Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Prisons Bill 2006 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 4 p.m.; No.2, Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 — Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.30 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons to be 15 minutes, those of all other Senators ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; No. 3, Pharmacy Bill 2007 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 9 p.m., with contributions of spokespersons to be 15 minutes, those of all other Senators ten minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage; and No. 4, Roads Bill 2007 — Committee Stage, to be taken at 9 p.m. and to conclude no later than 10.30 p.m.
One of the lessons all Members of the House believed had been learned from the Judge Curtin affair was that there was a need to put in place legislation for a judicial council, a code of ethics for judges and a fair and open system of investigating complaints made about judicial conduct. That was recommended by a report of Mr. Justice Keane as far back as 1995 and the Government said it would take such legislation through both Houses but I now learn that it will not see the light of day before the end of this session. Can the Government put on the record of this House why this legislation is not forthcoming? There has been media speculation that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has not brought it forward because he has yet to receive from the Chief Justice a full submission on a proposal he made some years ago. The Houses of the Oireachtas have been in dereliction of their duty in respect of this issue for many years and it will be appalling not to have dealt with the issue some 13 or 14 years after the first case was brought to our attention.
In 1977 a commitment was given that a minimum of 3% of those employed in the public sector would be people with a disability. Information has been given to me in the past few days to the effect that one third of local authorities, some 30 years after that commitment, have yet to reach that minimum threshold, though in some excellent local authorities 5% or 6% of employees have disabilities. If we are serious about the Disability Act 2005 and the sectoral plans the public sector must lead by example because the private sector will not do so. We must ensure the threshold is enforced throughout all local authorities.
I wish to make a correction to what I said earlier and to apologise to Senators Brian Hayes and Ulick Burke. The Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 — Second Stage, will be taken at 5 p.m. The Roads Bill 2007 — Committee Stage, is to be taken at 9 p.m. to conclude no later than 9.30 p.m. I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to make that correction and the apology.
The House will have noticed today that the first major decision of the recently partially privatised Aer Lingus was to increase prices for luggage and other items. I make the point to remind Senators that some in the House argued that its privatisation would make the industry more competitive and drive prices down. When we set up the new structures in Eircom we had great hopes for what it would achieve but finished up with a duopoly instead of a monopoly and a couple of dozen new multimillionaires, as well as the most expensive call costs in Europe.
In addition, broadband is unavailable to half the country. It is very important to bear that in mind. Does anybody seriously believe that divesting the ESB of its network of wires and distribution will somehow create more competitiveness and make it cheaper for the consumer? When people in the trade union movement raise questions about this they come from bitter experience. I would like a debate on where we are going with regard to this issue. Members on the other side of the House have given serious thought to the subject and will be aware that one of the issues focused on in the White Paper on energy is security of supply. How does divesting the ESB of its distribution network create security of supply? This academic, theoretical model of competition, which we tried to apply to the two cases to which I referred, just does not work. I ask for a debate so that Members can give their honest views, based on their experience of what they have seen in other places. I do not have a problem if somebody can convince me this is the way to proceed. I am of the view that it is being done for academic and cosmetic reasons and in a way which indicates that we are doing it properly. As regards the latter, experience shows that the opposite is the case. This is not the way to go.
I enthusiastically support Senator O'Toole's pragmatic view on how we should do things. Insanity is being piled upon insanity in this country. For example, there are proposals to break up the VHI because it has too large a share of the market. At the same time, however, a company involved in the provision of cable television is about to develop a monopoly throughout the entire country. I presume that ten years from now some genius from the Competition Authority will propose that the company in question should be broken up because of the lack of competition.
Would it be possible to consider what works in other countries and adopt it as a model to be used here instead of allowing people who have barely any work experience in the private sector and who possess particular ideological views to hold dominant positions in bodies such as the Competition Authority? The Health Service Executive is obliged to negotiate with individual pharmacies regarding the provision of drugs, either under the GMS or the drugs repayment scheme, because the IPU is not permitted to negotiate collectively on behalf of pharmacies. We have been pushed up this cul de sac as a result of the idiocy of the Competition Authority. Senator O'Toole is correct in that we desperately need a debate in which we can be informed as to why people believe these things will work because they have not done so up to now.
Second Stage of a major item of legislation, the Pharmacy Bill, which has been fairly well received, is being taken today. However, I discovered that I was supposed to have tabled my Committee Stage amendments by 11 a.m. today. The Bill will not be formally introduced until this evening. We are not going to stand for that sort of behaviour. I do not wish to mention names but those responsible for this development informed the person who assists me in drafting amendments that my amendments should have been tabled by 11 a.m. today. On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to state that I will not accept such behaviour. I do not introduce amendments until I have heard the relevant Minister make his or her initial contribution and also his or her reply to Second Stage.
I can only report to the House what was indicated to me by people whom I believe to know what they are saying. I am not trying to start a row, I am merely placing on the record what was said to me.
This is the fourth anniversary of perhaps the worst decision taken by an American President during my adult life, namely, the invasion of Iraq. I do not wish to let the opportunity pass to mention the 150,000 to 800,000 Iraqi civilians who have died because of one man's obsession with another's dictatorship, the appalling carnage that has happened and, perhaps, the destruction of the reputations of a good man in Britain and a less saintly one in the United States.
When one refers to the health services in this House, one sounds like a broken record. This country has good reason to boast about its achievements in the areas of infant mortality and maternal mortality. However, it has emerged that a major maternity hospital is delaying women's first antenatal visits because there are insufficient numbers of consultants and midwives and this shows that one further part of the health service is beginning to fall apart. It has also emerged that another hospital has stopped taking urological appointments because people are being obliged to spend two years on the waiting list. Apparently, in order that the figures can be fiddled, one cannot have waiting lists of longer than two years. Therefore, they just do not accept any more appointments and the people are now being redirected to another hospital which, presumably, will shortly have a two-year waiting list as well. We know why there are problems. There are not enough urologists, midwives and gynaecologists. We know all this and nothing is happening. We must start a rolling debate in the House on the health services because every week yet another mess arrives on our plates.