Thursday, 11 March 2010
Order of Business.
The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2009 - Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to adjourn not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2, statements re head shops (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 3.15 p.m. and on which Senators may speak for eight minutes and may share time, with the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for closing comments and to take questions from the leaders or spokespersons of the various groups.
I wish to raise three issues. The most striking and profound of these is the very serious debacle that has emerged with regard to patients' X-rays in Tallaght hospital. What is quite shocking is that HIQA, the watchdog for our health service, has been trying to communicate with Tallaght hospital since as far back as last October. I find it extraordinary that the Minister for Health and Children is out of the country when she should be here. It reminds me of the crisis with flooding and frozen roads when the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, was away.
I find it very disturbing that the Minister for Health and Children is on a 15 day trip which began yesterday for St. Patrick's Day. I fail to understand why she would go when we have such a crisis in our health service.
It will take ten weeks for all the X-rays to be read. I put myself in the position of people who had an X-ray in Tallaght hospital and consider the fear and uncertainty that must be in their hearts. It is also quite extraordinary that there are bags of unopened post in the postroom in Tallaght hospital and GP letters have gone unread. I do not understand how there can be such a fundamental breakdown in communication. This House was told about centres of excellence and how important it is to have quantities of people. All of the people necessary to provide the quality of service, about which the Minister reassured us, are in place but the X-rays are not even being read. Yesterday, I raised the issue and I spoke about the fact that a consultant radiologist was appointed in January after the horse had bolted. The issue is with regard to staffing and resources and those out there do not have the wherewithal to support the 58,000 people. Let us not forget that these are individuals waiting for results to discover their diagnosis.
I call for a debate on banking, which has been called for by many Members on both sides of the House. We all received an e-mail from a very upset lady who has a business which employs one person. The banks took from her the money she was going to use for food for her five month old baby and 17 year old daughter. People have come to my constituency clinic who are unable to obtain credit. We bailed out the banks to an extraordinary amount of money and we will have to continue to do so because they are on the brink. However, we will not provide money for businesses.
I have a final point.
There is a sense of déjÀ vu about this; it reminds me of the ding-dong between Nora Owen and Deputy John O'Donoghue years ago and, after they crossed the floor after an election, the same ding-dong continued in the opposite direction. Listening to the Irish media one would think the Minister should be opening the envelopes in Tallaght hospital.
Let us be clear about what we are doing, what we need to look at and where responsibility should lie. There is a medical team which needs to answer questions, a management team which looks after that medical team, the board of Tallaght hospital, its chief executive, the HSE, the Minister and the Department of Health and Children. There are at least five stages of separation between the Minister and what happened. We are not doing the patients who are suffering and the victims any good by focusing on her. If the Minister was responsible and wrong in what she did let us point to that but blaming the Minister for something that happens on the ground demeans politics. It seems to happen in the area of health more than anywhere else and I do not believe it works.
We can ask ourselves questions on this. People have been speaking about the size of the board of Tallaght hospital. Those of us on the Independent benches insisted on a large board as did other Members of the House. There were good cultural, religious and other reasons that people wanted a large board. It was probably the wrong decision because a 20 person board is too big but let us all remember where we were when it was established and what jobs we gave them. The Minister appoints people to do a job; if they do not do that job it is they who are answerable in the first place. If the Minister asked them to do the wrong job then she is answerable. An audit would show this very clearly and we need to do justice to the victims by dealing with this matter properly.
A debate would be useful and I support Senator McFadden's call for somebody from the Department of Health and Children to come the House to discuss this. I want to hear what people state the Minister should have done but did not do. I want to hear what happened in Tallaght hospital that should not have happened and what should have happened but did not. We have to do a number of simple things; it is not rocket science. This is about good management, a cautious approach and incisive questioning.
Of course it is ludicrous to suggest that the Minister should be held responsible for not opening particular letters or envelopes in Tallaght hospital. It is nonsensical to suggest it and to the extent that it has been suggested I do not agree with it. However, there is a real issue for political representatives. Because of all the changes that have occurred and the arrival of the HSE on the scene - the Leader has made this point as have many of his colleagues on the other side of the House - politicians and political representatives generally have been deprived of an opportunity to raise any serious issue or have serious debate, such as that which has been called for by Senator O'Toole, here or in the Dáil. The Dáil is a Chamber to which the Government is accountable and responsible under the Constitution although it is not as directly responsible to this Chamber. However not even Deputies can get answers on these issues because Ministers habitually refuse to answer them, often because they are a matter for the HSE. However, when one approaches the HSE there is no serious procedure, basis or opportunity for public representatives to raise these issues and have them debated and Senator McFadden has correctly made this point previously.
I do not blame people for mistakenly thinking that every issue must be laid directly at the feet of the Minister for Health and Children because the system has been changed in such a way as to render it impossible to get any answers other than calling for the Minister to come to the House. If the Leader has an alternative to propose to us on how we can have a serious and adult debate on this issue I would like to hear it. Otherwise, there is no alternative to people coming here day after day to call for the Minister for Health and Children to answer questions on issues which, in a normal democracy, she would not have to address in the same detail.
It was a complete spectacle to have the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, state this morning that something should be done about Tallaght hospital. Is there a democracy in the world in which a Minister of State would state that something should be done? We are told that health spending is one of the biggest areas of public expenditure over which the Government and the Oireachtas presides. It beggars belief that there is not a serious basis upon which issues such as what went wrong at Tallaght hospital can be properly debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas.
I call on the unions to call off the present dispute and enter into meaningful discussions with the Government. I must highlight in particular the disruption at the Passport Office. I commend the staff of the Passport Office who over the years have given tremendous service to all Members of the Oireachtas. They are the most courteous staff one could possibly meet. However, under union instructions a major disruption is taking place in there and I hope it can be rectified. In the meantime I call on the Leader to contact Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, who lives in Westmeath in his constituency, to introduce the same rules as Aer Lingus, which accepts identification such as a pension book, driving licence or student card for travel to the UK. Ryanair does not do so. Next week is a particularly important week in Cheltenham and I have been contacted by many people who have not had their passports renewed and will possibly have to take the boat. Ryanair is losing out. I appeal to Ryanair. I was in touch with the company this morning and it is adamant it will not change the rules. The Leader of the House is particularly influential with Mr. Michael O'Leary. As far as I recall, he was at his wedding.
I concur with those colleagues seeking a debate on the health service. I was very much taken by the comments of Senator O'Toole. To some degree I am speaking against myself politically, but when I reflect on my time in the Oireachtas and the various persons who have served in the health portfolio, namely, Deputy O'Hanlon, Deputy O'Rourke, Deputy Noonan, Deputy Martin, Deputy Howlin, Deputy Cowen and Deputy Harney, every single one of them had the best intentions and set out to do the best possible job for the health service. Unfortunately, that has not worked and we are now in the situation where, as outlined by Senator McFadden, thousands of people have deep worries about their health as a result of administrative chaos.
Senator O'Toole is correct to state that we cannot expect the Minister for Health and Children to be in every hospital and to open every file and every envelope but there still appears to be a failure of accountability and responsibility. The creation of the Health Service Executive and the plethora of sub-management lines in the system appear to have made things worse. We need an urgent debate on those structures because, whatever about the political aspect, it is clear that they are not working. It is important that we would be able to reassure our constituents that improvements will be made. We have had these debates for so long that at this stage the matter is becoming worrying which is simply not good enough.
Apropos of a debate on banking and the economy, I again ask the Leader, as I have done on many occasions, to organise hearings in the Chamber with the former social partners - the leaders of industry, the unions, farming groups and others - to discuss the economic fabric and future of the country. I am informed by the party leaders that it has been agreed to do this.
I, too, compliment Senator O'Toole on his measured contribution. We could all take a lead from the sentiments expressed. I agree fully with what Senator Bradford said; we need accountability within the structure of the Health Service Executive. The system of corporate governance is wrong. I said that at the time and I wrote to the Minister, asking that a system of democratic accountability would be put in place at local level. That has not been done and until it is, we will continue to see some of the failings that are now evident.
I read in The Irish Catholic this morning about a dispute in County Kerry over the action of the Health Service Executive in removing statues from a local hospital which has given rise to controversy. I raise the issue in the context of a similar situation in my town where statues were removed from geriatric hospitals. The literal interpretation of equality serves no useful purpose and causes grievance and upset, especially to elderly people in geriatric hospitals who have deep religious belief and who like the fact that religious icons are visible. We should ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss the injection of aggressive secularism into some public services.
We all received a fine statement recently from Deputy Lowry on tribunals. I wish to comment on tribunals in general. While my sympathies lie with him because of the length of time he has been subjected to investigation, Deputy Lowry is not alone in that other people have had to expend money to provide information and defend themselves at tribunals. The process has gone on for so long that it is a fine example of justice delayed being justice denied. The Leader should facilitate a debate on tribunals as soon as possible. I have been critical of the exorbitant costs. Deputy Lowry makes a point in his statement that in the past ten years, some senior counsel-----
I support the call by Senator McFadden for the Minister or one of her Ministers of State to answer questions in the House on the health service. I agree that we cannot hold a Minister completely responsible for every mistake, no matter how serious or what the consequences of it might be, but in this case we should remember that this is not something that has come out of the blue. The issues of accountability and governance go back many years. The Minister has spoken in the Chamber and in the Dáil about better governance and accountability but the reality is that in regard to the Government, the only person these Houses can hold accountable is the Minister. She must be held accountable on what actions she has taken to ensure accountability and better governance in Tallaght hospital.
We have seen the stripping down of the public health service during her period as Minister for Health and Children. She has prioritised private health over public health. She has dismantled the infrastructure of what was a public health system that needed investment, energy and commitment. What we have seen is the opposite, a dismantling of the system for the benefit of a private, for-profit system that has been pushed forward by the Minster with the support of her Government partners.
I have no doubt that the Minister should be present. She should not be travelling the globe while patients in Tallaght are frantically calling their local constituency representatives because they cannot get through to the helpline. The Minister should be ensuring that patients who may not have had the right diagnosis would at least be able to get through to the helpline.
In my constituency the Health Service Executive is at an advanced stage of planning to close down a public community hospital and a public nursing home to transfer those patients to the private sector, again for the benefit of privatisation. It is important that the Minister would come to the House at the earliest opportunity and, in the meantime, to regain public confidence, she or one of her colleagues should answer the questions we cannot ask of the hospital board or the Health Service Executive.
On a separate matter-----
I support the concerns expressed by colleagues on matters relating to Tallaght hospital. Equally, I support what Senator O'Toole said about what one might expect of a Minister. Structures are in place and we should examine them. This scandal is a wake-up call on which we must take action.
Perhaps Senator O'Toole should note that the breaking news indicates that the hospital managers, the Minister, the Department of Health and Children, HIQA, the body which monitors health care quality, and the HSE were all aware. They have failed in their duties. The issue indicates clearly that the HSE, as a single service provider for the entire country, has failed. I call on the Leader to arrange a broad-ranging debate on the structure and management of the health service. The old health board structure with the input of local public representatives, that is, real democracy, must be revisited, as well as workable and appropriate management models such as using the European Parliament constituencies as catchment areas, which possibly would be able to deliver an appropriate health service. The Leader should try to accommodate such a broad-ranging debate with the appropriate Minister in place.
The country is facing its greatest ever financial challenge and ordinary people are suffering and feeling the pain. While NAMA has been put in place as a support system for the banks, I call on the Leader to consider options to put in place a support mechanism for ordinary people who face huge financial problems and find it increasingly difficult to meet the demands placed on them by the banks.
I raise the issue of the 30,000 GP referral letters that are sitting in a pile in some office in Dublin. Members must realise that this is extremely worrying for the many people waiting for such consultations. It is probable that approximately one in every 100 Irish people is affected. Lessons must be learned in this regard. Information technology must be used. Other jurisdictions are much better at using IT systems for such matters. In the United Kingdom, for instance, those who need to see a consultant having visited a GP are provided with a website address, a password and a telephone number. They can return home, check their diaries and make their own appointments later. This system works and completely removes the need to write referral letters. It constitutes another example of Ireland's failure to use information technology to the full. Last month Members learned about a report which demonstrated that information technology was not being used within the policing system. In this case, it is clear that information technology in use in the health sector is not optimal. I call for a debate on how services such as health, policing and so on can use information technology and the gains that can be made in using the great technological advances made.
I also look forward to a debate on the HSE in which, given the absence of a political presence in health management, I will be able to ask questions about my community hospital, Louth County Hospital, and the justification for its proposed downgrading. I also join Senator Callely but ask that the European Parliament regions to which he referred should include a cross-Border dimension as health service delivery ought to be considered on a cross-Border basis. I note the Strategic Investment Board of Northern Ireland is also keen to consider doing so. Although we are looking at each other across the trench in this regard, we must start talking to each other. Consequently, I add that nuance to Senator Callely's proposal.
I refer to an issue that is of grave concern to me. Nuclear Free Local Authorities is a highly regarded organisation which involves many of the great cities of Britain, including Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow and so on, as well as 11 local authorities in Ireland. It has asked the United Kingdom's nuclear installations inspectorate to investigate reports and documents from the French NGO, Sortir du Nucléaire, to the effect that the new European pressurised reactor, EPR, design proposed for use on the west coast of Britain, together with the Westinghouse design, contains fundamental design faults. It is charged that while they have been designed with a view to creating efficiencies in how electricity is generated, they are incompatible with the fundamental physics underlying how the nuclear core at the heart of a reactor works and that we face, in the words of the NGO, another Chernobyl, should one of these cores become unstable. While this is an extremely serious allegation, I view with great seriousness the fact that Nuclear Free Local Authorities is taking it seriously and has written to the nuclear installations inspectorate in Britain asking it to investigate the assertion. I call for a debate on the issue in the House and on Members to ask the Minister to join Nuclear Free Local Authorities in asking the United Kingdom's nuclear installations inspectorate to investigate closely the assertion that this new European pressurised reactor built by Areva, the French nuclear installations company, is fundamentally unsafe.
I also request a debate on the HSE because the Tallaght hospital story shows clearly that the structure is not working. People knew what had happened in Tallaght, had access to the information but did not act on the information in their possession. The story, which is symptomatic of the Government, shows that no one is in charge, that no one accepts responsibility, that no one cares and that no one is responsible. Moreover, no one in authority is concerned about patients or patient safety. This is the fundamental difficulty. While a structure has been put in place, everyone knows it is not working and the question is when can changes be made to make it work.
It is clear that this will not happen under the Government and certainly will not take place under the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. That is the bottom line and where political responsibility lies. While she is the person who drives change, she has not succeeded and should go. She should step down from the Government to allow others to reform the health sector. This is not about money but pertains to using human resources properly.
I also seek a debate on the announcement by Bus Éireann that it intends to cut jobs, slash routes and effect a complete change in public transport policy. I am alarmed that the Green Party Members are sitting silent and mute this morning on the issue of public transport. At a time when there should be greater numbers of buses and fewer cars, the Green Party should be arguing in the Cabinet for greater numbers of buses and more public transport services. Instead, however, there is a reduction. This is some policy for the Green Party to have.
I seek a debate on tourism and ask the Leader to indicate when statements on the subject will be held in the House. I do so in the light of the focus which will be placed next week on the St. Patrick's Day Festival and tourism in job creation in Ireland. I note the global Irish economic forum held at Farmleigh House laid great emphasis and a focus on this issue. Consequently, I look forward to a report in this regard being issued next week. Last Tuesday I attended a Drogheda & District Chamber of Commerce event, at which the subject of conversation was specific events such as the St. Patrick's Day Festival. This is the reason it is absolutely essential for Members to focus on tourism and its future because the sector will be critical in achieving short-term economic growth in specific areas, including, in particular, my native region of the north east.
Many ideas were raised at the meeting last Tuesday. One simple suggestion was that walkways could be erected on either side of the Boyne Viaduct Bridge for a small capital investment. People have travelled the world to visit Sydney Harbour Bridge and paid serious money to see the views therefrom. Were one able to use the Boyne Viaduct Bridge in this manner, one could enjoy views across the great landscape of the north east, which could be great. Others measures that could be taken include turning the vacant Tholsel building into a tourism office. In addition, a marketing campaign for the north east will be critical. I look forward to the Leader's facilitation of such a debate, as Members must take a lead on the issue.
I understand from newspaper reports today that the Taoiseach intends to announce an innovation task force report. Even though he will announce it today, Members have some idea as to its contents. It appears that the word "innovation" is extremely important. Throughout the country innovative things are happening. For example, I think of the Cork-Swansea car ferry, in respect of which, instead of asking the Government to do something, people are getting up and doing it themselves. I am highly impressed by the level of innovation. However, as a state, we have not opened our minds to such measures. I refer to a particular case, namely, genetically modified foods. The European Commission has permitted the cultivation of genetically modified crops of potatoes which was not allowed heretofore-----
However, our farmers must compete with others who are employing modern methods of production. I acknowledge this is a highly emotional issue and that some are opposed in principle to genetically modified foods. However, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is the Commissioner with responsibility for innovation in the European Union. Clearly, she must identify genetically modified foods in this context. She will also need to consider nuclear energy, an area to which Senator Dearey referred. We have closed our minds to both topics, but they should be debated.
At a time when the country is facing difficult challenges, I am upset by the actions being taken by the unions. In my mind, passport control is not too important, but they are also taking action against schools, welfare offices, hospitals and, as announced yesterday, ambulance services. This is unacceptable. There is a crisis in the country and we are facing challenges, but we are singling out the weakest in society. Let us get behind all efforts to ensure the economy is returned in force.
Over the years, we have held many debates on rural dwellings. Each of my colleagues in the House will be aware of derelict houses, many of them old local authority houses, throughout the countryside. Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, attend a debate on this matter in the House? Many people who would like to live in the countryside have been denied planning permission for many reasons. However, lovely, old stone houses are going to rack and ruin. Local authorities should acquire them and sell them to people who want to live in the countryside.
I must agree with Senator O'Toole regarding the debacle at Tallaght General Hospital. As someone who worked in the health services for many years, it is clear that people are not doing the jobs for which they are being paid. There is no point in pointing a finger at the Minister of the day, whoever he or she might be. It is clear that people in administrative and professional positions who have responsibility for the taking and reading of X-rays must ask questions of themselves. What has occurred is not right. It was a systemic failure, in that people are being paid to do jobs they are obviously not doing.
I formally second the proposition to amend the Order of Business to have a debate on the Tallaght Hospital situation and the health services in general with a relevant Minister. During the discussion on whether the Minister had responsibility for the goings on in Tallaght Hospital, I could not help but recall that, in the time-----
Nora Owen, while Minister for Justice, was held responsible for an untaxed tractor in Ballydehob. Be that as it may, we should have a debate. The problem is the imposition of the HSE on top of the health board structure. The Government put one layer of bureaucracy on another. This matter merits a debate, as does the question of centres of excellence. I never believed in pursuing the latter. Rather, we should focus on local hospitals to the maximum degree and, where necessary, specialised services.
Will the Leader address my next point specifically? HIQA is visiting public nursing homes and telling people that a number of beds at several homes must be removed on health and safety grounds. However, the HSE is not providing alternative beds. At the same time, HIQA is not visiting those hospitals in which people are on trolleys. There is an inconsistency. Will the Leader include this matter in the debate on the health services and Tallaght Hospital?
The Cathaoirleach is impartial and fair, so I accept his ruling on the Glangevlin water scheme in County Cavan, but I wish to draw the Leader's attention to an issue briefly. Regarding many rural group water schemes, under the metering system-----
I support colleagues who asked for a debate on Tallaght Hospital. I was interested in the fact that many commentators used phrases like "managerial inattention" and "managerial dysfunction". We owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Tom O'Dowd. It is extraordinary that, when he wrote a letter pointing out that 30,000 letters had gone unanswered, his letter also remained unanswered. Anyone involved in a Seanad campaign well knows the bulk of 30,000 filled envelopes.
How could it have escaped anyone's attention? Pile on top of this 70,000 X-rays and even I would have noticed it.
It must be pointed out that Tallaght Hospital has been grossly underfunded since its commencement, as stated in the House repeatedly and supported on all sides. Part of this problem is due to the fact that the bureaucracy did not want the Adelaide and Meath Hospital and the National Children's Hospital to survive. Tallaght is a fine hospital and I regret what has occurred.
I wish to discuss the activities of the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, and the Irish National Immigration Service, INIS, as I am concerned about a particular point. Some 17,000 people must have permits issued to them under the IBCO 5 scheme. Last December, the INIS, a part of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, advertised a procedure for this where people turned up with their papers and a fee. The GNIB told them that it could not give them their certificates until they were approved by the INIS. People were stopped from getting their permits, as a result of which people lost their jobs. An emergency scheme was then introduced and people were each charged €150 for a three-month emergency visa. The proper visas have now started to be issued, but people are being charged another €150. This is double jeopardy and double charging. It is an unfair attack on the weakest people. In the Lower House, the Minister accepted that people would be charged €150 for three-month visas and a further €150 for 12-month visas having completely botched the scheme, made people lose their jobs and created gaps in their immigration records, which may prejudice their attempts for asylum. The authorities should be on their knees apologising, not extracting a further €150 from vulnerable people.
Senator Dearey summed up the difficulty we are facing in the delivery of health services, a matter that must be debated in the House, when he referred to the "absence of any political presence" in their delivery. The health and safety of our citizens are too important for it to be absent of any political presence, as is the spending of billions of euro of taxpayers' money.
While a balance needs to be struck in our consideration of ministerial responsibility, it has been achieved in the discussion to date. The main questions asked by my colleagues were on when the Minister became aware of the issue and whether she inquired as to its scale. These are legitimate and proportionate questions to be raised by Members, as they address the issues of ministerial responsibility and whether it was executed.
I agree completely with Senator Quinn's point on the innovation task force, the implementation of which will fund hospitals in 15 or 20 years time. We must discuss three points during the debate that is necessary on that report, which is spread all over today's newspapers. First, how is this plan different from the many plans that have gone before? Second, how is it different from the innovation plans of Germany, India and China? Third and most important, how will we implement it?
Behind the call for a debate on Tallaght Hospital lies a wider question of responsibility and authority. While Senator Buttimer correctly identified the source of the problem as the HSE, he draws the wrong conclusion in believing the Minister should go. Senator O'Toole is right in believing a Minister cannot be held responsible for stuff that goes wrong down the chain.
I repudiate the habit in Irish political culture of borrowing from British political culture. There was no point in setting up the State if we were going to do this. For example, there is much talk about having a list system for elections. In our political culture people like to have a direct relationship with their Deputies. There was the debacle about the rugby match to be held on Good Friday because the political culture of the country was ignored. The same is true of the culture of resignations.
A very good principle of subsidiarity is worth borrowing from Catholic social teaching. It teaches that no large body should perform a function which a smaller body can perform. The Minister should not be held directly responsible for matters which are the responsibility of managers and consultants. If there is chronic neglect by the Minister, she should be held responsible. Deputy Harney is a reforming Minister for Health and Children. She cannot be held to account for failures. She addresses the health system. However, she can be held to account and is neglectful in another area. We depend on her to be a reforming Minister in taking on the public sector arrogance and feather-bedding of the HSE. We are all dancing around the subject. We all know that behind this there is a culture of total arrogance in the HSE. If one goes into an accident and emergency department, one sees them tapping away on computers and chatting to each other. This has grown up during the years. We saw it in the Passport Office the other day. Women were crying outside the Passport Office, trying to go to have an abortion in England close to term and the staff were inside. Why have tributes been paid to Passport Office staff? There is no point in denying public sector strikes are a direct attack on the public. As long as they can play the Government against the Opposition, we will never have reform.
We should have a debate on the health issue. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed by Senators. Senator Harris spoke about subsidiarity and said no large organisation should do the work of a small one. Like him, I was an admirer of Deputy Harney before she was appointed Minister for Health and Children. I remember the day she was appointed and thought it was a good one for the country. However, she has been an unmitigated disaster in her role. She was responsible for the establishment of the HSE, a large body set up to do the work of a number of smaller bodies. This defies the notion of subsidiarity. It is claimed the Minister is taking on the public sector unions within the HSE. She created the HSE.
She single-handedly pushed it politically. Three or four extra levels of national management were created for the health service, on top of what already was in place at regional level. That is what the Minister is responsible for. Ministers should not he held accountable for every minor detail that goes wrong in their Departments but too much has gone wrong in the Department of Health and Children. Look at what happened in the hospital in Portlaoise and other hospitals. Now we are being told about what went wrong in Tallaght hospital. I do not expect the Minister to be in the hospital opening envelopes and looking at individual X-rays but there must be some level of accountability.
Public representatives cannot get answers to questions about the HSE. We are told the Minister does not have a role in the executive. We must, therefore, have a debate in this Chamber, as the Minister has political responsibility. She knew about this problem in November but she has pretty much sat on her hands since. There is a legitimate political question for her to answer.
Senator O'Reilly mentioned the role of HIQA with regard to private nursing homes. I raise the issue of public care homes which are not nursing homes. HIQA proposes to impose standards on these homes similar to the ones applied to nursing homes which provide 24-hour nursing care. The people who live in care homes are usually elderly and single who do not need 24-hour nursing care. The HIQA proposals could lead to the closing of these homes. Last year Senator Norris and I highlighted a scandal in Bethany House in Carlow. The same will happen throughout the country with assisted care homes being closed by HIQA. This is completely unacceptable.
I broadly support what Senators O'Toole and Harris said about ministerial responsibility in the Tallaght hospital issue. However, there may be questions to answer in due course as to how this problem evolved. We must look at the failures within the hospital administration. That is the core issue. In passing, I regret the example given by Senator Harris with regard to seeking an abortion in Britain. That is a tragic abuse of human rights which should never be used as an argument for anything.
What has happened in Tallaght hospital raises the issue of the role of clinicians in the management of hospitals. Would we be better off if we had more clinicians and people with medical experience directly involved in management? Obviously, they would need managerial training. I wonder if a culture of administration and bureaucracy can block out the real needs of patients. Would more direct participation by medical staff mean that problems in the system would be spotted earlier and their implications understood? This seems not to have happened in Tallaght hospital. We want consultant-led services. It seems there was a lack of staff in Tallaght, as well as a failure within the hospital to communicate its needs to the media and the Government and the very people who, presumably, continued to assume that they would be provided with a service. A backlog of unanswered correspondence assumes a number of people who think they will soon receive a service. Doctors were referring patients but achieving no output from their referrals. This had tragic consequences, to judge from one report yesterday. A debate on this topic would be welcome but it should focus on the failures which have occurred. It would be just as inappropriate to draw the Minister into the issue as the Most Reverend Dr. John Neill, Archbishop of Dublin, who is patron of the hospital. We need to look at what happened. It could provide a case study to allow us to understand the problem which is probably occurring in other hospitals.
As the third most globalised economy, after the city state of Singapore and the special administrative area of Hong Kong, Ireland has a major interest in the upturn in the global economy. There are clear signs that the global economy is moving forward, especially with the February import and export figures from China and the feeling that this is a major contributor to world economic recovery. In the light of a recovery, we need a debate on the regulation of financial services. It appears that the sub-prime lending which got us into the problem is continuing in the financial markets, not necessarily for mortgage products but for all other forms of lending. Loans are bundled together and good loans are mixed with bad and rolled forward, taking up new additional loans along the way. This is a recipe for disaster. If we have learned nothing from the recent crisis, we are doomed to repeat it. The next crisis could be much more significant. We may have been fortunate to get through this crisis relatively quickly.
I share in the call for a debate on genetically modified foods. Genetic modification, when properly regulated, is no more than accelerated husbandry. We must consider the number of people in the world and their food needs. Furthermore, some genetic modification could make a major and significant contribution to cleaning up the world, including the reduced use of nitrates and carbon storage of plants. These are sufficient reasons to have a debate on the issue.
Given that this is brain awareness week, I ask the Leader for an update on the progress of the mental capacity and guardianship Bill which will have a significant impact on the lives of many, including those with acquired brain injuries. I understand the Bill is still being drafted but that it is intended to bring it before the Seanad before the end of the session. It now appears that it will be significant and complex with profound implications for a vast number of people. Will the Leader, therefore, ask the Minister to make the Bill available to Members for their consideration as soon as possible in order that it will not have a speedy passage through the Oireachtas without being subject ot sufficient consideration by Members?
I also raise the issue of Tallaght hospital. I was impressed by Professor Kevin Conlon yesterday on "Morning Ireland". I was particularly impressed by his assurances that the No. 1 priority for him was to ascertain that every X-ray would be reviewed as quickly as possible and feedback given to patients and doctors. However, what has emerged since necessitates the establishment immediately of a forum in which questions can be answered. It is of concern that a letter addressed to the chairman of the board went to the office of the chief executive officer. It was stamped as having been received by the chief executive officer on 22 January 2009 but the chairman only became aware yesterday that the letter even existed. This raises significant and profound questions about the relationship between the executive and the board.
No. Have the chief executive officer and his office become the gatekeepers for correspondence addressed to the chairman? This raises fundamental questions. Has other correspondence not been passed on? Is this practice engaged in by other State agencies?
Will the Leader arrange a debate on regional planning guidelines? I have asked for the debate on a number of occasions. We should have the debate immediately because a number of regional authorities have put their planning guidelines on display. This is the ideal Chamber in which to have the debate because of the relationship between the House and local authorities. The guidelines will have serious consequences for the regions and for local authorities when they adopt their development plans. Time is running out. In most cases, the regional authorities must adopt their plans by the end of March. It is essential that we have this debate after St. Patrick's week.
I seek a debate on planning guidelines and, in particular, on planning for urban centres. The Dublin city development plan is open for consultation and submissions are due to be in by tomorrow. An interesting issue arose yesterday during the debate on the Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009 about the right to dry and whether people living in apartments should be able to air dry their laundry. This is a quality of life issue and it has environmental implications for those living in apartments. It would be useful in the context of the Dublin city development plan if we were to have a debate on the need to ensure a better quality of life for those living in urban centres, particularly in apartment blocks, and to ensure we move towards a model of urban development which is more contained within city centres and which is less about sprawling development and one-off housing.
During Private Members' Business in the Dáil this week, the Labour Party introduced a Bill that will allow for the downward review of rents. In these difficult, economically challenging times, businesses cannot afford the Celtic tiger rates set in the midst of economic lunacy in this country. The Taoiseach said advice from the Attorney General suggests we cannot do that. Will the Leader under Standing Orders invite the Attorney General to the House to explain the legal advice?
Senators McFadden, O'Toole, Alex White, Bradford, Doherty, Callely, Hannigan, Deary, Buttimer, Glynn, O'Reilly, Norris, Donohoe, Harris, John Paul Phelan, Mullen and Corrigan expressed further shock and horror at the revelations that 30,000 general practitioner referral letters went unanswered. Senator Callely is an experienced former Minister of State and former chairman of the Eastern Health Board and, as he said, it is a wake up call. I hope when the Minister for Health and Children returns from New Zealand, she will come to the House for an all day debate on everything to do with health but, especially, this debacle at Tallaght Hospital.
Patients must come first but where are the patients in this debacle? The medical and management teams in this hospital are answerable to the people and to the Oireachtas and we must be given answers about what happened. It is completely unacceptable. It is a disgrace to say the least.
With regard to Senator Callely's proposal to split up the HSE using the European Parliament constituency boundaries as a guide, I must bear in mind Senator Hannigan's query. Why is information technology not being used to the same extent as in the private sector? This is how efficiencies can be achieved by the HSE and this would also help the nursing staff to increase their numbers. I am sure the number of administrative staff could be reduced by 10% and additional staff assigned to frontline care if information technology was used in the way it is used everywhere else in the world. There is a huge deficit here in the context of catching up with the times and facing the challenges and the realities. Just because the Government parties will pour €16 billion this year into the health service, it is not a bottomless pit and they must also be answerable about how the resources are best used. I hope to have a date on the next sitting day for a debate before the Easter recess. It will probably mean an additional sitting day on the first week we come back. The Finance Bill will be before the House that week but I will endeavour to schedule an all-day debate on Friday, 26 March on health issues, the challenges facing the HSE and the massive difficulties being experienced at Tallaght Hospital.
Senators McFadden, Bradford, Callely and Hanafin called for a further debate on banking. The Finance Bill is before the House on Wednesday, 24 March and all those issues can be addressed then. I have no difficulty debating NAMA and having the House updated at least once a month with the Minister present once we have passed the Finance Bill.
Senator Quinn called on the unions to call off all their actions in the context of negotiations taking place again and getting the Taoiseach and the Government around the table with the social partners. We have all agreed to and supported this call in the House this week.
Senator Leyden called on Ryanair to relax its identification system. He also highlighted the difficulties being experienced and the time it is taking for passports to be processed currently. I compliment everyone in the Passport Office for their effort, kindness and courtesy in the past but it is completely unacceptable in these difficult times that it is taking so long to process applications. I agree with the Senator's request.
Senator Walsh raised the issue of religious statues and objects being removed from hospital grounds. I will pass his request on to the Minister for Health and Children. The religious beliefs of patients in long-stay and geriatric hospitals, in particular, are extremely important and we should support them in every way we can.
Senator Walsh called for a debate on the tribunals, the length they have been ongoing, with some running for 12 to 14 years, and the fact that senior counsels are receiving €14,000 to €15,000 a week. I agree with the Senator's points and I will arrange to have a lengthy debate on the tribunals, the cost of them and the length of time it is taking to bring them to a conclusion.
Senator Dearey raised the concern of the Nuclear Free Local Authorities about the European pressurised reactor, EPR, design, manufactured in France, proposed for use in the UK. The request for a debate on this is worthy and I have no difficulty in making time available for it.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on the future policy of Bus Éireann and for the Minister for Transport to be in attendance. I have no difficulty in making time available for such a debate.
Senator Carroll called for a debate on tourism. I apologise to colleagues who did not get to contribute to the very good debate on tourism last week. The debate has been rolled forward and it will be taken at the earliest opportune time. Given that the Minister, Deputy Cullen, will not be the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, I strongly suggest we defer such a debate until the new Minister is appointed and can come to the House. Senator Carroll had a lengthy contribution prepared for last week's debate but he did not get to make it. Other colleagues, including Senator Burke who has called for such a debate for some time, found themselves in the same position. Furthermore, how could we forget Senator Buttimer? I look forward intensely to his future contribution.
Senator Boyle, the Deputy Leader, correctly pointed out to me this morning that we should welcome the return of the Cork-Swansea Ferry; I was surprised this was mentioned by only one colleague this morning.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on rural dwellings, particularly old stone houses, a matter on which I have no difficulty in arranging a debate.
Senators Quinn and Hanafin called for a debate on genetically modified foods and it would be timely to have such a debate.
I hope, with the approval of the Cathaoirleach, to invite our new Commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, to address the House at an early stage and perhaps that request might be raised at the next meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Such an address would be extremely timely.
Senator O'Reilly raised the issue of the metering of rural water schemes. I am aware that almost 50% of water supplied by local authority schemes is wasted - that represents a massive waste of water. Senators O'Reilly, Wilson, Glynn and myself come from the lake district.
I advise Senator O'Reilly that is the up to date position. I have no difficulty in having a debate on the challenges facing local authorities. Many people are considering the alternative of boring wells to achieve efficiencies and cut costs.
Senator Norris raised an issue concerning the GNIB and the Irish National Immigration Service of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the fact that €150 was charged on two occasions for emergency visas. I will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister.
Senators O'Reilly and John Paul Phelan called for a debate on care of the elderly, particularly regarding the issues concerning HIQA that they have highlighted.
Senator Hanafin called for a debate on the regulation of financial services. This is a serious and urgent issue that should be debated. I ask colleagues when contributing to the Finance Bill to highlight this issue to the Minister. For colleagues who may have been at a committee meeting yesterday morning, I advise that I propose that spokespersons will have 20 minutes and all other senators will have 15 minutes to make their contributions on the Second Stage of the Finance Bill. The debate sought by Senator Hanafin is one that should take place. I listened to a radio programme on my way to the House this morning and noted that the future success of our banking system lies in addressing of challenges facing regulation in terms of how strict will be the regulation of our financial services.
Senator Corrigan requested that I allow sufficient time for consideration of the mental capacity and guardianship Bill when it comes before the House. I give an undertaking today that I will allow whatever time is required for colleagues to have sufficient time to deliberate on their contributions to that Bill.
Senators Burke and Bacik called a debate on the regional planning guidelines. I know that in my county we have been given until 28 March to make our contribution in this regard. Senator Bacik raised the issue of the Dublin city development plan and provisions to ensure a better quality of life for people. Did I understand her to say that she is completely opposed to one off housing? Was that a slip of the tongue?
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 20 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Pearse Doherty, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Shane Ross, 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, Eoghan Harris, 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, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, NickyMcFadden and JohnPaul; Níl, NiallÓ and DiarmuidWilson
Amendment declared lost.