes place inside such homes is separate from the need for additional nursing home places.
I support what has been said by Senator Dardis. We have consistently linked the growth in criminality with drugs. Human life is no longer sacred, particularly in our urban areas. We have recently seen a big increase in the shootings of criminals. We must compliment the Garda, which is an unarmed force whose members consistently put their own lives at risk. The Minister recently allocated more than €6 million to Operation Anvil to try to tackle the problem and the incident in Lusk is a good example of tackling it. While we all regret the loss of human life, people who use pistols and other dangerous weaponry on an indiscriminate basis run the attendant risk of others being armed. This incident has resonated with people, which is why they have empathised with the Garda on radio phone-in programmes. The people are sick and tired of the level of criminality in the country and want it to be rooted out. We must show solidarity with the Garda in this situation.
I fully support a debate on private nursing homes. The mission statement for the Leas Cross nursing home claims: "The care we provide to our customers is second to none." It claims to have in-house medical consultants and its website states: "We listen to our residents . . . if there is anything extra they need we provide it for them." The website also claims: "We provide residential care of the highest quality for those seeking a pleasant retirement. We listen to our residents and are constantly seeking to improve our service." Last night's programme showed evidence of psychological and physical abuse which is disgraceful. People who watched the programme were moved to tears.
I commend those involved in the making of the "Prime Time" programme. I also commend the Minister of State for calling on the Garda to carry out an investigation and press charges against those engaged in the psychological warfare carried out against those old people, which was despicable.
I ask the Leader to arrange an emergency debate on the matter. On the Lusk situation, I compliment and support the Garda Síochána, which defends our rights and integrity. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Would we have preferred a member of the Garda Síochána to have been murdered last week, rather than people who are prepared to take guns in their hands and shoot other people?
Like everyone in this House, I would regret anyone losing his or her life, but if people armed with guns turn up in a post office or a Garda station to shoot members of the Garda Síochána at will, the latter have no option but to defend themselves and our interests. Last Monday, one of the post offices near the county council was robbed——
I share the concerns regarding the situation in Lusk and compliment the gardaí. Like Senator Hayes and others, I am also worried about nursing homes. We are all agreed that last night's programme revealed an appalling situation that shows a clear need for regulation and inspectors to ensure proper standards.
With the Cathaoirleach's permission, I would like to ask the Leader about the agreement between the National Parks and Wildlife Service and a Dutch university regarding research to be conducted in Killarney National Park. I am aware of growing concern among conservationists and wildlife officers about the impact on the habitat and wildlife in the park. Ostensibly it is research into sustainable tourism. I would like to hear more about it and ask that the Leader request a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche.
I too would like to raise the issue of nursing homes, which was dealt with in last night's "Prime Time" programme. It is of great concern to see how the elderly are being treated. I agree with other Senators, particularly regarding the role of next of kin, which those concerned are obviously neglecting. I would like the Leader to take into account the question of prior notice. There are various agencies in this country, such as the Criminal Assets Bureau and the special investigations unit in the Department of Agriculture and Food, which have the power to swoop on those whom they seek to govern without notice. It is a crazy situation that we grant that kind of notice to people betraying the elderly, destroying their lives in the way that we saw last night. That they should get prior notice, allowing them to clean up their act a few days in advance, while we facilitate people turning up at farmers' gates to deal with issues immediately is crazy.
When we read in the newspaper or hear on the radio of raids such as that which happened in Lusk, we are frightened and motivated to do something about them. Last Thursday night, two armed gangsters raided one of my supermarkets with balaclavas and sawn-off shotguns. One meets the people who had to go through that, talks to them because one knows them and hears of their experiences, and then realises that this was the 30th raid in the area in the past month — I am not sure that the figure is exact, but I am told it is approximately that. On the same night, another gang, without revolvers but with syringes, raided another supermarket. I mention this because it reminds us of the horror and frequency of what is happening, of which I was unaware.
Last year a proposal was made that a Taser — a gun that sends electric shocks but does not kill — should be introduced. There was an outcry because it was considered completely unsuitable. When one compares using real guns and Tasers, one sees that we must change our attitudes in the way we did following the death of Veronica Guerin. We passed laws and did things that we had not done before to stop the drug barons. We must now give serious consideration to the issue. The fault is our own, as a nation and as legislators, and we must do something about it.
I support my colleagues who condemned the practices in that particular nursing home. As someone who worked in that profession for some years, it was flabbergasting that the problem of pressure sores was so extensive. It is one of the most basic nursing procedures and there are many mechanical apparatuses that contribute to the prevention of pressure sores, such as ripple beds, roto-rest beds and so on. However, it is the professionals working in that home who puzzle me. They should be called before the fitness to practise committee. I have long stated that there should be an inspectorate of hospitals and nursing homes.
Even where there were public beds, no right was extended to health board members to visit those institutions.
Following the incident in Lusk last week, I would like to affirm my total support for the gardaí. Anybody who goes into a post office with a loaded gun goes in to murder. That has been proven time and again as the concept of self-preservation kicks in. He that loveth the danger shall perish therein.
I agree with all of those who expressed their shock at the programme broadcast last night. The way in which we care for our elderly people reflects the type of society in which we live. When families research a nursing home and pay money to have their elderly parents looked after, they are entitled to the best of care. When the State entrusts someone to the care of a nursing home, it is obliged to ensure that person is cared for properly. The Minister must put in place the regulations necessary to ensure we get the best of care for our elderly people. We were told this morning that legislation would be in place by next spring, but we cannot wait that long. We do not want any more elderly people placed in danger and what we saw last night is happening in other nursing homes.
I support those who seek a debate on nursing homes. The Minister should look at the situation that pertains in Northern Ireland, where a social services inspectorate carries out scheduled inspections and spot checks. We do not need to wait for regulations because many of these people are placed there by the health boards.
The health boards have a contract and they can put whatever conditions they want in the contract.
It seems there is a necessity for the relevant Minister to bring forward legislation on the regulation of charities. We were promised this some time ago. I support the position of Senators Dardis and Minihan on the gardaí. It is unreasonable to expect a garda to wait until he is shot before he can respond. These events make an unanswerable case for the establishment of a Garda ombudsman who would move in quickly and provide an important independent judgment on whether this was done properly or not.
I called for a debate two weeks ago on the neglect of our elderly in light of a report published at the time. What we witnessed last night was absolutely appalling and something will have to be done about it urgently. I call for the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990 to be amended urgently and an independent inspectorate to be put in place. It is right that we compliment RTE on the programme. It was investigative journalism at its best.
I compliment the gardaí who placed their lives on the line during the robbery in Lusk. Gardaí do so on our behalf every day in the course of their duties. I agree with Senator Maurice Hayes that the existence of a Garda ombudsman would offer the best means of investigating incidents such as this.
I wish to take up the point raised by Senator Brian Hayes. In small countries like Ireland, citizens realise fully what it means to be part of a partnership such as the EU. The Union provides us with protection and opportunities. One element of that partnership is the European Court of Human Rights. I am pleased that this court will next month examine allegations of British collusion in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The Justice for the Forgotten group is to be complimented on its perseverance on behalf of its members' loved ones. The group contends that the British authorities did not provide information to the Irish inquiry because that information would demonstrate the extent of collusion by the British army and the RUC with loyalist terrorist gangs. I hope we will give the group every support in its case before the European Court of Human Rights.
We must examine the issue of how nursing homes are defined. Difficulties arise for those involved in their management because they are currently classified neither as commercial properties nor as hospitals. I brought a case to the attention of the House some months ago of a nursing home in Carlow which had a substation for a telecommunications company located in its premises. The nursing home was in receipt of €50,000 over five years for facilitating the substation but no action could be taken against it because there was no formal definition as to whether the home was a commercial property or a hospital. The situation must be clarified because the patients in this instance were exposed to risks from the associated equipment.
Will the Leader agree to a debate on the function of regulators? We learn today that landing charges are set to increase and will be regulated by the aviation regulator. It seems regulators serve merely to sanction proposed price increases instead of querying and perhaps rejecting them as they should. This is especially the case in regard to the ESB given that the Commission for Energy Regulation has allowed prices to increase four times in recent months. This is not the purpose of a regulator.
I support Members' comments on the nursing home situation. However, the question must be raised as to whether the families of those resident in the Leas Cross nursing home were aware of any problems in regard to the treatment received by their relatives. I congratulate the gardaí who by their actions during the robbery in Lusk have preserved other lives.
I welcome this week's debate on the rights of those with disabilities. It is important that we should also have a debate as soon as possible on the rights of the elderly. It is clear following last night's television programme that this is a question of human rights. Action must be taken to provide more State beds. There are many applications from the former health boards and the HSE to the Department of Health and Children seeking the provision of more beds. I hope such provision will be made soon.
I congratulate RTE on last night's programme. In regard to the cost of private nursing home care, it is necessary to examine the issue of the nursing home subvention. It seems nursing homes in the east receive approximately three times the subvention paid to those in the west. It is time this situation was reviewed.
Senator Brian Hayes raised last night's programme on nursing homes and the need for an independent inspectorate. I concur with his assertion that, while the HSE is not currently permitted under the 1990 Act to close nursing homes immediately, it should have this right. Situations are often so awful as to require knee-jerk responses. Last night's programme revealed terrible acts of vandalism on people. Like Senator Terry, I am unsure whether we can wait for action until next spring. Emergency legislation should be introduced to allow the health authorities to respond.
The 1990 Act provides a framework for appropriate amendments in order to strengthen legislation in this area. I was reminded of man's inhumanity to man and events of the last world war, including Dachau. However, these events, which went beyond unkindness, took place in this city and possibly in other locations. People were badly treated despite relatives paying significant sums of money for care. We should keep in our minds the image of the woman who was being changed. She was treated recklessly and in an awful manner.
Senator Brian Hayes also asked that we would not express trenchant opinions on the EU constitutional treaty before the next Council meeting takes place. By that time, wise heads will have worked through this matter.
Senator Norris also discussed the nursing homes issue and called for legislation to be strengthened. I would like to embrace the whistleblowers rather than the programme makers for revealing situations about which we should all be aware. The Senator also complimented the Garda on the shootings in Lusk.
Senator McDowell claimed that some nursing homes are chaotic and have inadequate and untrained staff. It is clear that improper health care is provided. He also raised the EU constitution and congratulated the new French Prime Minister whose appointment followed quickly on the previous incumbent being booted out of office after the referendum.
Senator Dardis expressed his gratitude to the gardaí who put their lives on the line in Lusk and his regret at the loss of life. Any comment on this matter should include such regrets. No one glories in death. The Senator noted the vote of the French people and the rights of patients involved in the nursing home scandal.
I remember that Senator Finucane previously raised the matter of criminality and the identification of people. Senator Leyden called for an emergency debate on the nursing home issue and expressed his support for the Garda. I did not know of the post office raid which he mentioned. Senator Coghlan commented on the nursing home issue and asked about the status of the research into the national parks and wildlife service.
Senator Dooley raised the issue of prior notice for nursing home inspections. A cigire can go into schools without giving such notice. Advance notice of inspection should not be given to anybody who runs a service. The only way we can find out what is happening is if an inspector can call in whenever he or she wishes.
Senator Quinn spoke about his supermarket and others which were raided. It is only when one speaks to people who have been in such circumstances that one becomes truly aware of the panic and great worry which arise.
Senator Glynn spoke about the "Prime Time" programme on nursing homes and the need for an inspectorate to visit them. While the Senator said procedures and equipment were available to deal with medical problems, the owners of the homes in question were not interested in that. They were interested only in money — the bucks in their fists — and piled in beds and employed inadequate numbers of staff to that end. Senator Terry also expressed her shock at the programme. The problem is with public and private nursing homes, all of which should be subject to extensive scrutiny.
Senator Morrissey spoke about nursing homes and the need for legislation on charities, with which I agree. It often strikes one that the significant sums raised by charities suggest a need for regulation. The Senator supported Senator Dardis on the Garda and spoke of the need for a Garda ombudsman. The House has passed the Garda Síochána Bill, which embodies the proposal for a Garda ombudsman. The Bill is before the Dáil, though I do not know on what Stage.
Senator Cummins called for an independent inspectorate of nursing homes, which I remember him raising in the House previously. He said gardaí place their lives on the line, which is true on a daily basis.
Senator Ó Murchú said we should continue to support the Justice for the Forgotten campaign. Senator Browne said a telecommunications substation had been situated at a nursing home in Carlow, something of which I am not aware. He also spoke about regulators. It is better to have regulators. If there were a nursing homes regulator——
No. The aviation regulator, Mr. Bill Prasifka, does not simply increase rates, but examines the background to each application. Proper safety measures and security regulations at airports cost money. As one cannot skimp, it is better to be regulated than not. While I acknowledge that people have arguments about big government, we cannot have it every way. If we want regulation of services, we have to pay for it.
Senator Kate Walsh referred to the nursing homes scandal and paid tribute to the Garda. Senator Kitt spoke about the rights of the elderly. We say a great deal about the rights of various groupings, of which the elderly are the least able to stand up for themselves. I agree that more beds are needed. Senator Kitt also said nursing homes in the east receive approximately three times the subvention paid to those in the west.
Senator White was very generous in congratulating the Labour Party and, in particular, Senator O'Meara on her child care initiative. People should watch out. They heard it here first that Senator White will soon be bursting into print on the matter.