Friday, 2 July 2010
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Adoption Bill 2009 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Health (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Second and Subsequent Stages, to be taken at the conclusion No. 1 and conclude not later than 2 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes, on which Senators may share time, by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be called upon to reply to the debate on Second Stage not later than 1.50 p.m., to be followed by Committee and Remaining Stages; and No. 3, motion for earlier signature, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3.
I note the historic legislation on equality passed in the Dáil last night, the Civil Partnership Bill. I welcome the all-party agreement evident during the course of the debate and the fine work done on the Bill. I congratulate the Minister for Justice and Law Reform and all involved for the manner with which they dealt with the legislation. Will the Leader outline how the legislation will be dealt with next week in the House, given that the Dáil will break for its summer recess next week?
In her annual report, published yesterday, the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, makes what can only be described as a stinging attack on the Heath Service Executive and the way in which it does its business. She speaks about a culture of secrecy, legalism and difficulties in accessing information. She describes case after case of the appalling treatment of individuals at the hands of the HSE. Senators on all sides of the House have raised these issues before. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we have a discussion on the serious implications of the Ombudsman's report for the future management of the health service. I want the Minister for Health and Children in the House to respond to the report and outline her intentions to deal with this condemnation of the HSE for how it does it business and its impact on individuals.
On the Order of Business yesterday Senator Mary White asked why the Cabinet was not responding on mental health issues. The cross-party group on mental health hosted a meeting this week to examine the impact of the recession on mental health, including the huge increase in demand for services and the difficulties in accessing them because 700 front-line jobs have been lost in mental health services this year. Today the Independent Monitoring Group on Mental Health published its third annual report in which it agrees with Senator Mary White that the Government is not responding in meeting the needs of the mental health sector, that the programme A Vision for Change is not being implemented and that funding has been cut back. This is different from what the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, tells us when he is in the House. We must start talking about the facts, not fiction, with regard to mental health. Therefore, I repeat my call for a debate on mental health issues before the end of term. Will the Leader indicate if he can fit in a debate, even a short one, in order that we can focus on the issues raised by the monitoring group today?
I raise an issue which has concerned me all week, that is, the protest taking place outside the gates. I have been organising street protests all my life, but there are rules. It is unacceptable for any group to harangue, harass and threaten not only Members but also visitors to the Houses. Yesterday I saw a Member and her family being harassed and threatened by the people involved. I ask the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Superintendent. I realise that both he and the Garda have a difficult job to do, but those involved should understand that while in a democracy people should be encouraged to protest, there are rules, just as there are for everything else.
We must consider where we are going.
I welcome the points made by Senator Fitzgerald on the Civil Partnership Bill. It is important that it has been passed by the Dáil and I look forward to it being brought before us next week. However, the bishops have a right to express their view. As a public representative, I welcome the views of any group, whether it be bishops or penitents, what they have to say and defend their right to express their view. We should engage and deal with them. However, the members of the group outside the gates seem to be urban guerrillas working in support of the same point of view. They are completely vicious, aggressive, nasty and totally preoccupied by the sexual habits in bed of gay people and various others issues that have been raised time and again. This is unacceptable. There is not an iota of humanity or Christianity among them.
The Catholic hierarchy should recognise that, despite what they had said, the Bill was passed without a vote. This shows they are more in tune with the homophobic so-called Christians outside the gates than with the public representatives of the people. That should be a concern for everyone. It would be worthwhile to move them away from the gates, sit them down and read to them the Sermon on the Mount or God's two great commandments, the second of which is to love thy neighbour. A lot of work remains to be done and we should outline our position clearly. While it is acceptable for people to protest, make their views known and put pressure on us, their behaviour is not acceptable. That is what politics is about. I do not mind when it happens to us, but it is simply not on when it happens to visitors and family members.
I second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I refer to the comments of the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, on the culture of secrecy and legalism within the HSE. They confirm that the HSE is a bureaucratic and inefficient body which appears to make up the rules as it goes along. Some 718 complaints about HSE incidents were made last year. However, this represents the number of complainants only. We can be sure far more people are affected than the number suggests, which shows how inefficient the HSE is. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, was in the House for a debate on the HSE, but answered no questions. We were given to understand that she would come back in because the debate was to be rolled over. Members on the other side of the House engaged in the most outrageous tactics to prevent her answering questions. They used up their time in such a way that she did not have to answer questions. When will the debate resume? We were assured this would happen within two weeks. I have a genuine interest in hearing the Minister's answers. She must address urgently the moratorium on staff recruitment in the delivery of front-line services, as a disproportionate number of nurses and midwives are affected. They go to work each day concerned that they could lose their licences because they are trying to do the work of staff who are not being replaced. The ones losing out are the patients, as well as the nurse or midwife who loses his or her licence. The consequences are serious. The Minister must examine how the moratorium is affecting the delivery of front-line services. If there is no replacement of staff, others must try to carry the additional workload. This is not acceptable. The Minister should come to the House to answer these questions.
I welcome the passage of the Civil Partnership Bill in the Dáil last night without a division. I look forward to the debate on it in this House. It is significant legislation because it recognises rights which have not been extended to date. I trust that when we conduct the debate, this will be the central principle that will inform it.
A debate on the Ombudsman's report would be useful. There is legislation before the Dáil which will be brought before the Seanad to extend the powers of the Ombudsman. That might present an opportunity to hold such a debate in the near future.
Senator O'Toole referred to the conduct of the protestors outside the gates of Leinster House. I support his comments. The issue is important. Sadly, there are individuals, members of groups campaigning against particular legislation or on a specific social issue, who choose to turn against individual Members in a very aggressive manner. Perhaps there is a need for protocols which should be made known to such individuals and others outside the gates of Leinster House.
That said, for the next two weeks we have a full programme of legislation, including legislation which does not deal with animal rights.
We will see the passage of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill, the Civil Partnership Bill, the European Financial Stability Facility Bill and the legislation dealing with the windfall levy. When we finish in several weeks time, we will be able to say that in this session of the Seanad was marked by progress on several pieces of vital legislation.
I support strongly the comments made by Senator Fitzgerald on the Ombudsman and the HSE. The Ombudsman's report is an official, damning indictment of that body which is dysfunctional in so many ways.
I refer to the comments made by Senator O'Toole. During the years I have always found it is possible to engage in a happy discourse with most people in front of the gates of Leinster House. However, there is no doubt there is truth in Senator O'Toole's remarks. The people outside the gates in recent days, whatever their agenda is, are nasty and vicious, bullies and dictators. I tried to talk to them about respecting democracy and, by God, I cannot repeat in the House what was said to me. In my 12 years in the House I have never experienced such viciousness in the way they sought to target Members individually. It was mostly aimed at Deputies yesterday. As other Senators have stated, some protocols should be put in place. They were the nastiest and most insulting personal attacks Members have ever experienced. We are all used to peaceful protests and uphold the right of citizens to protest peacefully.
However, what we witnessed yesterday in front of Parliament buildings was not acceptable. I ask the Leader to bring this to the attention of whoever should be dealing with it and add my voice to others who have suggested that we look a how we can arrange for more peaceful protests to take place.
I refer to the Central Bank Reform Bill, about which I asked the Leader yesterday. As we are aware, the Dáil will rise next Thursday. When will Second Stage of the Bill be taken and on which subsequent days will Committee and Remaining Stages be taken? When the Dáil is in recess, how will we deal with this and other legislation? I have no doubt suitable amendments will be proposed. I wish to hear from the Leader on this important matter for the House.
A few months ago I referred to the fact that when one moved to this jurisdiction from another, some mobile phones companies sent a message welcoming one to Ireland. We managed to get this changed and now the message simply refers to roaming charges. I indicated that I would try to have an all-Ireland mobile phone package made available. I welcome the European intervention, which maintains the downward reduction in rates for receiving and making calls and the maximum cap on downloading information while abroad. I raised on the Adjournment earlier this week the prospect of the North-South Ministerial Council taking on the issue of introducing all-Ireland packages so that if one buys 200 minutes and 200 text messages or 400 minutes and 400 text messages, it will not matter where on the island one uses them. We should pursue this issue and continue to question the Minister about progress on it.
We have focused on the diminishing role rather than the enhancing role alcohol can play in society over the years. I agree with Senator Fitzgerald on the need to maintain a focus on mental health. During the next session, we should focus on this issue. I am interested in asking the Minister of State with responsibility of mental health the progress on the professional recognition of music therapy because it not only has a role in mental health, but also in regard to autism, Alzheimer's disease and many other aspects of health.
We could pick a few topics and be seen by the end of the year to have driven something. We aspired to do that with the alcohol issue but I am not sure how successful we were. We could, however, focus on mental health issues for the next session.
A shopkeeper often when deciding on prices discovers that when putting the price of a product up, he makes less profit but by reducing it on occasion he makes more profit. On that basis, the most nonsensical tax we ever introduced was the levy on airlines.
Ryanair is by far our largest carrier and it is also one of the largest in Europe. It is a price sensitive airline. In other words, people travel with the company if the price comes down but if it goes up, they do not. Our tourism industry has been decimated through steps we have taken to make it more expensive to travel to Ireland. That does not make sense.
The Dutch have abolished a similar levy for that reason. Yesterday, figures were published that showed the passenger numbers for Irish airlines had dropped by 18% as they had in Britain while numbers for Sweden, Finland and Germany have increased by 7% or 8% and Turkey by 24%, although there may be a different reason for that. I mention this as we seem to have scored an own goal. Surely we must be able to say to a Minister that there are times when a tax introduced has been a mistake and he or she must go back to do something about it.
The tax is affecting tourists, bed and breakfasts, hotels and campsites. The entire country is being affected by it and that should be recognised.
The Irish Timespublished an article today by Dr. Chris Luke, a consultant at Cork University Hospital. He apparently wrote to the newspaper five years ago to highlight the model used by Australia, South African and America under which young doctors are bonded to hospitals for a period. We do not do that. The Government has decided on a different system, which is leading to a shortage of doctors. At the same time, the VHI has pointed out that health care costs will increase by 7% annually for the next ten years. We can take steps to address this and one was highlighted in Dr. Luke's article.
I support the comments regarding the Ombudsman's report. Emily O'Reilly is a courageous person and she is acting in the best public interest. What she has said about the HSE is deeply worrying. I have put on record on many occasions my views on the agency but she referred to the culture of excessive secrecy and legalism in the HSE. She further stated, "A body such as the HSE, there to protect and represent the public interest, sometimes seeks to protect its own interest first...It is very wrong". Nobody would disagree with her comments in that regard. We all have personal experiences of the difficulties associated with dealing with the HSE. I very much agree with Senator Prendergast's comments on this and other matters relating to the executive, such as the embargo on the recruitment of staff and the impact on service provision, particularly by those on the front line and first responders.
Can we get some clarification on the position regarding the HSE? Can the Leader invite the Minister in at the appropriate time? We need to know the impact on service. A mechanism is in place. A service plan is provided by the HSE and money is provided by the Department for its implementation. We need to know what is happening, the impact of the staff embargo and the financial allocation impact on service provision. We are not getting a handle on this. Will the Leader try to ensure we get a handle on this?
We are debating the financial crisis, stag hunting, wildlife and so on. I refer to an important issue raised yesterday by One Family, the one-parent family charity that supports lone parents.
Will the Leader facilitate a debate before the recess on democracy and what it means?
I would like to clarify for Senator O'Toole that bishops are sinners as well, not penitents. I fully agree with his comments earlier and I applaud him for his courage. Yesterday was a tremendous day for Ireland with the passing of the Civil Partnership Bill 2009. I pay tribute to the Fianna Fáil Party and the Green Party, in particular, without whom it would not have happened. I also applaud Senator Boyle for his courage because this issue is part of what he stands for. We might have our battles but I admire his work as well. Yesterday was a great day for Ireland and it behoves all of us when the Bill comes before us to respect each other, as democrats, and that we do not make false, pious comments about conscience and what is best for people. It is time that we, as a mature democracy, discussed human rights, the rights of all our citizens and ensured all our citizens are treated equally and properly. Senator O'Toole is correct in this regard.
It behoves the Leader, the Cathaoirleach and all those involved in the administration of the House to ensure urban and rural guerillas are not allowed to demonstrate the type of rudeness and irresponsible behaviour they did in recent days outside the House.
Will the Leader plead with the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform regarding the fate of approximately 70 so-called aged out minors? These are young people who came to Ireland, often trafficked, and have reached the age of 18 years. They are being moved from the facilities they currently occupy, utterly inadequate as they are, to adult direct provision centres around the country. They are all currently in Dublin. They are extremely vulnerable and most of them are in education in the city.
Crosscare, the social care service providing services for them, has identified them as people who require stability and after-care, to which young people in HSE care who are Irish and reach 18 years of age are entitled. These young people ought to be entitled to it too. They will experience trauma if moved to direct provision centres in Sligo, Galway, Donegal and so forth. The deadline is 13 July. I ask that these vulnerable young people be dealt with according to their need, not according to the system's need. They should be allowed to complete their education in Dublin, where many of them have integrated into schools, football clubs and so forth, and given the opportunity to remain in direct provision in Dublin. They should also be afforded the after-care services they are entitled to after reaching 18 years of age and moving from HSE to Department of Justice and Law Reform care. This is an urgent request given the deadline and I would appreciate it if the Leader would plead their case.
I welcome the passing of the Civil Partnership Bill by the Dáil yesterday and the spirit in which it happened. I hope we will replicate it here. The only moral issue here is the morality of denying people their civil rights. That is the only basis on which this discussion ought to happen.
By way of a response and in the courteous spirit that I hope will mark our exchanges on the Civil Partnership Bill when it comes before the Seanad, the difficulty with what Senator Dearey says is - who defines civil rights? It is interesting to note that there is nothing in the international human rights instruments that requires a member state to------
Would the Leader agree that there is nothing in the international human rights instruments that requires a member state to legislate for same sex marriage or for civil partnership? The moral question is whether we will acknowledge the right of people to have a different ethical position. They should not be targeted by the law if they wish to live that ethical position. As things stand, Senator Dearey's party supports banging people up in prison and fining them if they dare to differ from the prevailing consensus around civil partnership. That is unjust.
I rose to speak on the issue of carers. It is troubling that, according to the Carers Association, there could be 28,000 children who might be carers in our society. Mr. Enda Egan of the Carers Association appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is time we had the long-promised debate on carers. There is a major issue with carer payments being refused. The particularly troubling problem is that people coming off carer's benefit are being denied the carer's allowance. In addition, there is a long delay before they discover that. It is taking up to four months to assess people and, if they are refused, it takes a further four months to appeal the decision. Carers should be at the top of our agenda. It is also worrying that these allowances are being refused on the ground of the health of the person being cared for, even though the doctor has signed off on the application. We will discuss State-funded benefits going to certain categories, and good luck to them, in the context of civil partnership, because that is a sexy cause, but where is the care for the carers? Where is the care for the people who are not as vocal and, perhaps, not as well connected in politically correct circles?
I congratulate the new Fine Gael front bench and wish it well. My particular interest is that two of the members of the Fine Gael Party who represent Leitrim, Deputy John Perry from Sligo-North Leitrim and Deputy Frank Feighan from Roscommon-South Leitrim, have been elevated to the front bench and I wish them well in their role.
I feel compelled to defend the integrity, commitment and passion the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, brings to disability issues here. I attended a meeting yesterday with colleagues at which he outlined his plans for the coming months and responded to the controversy over respite care. Deputy John Cregan referred to one of the front-line cutbacks in a respite home in Limerick where the Brothers of Charity received €30 million and were asked to cut that budget by €150,000. To everybody's astonishment, Deputy Cregan revealed that the first cut these Christian people made was to shut down the canteen and send a letter to the relevant parents advising them that their special needs children should now bring a packed lunch. I do not see the compassion in that or how a Government can be criticised, when an order charged with the relevant responsibility, decides that the first thing it will go for is the most vulnerable. That is happening across the country. Whatever the political agenda is, it is despicable. The question that arose time and again, from all sides of the House, was why the administrators are not being cut first. Why is it always the front-line services?
As the parent of a special needs child, I value the respite care provided across the country. It is essential for the well-being of the families concerned that they get that respite. What the people who are charged with this responsibility are doing is despicable. A sum of €1.6 billion is being spent on disability issues here and more than 600 organisations are working with the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney. He has initiated a cost-benefit review which will report in September. It is already showing there is duplication and wasteful use of public funds. I look forward to the results of that review. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, to the House at the earliest opportunity in the new session to give us the benefit of his expertise in this area.
The joke is that while the recession might be technically over people are still hurting financially and personally. There are two examples that should be addressed. First is the high cost of food in our supermarkets, the low cost of alcohol and how that is contributing to the high cost of food. It is an absolute scandal that alcohol could be more important than food in this society. Will the Leader put this to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation? The Minister must address it. The benefit in the high cost of food is not going to the farmer or the producer. We cannot let alcohol be more important.
The second issue is the scandalous and scathing report of the Ombudsman, Ms Emily O'Reilly, on the HSE. The rotten culture of secrecy still continues, as does the need for private payments to patients due to the HSE's failure of care. This is a culture of secrecy at management level, not at care level as I know so many of the good care givers. The Minister, Deputy Harney, must come to the House to address this report. Does she accept the report and does she believe it? Will she condemn the failures of the HSE, which she set up to provide a world class health service but which is failing our people daily? She must come to the House and give her view as Minister for Health and Children and the State's first servant on health matters.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Prendergast, Boyle, Buttimer and Mullen congratulated the Minister for Justice and Law Reform on the role he played in the passing of the Civil Partnership Bill by the Dáil. I agree with Senator O'Toole that the bishops have a right to make their views known. Yesterday we showed the world that Ireland is a very mature democracy in terms of how the Dáil conducted its affairs and passed the Bill. It is a human rights issue and we all support human rights.
Senators Fitzgerald, Prendergast, Boyle, Coghlan, Callely and Healy-Eames called for a debate on the Ombudsman's report on the HSE. The Minister will be in the House before the summer recess to continue the debate on the health portfolio and the HSE. This is an ideal opportunity for colleagues to bring the report to the Minister's attention, and I am confident she will be forthcoming in her views on the report when she is in the House in the coming days. The work the Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, is carrying out in the interests and the name of Ireland is exemplary and we fully support her. As the Deputy Leader said, there will be a Bill giving additional powers to the position of the Ombudsman in terms of her work and we will fully support that also.
Senators Fitzgerald, Keaveney and Mooney called for a debate on mental health and spoke about the difficulties being experienced in that area. The commitment of the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, to mental health has been a shining example of what a Minister of State can do with a portfolio. He got an allocation of €43 million in the budget in difficult times and as Senator Mooney said, €1.6 billion is being spent on services in this area. I have no difficulty in discussing that issue, particularly Senator Keaveney's point about music therapy uplifting the spirits of individuals who are depressed and everything to do with that. I have no difficulty having a debate on that. We have had five debates with the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, present and I have no difficulty having a debate on an ongoing basis with the Minister updating the House on his total commitment to transform the portfolio of mental health and help those who have been left behind over many years.
Senators O'Toole, Boyle and Coghlan raised the issue of rules of protest at the gates of Parliament, especially in regard to family members, and visitors in general, visiting these Houses. I will pass on the colleagues' views to the Superintendent after the Order of Business. It is a healthy democracy where the general public can come here and engage in peaceful demonstrations. However, strong believers must be reminded of the protocols and rules in that regard and that should be done in the capable way we all know the Superintendent can do it.
Senator Coghlan raised the issue of the timeframe of the Central Bank reform Bill. I will meet the leaders after the Order of Business to discuss the remaining times we propose to deal with Bills. This Bill will come before the House before the summer recess. I take the Senator's point that he wishes to have the Bill debated before the Dáil goes into recess also.
Senator Keaveney raised the issue of roaming telephone charges and welcomed the European intervention which continues to reduce European telephone rates. I wholeheartedly welcome that. I fully support the Senator's call and will keep it in mind when we have future debates on communications.
Senator Quinn called for a debate on the effect on tourism of a levy on airlines. I have no difficulty in having such a debate take place. The Senator also raised the need for something to be done about the shortage of doctors. In the roll-over debate on health the Minister will be able to discuss that issue with Senator Quinn and other colleagues when she comes into the House in the coming days.
Senator Buttimer called for a debate on democracy. I gave a commitment on that in the House yesterday and I have no difficulty in the House discussing that after the summer recess.
Senator Dearey outlined to the House the very serious position of the care of 70 young men on reaching adulthood at 18 years of age and the serious concerns of Crosscare about their future. I will do everything I possibly can to contact the offices of the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in that regard because as Senator Dearey said, these young men are moving from the care of the Health Service Executive to the care of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I agree fully with everything Senator Dearey said and will pass on his views to both Ministers after the Order of Business.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on carers. I have already given Senator Corrigan a commitment on that. There will be a debate on carers in the House before the summer recess. When we consider that there are 161,000 carers who give a great service, I have no difficulty in the House debating this issue. As so many colleagues are interested in making contributions I intend to roll over that debate also.
Senator Healy Eames raised the issue of the price of food. We have all seen the EUROSTAT prices announced this week. They may have been eight to ten months behind but I understand prices are reduced by 8.6% in this area. As I said on the Order of Business the other day, in the past ten months sterling has become stronger than the euro by about 5%. All of these issues are moving in the right direction but food is an essential requirement of the human being to survive and I will be supportive of the Senator's call in terms of doing something about that issue.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 17 (Ivana Bacik, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Frances Fitzgerald, Fidelma Healy Eames, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross)
Against the motion: 24 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Jerry Buttimer and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost