Thursday, 7 February 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the 70th anniversary of the Constitution (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 15 minutes, those of other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and Senators may share time.
That is agreed.
Last weekend, eight people died on our roads. Everybody saw the pictures of the horrific accidents on their television screens. On many occasions Senators on all sides of the House have raised the issue of road safety. We were assured that the Government intended to take tough action in this regard and that there would be greater commitment to road safety, both financially and otherwise. However, yesterday the chairman of the Road Safety Authority, Mr. Gay Byrne, painted a picture of the Government's attitude to road safety which seemed to be more a case of passing the buck than showing leadership and determination. I am amazed to read his comments in today's Irish Independent. He stated, "I am merely registering the fact that I have had no official reply from the Minister of Transport, Justice or Finance....". He said he had been passed from the Department of Transport to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and on to the Department of Finance in an effort to roll out a nationwide network of 600 private speed cameras.
If this is the way the chairman of the Road Safety Authority is being treated by the Government, what priority is being given to road safety and speed cameras? Is it merely words, not actions? That is so often the case with this Government — the words are spoken but the follow-up and money are not put in place. Once the crisis is passed, the issue is forgotten. How can the chairman of the Road Safety Authority be treated this way with regard to what he was told was a priority issue for 2006? It now appears it will be 2009 before the speed cameras are in place.
There are a number of other aspects of the road safety issue which received much attention a few months ago. One of them is driving tests. The Minister for Transport put his reputation on the line when he said driving tests would be available on demand by June. Can I bring to the attention of the House the latest figures which are available? There are waiting times of 40 weeks in Clifden, 35 weeks in Raheny, 31 weeks in Wicklow and Roscommon, 30 weeks in Ennis, 29 weeks in Loughrea and 20 weeks in Tallaght. Where is the improvement? How can learner drivers get their driving tests done in time — before the changes are made — when the waiting lists are so long? What action has been taken? Will the Minister resign? He said his reputation would be on the line if changes were not made by June. I ask the Leader to get back to the House about this aspect of road safety. Will this Government promise be delivered? It does not look as if it can be delivered, on the basis of the figures I have outlined.
I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Transport about the number of foreign drivers on our roads. We have to be careful not to stereotype foreign drivers by saying they are involved in proportionately more accidents. The Government has not taken steps to ensure that road signs are made available in languages other than English, which would be a practical thing to do. Such signs would be of assistance when people from other countries are driving from Dublin Airport to the M50, for example. It is difficult enough for any of us to negotiate the M50. This is a real issue. The recently updated road safety booklet was published in English only. Such matters need to be examined. I am sure specific initiatives could be taken to assist international drivers who come to Ireland and, possibly, make it less likely that they are involved in accidents. Action is needed in respect of each of the three road safety issues I have mentioned.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald's remarks on road safety, which is being discussed throughout the country at present. The Leader has made time available for debates on this issue in the past. It might be worth discussing it again. It should be recognised that simple things can be done to improve road safety, but they are not being done. It does not take rocket science to do some of them. The current driving test does not involve an overtaking manoeuvre. We are putting people on the roads whose overtaking abilities have never been tested, in effect. It is complete madness that the test does not cover night driving, or driving at speeds of more than 40 km/h. All kinds of problems are being created on our roads as a result.
I would like to mention some related issues, which I have raised previously. It is clear that there should be separate speed limits for wet and dry road conditions. One sees two speed limits on road signs all over the Continent — one for wet weather and one for dry weather. Why can we not do the same? Most countries do not allow drivers to turn right off a main road. Perhaps we should no longer have traffic lights which go amber before they go red. Alternative traffic light sequences should be provided for night time, when a significant number of accidents take place. People who know they have the right of way sometimes collide with those who have broken the lights while travelling in the opposite direction. I suggest that traffic lights on all sides should flash amber throughout the night, so everybody approaches every junction carefully before passing through.
I could put before the House a list of 20 simple proposals which any reasonable and rational person would accept. The first thing I would do is ensure people cannot pass the driving test until they have shown they can overtake and understand the speed of their cars. Drivers who flash their lights at people who are overtaking with a mile and a half of clear road in front of them have no idea of the speed the other car is doing. The House should have a discussion on these issues.
As today is the first day of the Chinese new year, it is appropriate for us to give some thought to the hundreds of millions of people who are suffering under the most repressive regime in the western world, if it can be called the western world — they hope to be in the western world. We are doing business with these people. We are sending them our waste. We are closing our eyes to the repression that is going on. I refer to forced organ harvesting and family planning, for example. There is a lack of human rights in China. There is no Opposition. A million other repressive things are happening there. It is not a very happy new year for 99% of the Chinese population. In this year of the Chinese Olympics, when we will cheer the great buildings we will see on our televisions, we should give some consideration to people in China who are dying in the wilderness and not being allowed to live with normal human rights.
I concur with the comments of Senators Fitzgerald and O'Toole on the issue of driving tests. I am concerned that a recent report showed that nine of every ten road deaths are caused by careless driving. That just goes to show the issue with which we are dealing. There is a staggering level of backlog for driving tests throughout the country. The Minister said he had put his neck on the line. He promised that everybody would know about it by June. He accepted that the reputation of the Road Safety Authority was also at stake. The Taoiseach has a decision to make because the backlog will not be met. I do not doubt that the waiting time will not be reduced to ten weeks. The waiting time in my local area has increased by nine weeks — it is not decreasing. What will happen? We need some measurability, accountability and benchmarks from the Government. In fairness to the Minister, he has set his own benchmark. We respected that benchmark by giving the Minister time to achieve it, but it now looks like it will not be achieved. What will happen? I would like to know the answer.
I agree with Senator O'Toole that the driving test needs to be overhauled for various reasons. I also agree that the language difficulties being experienced by foreign drivers need to be addressed. There are other considerations in relation to the test. We should consider restricting the size of the engines of cars which may be driven by those who have passed their tests within the previous two years. We should consider such a change when we are examining this issue in the future. I believe it has been done in other countries. I am also concerned about the manner in which Mr. Gay Byrne claims to have been treated recently. He has said that various Ministers have put him on a merry-go-round. If he is getting such treatment, it is a sign of the Government's intentions on this issue. We can tell how seriously it is being treated.
I have spoken previously about the issue of workers' rights, which has become a common theme since the economic downturn began. I read today about a man from Pakistan who worked in a restaurant in Dublin for 60 hours a week but was paid just €50, which is an absolute disgrace. We heard about the Irish Ferries case and we know what the Irish Hotels Federation is doing. The lack of respect shown to workers' rights in the service and tourism industries has to stop. The restaurant in this case has not been named for legal reasons, but I would love to know its name. I think we would all like to know where such a disgraceful thing happened. The man in question, who was supported by the State and the Labour Relations Commission, has been awarded compensation of €116,000 and has found a new job. The Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism should comment on this case. The service and tourism industries need to ensure they do not get a bad name. The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation should make a statement on this issue, making it clear that the most vulnerable people in society should not be exploited in an industry that depends on people with low skill levels to keep going.
I would like to comment on the looming financial crisis that is faced by farmers, particularly those with small or medium sized holdings. Most farmers are awaiting their REPS payments. A recent EU directive stated that the REPS payment should be included with the single farm payment near the end of the year. As a result, farmers are now facing a serious cash flow problem. It is proposed that REPS payments should be made in conjunction with single farm payments, probably in October. If any of us were to get the majority of our income in a single payment at any point in the year, we would have to engage in some serious financial wizardry to make our cash flow systems work. I ask the Leader to liaise with the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, to see whether a derogation can be achieved from the requirement that the single farm payment and the REPS payment be received in one lump sum. As a result of the directive, approximately 500 farmers throughout the country who made their most recent REPS applications last November might not be paid for up to 12 months from the date of the application, in October of November of this year. That is creating a major cash flow crisis for them. Many farmers have made serious capital, or financial, inputs into their farm holdings to be eligible for REPS payments. They are now lumbered with some serious loans on their books as a result. They need cash to be able to service their loans. I ask the Leader to liaise with the Minister to see if some resolution to this crisis can be found.
I join with Senator Fitzgerald and other speakers in raising the issue of road safety. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport here because it is alarming that, according to today's Irish Independent, the road safety chief, Mr. Gay Byrne, stated, "It looks like we will go right through 2008 with no speed cameras, and this makes the members of the board very tetchy and makes me very tetchy." Before 2004 we were promised speed cameras. It is 2008 and we have nothing. The NRA claims responsibility for road provision and if one raises an issue here one is told it is the NRA's responsibility. The Minister is conveniently passing the buck. If that is how he treats the chairman he appointed, what does that say about how he treats the people who require, deserve and demand proper road safety? The Government is tired and jaded and has no interest except being in power. That is the bottom line.
Last December we were promised in the budget that funding would be provided, and it was not. We were told to wait for the Finance Bill but it is not in the Finance Bill. I am disappointed in the Members opposite who have not the voice to be heard in Government. They should be ashamed of themselves.
We have had much talk on road safety. We need to ensure many of the bangers brought into the country from eastern Europe and which are being driven by eastern Europeans who, in many cases, have neither tax nor insurance, are taken off the road by the Garda. The Garda must up the ante on the vehicles many of these people drive. In some areas it is being done and I hope it becomes nationwide. It is one way of dealing with the situation. In last weekend's road accidents the non-national involvement was very high and in all cases they were in the wrong. We also have a problem with road manners and we see it every day. People are not living within the rules of the road on many occasions.
What progress has been made on my request during the last session for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come into the House to discuss the last boundary commission report which savaged a number of counties? I note there is no legislation on the boundary commission report planned for this term. If it is not dealt with before there is legislation we will see every county cut in pieces and what have been seen as natural boundaries for years will be done away with. A judgment was given by the High Court in June last year which left tolerance levels very low. When the Constitution was drafted it was aimed at ensuring every area would have proper representation. We need this debate. The Leader might also tell us whether the Minister proposes to bring in the new electoral commission to deal with all electoral matters. If he does not propose to do so urgently we might propose it in this House, even if it means bringing in a Private Members' Bill.
When Mr. Gay Byrne accepted the position of chairman of the Road Safety Authority I welcomed it in this House. I said the Minister for Transport will not allow Mr. Byrne to resign because the Minister did not perform what he promised he would. I read the newspaper today and Mr. Byrne's use of the interesting word "tetchy" is close to resignation. The Minister will find it difficult to hold his head up and say he has not provided the 600 speed cameras he promised. If Mr. Byrne resigns due to this it will be a scandal for the Minister given the number of road deaths that take place that are technically within his hands. The technology for speed cameras exists. They do not catch people speeding at a single point. They identify a car at one point, and if it reaches a second point in a time that indicates it exceeded the speed limit, the driver is caught speeding even if he or she slows down while passing the cameras. The Minister knows the technology exists and it is up to him to do something, otherwise the scandal of road deaths is on his hands.
I wish to raise the position on donor organ transplants. In France, when a person dies his or her organs are automatically taken to be available for use in transplants unless that person has declared that he or she does not wish them to be used. People are on dialysis and waiting for organ transplants. In Ireland we have not taken that step but it is worthwhile considering. It would be the opposite to the position we have here. Unless a person carries a donor card that agrees his or her organs can be taken, they cannot be used without the permission of the next of kin. It is the other way around in France, and Britain is considering adopting that system. We should consider it here because it will decrease the number of people waiting for transplants.
I applaud the declaration of interest in the next Presidency from the other side of the House.
Most, if not all, Members of the House will welcome the Taoiseach's visit last Friday to Ballymena, the heartland of the DUP and the First Minister's constituency. Its symbolism and significance cannot be underestimated. In many ways it illustrates the progress of the peace process and how the harmonisation and cultivation of relations on this island have developed. The Taoiseach's contribution to that, his personality and his commitment and dedication to resolving the issue have been remarkable. His personality in gaining the confidence of the unionist tradition in particular has been remarkable.
I contrast that with the recent revelations to which Senator Norris and others alluded yesterday and which the chief constable of the PSNI has also mentioned, namely, the threat of the dissident republicans. Everybody here would love to see the day when we have a united Ireland where all the people of the island of all traditions come together to govern themselves and to ensure all elements of society develop as we would like. That will happen only through the type of initiative and effort made by the Taoiseach not through paramilitary activities, which have failed.
I hope the attributes the Taoiseach has brought to this will be with us and available for many years to come because we are at least five or six years from bedding down this process.
I ask the Leader, who is the spokesman on Northern Ireland, if he could arrange a debate on these issues at an early opportunity. The House should express its voice in support of the tremendous historic efforts that have been made by the Taoiseach and many others from all sides of these Houses.
Could I refer to the call for the roll-out of the speed cameras? If the speed cameras were rolled out today it would be a travesty of justice and would bring the laws into disrepute. Many of our speed limits are far too curtailing relative to the significant improvement in our roads. It is eight years since the chief executive of the NRA said at an Oireachtas committee meeting that the speed limit on the Arklow bypass, and one can now also add the Gorey bypass, which is a very high quality dual carriageway, would be increased to 120 km/h. That should happen as soon as possible and speed limits should be reviewed across the country before the imposition of speed cameras. Otherwise, it will be seen as a money-gathering exercise and will not gain the support of the public. Enforcement is essential but the laws must be realistic when enforcement is taking place in order to gain widespread support, which we all want.
Last week I raised the issue of the proposed primary care unit in Athlone and the Leader suggested that I had the same access to the HSE as he did. In that context, I duly contacted the HSE but the manager, who did his best to give me as good an answer as possible, said that the unit falls under a national directive. I ask the Leader, as a member of the Government, to find out from the HSE at national level when the primary care unit will commence operation. This has been ongoing since 1999. Land has been purchased but the people of Athlone are being treated with disdain.
I also contacted a different section of the HSE with regard to the budget for Mullingar Hospital and the allocation of funding for this year. I was told, in a very bland statement, that it would be the end of February before it was decided how the budget would be spent. I ask the Leader to intercede in this matter because many people are wondering about the discontinuation of ophthalmology, dentistry and other services at the hospital.
Yesterday I attended a very sad funeral of a constituent of mine, 15 year old Ian Evans, who suffered from cystic fibrosis. Ironically, I also read an article yesterday which said that people in Northern Ireland with cystic fibrosis had a life expectancy of ten years more than people living here. We must have a debate about cystic fibrosis in this House and how we treat those who suffer from the disease.
I have listened with interest to my colleagues' comments on road accident statistics and road safety. We should not underestimate the importance of a good set of tyres on a vehicle and the level of inspection carried out on tyre thread depth. We are often stopped for insurance and tax checks or to be breathalysed, but it is very seldom that one is stopped for a safety check on the tyre thread depth. This is a crucial issue and I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the appropriate authorities. I also congratulate Ógra Fianna Fáil for highlighting this issue in its current road safety programme.
The issue of pharmacies was mentioned by many Senators yesterday. I raised the matter on the Order of Business previously and have also raised it at parliamentary party level. I welcome the support expressed for the community pharmacists. However, the substantive issue is the mechanism available to community pharmacists for engagement with the HSE. The pharmacists want a simple, fair and independent mechanism but the manner in which the HSE has responded to the service providers is unhelpful. Many Senators expressed their concern yesterday and used words such as "dictatorship", "unsatisfactory", "frustration" and so on, with regard to the actions of the HSE on the issue.
I have also heard many Senators being critical of the HSE on other issues and the record of this House speaks for itself in that regard. While the jury may still be out on the success of the HSE, the verdict on it is now generally known and accepted. The public have expressed it to all Members of this House. I ask the Leader to outline to the Minister for Health and Children the level of dissatisfaction among Members of this House with the HSE and to stress to her the need to revisit the structure we have put in place to run our health service.
Senator Ciaran Cannon made reference to various agricultural policies and schemes which must be addressed in this House. In that context, it would be helpful to have an early debate on the future of Irish agriculture because there is a very serious debate commencing in Brussels regarding the future of the Common Agricultural Policy and various aids to agriculture. We must play a constructive role in that debate at European level. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to participate in a debate on agriculture.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney made a call yesterday, supported by Senator Jim Walsh this morning, for a debate on Northern Ireland, which was a regular matter for debate here in the past. Often, such debates were sad occasions. However, it would be helpful if we could now debate the great progress made on the political situation in Northern Ireland. I concur with Senator Jim Walsh regarding the Taoiseach's meeting with the Reverend Ian Paisley last week in Ballymena. The House can unite in congratulating both men. The meeting clearly indicates the progress we have made, given that in 1985, on the occasion of the signing of the Anglo Irish Agreement, this House could not unite in supporting what was a very strong building block.
While I recognise that it is unusual for Members from this side of the House to praise the Government, I wish to sincerely congratulate the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, for his decision to give grant aid to the Orange Order. It was courageous, far-sighted and a decision which challenges all of us to recognise and publicly accept that there is another tradition on this island. The decision forces us to move outside our own little political comfort zone and to recognise that we must acknowledge an alternative viewpoint and vision. The Minister must be commended. I was disappointed to hear that a small section of so-called republicans condemned him because surely those who consider themselves to be republicans know they must recognise and respect every tradition on this island. The granting of assistance to the Orange Order, particularly among the Border communities, is another step forward in the pursuit of a long-term solution. We must support the Minister's actions in that regard.
It is important to have such a debate, while not pre-empting any debate on the Finance Bill, which will be a debate about the contents of that Bill, rather than its omissions. I would be happy to discuss such finer points at any opportunity. I only hope that when we discuss the Finance Bill, all Members of the House will inform themselves about the budgetary process and have an understanding of the working of EU state aids and how anything in the Finance Bill——
One particular scheme which I would like to see happen in the Cork docklands area would need such approval. The scheme would precipitate immediate development and involves giving assistance to IAWS to move from the Cork docklands to a new, greenfield site. Much remediation work will be needed on the site in the docklands, which is a listed Seveso contaminated site. For any development to happen in the Cork docklands, the first——
——thing that needs to happen is the development of this particular area. I am confident the Minister for Finance understands and supports this and will be introducing necessary measures. To do that, we must obtain approval from the EU and I am also confident in that regard. The task force members of the Cork docklands project are fully behind the Government. We need this debate because many misunderstandings are being perpetrated. As someone who has represented the Cork region for the past 16 years, I feel a great deal of emotions, not all of which are positive, but shame is not one of them.
I add my voice to those calling for a debate on road safety. There are voices of disquiet concerning the fact that we do not have the speed cameras promised a number of years ago. I speak as someone who amended his behaviour on the road because of the introduction of speed cameras. Somehow, the momentum has been lost in recent years and I wonder why this is the case. The Government will stand indicted if the chairman of the Road Safety Authority resigns because of the lack of enthusiasm seemingly frustrating its board.
It is important to take an approach that promotes positive citizenship throughout the community. The only way to promote such an attitude is if we as legislators and those in Government show the same type of active and positive citizenship and pursue the issue. We should call speed cameras "safety cameras" because they are concerned with saving lives. The Government falls into the habit of getting bogged down in an issue such as provisional licences, but a number of issues cause the problem, including alcohol and the state of our roads. Regarding the former, increasingly desperate solutions are being proposed. Some have suggested credit cards for young people to ensure they do not purchase alcohol too frequently. The head of the Minister's advisory group discussed sending young members of——
If the Leader agrees to a debate, that matter can be discussed. There is no use in having the debate on the Order of Business because other Members wish to contribute. Today's time has been extended, but as many as 12 Members could not contribute yesterday.
Will the Cathaoirleach allow me a few more moments? I could recite in my sleep a motion that ran in the House for three weeks concerning the need for a cross-party approach to tackling the problem of alcohol misuse, but unless we discuss in direct terms in the Chamber serious issues like tackling drinks companies, we will not get far with platitudes.
I congratulate my colleague, Senator Mary White, and wish her well in her bid for the Presidency. I suggest that it could be an exciting Presidency, particularly in terms of enhancing the interest of younger people. Were she to move the factory to the back of Áras an Uachtaráin in the Phoenix Park, we might have scenes reminiscent of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". Children visiting the President on a delegation might be known as the Children of Lir.
Last week, the Taoiseach formally launched the Office of the Minister for Older People. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, to spell out to the House what she intends to do about the human rights of older people in society. For example, there is no free breast cancer screening for women of 64 years of age despite women being more susceptible to breast and other cancers between the ages of 65 and 75.
The human right of older citizens to remain in employment after 65 years of age if they so wish is a matter of urgency. We are 40 years behind the United States in our attitude to older people. Senator John McCain's age of 71 years is a non-event there.
In 2006, there were 366 road deaths and 409 suicides. There is anecdotal evidence that an increasing number of older men commit suicide, in respect of which we will all know the CSO statistics next April. Will the Minister of State address the House on how to create a more caring and inclusive society for people who live in rural areas or are isolated and on how to reach out and take care of one another?
Senator Quinn raised the matter of organ donors. One of his staff — Margaret in the Superquinn bakery — inspired me to become a donor. I will donate all of my organs because of Margaret, whose son, a young man of 23 years, waited for a heart transplant for 18 months. I had not considered donating previously. The Senator may not remember Margaret well, but her son died from a brain haemorrhage after his transplant. Why should we not all donate our organs?
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald and others regarding road safety. The manner in which Gay Byrne, the respected chairman of the authority, has been treated and passed from Billy to Jack and the fact that scant attention has been paid to the serious work undertaken by him and his board are disgraceful. I hope this will not come to his resignation and that the issue of speed cameras can be resolved speedily, but a solution does not seem to be on the horizon. However, if he does resign it will be a clear sign of the Government's failure.
Sadly, some among the increasing number of foreign drivers on our roads may have defective vehicles. I agree with Senator Ellis's proposal for the Garda to be given the power to remove defective vehicles from the road. We should not allow someone from this or any other state on our roads if he or she has not been tested. Given the increasing volume of traffic, allowing people who are unused to driving on the left side of the road to drive without being tested will put more lives at risk.
I welcome that Senator Ellis raised the issue of boundary changes. From the Leader's response yesterday, there will not be an electoral Bill this session or year, although an electoral Bill might be published this year. The electoral boundary committees are sitting and must report by 20 June. It seems their remit will extend to dealing only with Dáil constituencies used in the previous general election rather than the ones recommended by the commission. Perhaps the Leader might care to revisit that.
A total of €25 million worth of drugs has been seized already in the first five weeks of 2008, which is a massive haul. If this amount has been hauled in, how much more is coming in illegally and how much cannabis is being grown in rural areas in addition to that which is being seized? We should continue the fight against drugs. The Leader and the House should wish the Garda Commissioner and all the team well.
I hope Mr. Norman Turner returns to the Mahon tribunal because I would love to hear his evidence regarding the director of elections for Fine Gael and his links to the leader of Fine Gael.
I congratulate my colleague, Senator Fitzgerald, on raising the serious matter of road safety. Its seriousness has been sadly underlined by events in the past week or ten days. That we have not successfully put speed cameras in place is a significant failure of Government. Will the Leader request that immediate action be taken on that?
Will the Leader also ask the relevant Minister to consider the option of requiring a person to produce evidence of having taken driving lessons before he or she obtains a provisional driving licence? I have no scientific evidence but have considerable anecdotal evidence to support the contention that people who undergo formal driving lessons are much better drivers. Many people are taught by a friend, learn how to drive in a rudimentary fashion and then obtain a provisional licence. A person should be required to produce evidence of having taken driving lessons and perhaps the Leader would request this.
Will the Leader suggest to the relevant Minister that a person be required to produce evidence that his or her car is insured before it leaves the garage? A young person, be they a national or non-national, can take a car out of a garage without insurance. They should be required to produce formal evidence of insurance.
Drug testing should be introduced on roads in addition to alcohol testing. The Leader should put it to the relevant Minister that while we must factor in people who take normal medication, people driving under the influence of illegal drugs should be apprehended and taken off the roads.
The issue of different speeds for driving on wet roads should be taken into account.
I am not having a debate but I ask the Leader to obtain answers on those issues and come back to the House with them.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. I join Senators Quinn and Mary White in their support for the view that there should be automatic organ donation if people have not opted out of it. The fact that people are waiting is bizarre.
I will touch on two issues raised by previous speakers. In respect of road safety, it is time we desisted from the ostrich syndrome of burying our heads in the sand. The numbers and ratio of accidents involving non-nationals are of great concern. There is no point in fooling ourselves.
The next matter was raised previously in this Chamber. I have checked with garages and have discovered that they ensure insurance is applicable when they sell a car. However, we all see cars for sale on the roadside and from back garden garages. Do the people selling these cars ensure the appropriate vehicle is insured? I think we know the answer to that.
Organ donation was mentioned by Senator Quinn and I have raised this issue on two previous occasions in this House. There is a constituent in Westmeath who is in contact with me ad nauseam about this matter. In many cases, life is interred with the dead. We do not like to admit that but it is the truth. We should look at the situation in mainland Europe in respect of organ donation and perhaps adopt some of the measures in those jurisdictions. As somebody who tragically lost a brother and sister on the road, it is a comfort to know that others live on as a result of that terrible tragedy. This issue must be tackled because it will not go away. We must grow up, be realistic and take whatever measures are necessary to ensure organ donation takes place in this country in the manner outlined by Senator Quinn and others.
Senators Frances Fitzgerald, Joe O'Toole, Alan Kelly, Jerry Buttimer, John Ellis, Jim Walsh, Rónán Mullen, Paul Coghlan, Joe O'Reilly and Camillus Glynn expressed their great concerns about road safety. There has been a complete change since 2004 in the respect and attitude of drivers towards the regulations that have been introduced.
I pay tribute to Gay Byrne, whom I have known for a long time, for taking the job of national chairman of the Road Safety Authority. He has come to the assistance of the chief executive. He was also of great assistance to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, of which Senator Ellis was formerly Chairman, and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business, of which I was Chairman. Mr. Byrne was very open to doing anything he could to assist.
Members of this House said he would resign but Gay Byrne is made of stronger stuff. It is not in the man's genes to do so. He has highlighted the plight of many sections of our society over the years and played a major part in the formation of 21st century Ireland.
The Government has introduced four Bills since 2004 when the figures for deaths and serious injuries on our roads were really bad. The Taoiseach has played a pivotal role in allowing the Government and its legislation committee to prioritise road traffic problems and everything pertaining to road safety since 2004.
Among the four Bills introduced since 2004 has been the Civil Liability and Courts Act, which places the onus on anyone making a claim to swear an oath and stipulates that if any part of the claim is found to be fraudulent, the claimant will pay the entire costs. That has reduced substantially the number of claims made. I understand one individual made three claims relating to a pothole in Cork.
The Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act was brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas and passed by this Fianna Fáil-led Government. That was a major move. Senator O'Toole is vice chairperson of that body which has brought about significant change. This was requested by all sides which sought to reduce premium claims, from those involved with road safety to the insurance industry.
Since 2004, the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act has been passed to help matters. The penalty points system was introduced by the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Séamus Brennan, and passed.
The difficulty is that three Government portfolios handle the area of road safety. More than 100 people are alive since 21 July 2006, however, because of these changes in the regulations. Thousands more people would have been maimed in serious accidents had those Bills not been brought into law.
The manufacturers of motor cars also have a responsibility in this area. In our final report we called on the Road Safety Authority and the Minister in charge to insist that manufacturers put in place something that would cost €15 which would mean if the seat belt was not engaged, the key would not start the engine. We saw that simple road safety process when we spent four days on the campus of Maryland University in the United States. Manufacturers have a responsibility in this area as well as everyone else.
Random breath testing was introduced by this Fianna Fáil-led Government and I played a major part in that. Substance breath testing has been approved but the drug aspect of it is difficult, an aspect mentioned by a Senator earlier. The alcohol aspect of the test is fool-proof but New Zealand is the only country that has perfected the drug aspect of it. The Road Safety Authority and the transport committee might examine that in the current Dáil and Seanad term.
It is neither fair nor factual to say nothing was done here in this area. Gay Byrne and the Road Safety Authority have taken on board the various proposals that were made, particularly in terms of reform of the industry, by the committee I had the pleasure of chairing for the five years. Senator Leyden was also a member of the committee, on behalf of this House, which did whatever it could to ensure these changes took place.
It was the Donegal tragedies, where seven or nine people were killed over two weekends, that made us decide enough was enough and introduce random breath testing. Fear of the law is back in that respect. In 2004, 575 members of the Garda Síochána were in the dedicated traffic corps. I said in the House yesterday that its full complement of 1,200 will be reached this year. Addressing this problem comes down to monitoring the traffic on the roads. If the public sees the traffic is being monitored by the Garda Síochána, this problem will be addressed. What happened over recent weekends, however, was an enormous setback in terms of everyone understanding that attitudes must change.
Senator Ellis, who has a great deal of experience in this area because it was his undertaking during the lifetime of the previous Dáil, raised the issue of ten to 15 year old cars being brought into this country and allowed on the road. One can see such sales in Mullingar on Monday nights and throughout the country, where those from other destinations who have come to this country to work avail of them, just as our Irish colleagues did in America and elsewhere in the 1950s and 1960s when they were trying to get a start in life. People coming to Ireland from a country which drives on the opposite side of the road should be obliged to adhere to a 50 mile an hour speed limit when using our roads.
Perhaps we should consider the possibility of driving on the opposite side of the road in this country. As Senator Kelly would be aware, our biggest tourist destinations are Europe and the United States of America where people drive on the opposite side of the road. There are many good reasons for considering changing it in Ireland. Gay Byrne and the Road Safety Authority might take it on themselves to carry out some research in this area with which we could assist them. I have no difficulty with the House sitting for a day to discuss where we go from here in this regard. We have achieved much in the past three years. What do we intend to do in the next three years? I have no difficulty in allowing a lengthy debate on that issue.
Senator Joe O'Toole raised the issue of the Chinese new year and wished the Chinese people all the best for the future. Regarding human rights, I visited China two years ago with the Taoiseach. I understand a transformation is taking place in China, as is the case in India and many other destinations. The hope is that the human rights of the people living in those countries will be improved immensely in the coming years. I have no difficulty in passing on the Senator's views to the Minister.
Senator Alan Kelly raised the question of tourism. As I said earlier, I have no difficulty in having a debate on tourism. I hope to set aside time for such a debate which I will announce to the House next Wednesday.
Senators Ciaran Cannon, Paul Bradford and Joe O'Reilly, but the first especially, called on me to contact the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to request that the single farm payment and the REPS payment be made at the same time. I will pass on that view to the Minister today. I have no difficulty in having an open debate soon on all matters pertaining to agriculture.
Senator Dan Boyle, the Deputy Leader of the House, covered the Cork docklands position comprehensively and I thank him for that. Senator Jerry Buttimer must be relieved that he has heard the up-to-date——
Senators Feargal Quinn, Mary White and Camillus Glynn raised the issue of organ donor transplants. I will pass on the Senators' views to the Minister. Everyone should carry a donor card. We should all lead by example. I have a card in my other diary but if any of our organs can be used to benefit a future generation, why not be of assistance?
Senator Jim Walsh raised the Taoiseach's visit to Ballymena, which I covered yesterday. It is a step forward in the peace process. I will try to provide time for a debate during this session but this is a short one. We will have a debate on Northern Ireland at the earliest possible time. I hope to have the Taoiseach present to take the debate.
Senator Nicky McFadden raised the issue of the primary care unit in Athlone and the land that was purchased there a considerable time ago. I am aware of the Senator's plight and am doing everything I can in that regard. The health committee will meet the Health Service Executive and the pharmacy unions at 3 p.m. next Tuesday with the Minister present. That might be an ideal opportunity for the Senator to bring forward this issue but I will contact the Minister's office regarding her earlier request concerning Mullingar Hospital and the primary care unit in Athlone. I have no difficulty in allocating time in the diary for a debate on the treatment of cystic fibrosis patients.
Senator Ivor Callely spoke about the challenge in the pharmacy sector. That issue will be discussed at 3 p.m. next Tuesday in the health committee. Senator Callely also called on me to consider having a debate on the HSE meeting the requirements put on it when it was given responsibility for operating the health service. I have no difficulty in allocating time to discuss that, although the House will be heavily laden with legislation in the next four to five weeks. That is the reason the sittings are increasing to three days. A number of Bills will come to the House, including the Finance Bill, the Social Welfare Bill and two or three other major Bills.
They must be cleared before the Easter recess. I will endeavour to have time allocated for a debate on health as soon as possible. Senators Walsh and Bradford referred to Northern Ireland and congratulated the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, on the allocation of funding to the Orange Order. This was much appreciated and the traditions of all on this island should be respected. We should champion this and I congratulate the Minister for his foresight on the matter.
Senator White suggested inviting the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Hoctor, for a debate on older people in our society. I have no difficulty with this.
Senators Ellis and Coghlan called on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to appear before the House to discuss the boundary commission report. There are two boundary commissions, one of which concerns the Dáil constituency boundaries and about which Senator Ellis urgently seeks a debate. I have no difficulty with this and I understand there will be a Bill published this year that will address it. This session is short because Easter falls so early but I expect the Bill to pass through the House before the summer recess.
The other commission is concerned with boundaries for local authority elections. Submissions must be received by 14 March and there is a time limit on this so that the report can be issued by the end of June. This is important in respect of the major changes in population, particularly along the east coast. It will have far-reaching implications and many Members are examining this. The commission has been set up under the aegis of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Many Members will be keen to make a contribution on the tolerance level with regard to Senator Ellis's point. I will endeavour to have the Minister attend the debate, which can take place before the Easter recess.
I join with Senator Leyden, who proposes a vote of congratulations to the Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, on the €10.5 million drugs haul yesterday. We congratulate the Garda Síochána on the wonderful work it is doing and the Commissioner, who is leading the work in this area. The haul shows us the amount of drug-related activity taking place, particularly the amount of cocaine that is sold and trafficked around the country, to the detriment of society.