Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the Council framework decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia; and No. 2, Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill, 2007 — Committee Stage. No. 1 will be taken, without debate, on the conclusion of the Order of Business and No. 2 will be taken on the conclusion of No. 1.
A number of Members were disappointed when the debate on special educational needs concluded last week because they did not have an opportunity to contribute. Perhaps the Leader might ask the Minister to return to the House for a further debate on this important topic in order that everyone might have their say.
I am sure Members will join with me in extending condolences to the family of the young Polish man who was horrifically murdered in Dublin at the weekend. His death raises questions regarding the number of unprovoked assaults taking place and the level of disorder on our streets. We have a national strategy on drugs but we do not have a proper national policy on alcohol. A number of task force reports have been submitted but there has been no response from the Minister in the context of outlining a comprehensive national policy on alcohol. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform referred to examining the position in respect of the number of off-licences and perhaps introducing some changes. What we need, however, is a comprehensive approach to integrate the drugs strategy with a similar strategy on alcohol.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the need to introduce a proper national policy on alcohol. We have avoided this matter for some time and there has been a great deal of strong lobbying in respect of it. Change has been avoided but this can no longer be the case. We must give serious consideration to the type of national policy we wish to introduce.
By publishing advertisements in today's newspapers, the HSE has shown that it expects the dispute involving pharmacists to continue. It appears that it will be a head-to-head affair, with no negotiation. The Minister for Health and Children will not be coming before the House this week to debate the matter because, again, it is not listed on the Order Paper. I regret the lack of political debate in the House on this topic, despite the number of requests made by Members in recent weeks. It seems there is no political accountability or responsibility in respect of this matter. The HSE has been left to do the work and has caused a crisis. I hope the Leader will be able to inform the House that discussions will take place between the pharmacists and the HSE before the 1 March deadline.
Eamon Timmons from Age Action Ireland referred last night to the representations being made to him by elderly people who are concerned that they will not be able to have their prescriptions filled. The last thing we want is rural pharmacies closing down and people becoming distressed about whether they will be in a position to obtain their medication. Perhaps the Leader will indicate whether he received a positive response from the Minister for Health and Children regarding our requests for her to come before the House to debate this matter prior to the 1 March deadline.
Will the Leader consider arranging a debate on the annual report of the National Competitiveness Council, particularly as the House has discussed the council's previous reports? I requested on a prior occasion that we debate the report because it brings to light certain issues. At this time of the year, when people are involved in negotiations relating to national wage agreements, there is much discussion regarding labour costs, etc. The report to which I refer is an eye-opener in the context of what really costs in this country. If one examines the areas in which unit costs are highest in international terms, one can see that it is not a matter of labour costs because we can supply labour quite cheaply. It is interesting but hardly surprising that the report indicates that the two highest unit costs in Ireland are the cost per hour for the services of a lawyer and the cost of mobile telephone calls. When put in the context of all the discussions we have had over the years about rationalising telecoms and selling off Eircom to make it more competitive and allow for cheaper prices, it is a joke that we are now the highest in the world in terms of the costs of mobile calls for people setting up business here. We are also the second highest in international comparisons in terms of the cost of water and waste. It is important that we make known our views on these issues and are aware of items and services that are expensive. It demonstrates where changes have taken place. For example, insurance costs have improved over the years, through political force more than anything else.
I have not been in the habit of making complaints about the HSE because plenty of other people have been doing so. I am interested, however, in the way it does its business and two issues concerning the HSE that arose in the past week are of serious concern to me as a public representative. I hope this concern will be shared by others.
In one case, the HSE has pulled its advertising from a radio station which had the cheek and audacity to follow it up on issues where the station felt the HSE was not giving a proper service. Rightly or wrongly, a radio station which has been following up on issues with the HSE, which is what the media is there to do, has had advertising pulled. I would like to hear someone explain that to me as there is something fundamentally undemocratic and wrong about it. I have very little sympathy for the HSE if it is not prepared to take punches and fight back.
Deputy Joe Costello has had a weekly demonstration outside the accident and emergency department of the Mater Hospital for the past four and half or five years to bring attention to certain aspects of the department he feels should be highlighted. He also takes the opportunity each week to speak to patients there. This is a praiseworthy action. I do not stand here to defend Deputy Costello and I regularly have been ready to complain about him. I have had many difficulties and differences with him in this House. It is praiseworthy for an elected public representative to see how the public service gives its service at a local level and is seen to do so. It is good for politics. He has now been told he is not wanted there anymore and that he should not be there.
These two issues cause concern for me because of political accountability, what we intended the HSE to do and our relationship with the executive. I would like a discussion on the matter.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport to the House for a debate on the proposals of the consultation document he has published in respect of public transport and transport strategies. I am particularly interested in Dublin city but it is clearly a national question and a crisis that affects the entire country.
It is commendable that the consultation document appears to finally grasp the nettle in seriously encouraging alternatives to the car and private motor transport. The difficulty is that although the document is to be welcomed, it is a consultation document. We have reached the stage in our development where we have had a great deal of consultation. As welcome as this is, we have had plenty of it. What we now seek and what is required is action.
I saw a survey from my own area around Rathfarnham and Terenure recently which indicated that more than 90% of children in some primary schools are driven there. That is an extraordinary figure for children living in the suburbs. It is almost unheard of now for children to cycle to school and few walk there. This is the sort of challenge with which we are dealing and the Minister is right to put the subject out for discussion. I would like a debate in this House, where the Minister could indicate his opinion and the rest of us could put forward our proposals for concrete action to deal with this challenge, rather than simply having a further level of consultation.
One important aspect of this issue is the question of the metro and the Luas. For example, there is a major question mark over the capacity of the current Luas line to Sandyford at this stage, as trams are full at peak hours and throughout the day. There is significant pressure on the system. We need to think big in respect of public transport and the metro. We are building a metro to the airport and tunnelling in the city centre. Let us extend that to the Cherrywood line and have a proper system of heavy rail provision for public transport in the city. It is not enough for the Minister to say he will not provide extra buses for the city, as the Labour Party advocated in the last election because he is afraid they will sit idle in Parnell Square. Why are buses sitting idle in Parnell Square? Since I was a child I have noticed buses idle in Parnell Square. Why can that not be addressed? The Minister was commendably honest today in saying there had been a failure of policy in respect of the Government's climate strategy. That outbreak of frankness and honesty on his part is good. It is coupled with an equally honest and frank statement by the Deputy Leader of this House in recent days in which he made clear in public his concerns about events connected with the Taoiseach. What was wrong with Senator Boyle's comment that his party leadership had to disown it?
I would like the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to address the new regulations for nursing homes which the Health Information and Quality Authority approved yesterday. They are welcome because they cover many of the issues raised in recent scandals in nursing homes for the elderly which showed that the standards in public and private nursing homes left much to be desired. The regulations tackle the level of staff training, dignity and choice for elderly people in nursing homes, improving the physical environment and so on, and are welcome. There also will be 90 inspectors visiting public, private and voluntary homes. The fair deal arrangement imposes a levy on the estates of elderly people after their deaths to cover the costs of nursing home care. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House to flesh out these proposals for us in order that we can be aware of how exactly those new financing arrangements will work?
I am disappointed and saddened to note that the Health Service Executive is pressing ahead with plans to breach contracts and endanger vital frontline health care service to hundreds of communities throughout the land. That is no way to do business. It endangers patients and threatens many rural pharmacies.
I join Senator de Búrca's call to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House and add a request that the Minister address this issue because we have not heard about it and we should not let the matter drift any further.
I welcome the announcement made in Kerry last Friday. The Leader perhaps knows more than I about it and if so I would welcome his comments. Deputy Jackie Healy Rae made the announcement.
No. This could be a sub-part of the programme for Government and I would like to hear the Leader's comments on the funding he stated has been secured for Killarney House. The house is a major historic property of national interest that has been much neglected. I thank the Cathaoirleach for including my matter on the Adjournment when I look forward to hearing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government flesh out the full picture because he is sincere and genuinely interested in this issue.
Efforts have been made, including those of Fianna Fáil's spokesperson in this House, Senator Feeney, to resolve the difficulties that face the country in respect of the pharmacy issue. It is important that both sides should endeavour to traverse the middle ground. Whenever a dispute exists, the middle ground is always safe ground for people to head towards because it is where resolutions are to be found. Even at this late stage, common sense should prevail on both sides and there should be a meeting of minds in an endeavour to resolve this difficulty.
Last week I raised a matter in the House which was brought home to me again a few days ago when I attended a funeral in County Roscommon. A brother-in-law of my wife told me he had received a letter from a person who advised him that he had been nominated as a benefactor in a will and that the authors sought his bank account number and other details. I understand from my inquiries that this practice is widespread and I raised the issue in the House last week. I am deeply concerned because while many people would be wise to such a scam, unfortunately some people in the community take the bait and consequentially are swindled out of their hard-earned money. Something must be done as this has been ongoing for some time. I have taken the opportunity to ring one of those involved because, as I noted last week, I received such a message myself. However a debate on this subject is required. This matter should be brought centre stage because it is not going away and must be tackled and dealt with.
The other matter I wish to raise is that some time ago, and not for the first time, concern was expressed in this House regarding the number of accidents involving non-insured cars. While a debate was held on this matter in the previous Seanad, another would be timely because this issue remains outstanding and is not going away.
All Members can articulate the reason it is continuing. One can instance car sales, roadside sales, back garden garages or anything one likes but the nub of the matter is that the problem still exists and something must be done about it because innocent people are losing their lives.
Without being racist, and Members must be factual in this Chamber, there appears to be a high incidence of non-nationals involved in accidents in proportion to their numbers. The percentages exist. While I am not trying to cast aspersions on anyone I believe that both those who come to Ireland and those who are indigenous must use the roads in a safe way that takes into account the safety both of themselves and of others. I seek an early debate on these issues.
I raise the matter in this context. Given that Senator Boyle was a midwife at the birth of the Government and that he has asked for a timeline regarding the Taoiseach's tenure in office, has the Leader managed to procure a date from the Taoiseach regarding a visit to the House? Given the Taoiseach will appear before the United States Congress in March and given the Deputy Leader's comments that he might be gone from us, can the Leader advocate for his appearance before the House?
I join Senator O'Toole in seeking a debate on the role of the Health Service Executive, and its remit. I was appalled, as I am sure was the Leader, to read that the HSE decreed it would not advertise with a particular radio station. Does that mean those who offer a critique on the running of the HSE will be refused treatment on the basis of their comments?
An urgent debate is needed on the HSE itself and with regard to the pharmacy dispute. Senator Glynn, for whom I have great respect, spoke of the middle ground, but that cannot be achieved by the Minister hiding behind the HSE, which is bullying and instilling fear in ordinary people in rural Ireland. I ask the Leader, at this late stage, to invite the Minister to the House this week to address this matter.
I wish to briefly raise two issues. I ask the Leader to stimulate a debate on an environmental issue concerning the serviced sites initiative, an important measure introduced by local authorities. A problem in this area arose in the past and was partly resolved by local authorities providing serviced sites to young people, sometimes at approximately 10% of their market value, a wonderful initiative which works very well. Local authorities demand a first priority charge on the title but it frequently arises that banks refuse to accept a second charge, which creates an impasse. This matter is primarily one for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and perhaps the Minister for the Finance. This practice is ridiculous. I know of a young couple who obtained a serviced site, on which they secured planning permission after a struggle and now at the last hurdle they find the banks are not prepared to play second fiddle. The local authority wants a first priority charge on the site because it sold the site with all the services——
The same applies to the building societies. Their approach is similar to that of the subprime lenders in pointing out that they are not prepared to give a mortgage, which creates a practical difficulty. I request the Leader to arrange for a debate on this matter. I am sure this problem is encountered by people in many counties and not only by people in County Cork.
I also request a debate on tourism. As we are nearing the Easter recess, perhaps the Leader could arrange for such a debate next session. I am not being parochial but I laud Fáilte Ireland which, in conjunction with many local committees, launched a wonderful walkway, the Beara Breifne Way, in Bearra. It is approximately 600 km of a walk and cycle route on which some €7 million or €8 million has been spent. The first section of the walkway, from Millstreet to Allihies and Ardgroom, was opened yesterday.
Walking in Ireland is far more popular than golf. It is a concept of activity tourism we are neglecting and one on which we should have a debate. I could do with walking a little more. I try to walk a few kilometres every weekend.
It is like the line written by the great poet, Anois teacht an earraigh beidh an lá dul chun síneadh. It is now spring and we should recognise the potential of such activity that is unique to this country. There are cultural aspects to such tourism and the Heritage Council is involved. We should promote and embrace our beautiful amenities and sites instead of jetting off on sun holidays three or four times a year. I would love to have a debate on this area. More continental walkers are coming to west Cork, Kerry and other places in the west. We should grasp this nettle. We would have fewer health problems if we all did a little more walking.
I advise Members, in case they have not received notification and in light of tomorrow night's debate on civil marriage for gay people, that a briefing on this matter has been organised by GLEN in the AV room. People of different views might find it useful to attend that.
The Leader graciously agreed to take a motion on landmines this week if possible. I do not know if it would be possible to take it on Thursday, which is usually a reasonably slack day. Perhaps he would let me know if there has been agreement from the Minister responsible on this matter.
I agree with what Senator Fitzgerald said about the tragic situation of the two young Polish men. They seem to have been decent young people. I heard their landlord talk about them on a radio programme yesterday. He said they were dream tenants. The neighbours all spoke highly of them. They went out to work early in the morning, they were not rowdy and they kept their place spotless. What has happened is shocking.
Senator Fitzgerald is right in what she said. There has been an astonishing increase in such crimes. A well known academic who spoke about this on a radio programme today made the point that one year in the early 1960s there were two homicides in Ireland; the number of homicides each year is now in the eighties. He talked of a contagion of violence. I remember saying some years ago that this would be an inevitable consequence of the troubles fomented, to a certain extent, by the republican movement, that we were all being conditioned to violence and that there would be a cross over. I am afraid, tragically, this is what has happened. I do not think it is tolerable and we must resist it and fight back against it.
I ask the Leader to consider giving time to No. 15 on the Order Paper. I will not rehearse the whole item but it refers to the extraordinary rendition situation. A report was issued by the Irish Human Rights Commission but this has never been discussed in the House. Important documents produced by a Government agency should be examined by the House. I hope my final point would be a very telling one with my friends on the Government side, many of whom took at face value the assurances given by Condoleezza Rice and George Bush although we all knew that they were lying. We now have absolute proof that the most significant of what they said was a downright lie, despite the fact that the Americans categorically stated that no prisoners ever went through British territory in those planes and we now know they have had to confess, to admit and to acknowledge that a plane that has also used Irish airspace — I have put its registration number on the record of the House several times — passed twice carrying prisoners and landed on British sovereign territory. The lies they told the British they are equally capable of telling to us. I would like a debate in light of this important fact.
I wish to extend my sympathy to the Taoiseach in his current difficulties, particularly with regard to the quality of those who are supporting him. I heard the Tánaiste, Deputy Brian Cowen, say that Deputy Enda Kenny was like Napoleon in Elba. That may be so, but the Duke of Wellington, Bertie ain't.
When I heard——
——the lamented former Senator Martin Mansergh squeaking petulantly on the electric wireless at Senator Regan and saying, "Respect your betters", I recognised the true Cromwellian flavour of certain sections of that noble party over there.
I wish to be associated with the opinions of Senators Fitzgerald and Norris regarding the horrendous incident in Dublin last night involving the two Polish nationals and which has resulted in the death of one man and the serious injury of the other. Everyone in this House will have similar opinions as regards the nature of that attack and the fact that it should not happen at all in this country.
I will be led by the Cathaoirleach's ruling as to how I should respond to earlier contributions by Members of the House——
I wish to put on the record the context of what I said because it could be easily dealt with here rather than in a subsequent debate. In the course of a radio interview yesterday, I expressed an opinion that the holder of political office, having expressed the fact that they will not hold that office in the near future, will, in the first instance decide for themselves and second, decide with their party when such a change of office will occur.
Today Dr. Gilmartin, president of the Irish Thoracic Society spoke about us having one of the worst incidences of respiratory disease in the world. Of all the people diagnosed with lung cancer in this country, only 9% survive, which is a very stark and upsetting statistic. For the umpteenth time I ask that the Minister for Health and Children should come to the House to discuss the serious situation of the number of children suffering from asthma and the fact that Sligo still has no respiratory consultant while Waterford had one appointed just last year.
Last week I was advised that 5,000 children are awaiting hearing tests. There is a two-year waiting list for eye testing. Children with lazy eyes are waiting to have their eyes tested and may always have problems with their sight as a result. This is not a Third World country. We have more money in this country than many other countries, yet we have a Third World health service. I will not mention all the areas in my constituency I have raised in the House umpteen times. The Minister, Deputy Harney, needs to come to the Seanad and answer questions rather than blaming the Health Service Executive and using it as a backdrop for her own failings.
The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin, decided to terminate the summer works scheme on 6 December. The Taoiseach came to my constituency the day before the general election to announce the building of a school. We were informed last week this school will not be built. Athlone community college, which is at design stage, will not be built. Killucan national school, which I raised in the Seanad, is now not due to be built. The Minister needs to come to the House and answer——
Those are the reasons I am calling for a debate. The two Ministers in question need to come to the House and answer the questions.
I wish to make the Seanad aware that this is national fair trade fortnight. Tomorrow a coffee morning will be held in Leinster House 2000. We use Fairtrade coffee in this building and Senators should use Fairtrade products themselves.
I support other Senators in asking the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to come to the House to debate the lack of safety for young men on our streets throughout the country. I say this in the light of the terrible tragedy of last Saturday. The unprovoked attack took place at 6 p.m. in a very settled, quiet community when people were out shopping. The tragedy ended with the fatality of one of the young men.
It is not a single attack. Random attacks occur daily. I know of one that took place on College Green two weeks ago at 8 p.m. The sad thing is that they are being carried out by young teenagers. It is not young teenage boys; they are being joined by young teenage girls also. They are carrying out savage attacks. Communities are held to ransom because they are afraid to come out even in the middle of the day.
Earlier today when I was driving to the House, I heard Joe Duffy remark that people in Leinster House do not seem to care about what is going on. In addition, he said that no one in Leinster House is doing anything about it. However, I am glad to hear so many speakers in the House raising this issue as a matter of importance. I ask the Leader to take that on board and try to arrange for the Minister to attend the House to debate this terrible situation.
One of our most progressive third level colleges, Waterford Institute of Technology, currently has an application with the Minister for Education and Science for elevation to university status. More than a year ago, the same Minister commissioned an independent assessment of that application, which was carried out by Dr. Jim Port. We have waited almost eight months for that report to be published. It has been discussed by many Senators from both sides of the House and I have tabled an Adjournment matter on the issue. Now that the report has been published, I do not know what all the secrecy was about or why we had to wait for eight months. The Minister for Education and Science should attend the House to discuss this critical report which says that no clear Government policy or criteria have been set down to deal with such applications. That is a damning indictment for any progressive college that wants to obtain university status. The independent report acknowledges that the application has great merit and should be judged accordingly, so I look forward to hearing the Minister's view if the Leader can arrange for her to attend the House for such a debate.
Cancer is a major killer that affects many families throughout this society. In the south-east region, and specifically in Waterford city and county, we still do not have a BreastCheck facility. Prior to the previous general election, the Taoiseach promised that service would be available in October 2007, yet we still do not have the BreastCheck facility and no date has been set for its introduction. This is another indictment of the Government which has failed people in this regard. Valuable time has been lost while we await such a service in the south east. I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children to act on this matter. Only a few months ago, she said we would have the BreastCheck service, yet we still do not have it, which is a shame on the Government. The matter should be dealt with as urgently as possible.
I support Senator Coffey's comments in favour of a university for the south east. I have called for such a debate before now, so I hope the Minister will attend the House to get all these issues aired. The south east is the only region in the country that does not have a university and the young people there deserve one.
I welcome last week's remarks by the president of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, Mr. Paul Rellis, who called for a "Yes" vote on the EU reform treaty. His comment that inward investment might be affected by a "No" vote is noteworthy. It should be highlighted that 100,000 people are employed by American companies in this country.
I ask the Leader for an update on the invitation we extended to the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, to address the House. It would be a great opportunity to exchange views on the treaty.
I support the proposition by Senator Fitzgerald for an urgent debate and, more importantly, urgent action on the alcohol problem in our society. While we correctly focus on the difficulties concerning hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin, this may have distracted us from the fact that the fundamental problem in this country arises from alcohol abuse. It gives rise to so much domestic violence and anti-social behaviour generally. Ultimately, alcohol consumption can lead to harder drugs. A new phenomenon involves below-cost sales of alcohol in supermarkets which prompts drinking at home and in public places. A drinking pattern is developing outside the traditional public house culture and while pubs created their own difficulties, the new phenomenon is different and is causing major problems because the drink is much cheaper and more easily accessed. I ask the Leader to treat this matter as serious, urgent and in need of rapid action.
Senator O'Toole referred to the Health Service Executive removing advertising from a radio station. It would be extraordinarily serious if this type of censorship were to become widespread. Public bodies cannot be allowed to threaten media outlets such that if they do not sing from the same hymn sheet, they will receive no further advertising. We must put a stop to this immediately before it effectively stifles the free press. Senator O'Toole is correct that this is a serious issue.
I join other speakers in expressing concern about the level of unprovoked and vicious violence on the streets. I look forward to a comprehensive debate where we can agree sound resolutions to address this issue.
I recently asked the Leader about the implications of the pharmacy dispute for community drugs schemes and reimbursement prices for pharmacists. Can he give the House a progress report on this issue and relay any feedback he has received from the Department of Health and Children or the Health Service Executive?
I always listen with interest when Members express concerns about the waiting lists for certain hospital and other medical procedures. The Official Report shows Members raising this issue over many years, whether in reference to hip, heart, cataract, ear, nose and throat procedures or otherwise. The National Treatment Purchase Fund was established in response to these long-standing concerns but it is not being utilised. People remain on waiting lists even though funding is available for the procedures to be carried out privately. That is regrettable. Perhaps the Leader will arrange a debate to discuss how an equilibrium can be achieved to ensure the moneys available are utilised fully.
There has been much discussion in recent times of the issue of autism. At 6 p.m. today, here in Leinster House, the Irish Society for Autism will announce formally its decision to join the Celtic Nations Autism Partnership. The formation of this partnership is an important occasion for all those involved and interested in autism. I encourage all Members who can to attend the launch in the audio-visual room.
Will the Leader organise a debate on the private rental sector and the regulations and standards pertaining to it? In my constituency of Dublin Central, I see far too many streets and neighbourhoods that have been ravaged by the problems arising for both tenants and neighbours of poorly maintained rental properties. Given that the quantity of rental accommodation is expected to grow, it is imperative we learn from the mistakes being made. We must ensure the sector is properly regulated, tenants are looked after and those living in the vicinity are respected and protected.
I especially urge the Leader to focus on the incidence of anti-social behaviour in private rental accommodation. We must ensure the relevant bodies have greater power to deal with that issue. In regard to the maintenance of private rental property, I understand the existing regulations are not in keeping with the modern cities and communities in which we live. The organisations that maintain those standards must have the powers and resources necessary to do their job properly.
Will the Leader consider a debate on energy security with particular focus on the interconnector with Britain and the rest of Europe? There are now up to three different pipelines, all coming from one source in Russia, supplying much of Europe's energy needs. Although this is a reliable supply source, we might consider presenting the case for Ireland as a place where back-up could be provided for Europe in terms of green energy, given the resources available to us along the west coast.
While I am talking about Europe, I should mention that I am glad it was mentioned this afternoon that the Taoiseach is not like the Duke of Wellington or Napoleon. It is true that despite their best efforts, neither of them achieved what the Taoiseach achieved, which was to be President of a united European Council.
I join other Senators in calling for a debate on the Health Service Executive, especially on its accountability. While it is scandalous that the HSE has withdrawn advertising from a radio station, it is merely a symptom of what is going on, in general terms, throughout the country and the health service as a whole. I do not suggest that all the HSE's efforts are wrong, but some things certainly are wrong. The word "Stalinist" comes to mind when one considers the HSE's actions in the case of the radio station. I read in one of today's newspapers that the Labour Court has ruled the HSE's postponement of recruitment represented a breach of the social partnership agreement. It is not acceptable that the HSE is acting in an independent way, as if it were a private company.
I suggest the Leader should ask the Taoiseach to make himself available to the House for a discussion on the accountability of an organisation that was established by the Oireachtas. We must ensure the HSE remains accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and, ultimately, to the people on a wide variety of issues, not least cancer care services for the north west, which I have mentioned on many occasions. When one listens to Members, it is clear the health service is the common denominator. It requires attention. We must hold the HSE to account on behalf of the people. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter as a matter of urgency.
The second issue I wish to raise is just as important as the first. Perhaps we can have a debate at some stage on the issue of sexual health. Some Senators will have noticed it was announced in recent days that the incidence of HIV-AIDS and certain sexually transmitted diseases has increased substantially over the past two years. I commend the actions of students who highlighted the issue of sexual health awareness during their recent rag week festival. As part of a debate on this issue in the House, we should exchange our views on how to raise the level of awareness of this issue and ultimately protect people's sexual health.
I have always felt that a sense of fair play and concern for human rights is synonymous with public service. People in public life are in a very privileged position. That is especially true of Members of the Oireachtas. I am sure we all measure carefully the consequences of what we say on the perception of the character of others. It seems to me, having listened to the debate for a long period, that fair play is not being extended to the Taoiseach. I say that because he has made an exceptional contribution to the life of this country. He is possibly one of the most successful Taoisigh in the history of the State. I can only outline my personal reaction. I have always found him to be a honourable, likeable and accessible gentleman. I cannot accept that he has been involved in corruption in any way. It is possible that the nature of the tribunal, with its lack of due process, contributes to an environment in which that is allowed to happen.
I support the calls for a debate on youth hooliganism, particularly in light of the recent episode where a young person was savagely attacked and died as a consequence. Apart for this being a policing issue, it also raises issues relating to education, self-discipline and parental responsibility. Given the extent of the problem, we do not have the mix right. A debate on those issues could be constructive in finding a resolution or improving the situation.
I support Senator Ó Murchú's comments on the Taoiseach and the tribunals. When will the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005, which was introduced in the Lower House a few months ago but has not advanced, be introduced in this House? The Bill provides for commissions of investigation as a mechanism to inquire into issues of public importance rather than tribunals of inquiry. What is happening at the tribunals may be fodder for the media and so on but it revolves around pantomime and farce.
——and, ultimately, will give the Houses the response they seek and not ten years later when many barristers and legal professionals have become multimillionaires as a consequence. That was never intended. It is a disgrace and should be brought to an end.
An allegation has been made that the tribunal is not ensuring due process for certain people involved in it. The tribunal was set by the Houses of the Oireachtas and that is a serious allegation to make in this House. It should be withdrawn that due process is not being allowed to any person because if that were the case, that would not be correct.
I support Senator Coffey's comments regarding the application by Waterford Institute of Technology for university status. It is imperative the Minister for Education and Science comes to the House to explain Government policy on this issue, which is very important to both Waterford and the south east.
I will allow questions to be raised on the general issues of tribunals of inquiry but reference to specific evidence that amounts to a re-enactment of the proceedings of the tribunal is a breach of Standing Orders. I do not know how many times I have reiterated that I do not want Members to discuss what is happening at the tribunal, good, bad or indifferent. Senators are commenting on the tribunal almost every day. The tribunal's proceedings are sub judice and I do not want them discussed. I appeal to Members to co-operate with my rulings on that.
Senators Fitzgerald, Coghlan, Glynn, Buttimer, Norris, Boyle, Feeney, O'Toole, Reilly, Callely, MacSharry and Walsh called for various debates on the health service and the HSE. Many serious calls were made to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House. As I informed the House last week, I made the request that the Minister be present if possible before the end of business on Thursday next. She has made a commitment to the Dáil for the slot I had intended her to take on Thursday. I will update the House tomorrow on the possibility of finding another slot in her diary for the debate.
The HSE receives in excess of €15 billion, which is a long way from the amount paid ten years ago. All fair minded people would agree those in responsibility in the HSE have to get their act in order. Those of us who sat on the health committees, including the Cathaoirleach and Senator Glynn, will recall a Holy Thursday in 1985 when protective notice was served on two thirds of the staff of non-emergency services. We have come a long way in terms of providing for those needing care. The money has been put in place so let us hope the expertise called for in various reports will be made available.
With regard to the pharmacies, the Minister will have to update the House before close of business on Thursday. I will endeavour to ensure that happens.
On Senator Fitzgerald's question regarding special needs, the Minister for Education and Science made a forthright contribution on that issue in the House last week. I will ask her to return after the Easter recess because legislation has priority until the end of this session.
On behalf of the House, I offer my condolences to the family of the young Polish man horrifically murdered in Dublin, as well as to the family of the man who accompanied him and who is now critically ill in hospital. Respect for life and law and order is not felt among certain citizens. This new dimension is regrettable and is at variance with the respect for life and property we were brought up to have. It is the responsibility of the Government and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to put fear back into the law. I will have the Minister attend the House to hear the views of Senators on putting fear into the law through the imposition of sentences for these terrible tragedies that occur on a daily basis. I join with Senators in calling for this debate before the Easter recess.
Senator O'Toole alleged that advertising was withdrawn from a radio station by the HSE. I will share with the Minister our serious concerns and have the matter investigated before reverting to the Seanad on it in the next few days. For generations we have worked towards freedom of speech and thanks be to God we have had such freedom for the past several decades.
The Senator also sought an urgent debate on the recent report by the National Competitiveness Council. This is the greatest challenge facing our country in terms of continuing the progress made over the past ten years. Allowing captains of industry to make profits and compete is of the utmost importance for sustaining employment. I hope to arrange for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to receive the views of Senators within the next two weeks or at the earliest opportunity. The Senator also noted the high costs in this country of water, legal and telephone bills. I will pass these views on to the Minister. As Chairman of the Committee on Enterprise and Small Business in the last Dáil, I played a central role in reducing insurance costs. The cost of insurance for motor, public liability or employer's liability, has been substantially reduced by 30% to 35%.
Senator O'Toole referred to Deputy Costello, who was formerly leader of the Labour Party in the Seanad, and the issue of political accountability. I will pass the Senator's views on that issue to the Minister.
Senator Alex White called for a debate on transport in the context of the consultation document. He correctly pointed out that in some privileged areas of Ireland more than 90% of students are driven to school. We must give our consideration to the various public transport initiatives being undertaken by the Government to ensure that the people of a modern country like Ireland have alternative choices of transportation.
Senator de Búrca called for a debate on health services, and nursing homes in particular. She called for choice for the elderly and welcomed the 90 new appointments that have been made. I have no difficulty in arranging time for a debate on the matter.
Senator Coghlan congratulated his friend and colleague from Killarney, Deputy Healy-Rae, on playing a major role in getting funding for Killarney House.
I am sure we can all join the Senator in congratulating the Deputies from Kerry South, including Deputy Healy-Rae, who is a great friend and colleague.
Senator Glynn sought a debate on the high percentage of uninsured motor vehicles. We are told by the insurance industry that the proportion of uninsured vehicles could be between 7% and 10%. The National Roads Authority should investigate the handset detectors used by the dedicated traffic corps in New York. I will pass the Senator's views on to the NRA.
Senator Glynn also warned the House about people outside the State who send e-mails regarding inheritance scams and ask for the bank account details of Irish citizens in order to relieve them of their hard-earned money. The Senator's warnings should be taken seriously.
Senator O'Donovan asked that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government attend the House for a debate on the views he expressed on first and second mortgages. I have no difficulty in arranging a debate on that issue. In a very valuable scheme, local authorities purchase sites in areas of heavy demand for housing and resell them to people on housing lists for 10% of the cost. I can see the benefits of this scheme for areas of my county of Westmeath. However, the council has to take a first mortgage charge while the second charge is taken by the building society or bank. The Senator also called for a debate on all-year tourism.
I will revert to Senator Norris in regard to his questions on No. 15 on the Order Paper and his proposed motion. I will discuss it with the Senator after the Order of Business.
Senators Boyle, Walsh and Ó Murchú expressed their views on what is taking place at the tribunal. We have given the three eminent judges the job of deliberating over matters and of making their findings known. As soon as that happens, I assure the House that every Senator will have the opportunity to discuss the findings in full. I abhor this daily editing of the evidence of all those who appear before the tribunal, and I refer to all Taoisigh and not only to one Taoiseach. A lot of Senators would do well to take on board the views of Senator Ó Murchú, the president of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and an eminent Member and experienced Senator.
Senator McFadden called for a debate on respiratory diseases and asthma, for which I have no difficulty leaving time aside. She also asked about the summer works projects and the few schools in County Westmeath which were not fortunate enough to be included. I must, however, welcome the announcement of a new 16-classroom school for Mullingar, an eight-classroom school for Kinnegad, a new primary school for Clonmellon and a huge extension for Gainstown. We must welcome all the announcements, despite the disappointments. The Senator and I work hard on behalf of the people of County Westmeath and we will continue to do so.
Over the past two years the two Oireachtas committees of which Deputy Penrose and I were Chairmen held joint sittings on Fairtrade and invited the people of Mullingar to make a contribution. I am pleased to inform the House that Senator Daly arranged with me earlier to leave time aside next week for statements on Fairtrade. I look forward to hearing Senators' contributions on that issue.
Senators Coffey, Cummins and McDonald raised the issue of Waterford IT being given university status. We all look forward to that happening and I will pass on the Senators' views to the Minister for Education and Science.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on waiting lists and the National Treatment Purchase Fund. I have no difficulty arranging such a debate. Senator Donohoe called for a debate on private rented dwellings and all that pertains to that type of business. I will arrange a debate on that issue. Senator Hanafin called for a debate on energy security and a reliable supply of energy in the presence of the Minister. I have no difficulty arranging a debate.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate with the Minister for Health and Children on sexual health and matters pertaining to that very important issue. Senator Coffey called for an urgent debate on BreastCheck and the updated position in regard to Waterford and the south east. I will make inquiries about that.
Senator McDonald welcomed the fact the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the IFA have come out strongly in favour of a "Yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum. I am endeavouring to find a date in the diary of the President of the European Commission so that he can be present in the Chamber for a debate. Hopefully, that will be in the week after we come back following the Easter recess.