Thursday, 22 May 2008
Order of Business
The Order of Business today is No.1, motion re Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse Act 2000, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Broadcasting Bill 2008, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to adjourn not later than 1.30 p.m, with spokespersons having 20 minutes, all other Senators ten minutes, and on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, will come to the House today to discuss the Broadcasting Bill 2008. However, another issue for which he is responsible, namely, broadband access, is far more important for the majority of people in the country, and this House should do something about it. My brother runs a wireless broadband company which can provide exactly the same download speeds as Eircom and can provide broadband access in the most isolated rural areas. This is a rural issue as well as a broadband access issue. The quality of broadband service is often disputed by individuals who may have a vested interest. This House needs to debate broadband urgently to provide an opportunity to Members, who represent the entire country, to inform ourselves on the level of broadband access throughout the country in order that we can put together a report on the urban and rural areas with excellent or poor broadband access. The lack of broadband is a matter of major concern to many people and it is not progressing fast enough. This House should show leadership on the issue.
Professor Tom Keane, the new so-called "cancer tsar", has made the most insulting and disparaging remarks about doctors. He claims doctors refer their own family members to hospitals in Dublin when they are ill. This is an incredible charge to make. Deputy James Reilly and I are both doctors and close family members of both of us have had cancer and were treated at the nearest available hospital. We did not deliberately send them to a hospital to which we would not send our own patients. That remark should be withdrawn immediately by Professor Keane because it is being quoted left, right and centre and the implication is doctors provide one level of service for family members and another for their patients, which is wrong and incredibly insulting. I would like to point out to Professor Keane that patients from other areas——
I am sorry. However, this issue should be debated because up to 20% of patients treated in Dublin hospitals are from the midlands, north east or the south east and the reason for this is that hospital services are not available in those regions. I would like the Minister to come to the House for a debate on that. Innuendo should not be spread, such as the reason cancer services must be removed from hospitals in the north west is they are not up to standard in comparison to Dublin hospitals. That is not true but if that charge stands up, the reason is lack of funding of hospitals outside the greater Dublin region. A clear debate is needed to prevent people spreading innuendo and making charges about doctors and the quality of service in regional hospitals.
Will the Leader consider notifying the House through a timetable outlining debates scheduled for the upcoming month or an entire session? Slots can be left free to discuss urgent issues but I have asked for a debate on the Morris report on Garda corruption in Donegal and, along with other Senators, for a serious debate on the fishing industry. Senators need to know when debates are scheduled. A more structured approach to our workload is needed in order that Members know three or four weeks or perhaps two or three months in advance when debates are scheduled thereby allowing them to plan their workload around them. I accept that is difficult from the Leader's point of view because significant administrative work is necessary. Perhaps the House should seek more resources in order that business can be better organised and Members know what is happening.
I congratulate our colleague, Senator Bacik, on raising the question of whether it is suitable to imprison women for minor offences. I regret male Members of the Houses are not invited to the meeting on this later because it is important that men, who are coequals as legislators, should be involved in these discussions. The overwhelming majority of the prison population is male and an overwhelming element of that population comes from certain inner city districts in our principal cities. I would like that issue examined and not just the rights of women because what is sauce for the gander is also sauce for the goose.
I refer to the Lisbon treaty, which has been extensively discussed on the Order of Business. Allegations have been made that people have not been told the truth. Sometimes this is the result of a misunderstanding or misinformation but a case I took some years ago to the European Court of Human Rights has been widely canvassed as being a reason for voting "Yes". The case was taken under Council of Europe, not European Union, rules to the European Court of Human Rights, not the European Court of Justice.
I have raised serious questions about militarisation that will continue under the treaty. That is one of the reasons I have considerable problems about it. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to come to the House to clarify the position of Enterprise Ireland vis-á-vis the European Defence Agency? Who is representing Enterprise Ireland at meetings of the EDA? What type of meetings of the EDA are being attended by EI? How many EDA meetings has EI attended? The Minister for Defence should also attend the House to answer questions. What projects is Ireland involved in within the EDA, which used to be called the European Armaments Group? What do the projects entail? What is their purpose? What are the financial implications for those participating? What, if any, financial contribution is Ireland making or expected to make? Can we have clarity on these matters? Is Ireland part of the EDA's intergovernmental regime for defence procurement? If so, why was there no discussion in the Dáil on the decision to join the EDA or this regime? These are serious matters.
I was laughed at in the House and told I was a flake for raising the question of the increasing militarisation of Europe under the Lisbon treaty. I have clear and specific questions and I would like the relevant Ministers to come to the House to answer them. Will the Minister for Defence define what is "common defence"? I would like him to give us a detailed briefing on the financial implications of Ireland's membership of the EDA. The people of Ireland are entitled to clear, factual answers, which should be given in advance of the vote on the treaty.
We have had much discussion about the operation of the HSE and there is general agreement the organisation is not working. The latest debacle in the north east is another example of an organisation in crisis but, rather than wringing our hands about it, as some Members are doing, my party is proposing improvements. Later we will launch a six-point plan outlining how we think the HSE can be improved and it covers issues such as reducing bureaucracy, promoting accountability and putting the patient first. It is a constructive and reasonable plan and I encourage other Members to read it and to take on board what we propose.
I refer to the subject of language. Last week Members complimented the Houses on the provision of French and Irish classes for Members. Will the Leader use his good offices to look into whether it would be possible to arrange classes in plain speaking? The Taoiseach can speak three languages, Irish, English and a language with which I am not very familiar.
When the Tánaiste mentions two Commissioners, she means only one and they are backed by a cast who thinks it is okay to say one thing in the Houses about cancer services and to say something completely different outside the front gates of Leinster House.
We also suffer from a lack of plain speaking in this Chamber. Government Members called for a debate on Waterford Crystal but that has not taken place. Yesterday, a number of them were at odds about whether Ireland has a veto at the World Trade Organisation talks and, on a weekly basis, Government Members say it is time to reform the HSE. They have the power to do that but they are doing nothing. It is time we had more plain speaking from the Government. As a Deputy said repeatedly in the Lower House yesterday, one cannot have it both ways. I would like a debate on the use of plain speaking in the House.
I refer to the issues raised by Senator Norris. No. 14 on the Order Paper is Statements on the Lisbon Treaty, which can be resumed. Many issues have arisen and it would be useful in the context of the campaign to have them clarified in the House by Ministers. That would serve a good purpose and I ask the Leader to consider that. Many different stories have been put out by the "No" campaign and it would be right to refute them in the House. A report will be issued by the Joint Committee on European Affairs on its activities at outreach meetings about the treaty around the country and the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny will also issue a report on the new procedures that will result from agreement to the treaty on 12 June. The two reports will be launched this weekend and I ask the Leader to consider including them in the debate on the Lisbon treaty.
Will the Leader bring to the attention of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with responsibility for housing and urban development, Deputy Michael Finneran, the case of Fingal County Council, which paid €5.4 million to seven people to settle squatters' rights claims where individuals have spent 12 years or more on a particular property? Local authorities should have a database of all the properties under their control. When I was chairman of the Western Health Board, I arranged for all its properties to be assessed and put on a database to ensure continuity. A significant number of retired officials are aware of properties in the ownership of local authorities or the HSE, which sometimes are the subject of squatters' rights claims. Such a database would be in our interests and in the interests of the State. The sum of €5.4 million could build a few houses for people in need and could do a lot to assist in other projects in the health service. In one case, the former Western Health Board did not know who owned the property in question. This is a fine property in County Roscommon that is the subject of a squatters' right claim if they wish to pursue it in that regard. I ask the Leader to arrange for the appropriate Ministers to come to the House for a discussion. Our State assets should be protected and there is a certain carelessness which was evident from the situation pertaining to Fingal County Council and the site at Dunsink Lane.
Yesterday, I raised the issue of Waterford Crystal and the predicament in which it finds itself. I thank the Cathaoirleach for making facility for an Adjournment Debate on it today. I also called yesterday for a debate and called on the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to attend the House to discuss this issue which I and many around the House believe to be an issue of national importance.
I acknowledge the Leader's efforts to try to get a Minister to attend the House. I was disappointed that no Minister was available to attend the House yesterday. We often speak about how we need to make the House more relevant and to respond to issues of the day. The fact that we could not even get one Minister, never mind the Tánaiste, to attend the House to debate this important issue is an insult both to the House and the Leader. I look forward to the Adjournment today and, hopefully, some positive response from whatever Minister attends.
I also welcome yesterday's decision by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to recommend a "Yes" vote on the Lisbon treaty. The congress represents over 600,000 workers in Ireland and it is important that it is acknowledged for workers that a "Yes" vote for the treaty will enhance and protect workers' rights in this country. A strong message needs to go out to all workers in Ireland and the ordinary members and citizens of this country that a "Yes" vote is something that we should be recommending.
Childhood obesity and the problems it presents has been an issue for many years. Recently, the Irish Heart Foundation, in conjunction with other agencies, wrote to all Members of the Oireachtas highlighting its concerns regarding childhood obesity and the health problems associated with it. It is mounting a campaign about how to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy foods. It is a very interesting document and I hope all Members would take cognisance of it.
This is one aspect of how we should tackle childhood obesity with regard to advertising and marketing. However, there are other ways that the Government should be showing leadership, be they through the schools and educational programmes or the provision of proper physical education facilities in schools around this country. If we do not respond to this problem, we are storing up huge health problems for the future that will be of huge cost to the Exchequer, regardless of which party is in power. It is something that needs to be urgently addressed. I call for a debate on childhood obesity and how the Government proposes to address the problem.
Senator Twomey's request to be informed about debates in advance is a very good idea. As spokesperson on older people, I have monitored this and am delighted to inform the Senator that on 17 June 2008, we will have a discussion here on older people.
I would like Members of the Seanad to listen to other people and then participate and dialogue as we go along. Yesterday evening, we had a very serious discussion on children in care who are missing. It was a pity that more people did not stay and listen and converse with one another honestly because it is such a serious issue.
In respect of Professor Keane and cancer services, I am inclined to believe the professor. Senator Twomey and other people he knows may be an exception but we do have a two-tier health system. Generally speaking, people who have money use the private service and come to the best while people who do not have money must make do with the public service.
It is disgraceful that children in care who need psychiatric treatment — young people under 18 — must wait for 18 months for an appointment. If one has money, one can get an appointment immediately with a psychiatrist but if one is using the public service, one must wait.
I am asking why GPs require patients to pay €60 to be referred to a consultant when the patients know they need to see a consultant for rheumatism or whatever. They have a pain in their toe or leg. Why must one pay €60 to get a letter from a GP?
I am pleased that the Leader has arranged for a meeting on older people. I have asked three times already for a discussion on the position of 1,000 Irish prisoners abroad. I would like the Leader to let me know this morning whether he will arrange to hold a debate.
I am Fianna Fáil spokesperson for children in this Chamber. We have free national school and secondary education——
The Senator should not talk nonsense. We have free third-level education. We are neglecting the education of children up to the age of five. I would like the new Minister of State with responsibility for children to attend the House. Let us all participate in the debate the way we did with the Minister for Health and Children when she was here.
I request a five minute adjournment.
I rose to speak on a serious matter. I congratulate Senator Twomey on raising the issue of broadband and point out to him that No. 13 on the Order Paper is a Bill on broadband in the name of the Independent Senators. I take this opportunity to invite him and other Members of the Opposition to sign that Bill which aims to introduce broadband to every household and small business in the country. I am not making a political point when I say we would welcome Senator Twomey's support for the Bill. I intend to introduce that Bill at an early stage.
I ask the Leader to give time for the Bill. I would like it to be introduced in a non-partisan fashion. I would not necessarily expect the Government to support it, but I would like see the Minister using it as a basis for a Government Bill on broadband. I would not expect the Government, the Opposition or anybody to support it word for word or letter for letter but it might get the ball rolling. I urge the Leader to agree to a discussion on the Bill and perhaps use it as a basis for introducing speedy broadband in this country as soon as possible. There is a crisis in that regard and Senator Twomey has put his finger on it. I know that members of the Labour Party share our view that this is a crisis of infrastructure in this country. I do not think anybody disagrees about the critical nature of the issue. It is a matter of how it can be done, when and at what cost.
I ask Senators Twomey and Hannigan to support the Independent Senator's Bill, with which they should have no difficulty and to amend it, if they so choose, when it comes before the House. I also ask the Leader to give time for the Bill and to make the suggestion to the Minister when he comes to the House to deal with the broadcasting Bill that perhaps it can be adopted as a skeleton for a Government Bill on broadband.
I wish to point out that it is not the responsibility of the Government to ensure that children do not eat food that will make them obese. As we know from the report on childhood obesity published a number of years ago, for the first time the incidence of diabetes in young children has increased. It is regrettable that some parents would see fit to replace the traditional sandwich and bottle of milk for lunch with a packet of crisps, a bar of chocolate and bottle of fizzy drink. That is what is contributing to obesity in a major way. Members were treated to a very fine lecture on the issue by Ms Anna Clarke from the Diabetes Federation of Ireland. Parents should take responsibility for the rearing of their children. It is an operational matter for parents, not for the Government.
I have raised the issue of poaching and the elimination, in some cases, of our traditional fish stocks on several occasions. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on this matter. In County Westmeath one local paper in particular, the Midland Topic, has carried a number of articles over a period of time describing how the physical safety of those who were brave enough to confront poachers was threatened. When will we have a debate on this matter? I do not want something serious to happen, although very recently it almost did. I want us to be proactive rather than reactive in this matter.
The Green Paper on local government was published recently. I ask the Leader to invite to the House the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, to debate the matter. We are on the run-in to local elections and the green paper will provide for a very interesting debate. There are many fine proposals in it with which I agree but there are others I do not support. It would be useful to have such a debate at the earliest possible opportunity.
This morning I attended the launch of the Carer of the Year Awards organised by the Carer's Association. I attended the event because the association has a particularly vibrant presence in my neighbourhood and constituency. It was a very moving event and was attended by many carers and those being cared for. The enormous difficulties for some of the carers to simply attend such an event is indicative of the burden on them and the time-consuming nature of the great work they do in looking after loved ones.
Sorry, a Chathaoirligh, I do not want to take your place but when a Member of the Seanad is trying to make a point or is making a contribution, cognisance from other Senators——
I thoroughly agree with you, Senator. I have, on numerous occasions, asked people to refrain from talking when Members are speaking in the House. There is plenty of room outside if people wish to chat. I regret this has happened to you, Senator.
I am not too sure what the conversation is about and I am sure it is important. I am well able to handle any points that Senators wish to make but I am trying to make an important point here and am seeking a response from the Leader.
The Carer's Association has been very successful in gaining agreement for the launch of a carer's strategy later in the year to deal with the many issues upon which it seeks resolution. I ask the Leader to agree to a debate on this strategy in order that the Seanad and Oireachtas can have an input and give its views on what can be done better.
We have spent much time discussing the issue of competitiveness in this country, an issue in which the Leader is particularly interested, and the role energy costs are playing in affecting it negatively. New information was published this morning on the earnings levels in different sectors of our economy. The data indicate that people working in the public utilities sector earn €33 per hour, on average, which places them almost at the top of the wage scale. On the other hand, those working in the manufacturing sector, which is under enormous pressure at present, earn an average of €16 per hour. The Government must examine those sectors of our economy that are contributing to the decline in our competitiveness and do something about it. It is unacceptable that those in one sector of our economy earn twice as much as those in the most vulnerable sector. It is incumbent on the Government to act now.
I wish to refer to the explosive contribution from Senator Mary White. She was very quick to lay responsibility on doctors, trades unions and others but the responsibility for these issues lies with the Government and the party of which she is a member.
I support Senator Coffey's call for a debate on obesity in younger children. I agree that the document sent to all Members this week was very informative. I also support the call made by Senator Mary White for a debate on education for those aged under five. I agree with her that there was an excellent debate on child welfare in the Chamber yesterday and an excellent exchange of views with all Members across the divide and the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews. I primarily want to ask the Leader if he could arrange a debate on palliative care and the great work carried out by hospices. That would be a better way of talking about what is happening in cancer care here than taking a cheap shot at the eminent Professor Keane, as Senator Twomey did. He made his comments about——
The said professor made his comments in a lengthy contribution to the Committee on Health and Children many months ago. It is interesting that this issue only arose last night and this morning, but those comments were made previously. The professor talked about his colleagues here calling him in Canada to ask what would be the best treatment for their loved ones who were suffering from cancer. The doctors here suggested that they would like to take them out of the country, but Professor Keane — I apologise for mentioning his name again — or rather the professor said it would be better for them to be treated in Ireland where the expertise is located.
It is high-handed of Fine Gael when it, together with the Labour Party, in their programme for the Government in 2007 never mentioned cancer.
I assure the Cathaoirleach I will not engage in any finger-wagging. I appreciate the importance of all subject matters raised by the various Senators, but I would not doubt the accuracy or veracity of the remarks of my colleague, Senator Twomey——
On the issue of broadband, I agree very much with what Senators Twomey and Ross said. What they are seeking is something we have been promised by the Government for years. As the Leader is probably aware, he being a frequent visitor to Killarney, the tourism capital of Ireland, if one travels three or four miles east or west to Headford or Fossa, one would hear from the people living there that they have been trying for years to get a connection but have not been able to get it. This is an important issue. We would all support fully the spirit of what Senator Ross is trying to achieve. It is something to which we all subscribe.
On perhaps a more topical and important issue, which was touched on here in previous days, I do not believe anybody understands why diesel costs so much more than petrol. No one is aware of any new or different methods of refining it. It appears on the surface at least that the consumer is very much being got at. No one wants us to get back the tag we had for some time, of being rip-off Ireland but anyone who listened to a radio programme this morning would have heard about many high prices across the board. I have discussed the price of diesel with many people and no one to whom I talked can understand the reason for its high price.
That is correct. The National Consumer Agency has been brought into the frame, and presumably it is doing something about it, but it has been very quiet. I ask the Leader, if possible, to arrange for representatives of that agency to appear before the appropriate joint committee of the Houses on the subject because it is something that needs to be addressed immediately, if it has not been done already.
I read of a report yesterday where 12 young people in Dublin were successfully rehabilitated through a drugs rehabilitation programme run in conjunction with the HSE. There are, therefore, such initiatives that are quite successful. Where there is a successful model such as this it should be used in other communities throughout the country in the fight against drugs, which is a major national issue.
I attended a presentation this morning on behalf of Headstrong on the mental health of young people. Reference was made to a programme that has been a very successful model in Australia. Where the adoption of a model has proven to contribute to a huge reduction in the incidence of suicide — the incidence of which is more than 500 here — we should examine that model to determine how it could be used here, and funding should be provided. In the long term not only would it save lives and have a measurable effect, but it would also be a model by which we could measure outcomes.
The Leader agreed last week to a request that we would have clarification on the WTO agreement, on whether the Government accepted it had a veto and whether it was prepared to use it in the case of the farm sector not being adequately safeguarded and protected in the World Trade talks. He assured the House that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would give a clarification and response to that question this week. I inform the Leader and other Members of the House that such a response was not forthcoming yesterday. There was no clarification on either of those two points.
Senator Cannon has sought clarification on this point. A Senator from the Green Party said last week that we had no veto. Is the Government of one mind on this issue and has it any understanding of this question? Given that the farm leaders have raised a legitimate question, that it is raised in the context of the Lisbon treaty and that it will influence many farmers in how they vote on that treaty referendum, it is imperative that the Government clarify this situation and state its position. I question why that has not happened and whether the Taoiseach has given a diktat on this matter, whether he is in a sense getting combative with the farm leaders and trying to isolate or punish them by giving a direction that there is to be no response to what is a very legitimate question. The lesson from this is that the problem farmers have is not with Europe but with the Government. I ask the Leader to clarify why we have not got clarification on this, given that within the Government the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil do not seem to be speaking from the same script.
I apologise to my colleague, Senator Donohoe. I was checking an important point of fact with Senator Norris and was unaware we were causing a distraction. I apologise to the Senator, the Cathaoirleach and other Members of the House for that.
The matter I was raising with Senator Norris is a grave one. The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Gordon Brown, chose to meet the Dalai Lama in the tradesman's entrance, so to speak, by not bringing him to No. 10, Downing Street, but meeting him in Lambeth Palace, which the Dalai Lama and others understand to be for the economic reasons that the British authorities do not want to offend China.
This brings to our attention again an issue we discussed some weeks back, namely, what is to be our attitude to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing. It would be timely to hear from the Government about what is to be the official policy of this country, or perhaps in the context of a debate, we could canvass the views of the Members of this House. We could set an example. It would be a very good thing if the Dalai Lama were to address us either in a Joint Houses setting or in this House. It would be a good, effective and educative counterpoint to the treatment of the Dalai Lama by the British authorities.
On another serious matter, when we are talking about cuts in public expenditure it is disquieting that given the importance of information and communications technology in our schools, an issue I have raised in this House in the past, the Minister for Education and Science was unable to commit to the spending of €252 million over a number of years as was originally proposed.
It is also disquieting that doctors in University College Hospital, Galway have drawn on research from Australia to show——-
I am. It would be a debate about waste. When doctors in University College Hospital, Galway have said that according to Australian research in equivalent situations, the standard level of overcrowding in accident and emergency department could result in between ten to 20 unnecessary deaths per year, is it not time for us to ask whether there is a huge and unnecessary waste of public moneys on matters like public relations and spin doctors? What we need to do at a time of challenge is to readjust to see how we can prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable people. Planning for the future in education by providing information and communications technology is vital for the future of the economy.
I am glad the Broadcasting Bill is before the House today. It is important legislation but it is also important to draw Members' attention to the fact that section 125 proposes a free-to-air television service in respect of the proceedings of the House.
It will be known as the Houses of the Oireachtas channel and will probably come to be known as "HOC". The Taoiseach is doing his bit to make proceedings lively in the other House and Senator Mary White is doing her bit here but we need a debate——
Can we have a debate on how we can make our proceedings interesting to the public so that when there is free-to-air television, it does not turn people off? It certainly will not be attractive to commercial investors and I doubt if there will be any advertisements on HOC. We need to consider how we can make our proceedings interesting in order that there can be more participation in our democracy and not less.
I refer to the issue of packed accident and emergency departments which, according to The Irish Times today, doctors in Galway have said may lead to 20 deaths per year. I raise this issue in light of the debate which took place in the other House yesterday and in the context of inspiring confidence among people from Sligo and Mayo to go to the centre of excellence in Galway. When people had to cease treatment for breast cancer in Mullingar and were told to go to the Mater hospital, I was accused of being parochial when I raised concerns. It is shocking to read that because of overcrowding and staff being under so much pressure, 20 people may die. That is more than one death per month in the University College Hospital, Galway, which is very worrying.
I join Senator Feeney in calling for a debate on palliative care. Today's newspaper also states that this Government has reneged on providing funding for palliative care.
This is about deeds and not words. The eloquent Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, has come to the House but there have been no results. The doctors in Galway are crying out for a plan and a way to alleviate the situation in the accident and emergency department there. Many people from the midlands attend University College Hospital, Galway for cancer treatment and there is not even car parking.
Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House in order that we can once again appeal to her? Perhaps she might listen to our appeal.
Senators Twomey, Mary White, Ross and Coghlan expressed serious concerns about the unavailability of broadband throughout the country. I share their concerns in this regard. It is a serious challenge. It is necessary infrastructure which we all would like to see in place more quickly. I intend to allow as much time as Senators require for a wide-ranging debate on broadband. We must go through this county by county and hold to account those responsible for this portfolio.
This is the most important technology which could be put in place, especially in areas where difficulties are being experienced by the manufacturing industry. This is a new opportunity for people to create new jobs. As those of us who have been in business for a long time know, business is not about profit but about overheads. If one's overheads are looked after, one's profits will follow. Many people could run their businesses from their homes more cheaply than at present, especially if they are paying high rents and where it is not competitive to continue with the traditional family business.
Senator Ross referred to No. 13 on the Order Paper. If the Bill is presented, I will accept it and progress it to Second Stage when we can discuss the pros and cons of it and perhaps assist the Government with its Bill.
Many Senators, including Senators Twomey, Hannigan, Feeney and McFadden, expressed serious concerns about health care. Some very good suggestions were put to me, although some people were playing politics. Patients must come first. Senator Twomey has come to this House with a wealth of experience and when he talks about the medical profession, I listen attentively to him but when he talks politics, I consider what he says in a different light.
No Minister has come to the House more often in the first year of this Seanad than the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I will endeavour to arrange a debate with the Minister before the summer recess to update us on what is happening with the Health Service Executive. As someone who served as a member of the Midlands Health Board for more than 18 years, as did the Cathaoirleach, I know that we should not consider removing services from areas until they are available in the new destinations. That is common sense. Those suffering from the dreadful disease of cancer want to be assured that will happen. We heard on radio this morning about someone who had been deceased for 17 years getting a call. Much tightening up needs to be done.
The will is there on all sides but the patient must come first. All those in public life want to do the right thing for the patient. Three times more funding is available now than ten years ago, so it is not a question of funding. Those of us who were Members of this House in the 1980s and 1990s were always told something was a very good idea but that funding was not available. At least funding is now available.
Members with the expertise should get together and assist the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children to see what it can do to move forward in a positive way. I am sure the Minister and the Department are open to good suggestions which could assist.
As was outlined earlier, there are examples of best practice in Australia and New Zealand. Let the committee visit those destinations immediately and produce a report which could be acted on. That could speed up the process. Money may not always be available because, as we know, the economy is cyclical.
I call on Members with experience of, and expertise in, the health service and to whom I listen attentively on the Order of Business to assist the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. I will provide a day or two days on their return from Australia or New Zealand to debate their submission or report and see how the Seanad can play a part in ensuring we do what is right in terms of the allocation of next year's Estimate and allocation from the Department of Health and Children.
Senators asked that a programme of the business of the House be printed monthly. The Seanad is the same as the Dáil and takes its instructions from Government which usually makes a decision at its Tuesday morning Cabinet meeting. We are instructed as to what our business will be for the Thursday of that week and for the Tuesday and Wednesday of the following one. That is the way Government operates.
I can plan forward and as Senator Mary White said, I gave a date of 17 June for statements on older citizens, the challenges they face and the opportunities for those great experienced people who can still make a marvellous contribution to our country.
I have no say with regard to planning what legislation will be debated. That is decided by Government at the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday mornings. However, I will do anything I can to help and assist the leaders of all parties and the Whips. I have an open door and I have created an opportunity to sit down and meet for a half hour on the first sitting day of every week to discuss the best way to deal with business. I inform them of the business ordered by the Government and try and facilitate each party in the House. That is as much as I can do in that regard. If a Senator is available and wishes to raise a particular issue, I try to facilitate the diary of that Member as well as I can.
Senator Norris congratulated Senator Bacik on her initiative with regard to women prisoners and the prison service. He, along with Senator Regan, called for clarification on the various views expressed on the Lisbon treaty and the World Trade Organisation talks. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was in the House yesterday to debate the WTO talks and the Taoiseach will make a major statement this morning at the forum on the treaty. We all want to see clarification on the challenges facing the farming industry. I know this clarification will come before the referendum. I will make further inquiries on the matter and report to the House next Tuesday.
We will endeavour to have that debate and get the Ministers to the House before the referendum. If that is not possible, I will ask that they send written clarification to the Senator.
Senator Hannigan expressed his opinions on the use of languages in the House. It has been very uplifting to hear the Taoiseach, Senators Labhrás Ó Murchú and Joe O'Toole and all the wonderful people who speak Irish so fluently speak in Irish in the House. I have congratulated them in House. I can only agree with the Senator.
With regard to that language, when a former office holder was in the south of Ireland many years ago, he used such language when speaking about the national question. He may not have used it in the House, but he used it in that context. That is the reason the Nationalist community in the North of Ireland could always rely on Fianna Fáil on the national issue.
Similar language was also used in another private conversation that took place in Dáil Éireann with the former president of the Labour Party. The system that existed at that time still exists. It is in this House also. Even if Senators' microphones are not switched on, that does not mean their conversations are not being heard. At the time, the Ceann Comhairle did not hear the utterances of the former president, Proinsias De Rossa, whose microphone was not turned on. However, his words were recorded.
Perhaps even the intimate conversations going on this morning while Senator Paschal Donohoe was speaking were recorded. Who knows.
Senator Coffey raised the matter of the serious challenge facing Waterford Crystal. I thank the Senator for his co-operation and understanding yesterday and thank the Cathaoirleach for ensuring the Senator will be able to express his views in an Adjournment debate on the conclusion of the debate on the Broadcasting Bill today. He will be able to express the serious concerns of the people of the south east at that time.
Senators Glynn and Coffey expressed strong views on the issue of child obesity. The Minister of State with responsibility for that area is Deputy Mary Wallace, a former Senator. We will seek her presence in the House to discuss this serious challenge facing children. Senator Mary White called for a debate on the 1,000 Irish prisoners abroad. I will try to arrange a date for that debate.
Senator Glynn for a long time has been seeking a debate on fish stocks. I am endeavouring to have that debate take place before the summer recess. This is a serious challenge for Westmeath, the lakes county, in particular and for all the lakes in the midlands area where fish stocks are so important for tourism. This issue will be on our calendar before the summer recess. The Senator also called for debate on local government issues and the Green Paper. I suggest we should wait another month or so for that debate when the new local authority constituency boundaries are announced.
Senator Donohoe called for a debate on the carers' strategy. I said previously that all carers should get a gold medal for the great work they do. There is no more worthy call than one for a debate on carers. I have no difficulty in trying to arrange this and ensure it will happen.
The Senator also pointed out that one of the great challenges facing the country is competitiveness. We can discuss this issue in debate on the economy. The issue is a great challenge to the social partners who are trying to get agreement for another three or four-year period. I wish them well. I have no difficulty with arranging a debate on this issue as soon as possible.
Senator Prendergast highlighted the success of the drugs rehabilitation programme for 12 young people. Some Senators are attending a sub-committee this morning that will deal with serious problems such as drug abuse and suicide, etc. I wish that sub-committee well.
Senator Mullen asked that the Dalai Lama be invited to the House. That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which I know intends to discuss the issue shortly. He also called for a debate on time wasting.
Senator Quinn was the first person I know of who lived by a planned diary with regard to the time he could spend on various issues and in various places. I have no difficulty with affording time for a debate on the use of resources.
With regard to the debate on the Broadcasting Bill which follows the Order of Business, we have been trying for eight to ten years to have an Oireachtas channel to broadcast proceedings. The Seanad stands to benefit most from this new broadcast facility, because it offers us the opportunity of Seanad reform with regard to changing the time of the Order of Business so that citizens can see our deliberations and be informed of the workings of the House at first hand and unedited. I look forward to this happening. Such broadcasts have been very successful for our near neighbours in the United Kingdom and in the United States.
I certainly want support on section 121 of the Bill so that this may happen. We have the hardware such as cameras in place. Therefore, it would not require significant investment to ensure every home in Ireland would be able to watch the affairs of the Oireachtas. How uplifting that would be from the educational point of view for primary, secondary and third level students. They could watch the proceedings of both Houses and of committees on a daily basis. The Bill provides an opportunity to us parliamentarians to ensure this happens and bring the news of Oireachtas proceedings to the people in their homes.