Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the Irish language, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 1 p.m., on which the contributions of spokespersons shall not exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators shall not to exceed five minutes and Senators may share time, with the Minister to be called ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from leaders and spokespersons; and No. 2, Multi-Unit Development Bill 2009 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. and adjourn at 5 p.m., if not previously concluded. Private Members' business will be No. 37, motion No. 16 regarding the compulsory retirement from the Army of Lieutenant Dónal de Róiste, to be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m. There will be a sos between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
The Minister for Health and Children needs to come to the House for an urgent debate on the newspaper headlines about the failure to read 58,000 X-rays in time for the patients affected. This means that either no one gives a damn about the results of the X-rays or the X-rays were irrelevant in the first place. The Government's response has been pathetic. There is almost a malaise and apathy affecting certain Ministers regarding concerns about their Departments. We need an urgent debate on the matter. It is too serious to ignore the fact that 58,000 X-rays were not read properly and that there are still delays in reading X-rays carried out in excess of six months ago, with some taken up to four years ago.
I also seek an urgent debate on the public sector strike action. The phoney war is over but this is a serious issue. Any strike will reduce productivity in the economy. If productivity is reduced, our competitiveness will be reduced and if that happens, more people will lose their jobs in the coming months. The Government deficit is already massive and we are heading towards bankruptcy. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on the issue as a matter of urgency. Public sector workers have taken a disproportionate hit in the last two budgets, which is acceptable, but the Government part of the economy is the part that is in the greatest mess. We need to have an urgent debate on the likely outcome of the strike and how it will impact on citizens. Therefore, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we discuss the effects of the strike and how it will affect all citizens, both now and in the future. I ask that the debate be held as a matter of urgency.
We should not waste the time of the Minister for Health and Children by requesting her to come to the House to deal with the matter raised. It does not reflect malaise or apathy on her part that there were problems among medical staff, including clinicians, physicians, radiographers and others. It is time we had a debate on the difference between accountability, responsibility and related matters and on the role of a Minister.
The role of the Minister is not to read X-rays or run hospitals but to ensure they are run as well as a Minister can so ensure and that if problems arise, they are dealt with. Blame cannot attach to the Minister in this matter. That is a disinterested independent view. What has happened is absolutely appalling. I understand what the Opposition parties have to do and do not blame them for so doing because Members on the other side of the House would do the same. Some Members have been here long enough to know that I defended the former Ministers for Agriculture, Mr. Ray MacSharry and Mr. Ivan Yates, a few months later, on the same issue. We do not do ourselves justice in carrying on like this. While we need answers, we also need to recognise and understand what it is a Minister is supposed to do. If anybody believes having a different Minister in the Department of Health and Children would change matters at hospital level, that is not the way it happens. We should consider this point.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to debate an issue I raised yesterday. I hope the Leader of the House will accept the amendment because I know it is completely in tune with his own thinking. I also know Members on the other side of the House, certainly of the main Government party, agree with me. My proposal relates to the non-Government motion No. 17, "That the Broadcasting Act 2009 ... Levy Order ... be and is hereby annulled". The levy - there is a huge increase in the charge - imposes an unacceptable and unfair burden on local radio stations, in particular, at a time when their advertising and other income has dropped by perhaps 50% or more and they have had to cut jobs and reduce their activities and services. It seems to be a daft time to do this. I accept that money needs to be raised and it can be done. However, it should be left to the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to go through the accounts in order that we will have cogent reasons, proper arguments and a clear understanding of why this needs to be done now, what the new costs are and how the equation to implement these decisions was arrived at. I ask the Leader for his support on this matter and to follow his heart on it. I ask that he accept my amendment that motion No. 17 be taken as the first item on the Order of Business.
Will the Leader indicate what is proposed about the reports in the newspapers today that thousands of marriages conducted at embassies in Dublin have apparently been declared invalid? Will he indicate whether the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, or the relevant Minister, will respond to this extraordinary state of affairs, whereby hundreds of people who have lived in this country, many of whom have worked here, and got married in embassies in Dublin have been told that their marriages are, in fact, invalid? If the shoe was on the other foot and this was occurring to so many Irish people living abroad, one can imagine the level of justified indignation and high dudgeon there would be both here and elsewhere. Will the Leader indicate what is proposed to rectify this extraordinary state of affairs, whereby people are finding, in some cases three, four or five years after they were married in Dublin, that their marriages are invalid? This will have very serious implications for them in terms of the recognition of their marriages in their home countries.
While on the subject of people living abroad, I ask the Leader to respond to the call made by Senator Hannigan on a number of occasions in the House, to which I understood he had agreed, for a debate on the Irish Diaspora. This seems to be an appropriate time to have such a debate which has been called for on a number of occasions but not facilitated.
As we all know, the debate on the Finance Bill is about to finish in the other House. Presumably, the Bill will be taken in this House the week after next. I know the Leader is often not anxious to indicate when matters will be discussed until it is necessary or perhaps in his mind it is appropriate to do so, but given the importance of the Bill and in view of the fact that he has told many Members on both sides of the House that they can raise economic issues in the debate, will he indicate the timescale in mind for the debate on Second, Committee and Report Stages?
On Senator O'Toole point on non-Government motion No. 17 on the Broadcasting Act, the issue is not the charging of the levy but the amount involved. The matter needs to be fully reviewed. The Minister is doing this, as our parliamentary party was advised last night. It is important that the issue is dealt with because if it is not addressed, the increase will result in the closure of local radio stations, of which there is no doubt. The levy proposed is far too excessive. RTE receives approximately €200 million a year from the licence fee; local radio stations receive no such income. What is being proposed is not fair, especially in these difficult times. Therefore, the matter should be debated. I hope the Leader will arrange such a debate shortly and that the Minister will attend the House to discuss the matter.
The taxi drivers' strike has caused difficulty and great inconvenience. I recommend that Senators Norris and O'Toole move non-Government motion No. 2 on the Order Paper on taxi regulations in Private Members' time to enable us to discuss the issue.
The taxi regulator is demanding that taxi owners replace their vehicles once they are nine years old, even if they are in good condition. Many cannot raise the money to replace their cars which are in excellent condition and undergo the national car test. I, therefore, ask for a moratorium on the proposal. If Members opposite will not table the motion on the matter, I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue and for the Minister to be in attendance. This would be the ideal forum in which to resolve this difficult issue.
I support Senator O'Toole's amendment to the Order of Business to discuss the broadcasting levy. It is an unfair levy on independent broadcasters. The level of service local radio stations provide for communities is immeasurable; their services extend into every house and community. It is important, therefore, that the issue be debated at a meeting of Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in order that its aspects can be properly teased out before a ministerial order is made.
I request the Leader to arrange a debate on restoring our competitiveness. This is an important aspect in restoring growth in the economy. Chambers Ireland has just produced its yearbook which is entitled, Restoring Competitiveness - Ireland's Priorities for 2010 and beyond. In such a debate we should engage with the unions on all sides in order that we can reflect on the need to restore competitiveness in the economy. Existing structures in State agencies and even Departments were created many decades ago for a different time. They need to be restructured to respond to modern needs to ensure the economy can grow again. We need to protect and create jobs - they should be the key priorities. Restoring our competitiveness is key in that respect. I, therefore, ask the Leader to make provision for a debate on the matter. It would benefit not only this House but the economy in general to engage in a national debate on the need to restore competitiveness.
It is welcome that the debate on head shops will resume tomorrow afternoon. In that regard, I call on the Leader to convene a meeting of interested Members of the House so we could put together a working group to drive this issue forward in order that we could successfully pursue the issue of these head shops and, I hope, get them closed down eventually.
I propose that the Leader convene a meeting of all interested Senators and that a working group be established using the expertise available in the House, whether legal or otherwise. Perhaps this working group could be chaired by an Independent Senator such as Senator O'Toole who, more than 20 years ago, submitted a policy paper on drugs and a drugs strategy.
When we have the debate on the banks, we should look at the issue of sponsored programmes on radio and television, in particular on our national broadcaster, RTE. We should ask how appropriate it is for business programmes to be sponsored by financial institutions which are acting in an illegal manner, repossessing vehicles from clients who have fallen into arrears through no fault of their own. Perhaps we could address that when we have the debate on banking.
I see why Members on this side of the House want an urgent debate on what happened in Tallaght Hospital. That is important and it would be very useful if we had one. However, what Senator O'Toole said is correct that the knee-jerk reaction of some politicians when something happens in a vast Department like the Department of Health and Children of calling for the resignation of the Minister for Health and Children is absurd. It would be sensible for her to come to the House when she returns from New Zealand to explain what happened because a very tragic situation has arisen in Tallaght Hospital.
Undoubtedly, there should be accountability but I deplore the fact that politicians - we are all guilty of it - constantly lose sight of the fact the people who matter are the patients. It is not really time for bloodlust and to call for the resignation of the Minister simply because something happened in her Department for which she is not directly responsible. It is not reasonable to expect her to police every corridor, every X-ray machine or every hospital every day. It is reasonable to expect her to come to the House to tell us what happened, why it happened and what will be done to ensure it does not happen again.
Some time ago a similarly absurd reaction came from the Opposition when the Taoiseach was found to have held €400 worth of shares in Conroy Petroleum. There were screams for his resignation because he had some vague and indirect involvement in mining in the Ministry he held at the time. We must be very careful when something happens that we do not blame a Minister for something for which he or she is quite obviously not directly responsible. We should demand that the Minister for Health and Children comes into the House if we need an explanation but it is a pity to constantly demand resignations because it devalues calls made in reasonable and justifiable circumstances.
I support the expressions of concern in regard to the situation in Tallaght Hospital. I agree with what Senator Ross said. The political thing to do is to accuse the Minister of being in some way responsible. However, that undermines the whole system, in particular the accountability factor. Last night and this morning I heard people talk about another systems failure. This was not a systems failure but a case of an individual or individuals who failed to do their job properly in the public service. The time has come when those people must be held to account in the same way as those in the private sector who err grievously in the carrying out of their duties are held to account. Unless we do that, we will not have accountability in the public service.
I noted that the Committee of Public Accounts recently focused on the hospital consultants' contracts. Alarmingly, they discovered that 226 hospital consultants have failed to comply with the terms of their contracts in regard to the 80% public to 20% private work. Those in management in the HSE must ensure that aspect of the contract is enforced. This resonates with what happened in the past when contracts requiring 70% public to 30% private work ended up being 60% public to 40% private work. In some instances I suspect it was almost 50% public to 50% private work. It is scandalous, given the huge increases in salaries awarded as part of them, if these contracts are not policed in a way that patients and taxpayers get the benefit of those contracts. I have already criticised the fact those salaries are far too high. They are 50% in excess of what is paid to consultants' counterparts in England, for example. They are unsustainable.
I support the arguments put forward in regard to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources unanimously recommended that the levy be annulled. Another arm of Government, with a budget of €7.6 million, which is 46% or 47% up on last year, wants to levy the private sector. That is unsustainable. I will vote with the Government on the Order of Business but I put on record my dissatisfaction with any solution that does not tell the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland that the maximum budget it should be allowed is €5 million and that asks it to come back with an organisation chart and programme to achieve that.
I wish to appraise the Leader of the fact there is a waiting list for palliative care in County Kildare and that the providing facility is short seven staff. St. John's in Sligo has had to close beds owing to staff shortages. The moratorium is affecting the elderly, the intellectually disabled, and step-down and rehabilitation facilities, to mention a few. The Labour Court has recorded that it is concerned about the standards of care.
An internal HSE report which completed last April by a former director of nursing at St. James's Hospital shows critical shortages of staff in 53 continuing care facilities. She graded the lack of staff as immediate, urgent and necessary. The HSE and the Department of Health and Children did not provide funding for public health nurse training for 120 nurses in September, thereby cutting off the very supply needed to administer care in primary care settings.
The Minister goes on about primary and yet the moratorium is killing front-line services and is having a grave effect. I call on the Minister to come to the House to discuss this report which was commissioned on foot of an independent inquiry showing a staff deficit in all these continuing care facilities. This inaction is a further indictment of a Minister who seems totally out of touch.
I call on the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to annul the broadcasting levy. I speak with great experience of local radio. Politicians would not be able to get their message across to many people were it not for the dedicated service of local radio stations, which in my case are Midlands 103 and Shannonside. I fear for the jobs, the advertising revenue, etc. which will be lost if there is a threat to these radio stations.
I refer to the debacle in Tallaght Hospital. I disagree with my learned colleague, Senator O'Toole. Responsibility lies fairly and squarely with the Minister. She said on "Morning Ireland" today that she does not like to meddle but surely she is meddling by putting a moratorium in place and by causing staff reductions which will destroy our health service. There will be more fatalities and more people will suffer as a result. That is the reason Tallaght Hospital employed a consultant radiologist in January. Why did it not employ a consultant radiologist when the problem existed four years ago? We would not have had this debacle.
Confidence and assurance are absent. The Minister used these two words when she spoke publicly this morning and assured people the problem would be resolved. Why did she allow the problem to occur in the first instance? Why did she impose an embargo on staff recruitment? The problem is not the fault of staff in Tallaght Hospital. The blame lays squarely at the feet of the Minister.
The House has had a number of debates on how best to sustain and create employment. Over the years, the decision of major industries to close or relocate has had a devastating impact on the affected areas, frequently leaving hundreds of workers unemployed. In times of recession small industries often have the best chance of surviving because they have a loyalty base in the local community and tend to keep overheads low. As Senators are aware, these types of businesses are under serious threat. While the issue of cashflow from banks will have to be attended to, we must lay down a marker that not every company or group which applies for a loan should be accommodated because the issue of viability also arises.
Another area we must address relates to the Revenue Commissioners. It would be helpful if an assessment were carried out of the taxes small businesses must pay on demand. Payment of tax is often the deciding factor in whether a company continues or closes down. If a company closes, the Exchequer will not receive any revenue from PAYE payments and so forth. If the assessment I propose is done, we should seriously consider introducing a moratorium of perhaps two years to give companies an opportunity to achieve stability in parallel with the stabilisation of the economy. Such a measure would keep employees in small businesses in a job and enable the Exchequer to continue to benefit from the revenue provided by these companies. To turn a blind eye to the problem and allow companies to close on the basis that they must pay their tax would lead us into a cul-de-sac. While I do not propose the introduction of a tax amnesty, I urge the Leader to discuss with the appropriate Minister the possibility of a introducing a moratorium to apply in the circumstances I have described.
Will the Leader indicate when the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill is likely to come before the House? I am aware the legislation is still before a select committee and I understand an unprecedented number of amendments, some 700 in total, have been listed for the Bill. It is a matter of particular interest to learn when the legislation will come before the House as it is likely that we will need considerable time to deal with it.
I also ask for an urgent debate on failures in the criminal justice system in response to the revelations in the Murphy report and, in particular, in response to a disturbing report broadcast on the BBC "Newsnight" programme last night about convicted serial sex abuser, Bill Carney. Mr. Carney was described in the Murphy report as one of the most serious, serial sexual abusers investigated by the commission. He was convicted in 1983 of indecent assault and despite being defrocked in 1992, received a pay-out of £30,000 from the Catholic Church. The Murphy report indicated that his whereabouts are unknown but he is believed to be in Scotland. I understand a BBC team used Google to track him down to an address at 4 Murray Park, St. Andrews, Scotland, where for ten years-----
The issue was discussed on television last night and the individual in question was convicted in 1983 in this jurisdiction. The Murphy commission indicates that 32 individuals made complaints or allegations against this man. A number of these complaints were made to the Garda. Questions need to be answered as to the reason this man was allowed to run a family friendly guesthouse in Scotland for ten years. He is now in the Canary Islands where the BBC team tracked him down. He can be in contact with children and families at all times and is not subject to monitoring. It also appears that no European arrest warrant has been issued for him. Questions must be asked in general about our criminal justice system and how this issue has been allowed to arise.
The Murphy report also refers to past collusion by Bishop James Kavanagh with senior gardaí which prevented this man being brought to justice and allowed many people to be abused, one of whom subsequently committed suicide.
I ask the Leader to arrange, at an appropriate time, a debate on the Health Service Executive to enable the House to review the work of the organisation. While I have stated publicly that the jury is out on the HSE, having had scandal after scandal it strikes me that we have created a monster and are allowing it to roll down the tracks. The position seems to be one of keeping the monster and changing the CEO.
The health boards were working well and we established a regional health authority which was also working well. Senator McFadden was not correct to blame the Minister, as she knows, because the HSE is the responsible authority for the delivery of service. The HSE has failed.
I am simply asking the Leader to arrange a wide-ranging debate on the HSE. I also ask him to arrange a debate on the taxi industry at a convenient time. Taxi drivers are protesting because the relevant authorities refuse to enter talks. Is it not sad that we will not talk to the taxi industry on issues that impact on the daily lives of taxi drivers and their families? I would be pleased to provide briefing documents to the Leader and anyone else who wishes to have them.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Twomey on the position of public service workers.
There is no doubt the Health Service Executive has much to answer for. As Senator Twomey and others correctly noted, Senators cannot bring the HSE before the House and must rely on statements from the Minister. Surely the Minister has overall responsibility and accountability to the Oireachtas. This is the reason the call has been directed at the Minister.
The HSE has much to explain. As Senators will be aware, a large Sacred Heart statue, a landmark in Killarney which stood for more than 70 years over the front entrance of our district hospital, has been forcibly removed. Apparently, this was done without any consultation with patients or staff. I am not aware of any other issue in recent times which caused such upset in the local community as the removal of the statue without consultation. That people who fight turf wars in their little cocoons believe they can decide what is best for the rest of the community is disgraceful and the HSE must be made accountable for this matter.
On a wider issue, the events which have occurred in Tallaght Hospital are a disgrace. The House must rely on the Minister for information but the HSE has much to explain. I would like to hear the Leader's views on the matter.
I had agreed to second Senator O'Toole's motion but I have been positively anticipated by Senator Coffey. Notwithstanding that, I will make a few points on the issue. The decision in committee was taken unanimously and on a cross-party basis. This is one of the few instances in which the House can have an impact. The Seanad, acting alone, can effect the withdrawal of the proposal. By voting it down, the Government side is helping to create what has been described as a dysfunctional democracy. I ask the Leader, as a matter of grave urgency, to take up with the Data Protection Commissioner the fact the United States has introduced a new digital millennium copyright Act. Under this YouTube offers an automated system whereby a third party can post a notice requesting another party's site to be removed. In order to negate this, the targeted person must supply his or her personal details to the third party, who will often use a fake name. This facility has been used already to stalk young women. In the United Kingdom it has been used to target a man, libel him criminally, label him a paedophile and subject him to attack. It is only a matter of time before a tragedy occurs and the issue must be examined.
Last week Senator Hannigan paid a generous tribute to Michael Foot, the great leader of the British Labour Party. However, one aspect of the man that has not really been put forward to the degree it should is his remarkable connection with Ireland. In 1980, Victor Griffin, then Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, invited him to deliver the first Swift lecture. Michael Foot was a great authority on Swift and he spoke unscripted - I was there. He gave the most electrifying and marvellous address on Swift, the challenge the writer posed to church, state and politicians, his horror of war and cruelty and conquests and crimes committed in the name of Christ or patriotism. He spoke of how Swift prophesied that if the new money class - the bankers - should rule the community, there would be a danger of unrestricted capitalism, especially to the poor-----
Given that the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources unanimously approved a motion on the broadcasting levy, I ask the Leader, in the interest of jobs and communications policy, to accept Senator O'Toole's motion allowing it to be passed rather than divide the House, as Senator Norris rightly remarked. That would give power to all of us in this House.
Some 54,000 X-rays were not read. It is not the Minister's duty to read all those X-rays. The story of Tallaght Hospital is about patients who are people, as Senator Ross rightly noted. It is about what happens when there is no accountability and responsibility. There is a fault line in Irish life today, created in the main by the Fianna Fáil Party. There is neither accountability nor responsibility. When will we see the Government accepting responsibility? It is sickening to listen to people talking about the HSE. The HSE was created and is fed by Government. It was created as a buffer zone, with bureaucrats taking the blame instead of having political responsibility. When will this stop?
We are talking about people. If one listens to Rebecca O'Malley or reads her comments in the newspapers this morning, one will see that the core of what she is saying is that certain people are looking after others. There is a bonus culture in this country, again created by Fianna Fáil, which has allowed for the passing of the buck. When will we see an end to the Fianna Fáil operation of allowing for no responsibility or accountability? When will we see change?
When will we have a debate-----
I welcome the publication, tomorrow, of the Government's innovation taskforce report and have seen reports of what it will contain. One recommendation is that we improve our broadband capacity which still lags behind international averages. The report also discusses mathematics and how we can encourage more people to study the subject. One suggested proposal is that we increase the number of CAO points students get for mathematics. I would welcome that. It fits in with the report published by Engineers Ireland last month on mathematics and science. One of that report's conclusions was that currently twice as many people study geography as study mathematics but it is through mathematics and science we will dig our way out of this recession.
The Engineers Ireland report suggested 18 different proposals for increasing the number of people studying mathematics. It looked at items such as tax breaks for teachers and better training. One interesting proposal was to ban calculators at primary school level in order to increase numeracy. If we are to get our way out of this recession it will be by encouraging people to study mathematics and science and, therefore, I would welcome a debate on this matter and encourage the Leader to arrange one in conjunction with a debate on the innovation taskforce report.
I can understand the anger in the Chamber this morning concerning the HSE and what has happened at Tallaght Hospital. The HSE is under the microscope today; yesterday it was the banks or some other party, and it was somebody else last week. I listened to Professor Conlon on "Morning Ireland"-----
I have a question for the Leader. I listened to Professor Conlon and was very impressed by him. I believe we have a great man heading up Tallaght Hospital, which is a great hospital. He discovered the problem within a couple of days of taking up his appointment. He was medical director prior to taking up his post as chief executive officer and he put the ball in motion. The guidelines that were brought in after what happened in Portlaoise Hospital were put in place immediately in Tallaght. Some 3,000 to 4,000 X-rays are being looked at every week in Tallaght Hospital and the process will be finished by May, only two months away. This morning the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, accepted that the process which is in place now is perfectly acceptable. However, I ask the Leader for a debate on the good things that are happening in the Department of Health and Children and the HSE, such as the introduction of primary care and specialist centres, the setting up of HIQA and the fair deal policy. We have had individual debates on all those matters.
Senator Buttimer said that no X-rays were read. X-rays were read. They might not have been read by a radiologist but were read by very experienced consultants who were dealing with the individual patients.
Only the Minister for Health and Children is responsible to this House, not the HSE. Only the Minister is accountable to the people. Will the Leader ask the Minister to reassure patients and the people that measures are in place to prevent this happening again? We thought we had this reassurance before. Now we see this incredible medical error. It took a person's death for the error to be spotted. It is just not right.
Equally, I want to ask the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Science to engage quickly with the teachers' unions which are now threatening half day and full day closures. Our children cannot learn in a stop-go system. Equally, teachers should not be made pay for all the economic woes of this country. I implore the Minister for Education and Science to engage in order to prevent the unions from creating such deadlock and bringing the entire system to a halt. The same thing is happening with regard to the hospital strikes-----
I listened with great interest to Senator Feeney and I must say I share some of her concerns about the way in which debates take place. It would be great if we could get away from the polarised debate where people are either speaking out against serious problems, for example, that arise in the HSE, without also talking about the good things that are happening. The same onus is on the Government side not to be constantly in the defensive mode but to recognise there are problems and that they need to be addressed. I was thinking in a similar vein in the context of the church when reading the report in today's The Irish Times on the excellent work being done by the National Board for Safeguarding Children and its head Ian Elliott. It would be nice if, while being justly critical of all the wrong that has taken place and all the failures that continue to happen, people would also recognise the excellent progress that has been made in regard to safeguarding children. There is a culture of excellence on board given the work of Mr. Elliott and the National Board for Safeguarding Children. It would be good if these debates were not reduced to polarised experiences between people who have different agendas and who are using the issues of the day to pursue those agendas.
I wish to raise a matter that I raised briefly yesterday. In light of the interesting and critical comments made by the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, about the political system, is it not time we had a debate in the House about how the political system is working? A few months ago we had a very intense debate about proposals to abolish the Seanad. What have we done since then to prove our utility to the people? We should have serious debates about the future of this country and about how the political process is working. That is the kind of reflective debate that would do this House a great credit. I ask the Leader to name a date for such a debate on the operation of our political system and, indeed, about the direction which our Republic is taking.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the HSE and, in particular, to focus on the possibility of reintroducing the health boards. At present the people feel they are dealing with a monolithic organisation and perhaps it is time to look again at the real value of the health boards with which the people felt a real connection. I am conscious that at that time councillors from all political parties served on these boards for utility. As a person who has qualifications in finance, marketing, humanities and law I realise how little I know in many different areas but the value of the person on the group who can reassure people about their local or regional hospital cannot be overstated. I ask the Leader to recommend strongly that the Minister come into the House with a view to speaking about health boards and having local representatives back on those health boards with the HSE having an over-arching control.
If accountability was working properly, a Minister from the Department of Health and Children would be in here today outlining what has happened in Tallaght Hospital and how 23,000 patients who are awaiting an X-ray will be dealt with because that is the most important issue. The anxiety being experienced by those patients should be dealt with and resources put in place. I ask the Leader to ensure that one of the five Ministers from the Department of Health and Children comes into the House today and gives us an update.
There has to be accountability and questions arise. The CEO said this morning that the Minister was informed in December. She said she really only got the full picture yesterday. We need to hear why there is this discrepancy in the two stories. That is very important. If this democracy is to mean anything, there must be accountability. That is not to say the Minister is responsible for what has happened but she is accountable.
Why do we have a Department of Health and Children if the Minister and the Ministers in it are not accountable in this sort of situation. We must have accountability and we should have it in this House today in relation to this issue. I ask the Leader to bring in a Minister from the Department. There are five Ministers in that Department.
Given the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources unanimously agreed last week that the Minister should annul the statutory instrument that will result in the imposition of a levy on independent radio stations that will inevitably cost jobs, particularly in rural Ireland, will the Leader agree to a Labour Party proposal to request the Minister to annul the statutory instrument and will he allow his members in this House, some of whom spoke in favour of Senator O'Toole's motion, a free hand in the vote that is imminent? If this House is to mean anything and if there is any element of democracy, particularly from the ruling party, surely he will allow that free hand so this House can express its faith in independent radio stations.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole, Alex White, Ross, Jim Walsh, McFadden, Callely, Coghlan, Feeney, Buttimer, Healy-Eames, Mullen, Hanafin and Fitzgerald all expressed their strong views in regard to the HSE and the unfortunate people who attended Tallaght Hospital. There were 54,000 X-rays as mentioned by colleagues. It is an unacceptable and appalling situation that once again human failure has brought this about and whoever is responsible should be made accountable. As has been mentioned by colleagues a serious and urgent debate is also needed on the broader picture of the working of the HSE. When the HSE was set up, perhaps it was correct that politicians took a step back. As Senator Hanafin has said, and as Senator Fitzgerald pointed out very strongly in regard to accountability, public representatives do not feel the HSE is not accountable to the political process. This is a huge failing. When we want information and want to be in the decision-making process this is a complete snub on behalf of the HSE towards every individual politician no matter what political party they represent in both Houses. We have a duty to the taxpayer and to patients, who are the most important, to see whether the HSE should continue in its present form. Certainly the public representatives of the Dáil and Seanad are of the view that the HSE is a law unto itself. It makes the decisions and whether those decisions are good for constituents we are not being consulted. Given the annual cost of €15 billion or €16 billion, which is treble the allocation in 1997, we have a duty to review the entire HSE in general. I will allow an entire day's debate on this issue and, if need be, a second full day on the operation of the HSE. We heard the Minister speak on radio this morning and we all know she is out of the country on her way to New Zealand. The Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, is fully supportive of the Seanad and any time I have requested her to attend she has always been forthcoming in respect of her attendance and has given the most minute detail and information. I agree with colleagues that patients are of the utmost importance in Tallaght Hospital. It is a very good hospital which is employing 3,600 people to administer a service. Human error has caused this difficulty and it is unacceptable. I agree with colleagues on all sides of the House in this regard.
On the Minister's return, I will arrange for a debate as long as colleagues wish, with the Minister present, on the up-to-date situation with regard to Tallaght Hospital.
An urgent debate on the Government's up-to-date policy on the public sector was called for. I have no difficulty in having time left aside for this, but I hope the Taoiseach and the social partners get around the table in the next few weeks and start negotiating where we are going to meet the challenge faced by Ireland at present. I know the very many decent people in the trade union movement want to play a part, but they do not know the direction and they need to be reassured. As colleagues said in the House yesterday, we would like to see the Taoiseach sitting down with the social partners and getting back to negotiations. To give everyone time to breathe, all parties should step back from any strike or industrial action for one month to allow for further negotiations. Ultimately, everything will need to be negotiated. In the interests of our country and everyone concerned, whether they are patients in hospital or students in schools, everything that can be done must be done. Ultimately, with the Taoiseach and Government representatives and the social partners around the table, an agreement can be found.
In 1987 things were just as bad, if not worse, because we had four and a half to five years of the same situation as that in which we find ourselves at present. We have two years behind us now. We have a large amount of experience. Let us build on Ireland's success story over the past 20 years and look forward to working out an arrangement together on all sides in the national interest.
Senators O'Toole, Leyden, Coffey, Walsh, McFadden, Norris, Buttimer and McCarthy expressed their serious concerns about the broadcasting levy order and moved an amendment to the Order of Business. As a result of the collapse in advertising, revenues to radio stations, and probably also to the national broadcaster, are down by 30%. This is the difficulty that is now being experienced and that must be addressed. As you know, a Chathaoirligh, the Minister is acutely aware of this problem and is actively working to find a solution, not just in the short term but also in the form of sustainable funding for the independent broadcasting sector into the future. We all welcome the fact that the Minister is giving this serious consideration.
The next step is that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland must reduce its budget; the chief executive officer is to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources before the end of this month with his proposed budget. The Minister is working on the issue of sustainable funding and will come back to the joint committee with answers before the end of March.
I spoke to the Minister about this last Monday and I am fully supportive of the thrust of what colleagues are saying in the House. We support local radio to the hilt.
-----to the fact that the order itself sets out how to calculate the levy which is applied to the BAI budget for the relevant year and applied on a pro rata basis to each broadcaster's net turnover. Anyone considering it realistically and from a business point of view can see that the downturn is taken into account.
Senator Alex White mentioned the fact that hundreds of marriages conducted at embassies in Dublin have been found to be invalid. I will pass on his serious concerns to the Minister immediately after the Order of Business. These couples find themselves in difficult circumstances.
With regard to the Irish diaspora, I have already given a commitment to the House to have a debate on this as soon as possible.
Senator Alex White also mentioned the Finance Bill, for which we will have Second Stage on Wednesday, 24 March. On Thursday, 25 March we will have Committee Stage, and any remaining Stages can be taken on the Friday if that is what the party leaders request of me. I propose that spokespersons will speak for 20 minutes and all other colleagues will have 15 minutes to make their contributions. If this is not enough, we will discuss it at the leaders' meeting next Tuesday. I am flexible in this regard.
Senators Leyden and Callely called for a full debate on taxis. I have no difficulty in having time left aside for this. Senator Coffey also asked for a lengthy debate on competitiveness.
I have already said this should be taken when the Minister for Finance is present for the Finance Bill and I hope this can be done. Almost all of our business up to the Easter recess consists of legislation.
Senator Wilson made a proposal about head shops which I will discuss with the leaders at our meeting next Tuesday. The proposal is an innovative one and I have no difficulty in agreeing to it in principle. I also have no objection to the proposal that the working group be chaired by Senator O'Toole.
Senator Wilson also mentioned the sponsorship of programmes on the national broadcaster, RTE, by banking organisations which are out repossessing property and other items. This is something that can be considered, perhaps by the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.
Senator Walsh mentioned the fact that 226 consultants have been found not to be working to the terms of their contracts. This is a serious problem. I hope the Committee on Public Accounts, which has been doing extremely good work for many years and during many Administrations, will investigate this and ensure these consultants comply fully with the terms of their contracts.
Senator Prendergast spoke about many issues in the area of health. These can be discussed with the Minister in the House before the Easter recess.
Senator Ó Murchú asked how we could assist in creating employment and mentioned cash flow from the banks and the part that can be played by the Revenue Commissioners, including the introduction of a moratorium on taxes for small businesses. He spoke of bringing stability to employment and not going down a cul-de-sac, and mentioned the various taxes, including PAYE, income tax and VAT, which the Revenue Commissioners are obliged to collect. This is something we should discuss, and I hope we can have a lengthy debate after the Easter recess. Colleagues can also bring this issue to the Minister's attention when we are discussing the Finance Bill.
Senator Norris spoke about abuse of copyright. In Ireland we pride ourselves on the intellectual property rights Bill we introduced. It was one of the best in the world when approved by both Houses.
I will pass on the views of the Senator on the abuses he outlined to the House. He also outlined the remarkable connection between Michael Foot and Jonathan Swift. It is extraordinary how close they were in the context of what is happening.
Senator Bacik mentioned the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill. If there are 700 amendments to be considered in the Dáil, it will be a considerable period before it comes to this House. However, I will make inquiries about the matter.
The Senator also asked for a debate on the criminal justice system and mentioned an individual named in the Murphy report. I will pass on her views to the Minister and we can have a debate on the matter. There are many justice Bills being discussed in the House and the Minister will be present. He has always been forthcoming in that regard when Bills from his Department are before us for consideration.
Senator Hannigan spoke about the innovation task force which we can certainly debate in the House. I take the points made on the teaching of maths and science as being of the utmost importance.
Senator Mullen asked how our political system was working and said it should be reviewed. I have no difficulty in having such a debate at any time and will try to schedule it for before the summer recess.
Some Members are trying to be very smart in watching the time in the House. Whoever is in the Chair will watch the time; there is no need for anyone else to do so.
Senator Twomey proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements on the effects of the public sector strike be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 25 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 29 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, PaudieCoffey and MauriceCummins; Níl, NiallÓ and DiarmuidWilson
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 25 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 29 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paudie Coffey and Joe O'Toole; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.