Thursday, 20 May 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Euro Area Loan Facility Bill 2010 — all Stages, with Second Stage to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, on which spokespersons may speak for 12 minutes and all other Senators for seven minutes and Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, and at the conclusion of which there will be a sos of 30 minutes; and No. 2, motion for earlier signature, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1.
I seek a full-day debate on issues related to crime. It is amazing to read how a serial rapist can get an apartment, paid for by the HSE, in a complex where several young women are living, yet they have no indication that this individual is living among them. We should examine how we have ended up in a situation where a 21 year old gets convicted for involvement in a very serious crime, having by that stage amassed 75 previous convictions. We must hold a serious debate on criminal issues in society at present and how such a situation could occur. We should also consider a debate on how a convicted child rapist managed to get the President of a European country to carry a letter on his behalf to the President of the United States of America. This same convicted child rapist is getting the support of numerous celebrities throughout the world. It sends out a very mixed message, especially when one considers what we have been discussing with regard to the Ryan report and other reports in this country. We should hold a debate on the matter and such practices should be condemned forthwith.
The Government took a decision last year on which there was very little discussion, that is, the setting up of a hotline for missing children. Throughout European countries the 116000 number is used. It is a number people can ring immediately if there is any danger of a child being kidnapped, absconding, going missing, running away or whatever internationally. At such times, families are subject to a great deal of trauma. I spoke to several people about this issue and they simply do not know where to go. Eventually, such people ring the Garda and it has a certain process that it puts in place.
As we are well aware, this is an international issue. The Irish Government has opted out of the 116000 number on the basis of saving money. I do not know how much money is being saved by not manning, dealing with, processing or administering a single phone number which could be of extraordinary help to people. Hundreds of people go missing in the course of a year, some for a short term and some for a long term, but this is an issue for people. There is the question of children in the care of the HSE, an issue which received a high profile last week in the McAnaspie case. Not all such children finish up as bodies in a ditch. They finish up in other places and they find themselves trafficked into other countries, among other possibilities. We are aware of the issues and I put it to the Leader that the Government should inform us why we cannot buy into the 116000 hotline as other European countries have done. What putative savings are being made by not participating in this system?
The Government proposes to increase the betting tax. While I have no problem with that, one of the spin-offs is that the large international companies will remain on-line and offshore. We will collect nothing from them while the small, local bookmakers in towns throughout Ireland will be put out of business. Such a move would make them uncompetitive. I am unsure how it would work, but we should introduce legislation to ensure the large companies, such as Paddy Power and others, are on a level playing pitch with the other, normal bookies in towns. We must consider this in a fair way. We should not introduce legislation that might bring in some extra money to the industry but close down jobs throughout the country in towns in various places. I ask for these two issues to be raised with the appropriate Minster.
It is one year since the publication of the Ryan report into institutionalised child abuse. At that time, a list of 20 recommendations was published, which, if implemented, would mean such atrocious incidents could never happen again. Today, eight of our key child protection agencies are meeting in Dublin to discuss whether support services have been put in place for the victims and to discuss the implementation of the 20 recommendations. One of the 20 recommendations was that victims and their families should receive adequate counselling. I hold concerns about whether this has taken place. I am aware that one third of the victims of child abuse in Ireland live abroad in the UK. Many of these suffer higher than average levels of poor physical and mental health. The Government has provided funding for organisations to support these people but the funding is on an interim basis. There is a danger that long-term funding will not be provided. It is important to be mindful that simply because one third of the victims are out of sight, they are not forgotten and are not out of mind.
Will the Leader pass on these comments onto the Minister? Many people in the House will be aware of the plight of the victims of the gynaecologist, Michael Neary, at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, set up a redress scheme for victims in April 2007. Despite representations from across the House, 35 women remain excluded from the scheme for the one reason that they were more than 40 years old when the terrible injuries were inflicted on them. Everyone is aware that this is poppycock. Everyone will know of women who have given birth after the age of 40. Only yesterday, a friend of mine, Maggie, gave birth to a baby girl at the age of 43 years. It is unfair to have an arbitrary age limit of 40 years. I suggest we call the Minister to the House and ask her to consider re-opening the scheme such that redress is given to all the victims of Michael Neary and that these 35 cases are dealt with such that we can bring this issue to conclusion.
I join Senator Hannigan in asking the Leader to call the Minister to the House to deal in a forthright and final way with the redress that these 35 women deserve. They were savagely treated by Michael Neary. It is incumbent on us to address the issue, even at this late stage. I was in contact with one woman who was three days outside the deadline for the scheme and has been denied justice and redress. Many harrowing stories remain to be told from among the 35 women. This is not a view shared just by Senator Hannigan and me; it is shared across the House. Others, including Senators O'Reilly, O'Brien, Wilson, Glynn and Carroll, have offered cross-party support for the call for this debate to take place at the soonest possible opportunity such that we can, by one method or another, provide the redress in a non-adversarial way, either through an extension of the scheme or a process via the State Claims Agency. This is something with which we must deal as a matter of urgency. It was addressed in the Dáil on an all-party basis last week and I am satisfied the Seanad is mirroring that action in the Dáil last week, but, I hope, with a more constructive response from the Minister.
It is incumbent on the Government and anyone who has any power available to him or her to assist redundant workers in every possible way. It is rather concerning when the likes of Pfizer announces large-scale redundancies amounting to in excess of 800 people. These are high-end jobs in the pharmaceuticals area. The European globalisation fund is a €500 million fund available throughout Europe to assist workers made redundant owing to globalisation factors. I am aware from experience of the case of Waterford Crystal as well as of Dell and SR Technics that the Government response in seeking assistance from the fund leaves a good deal to be desired. It has been slow and has lacked co-ordination. The Department informs Members it is a complex process and, while I am sure it may be, that is no good to the redundant workers affected. They need assistance quickly. Another pharmaceutical company in Waterford, Teva Pharmaceuticals, will carry out 315 redundancies this year. While that company unfortunately does not reach the employee threshold of 500 required to qualify for assistance, there is nothing to stop the Government combing Teva with Pfizer or other pharmaceutical companies such that they get this assistance and workers receive the re-skilling and re-training required to get them back into the workplace.
I urge the Leader for an urgent debate on the European globalisation fund and all mechanisms available to assist redundant workers. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to debate the issue as a matter of urgency today and I trust the Leader will accept it.
Will the Leader make arrangements for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to come to the Seanad as soon as possible to discuss the role of county enterprise boards in responding to closures such as that announced by Pfizer? The county enterprise boards have a statutory mandate to act as a task force in the event of such closures, but they are struggling in terms of resources.
Senators O'Toole and Hannigan raised the matter of the 116000 number for a missing children hotline. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions on the Order of Business and the Adjournment and the Minister has discussed it in the House. ComReg has informed me that although the number has been allocated, it is not in use. I have asked it to provide details of the criteria used in taking back a number that is not being used, although it has been tendered. This is the first anniversary of the publication of the Ryan report and more than 400 children are missing from the care of the HSE. Given all of this, we should examine the role of the Oireachtas in addressing this issue and the reports which are placed before us such as the Ryan and Murphy reports.
I have asked the Government to establish a joint committee on the protection of children and vulnerable adults. This would provide a clear focus and be a forum in which to consider all policy and legislation. Yesterday, in his response to the report of the Ombudsman for Children, the Minister of State indicated that he was open to such a consideration. I ask the Leader to convey my request to the Government as a matter of urgency.
I am struck by a tragic story in today's newspapers regarding a woman who took her life on a railway track, following a cut in her social welfare payment and owing to pressures in the payment of mortgage arrears. Life is precious and nothing makes it worth losing one's life. It is important that we send a message that everything passes. These times will pass. If one is under pressure, whether emotional or financial, one should pick up the telephone and talk to someone.
Many years ago I was involved in having references to sexual orientation and membership of the Traveller community included in legislation, particularly the Incitement to Hatred Bill. In that context, I raise a worrying matter, about which I ask the Leader to talk to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Recently a Facebook page entitled, "setting aside Monday afternoons to hunt knackers", was created, to which, I am sorry to say, a large number of Irish people have signed up. It includes the following comments. One contributor, a Mr. O'Keeffe, said, "I was in contact with the association of killing knackers and they said that if it got enough support they would try to organise an Abbeyfeale hunt, whereby for one week Abbeyfeale knackers would be, more or less, a free for all. Abbeyfeale knackers are common, though, and not worth much." That met with this response from a Mr. O'Sullivan, "Worth much? No knacker is worth anything, Dan. That is why they must be flushed out like rats." I understand this website which has been up for more than one month is in the process of being taken down, which I welcome. However, there is another one, which is "Pádraig Nally, Ireland's greatest legend". Some of the language used on the site is rather unfortunate, but it is appropriate that people should know about it. One person asks, "What do you do when you see a smelly knacker running at you with half a head?" The answer is, "Stop laughing, reload and shoot," which received the reply, "Fuck tinkers." That is not appropriate and I hope this will be taken down. It is worrying that there seems to be a wave. There is an office circular being circulated with pictures of some very beautiful young women in elaborate dresses attending weddings in the Travelling community. Those who receive the circular are invited to substitute the face of someone in their office who has recently got married for one of the faces in the pictures. I deplore this and some action should be taken against it.
I agree with Senator Twomey on the worrying situation of a man with 75 convictions who while out on bail assisted in the murder of two perfectly decent young Polish men. I also support Senator O'Toole in his remarks about the helpline for people with missing children. I raised this matter on the Adjournment some time ago and was recently contacted by the man who had brought it to my attention and whose sister had gone missing. I was told there were some bureaucratic difficulties, but I understand these are now in the process of being overcome. It is very important to support such families and that the State support the helpline.
One year on from the publication of the Ryan report it is important that we revisit the issue and have a full debate on what we have learned since its publication, the new structures which have been put in place, where are we in the protection of children and whether they are better protected since the publication of the report. Its dreadful narrative has been publicised, but we need to move beyond this. The next phase must be the establishment of new structures and implementation of an amendment on children's rights. I note what Senator Corrigan said. It is a disgrace that 400 children are missing from the care of the HSE. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, and the Government have been slow in their response to the Ryan report and on the protection of children.
I second Senator Coffey's amendment to the Order of Business and thank the Chathaoirleach for allowing the matter of the job losses at Pfizer to be raised on the Adjournment. It is important that we look at the issues of employment and unemployment and debate a jobs plan for Ireland because the Government does not seem to have one. Almost 13% of the population are unemployed. That amounts to 430,000 of our fellow citizens who have been left without work, an income and hope. The Government just seems to be drifting along. I look forward to a debate on the issue.
I strongly support Senators Hannigan and Dearey who spoke about the redress scheme for the victims of Dr. Michael Neary. Some years ago, when I was a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Patient Focus addressed it on the atrocities which had been committed by this individual. What it had to say would be material for a horror film. It is nonsense that women over 40 years of age are excluded from the scheme. My mother was 43 years old when I was born and I know many others like me. This exclusion is nonsense. Without question, the women concerned should be included. They should never have been excluded from the scheme.
While the Minister is in the House, we might have a short debate on restoring responsibility for the issuing of medical cards to local health centre managers. The current system is not working and people are very frustrated. Public representatives are finding it increasingly difficult to achieve satisfaction for their constituents. What is happening is an absolute scandal. I am sure the Minister will come to the House because she is very generous with her time. When she does come, I ask that both of these matters be debated. They are very serious and I ask the Leader to give them due consideration.
This week we will see the publication of a €24 million Interphone study of the potential health effects of mobile phones. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the House to discuss the matter. Data for the study stopped being collected in 2004 and six years have been spent arguing about what should and should not be included in the report. What is not included is a reference to the potential health effects of mobile phones on children.
The European Environmental Agency has stated, with regard to the effects of any item on the health of the general public, that we should always err on the side of caution and implement the precautionary principle. It took 54 years to prove that smoking caused lung cancer. We cannot afford to wait that long for science to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that mobile phones cause brain tumours. The European Union is conducting a study of this matter, but there have been more than 2,000 studies of mobile phone masts and their potential health effects. The time for study is over; action must begin. I, therefore, ask the Leader to organise a debate on the issue.
Yesterday I raised the issue of CIE on the Order of Business and I am grateful for the support I received from several Members of the House. However, I do not think much will happen, unless we act on the matter. I ask the Leader to consider introducing a Bill to make semi-State bodies subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
It is very important that we realise semi-State bodies are not answering questions asked of them by Members of the Oireachtas. With a view to introducing legislation, I asked my office to ask semi-State bodies and agencies a very simple question, namely, the amount they were spending on external public relations. The answer from CIE was the same as the one it always gives: "Mind your own business, it has nothing to do with you." However, it was not the only semi-State body to give that answer. I do not know why it needs to spend anything on external public relations because it has internal public relations spinners by the dozen. However, it is unacceptable that such questions asked by Members of the Oireachtas are not answered. State money is at stake and a huge amount is being wasted on public relations spinners who are spinning stories of doubtful truth about the success of the organisations in question. I would like the Leader to consider this issue, reply and invite to the House the appropriate Minister in order that we would be able to compel semi-State bodies to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. They can plead information is commercially sensitive, as can State agencies and others, and other exits that I accept are necessary, but it is unacceptable that such organisations are allowed to refuse to answer questions asked by Members of the Oireachtas about the expenditure of public money. There is an awful lot going on within CIE and other organisations, about which we do not know anything. Many organisations have a huge amount to hide. I do not want to be an accessory to this; neither does the Government which appoints the members of the boards of the bodies which are ducking the questions posed by Members of the Oireachtas.
There are a number of groups in society for which I have a healthy respect and regard, especially carers, that great army of people who do tremendous work in our communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I am aware the Leader has agreed to have a debate on the issue. Will he indicate when it will take place? If not, will he at least indicate the week in which he might be able to accommodate it?
Another group for which I have great respect and regard is older people. I salute and pay tribute to them for the full contribution they have made to society. Owing to the remarks made by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Ó Cuív, they are very concerned about their pensions. My personal philosophy is based on the protection of older people and my message to the Minister is that the Government should take its hands off payments to pensioners. It would be interesting to hear the views of Members of this House and pass an agreed motion or resolution. Therefore, I ask the Leader to accommodate a debate on older people.
I want to raise a matter I have raised previously with the Leader, namely, the progress made on the report of the innovation task force that was launched by the Government some months ago. It is a fine piece of work and was produced by people with real expertise and a passion for the smart economy. The Government is telling us it will be instrumental in creating over 100,000 jobs. The reason I raise the matter this week is that in recent days the implementation group for the task force has been set up. Having looked at its membership, it appears that there is only one person who was involved in the starting of one of the smart companies we are all so committed to creating. All of the others in the group are people working with large companies, Government agencies and universities. If we are to kindle an entrepreneurial spirit in the smart economy, we should surely have representatives who have actually demonstrated such spirit. Their absence in any great number from the group makes me concerned that the report will stay on a shelf somewhere in a Department, with many other reports.
On the call for a debate on the European globalisation fund made by some of my colleagues, we are about to start a debate in Ireland and across Europe on the difference between economic governance and economic government from a European perspective. When starting that debate, we would do well to remember the presence of funds such as the European globalisation fund and the great contribution they are making to countries such as our own.
I congratulate the Minister for Finance for the Government's very successful issuing of bonds. Bonds amounting to €13.5 billion have been taken up very quickly, which I am delighted to see. Bonds amounting to approximately €6.5 billion are to be sold. It is good news for the country and we are getting reasonable rates when one considers the bail-out of Greece. We are only 0.2% up on the figure last January, a considerable achievement.
I welcome the fact that EirGrid is creating 200 new jobs. This is very much to be welcomed this week. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to consider the 750 jobs in jeopardy at Pfizer. One of its plants, the one in Dún Laoghaire, cost €280 million. A task force should be set up to consider the issue of job creation. We have an 18-month window of opportunity before the jobs are lost. Perhaps a debate in the House would be helpful. We could ask the Minister for Social Protection how he will tackle the problem and the nature of the task force he will put in place in that regard. It is important that we avail of the opportunity provided. The Minister will certainly tackle the problem.
Senator Quinn introduced a very important Bill in the House last night.
It is a step that should have been taken a long time ago. Senator Quinn seems to make a difference on the other side of the House. He must have been pleased by the announcement of the European Commission that co-operation between member states on organ transplantation is to be made mandatory.
I thank Senator Butler for his remarks.
I never heard of renewable energy feed-in tariffs until recently. I am not normally sympathetic to the IFA and farmers' lobby groups calling for something, but they issued a press release recently, about which I would like the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to be reminded. It refers to the growing of willow. Three hundred farmers around the country are growing it and there are 200 or 300 jobs — perhaps they are seasonal jobs — dependent on their doing so. The farmers in question were promised by the Minister that the renewable energy feed-in tariff would be introduced in January. The commitment was made three years ago, but it has not been followed through. It is important that it be honoured.
Another reason this issue is important is that we have set a target stipulating that 25,000 hectares should be planted with renewable energy crops by 2020, yet only 4,000 hectares have been planted at this stage. It is interesting that a Minister with a background such as that of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has not confirmed his commitment in this regard. If we are to achieve our target, we must achieve a great deal more than we are achieving. I, therefore, ask the Leader to draw to the Minister's attention the opportunity to create jobs and reach our 2020 target. We are committed to reducing the amount of peat we use and must do so in the form I have described. There is money available to achieve this, but it has not been made available by the Minister to those who are calling for it.
I commend Senator Corrigan for her sensitive and compassionate comments on the death of a woman who succumbed to the pressures and stresses of economic deprivation. It behoves society in general and us, as legislators, to engage more in these difficult times, as we are all well aware of the hopelessness many people feel. It is unprecedented in the history of the State. We have had great difficulties in the past, but we are moving from affluent times to a time in which people do not see a future, particularly young couples with children. It is necessary for us, therefore, to endeavour to give them hope but not in a false way. We have to be realistic and, at the same time, send a positive message to people. There are agencies on the ground, but more is needed. The current climate is not helping and we all have a role in addressing this. Every finger should not be pointed in the direction of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Throughout society we must all look to work together and that includes the media and other organisations and agencies. I can only imagine how lonely, helpless and isolated the young woman concerned must have felt that she found it necessary to take her own life. There must be many more like her. However, as Senator Corrigan said, life is precious and we must ensure no other person in the State will be driven to do what that young woman did. Like others, I express my sympathy to her family and friends because they must also be devastated.
This week I witnessed the modern day eviction of 25 elderly residents from Loughloe House in Athlone, County Westmeath, a matter I have raised on the Adjournment to no satisfaction. Today or tomorrow the Health Information and Quality Authority will publish its report, behind which the HSE is hiding and which it is using to close this nursing home. We are witnessing the steady, slow suffocation of the general hospital in Mullingar; the closure of beds in St. Mary's Hospital, even though the sod was supposed to be turned for a unit with 200 beds, and the transfer of post mortem facilities to Tullamore hospital. We will probably also witness the HSE running down or closing our accident and emergency department and its reason will be it cannot recruit non-consultant doctors. The hospital in Mullingar is the best in the country. More than 3,000 babies are delivered there annually, while 92,000 people have X-rays and scans every year. It is the mainstay of the health service in Longford-Westmeath, yet the HSE is gradually demoralising the staff and taking the good out of the hospital. I understand the Leader has scheduled a debate and that the Minister for Health and Children is coming to the House. However, will he ask her to have answers for us before she attends the House next week about health services in Longford-Westmeath?
I support colleagues who raised the issue of the redress scheme for Dr. Neary's victims. A number of Members have raised the issue in both Houses. With Oireachtas colleagues in the north-east region, I have met victims who are excluded owing to the current parameters of the redress scheme. It is such a unique and heart rending case in many respects that I hope the Leader will take on board the request for statements on the matter because the Minister for Health and Children should address the issue in the House. It is most unfair and arbitrary to make a date of birth the barrier to access the scheme. As previous speakers said, deliberately leaving some women out will make them feel even worse and this doubles the harshness of the unfair treatment they received at the hands of the heath service, an arm of the State. It behoves the Members of both Houses to put in place a structure to accommodates the women concerned and their families and gives them an opportunity to address the stress and suffering they have endured throughout their lives. I urge the Leader to take on board our concerns. I thank colleagues for raising the issue here today and in the Dáil last week.
Like many Members, I am fan of the notion that coverage of major sports fixtures, including rugby games, should be available free to air. We all recognise the force for social cohesion that is sport. The achievements of our teams in rugby in recent years have provided happy news at a time when we have been badly in need of it. However, I also take seriously the IRFU's claims that if it was to suffer a shortfall in revenue of approximately €10 million, it would not be able to retain top class players in this country. The Government is inclined to cast doubt on this. If it does not believe the shortfall will be that great, it should state, in valuing the cultural potential of broadcasting such fixtures free to air, funding will be provided. Despite our straitened economic circumstances, we should recognise there would be a value to this. I would not like to see top class players leaving the country.
It is often said Irish society was authoritarian in that past, which is true, but sometimes our politics can be authoritarian. When one criticises the Government parties or points to a flaw in their logic, they respond by attacking the messenger. In an interesting debate on child protection yesterday, I was accused by the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs of uttering dangerous nonsense when all I did was question the disconnect between people feeling understandably outraged about past failures within the church to report abuse cases to the Garda and the Government still failing to grasp the nettle of mandatory reporting.
I would like a debate on the specific issue of mandatory reporting because such a debate is needed. I did not hear a logical argument from the Minister of State yesterday; instead I heard invective when his logic was challenged. We need to ask whether mandatory reporting could be part of the solution to our problem. Where a person knows a criminal act has taken place or is likely to take place, he or she ought to alert the civil authorities; that should not only be subject to guidelines.
I refer to the powerful contribution of Senator Ó Murchú and his use of the word "hope", which is important. The word is commonly used by the US President, Barack Obama, who wrote a book entitled, The Audacity of Hope. I am a great believer in consensus politics to lead the country and enable Members of both Houses to work together for its betterment. We often have tit for tat exchanges, with Members on the other side of the House giving out to Members on this side who stand their ground and so on. There is a strong case to be made for us to show leadership. When I entered the House, I said I felt a heavy hand of responsibility on my shoulder and that applies to every Senator. Sometimes, with others, I forget this. It is important that the Oireachtas show leadership on the way forward. A debate on the provision of hope would be a good one. It would also be an unusual one. I do not know how it would be framed or under which Department it would come, but it is important that we spread hope in every debate in the House.
I congratulate Senator Quinn for his comments regarding renewable energy and so on. This could be a source of great hope for the country and an area in which we could do well in future. Finally, I believe the debate on rugby that is being called for is important, but this needs to be balanced against the idea that Rupert Murdoch can take control of rugby in this country and community needs, particular as regards young children who could be forced to go to pubs to see the things we took for granted as young people, that is, the great rugby players of this country playing international matches on our television screens at home. I do not believe it would be good if people were forced to go to pubs to see matches. There is a need to balance this debate and I hope there is an outcome that will satisfy all parties. Indeed, there is a consultation phase going on at the moment in relation to this.
I apologise that I was not present when the Cathaoirleach called me earlier. I had gone to collect notes for the euro debate.
I ask the Leader for a debate on ways and methods that we in this House could promote holidays at home, in particular by giving example. There are a number of reasons for holidaying at home, the main one being to support home industry. There will be some wonderful opportunities, with children going free and other advantages for people who decide to holiday in Ireland. This is something we could usefully address to see what way the Seanad might promote Irish tourism.
As we know today is the anniversary of the publication of the Ryan report. We then had a report from the Minister which was called an implementation report. It is extremely important that we have a debate in this House on the implementation report so we may monitor and discuss what has happened to those recommendations.
We were all truly horrified by the contents of the Ryan report, and it is really important for us to examine what action has been taken by Government since then. We know there have been cutbacks to frontline services, and many survivors are on waiting lists for treatment, counselling and support. I ask the Leader to have a debate on this in the House at the earliest opportunity and to look at the importance of the action that has been taken, as Senator Corrigan indicated, by the Government in relation to the recommendations made.
Senators Twomey, O'Toole and Hannigan called for a debate on crime. This is timely, and I have no difficulty in having this debate at the earliest possible date, and for whatever time is required.
Senators Corrigan, Ó Murchú and Ó Brolcháin indicated their disappointment and shock as regards the poor woman who lost her life in these very difficult times. The Senators expressed the view that hope must be encouraged and said we must all see how we can help and assist anyone facing unprecedented experiences, to say the least.
Senators O'Toole, Corrigan, Norris, Buttimer and Fitzgerald referred to the first anniversary of the Ryan report and the hotline number, 116000, for missing children. There can be no excuse as regards why that is not available and I certainly will look into it after the Order of Business to see what the up to date position is in that regard. It can be of enormous help to parents, in particular, who feel so helpless when they discover one of their loved ones is missing. As was said, more than 400 children under the stewardship of the HSE are missing, and there is no shortage of material for a very serious debate in this regard. I will endeavour to have the Minister present in the House for this at the earliest possible date.
Senator O'Toole, in relation to betting tax, said we must protect small Irish bookmakers, and I shall certainly pass on his strong views to the Minister.
Senator Hannigan, too, referred to the Ryan report and the eight organisations that are meeting in Dublin today to review the up to date position, as Senator Fitzgerald mentioned. I wish them well in their deliberations. If there is anything we can do as regards further debates on this in the House, I will have no difficulty in allowing time.
Senators Hannigan, Dearey, Glynn and Carroll raised the matter of Dr. Michael Neary and the 35 women who were not included. I would like to think this might be addressed as a matter of urgency. As was said, Members of the House are united in our call for the plight of these women to be looked at and for them to be included.
All right, I shall refer to him as the former doctor, then.
Senators Coffey and Donohoe referred to the European Globalisation Fund and redundant workers, as regards the opportunity to have them reskilled and retrained and said every effort should be made in this regard. I understand the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation will be coming to the House to continue the debate on jobs, quite possibly next week, and we can progress that proposal when he is here. Also, Senator Corrigan called for the Minister to come to the House. I understand he will be in the House next week.
Senator Norris raised the matter of websites. No one can condone these and I hope they will be withdrawn immediately.
Senator Glynn called for the Minister for Health and Children to address the issue as regards the medical system not working at present. I fully support my colleague in this regard. This is a serious situation where he is not even getting answers to telephone calls. It is unacceptable and unsustainable. The Minister will be in the House on 3 June and we can put this point to her in that regard.
Senator Mark Daly spoke about the €24 million that has been spent on a mobile phone study into the effects on health and the enormous difficulties, potentially, as he outlined. I visited the University of Waterloo a few years ago, where massive research was being conducted. For those Senators who do not know it, this is the university where the BlackBerry technology was invented and created. It is one of the most successful in the world at present. In any event, massive research was being conducted there at the time on behalf of Vodafone into the effects of mobile phones, as outlined by the Senator. I have no difficulty in having a debate on that and it will be included in the list.
Senator Ross asked that the House consider a Bill for semi-State bodies and State agencies to be subject to the freedom of information legislation. I can only await the Bill coming before the House and this is a matter for Government, which must make a decision on that also.
Senator Callely raised the issue of carers and asked for a debate in this regard. I have already said this will take place when the Minister is present on the Wednesday after next. In the event, perhaps many of these issues may be brought to her attention, including that of older people, as Senator Callely has said. As regards pensions that is a matter for budgetary consideration in seven months' time. It is a matter for the Government while we respect and appreciate everything our senior citizens have ever done. We certainly fully support them in every way we can.
Senator Donohoe talked about the innovation task force and the implementation of the group's recommendations. As outlined to the House he would like to see one or two other sectors, or perhaps more. Anyone that can make a contribution should be included and this is one of the great planks through which the Government is attempting to fight the global downturn. I look forward to the report being published and I guarantee it will be discussed and debated in the House.
Senator Butler congratulated the Minister for Finance in relation to the bond issue and also welcomed the 200 new jobs at EirGrid. He called for the taskforce to be put in place now that there is an 18-month window of opportunity as regards the Pfizer job reductions. I remind the House that some 4,250 people will still be employed by Pfizer when the rationalisation takes place. Senator Butler also congratulated Senator Quinn, who introduced his Second Stage Bill last night in relation to the difficulties being experienced by subcontractors. These are horrific stories and I am pleased the Minister agreed to proceed within a five-month timeframe to introduce the necessary amendments to strengthen Senator Quinn's Bill. I know the Senator is working closely with the Minister in this regard and I too congratulate him on his foresight in bring this Bill before the House.
Senators Quinn and Ó Brolcháin spoke about job opportunities in the agricultural sector, such as the production of biomass for renewable energy. In view of our carbon reduction targets for 2020, this is a worthwhile subject for discussion and I have no difficulty in allowing such a debate to take place.
Senator McFadden spoke about the 25 residents who were moved in Athlone. I agree with her about what a traumatic experience this must have been, but I disagree with her comments about Mullingar hospital. I call on everyone to stop talking down Mullingar hospital. The Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar is the only hospital from Dublin to Sligo——
I understand, but the facts of the case are that 777 people are employed in Mullingar hospital, and I played a major part in obtaining the €21 million for the new hospital building. In 2006 there were 2,000 births at the hospital. This number has now increased to 3,000. It is a two-county hospital serving Longford and Westmeath. Anyone who thinks Mullingar hospital will not continue to increase its services is mistaken. I hope we will see a year in which there are 5,000 births in the hospital. As Senator McFadden correctly stated, 92,000 patients were attended to in that hospital last year. The Minister is coming to the hospital on 21 June and we will have an opportunity then for clarification. The Minister said in Seanad Éireann, not once but twice, that she would reward the hospitals——
I will look after order in the House. It is wrong for any Senator to talk down to another Senator across the floor, whether it is the Leader or any other Member. We will have a reply to the Order of Business and that is it. There will be no more interruptions while the Leader is replying.
We can all ask the Minister the relevant questions when she is in Mullingar on 21 June. I look forward to hearing her responses to the concerns expressed by the Senator.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on mandatory reporting. I will consider this. Senator John Hanafin asked for the up-to-date position on tourism and called for the promotion of holidays at home this summer. I support this and look forward to hearing the Minister's update on the tourism sector when she comes to the House.