Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is: No. 1, Criminal Justice Bill 2011 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to commence on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1 p.m.; No. 2, Criminal Justice (Community Service) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2011 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3.30 p.m.; No. 3, Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 - Amendments from Dáil Éireann, to commence on the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude no later than 4 p.m.; No. 4, motion on the report by the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne, to commence at 4 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 5.50 p.m.; and No. 5, Private Members' business, Family Home Bill 2011, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8 p.m. There will be a sos between 1 p.m. and 1.30 p.m.
Mar a deirtear, Tús maith, leath na hoibre. The Seanad has made a good start in this term. I commend the Leader, the leaders of all the groups and all my colleagues because we have made some significant strides towards reforming the way we do our business. We have an eclectic bunch of Senators with different views and different ways of doing things, and that is important. We have made a start and laid the foundations to make this House relevant to the people. Reaching out to the public through the public consultation committee will be most important and I look forward to that.
We have a significant role to play not only in the scrutiny, but in the production, of legislation. Many Bills have been initiated in this House and our group will bring the Family Home Bill 2011 before it today. As I mentioned yesterday, it will give proper protection to home owners with distressed mortgages. I am certain a good debate will take place and I hope we get cross-party support for the Bill to enshrine in law what is required to help to protect our citizens in times of difficulty and that, at the very least, they can be sure they will have their family home.
I wish the Leader well over the summer. It is important people get a break as we have had a long year. However, when we come back in September, I would like to see an end to talk of the reform of this House and to start to do the work. We have had many discussions on reform. Those discussions are over; let us prove our worth.
The Cathaoirleach left a list with the names of five Senators - Senators Jim Walsh, Mark Daly, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Martin Conway and Michael Mullins - who did not get in yesterday on the Order of Business. After Senator Ivana Bacik, I will call those Senators in that order.
Usually the Senators who did not get in, speak after the leaders of the groups but I will leave that to the Leas-Chathaoirleach. On the last day of term, I join with Senator Darragh O'Brien in wishing everyone happy holidays. Although it feels a lot longer, I think we have only been sitting for ten weeks, just over two months. It has been such a busy and intense session that we all feel it has been a lot longer. In many of our cases, it was preceded by several elections.
In the period of time we have been sitting, we have already made progress on the reforms about which we have been speaking for so long. I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien that it is time for action. We have commenced action on real and effective reform of the Seanad. We have already seen with the address of the President of the European Parliament, Mr. Jerzy Buzek, to the House and the debate on agriculture and fisheries with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Simon Coveney, new models of debating issues here which are more meaningful and will lead to better outcomes for everyone, both Opposition and Government.
The House has passed, and will continue to do so today, a great deal of legislation, so it has been a very busy term from a range of perspectives. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee and our new rules on inviting distinguished guests to speak will also help to ensure the Seanad is a more effective place to be and the flag will continue to fly over Leinster House even when the Dáil is not sitting and it is just ourselves.
I thank the other leaders and colleagues in the Seanad for a very productive and fruitful term. I wish everyone well for the holiday period. I also wish them well for the forthcoming autumn term. In view of today's reports and dire warnings regarding the state of the US economy and in light of our own circumstances, I am of the view that in September we will be engaging in extensive debates on the economy, on pre-budget submissions and on the international economic context. Everyone will be pressing for such debates early in the new term.
I want to wish all of my colleagues who do not have day jobs a very nice summer recess. I will have a little time off in the coming weeks but I suspect that my day job will take precedence. I would have thought that with the decamping of the "junior" House to Ballybrit, the temporary fatwa the press corps has imposed on the Seanad Éireann might have been lifted today. Judging by the absence of members of the press from the Gallery, it appears the fatwa remains in place. That is a shame. As a political neophyte - and as a partial insider and a partial outsider - in the few months I have been here I have noticed that there is a very anti-democratic tendency on the part of the press to ignore the debates which take place in one half of our constitutionally-mandated national Parliament. If I had one wish, it would be that this will change following the summer recess.
I wish to pose a few health-related questions and raise a number of points which I hope the Leader will bring to the attention of the Minister for Health. The first of these relates to the thorny issue of Roscommon hospital. I apologise for sounding like a broken record in respect of this subject. However, for the benefit of anybody who may not recall the position, I wish to indicate that at the time the rather precipitative decision was made to close accident and emergency services at Roscommon hospital - that decision may or may not have been justified and I reiterate that I am not an instinctive "save our hospital" type - I was troubled by the numbers being cited with regard to the alleged disparity in survival rates among patients with cardiac disease attending in either Roscommon or Galway. The latter is the preferred centre of referral and it was stated that the difference in outcomes for patients who suffered heart attacks was 25% versus 5%. I previously informed the House that I had seen figures from Roscommon hospital which suggested that for those admitted to the cardiac unit there, the mortality rate was approximately 5% to 6%. The Minister for Health countered my assertion by stating that he was not referring to global admissions to the unit but was rather referring specifically to those admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of a heart attack or myocardial infarction.
I have been provided with raw figures which were obtained from a trawl of the charts of all patients admitted to Sligo General Hospital during an audit conducted by Dr. Paddy McHugh, the senior physician at the hospital who is in charge of cardiac treatment there. Dr. McHugh discovered that during the years 2008 to 2010, inclusive, approximately 45 people per year were admitted with a diagnosis of myocardial infarction. The mortality figures for the three years were not 25% on average, rather they were 12% for the first year, 4% for the second and 8% for the third. The total for the three years would have been 25% if it had not been divided by three in order to come up with an average. I presume this is not the mistake which was made by those who provided the numbers to the Minister.
I am not accusing the Minister of misleading anyone. However, I believe the numbers which were cited may not offer a fair reflection of the actual outcomes for patients admitted to Roscommon hospital with a heart attack. If for no reason other than to protect the reputations of the fine professionals who worked in the relevant unit at the hospital at a time when it was systematically starved of resources by, with respect, successive Governments of multiple hues, I contest that it would be unfair to suggest that these individuals were producing such inferior results. I wish to make the same request I put forward on a previous occasion, namely, that the Minister for Health to come before the House to indicate what is the numerator, what is the denominator, the number of patients who were admitted with a heart attack and the number who died. From where is the Minister obtaining his numbers in respect of this issue? I am of the view that the numbers he is citing may be inaccurate.
Will the Leader check with the Minister to ensure that there will be no adverse effect on cancer services in Waterford as a result of the announcement that the Whitfield Clinic has gone into receivership? Apparently Whitfield Clinic and Whitfield Cancer Centre have become administratively separate entities but I understand there is a degree of cross-ownership between them. Through public private partnership arrangements, Whitfield Clinic was, de facto, providing many of the cancer services for the south east through its facility in Waterford. I am seeking some reassurance in respect of those services.
I am troubled by the fact that the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, is bringing in UK inspectors to inspect the accident and emergency department in Tallaght Hospital. I am of the view that there are no excellent accident and emergency departments in our Republic as a result of the staffing issues to which I have often referred.
My final question relates to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is widely reported that a major personnel change has taken place in the upper echelons of UNICEF Ireland. This is a charity which raises vast amounts of money from private individuals and this is then used for extremely good causes. In recent years it has been very successful in its work. It appears that decisions are being made by a group of people on the board of UNICEF Ireland regarding personnel changes. Those involved may or may not be justified in their actions. I would like the Tánaiste to indicate who is responsible for choosing and appointing the members of the board of this organisation. Ireland is a member of the United Nations and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade chooses our representatives to that body. Who is allowed to place the stamp of the United Nations on an organisation which is run by people who have various components to their curricula vitae? In the past, some of these individuals worked in the public service and some worked in other areas. The individuals to whom I refer are making decisions which could have an impact on the success of the fund-raising efforts of the organisation in question.
Os rud é go bhfuil an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh ag éisteacht liom, ar an lá deireanach den téarma seo, tosóidh mé le cúpla focal Gaeilge. Ní iarrfaidh mé aon cheist deacair ar an Cheannaire inniu. I began my career as a Senator with a few words of Irish and I wanted to begin my final contribution before the summer recess in the same way. Senator Ó Clochartaigh requested that we might all try to utter a little bit of Irish and that is what I am doing.
I do not intend to put any difficult questions to the Leader so he will have an easy time of it.
I compliment the Leader on running a tight ship. It is good that Opposition Senators have stated that the way the House operates has changed. I cannot comment on that point. However, I am aware that the outside perception of the Seanad does not relate to what occurs in this Chamber. That is a matter to which consideration must be given because perception is extremely important. On yesterday's Order of Business, Senator MacSharry referred to the absence of the press from this Chamber. Senator Crown echoed those words during his earlier contribution. Members of the press only cover the Order of Business and the real business in which the House engages is not covered at all. That gives the Seanad a bad name. I was a member of my local council for 20 years and my perception of the Seanad was not as good as it is now. I have only been here for a few months but I have become aware of the work that is done here. Members of the public must be educated with regard to the work done by the Seanad. I look forward to the various parties making submissions with regard to how we can change the way in which the House is perceived.
I wish to compliment those on the other side of the Chamber who have provided strong opposition to the Government. Yesterday I was criticising them for calling so many votes but I accept that is part of what being in opposition involves. It is obvious that those on the Opposition benches have great stamina. I hope that, working together, we can make the House a better place. I am enjoying the fact that we are all on a steep learning curve. Míle buíochas, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
Ba mhaith liom cur leis na focail a dúirt na Seanadóirí eile agus briseadh deas a ghuí ar gach éinne. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh foireann an Tí agus na Seanadóirí go léir taitneamh as an aimsir mhaith atá againn faoi láthair. Tá súil agam go mbeidh aimsir níos fearr againn i mí Lúnasa.
I wish all Senators a good summer recess. I thank the staff of the House for their diligent work since the 24th Seanad commenced its business.
The first issue to which I wish to refer in respect of the Order of Business relates to the comments made by the head of financial regulation at the Central Bank during his appearance at the MacGill Summer School in my constituency. In my opinion those comments were completely out of line with public opinion. I refer, in particular, to his suggestion that the remuneration available for bank bosses should not be capped at €500,000. The head of financial regulation should not have made those comments and should not delve into such issues. I welcome the prompt response by the Minister of State and the Minister for Finance in totally rejecting his remarks. We learned last night that management at Allied Irish Banks supports Mr. Elderfield's comments and is seeking increases in bankers' pay. What else would one expect from those who brought this country to its knees? Each party in the Oireachtas should state unequivocally its total opposition to any increase in bankers' remuneration above €500,000. If people are not prepared to take a job on that level of pay, they should not be offered it. I ask the Leader for a debate in September on the status of the investigation into activities at Anglo Irish Bank. I hope the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, will come to the House for that debate. The full rigours of the law must be brought to bear on the people concerned.
I did not have an opportunity on yesterday's Order of Business to commend the Government on its achievement in securing a reduction of two percentage points in the interest rate payable on Ireland's bailout deal, which will bring about tangible savings to the Exchequer. Unfortunately, those savings will not be passed on to householders in any direct way via the budgetary process.
I do. This was a missed opportunity. Yesterday the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, presented us with his proposals for the introduction of a €100 household charge from next January, an increase in refuse charges and a new charge for sewerage services to apply to the 440,000 people in rural areas who have their own septic tanks. Where will it all end? Yesterday was a black day for ordinary people and for those who own property, who are facing huge charges. Why was there no negotiation on that aspect of the EU-IMF package? The interest rate saving should have been passed on to consumers in the budget by dispensing with the introduction of the €100 household charge. We should have a debate in the autumn on the implications of all of these charges for householders.
It was regrettable that yesterday's debate on the Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011 was guillotined. While I welcome the manner in which the Order of Business has been restructured - and credit must go to the Leader in that regard - it is unacceptable that legislation continues to be guillotined. Many of us had more to add to the debate in regard to special protection areas and so on.
On 15 December 2008, the Swissco Limited plant in Little Island in Cork, manufacturer of ready-made meals, closed down, leaving 154 employees out of work. Despite a Labour Court ruling that these workers are entitled to two weeks redundancy in addition to their statutory payment and an agreement between management and staff to negotiate these and further terms, the company has walked away from its commitments. The plant was set up in 1974 and workers are owed in excess of €2 million. Many of the staff have worked there since the beginning and are finding it difficult in the current circumstances to find new employment.
An equally disturbing element of this case is that Swissco Limited received €3.9 million in IDA Ireland grant aid in 2006 and a further €4.1 million in 2007. In other words, it received Government funding of €8 million in the two years before it ceased operations in the State. The company's management structure is rather complicated. Its parent company, International Cuisine Limited, based in Durham in England, is owned by Singapore Airport Terminal Services Limited, which is owned by the Singapore Government. There have been several half-hearted attempts in the past three years to recoup the money owed to workers, including a farcical letter from the previous Minister for Foreign Affairs to Singapore Airport Terminal Services Limited. We have had every type of promise from other politicians, including the former Minister of State with responsibility for labour issues.
There are rumours that IDA Ireland is initiating legal proceedings to recoup its €8 million investment, but I have been unable to confirm this.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Seanadóir Uí Catháin. Déanfadh sé an-difríocht má úsáidimid an Ghaeilge sa Teach seo eadrainn féin, idir na daoine atá fostaithe anseo san fhoirgnimh agus idir an pobal lasmuigh. Tréaslaím le gach éinne atá an Ghaeilge á úsáid acu. Molaim go ndéanfaimid i bhfad níos mó de amach anseo. Thar cheann Sinn Féin, ba bhreá liom gach dea-ghuí a ghuí ar mo chomhleacaithe, ar fhoireann an tSeanaid agus ar fhoireann Teach Laighin le linn an bhriseadh. Tá mé aireach chomh maith go bhfuilimid ag dul ar saoire, ach nach bhfuil fadhbanna ag dul ar saoire.
While we depart on our holidays today, there will be no reprieve from the problems facing the country. I feel somewhat guilty that we are adjourning so soon. Given the range of pressing issues that require to be addressed, we should have had another day of debate tomorrow. While I appreciate that we have moved forward and that work is ongoing, the public view is that we could do more and should set a better example.
I join Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill in calling for a debate on the new flat-rate household charge, which comes on top of the plastic beg levy, refuse charges, universal social charge, the increased cost of school transport, rising interest rates on mortgages and other debt, increased charges for sewage treatment services and so on. People are feeling the pinch and it is important that the issues which make the headlines in communities are debated in this House. The people who will be most affected by this are those on low incomes, some of whom are already affected by the changes to working arrangements under the joint labour committee, JLC, system. Given his U-turn on this issue, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, should be called into the Chamber to explain his support for changes which will mean workers who are part of the JLC system will now earn little more than the minimum wage. That represents a complete flip-flop on the part of the Labour Party. What measures will the Government put in place to protect the position of workers on JLC contracts? My colleague, Senator David Cullinane, has repeatedly called for a full debate in the House on this matter, but it seems that certain Ministers' fatwa on journalists extends so far as a reluctance to come into this House to discuss pertinent issues.
The announcement that the presidential election will be held on a Thursday is a cause of disappointment to Sinn Féin. It will sideline many people who wish to vote. The Union of Students in Ireland has said it is not suitable to hold elections on a Thursday given that students studying away from home experience significant difficulties in travelling to and from their constituencies to vote. The arrangement is unfair and should be reviewed.
I have called on numerous occasions, as Gaeilge, for a debate on natural resources, achmhainní nádúrtha, but there has been no indication to date of when that might happen. Our natural resources offer a significant revenue opportunity for the Exchequer. It is only fair that the State should secure its fair share of benefits from our oil, gas, wind and wave resources. Given that oil exploration licences are currently out to tender, a debate on the issue with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, would be timely. We must ensure the State secures the dividend to which it is entitled from all of our natural resources.
Guím gach ráth ar gach éinne don samhradh. Beimid ar saoire ach beimid ag obair linn. Níor mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an teachtaireacht amach ach an oiread go mbeimid díomhaoin ar fad, agus go mbeidh gach éinne bolg le gréine ar feadh mí Lúnasa agus tús mí Meán Fómhair. Ní bheidh - beimid ag obair linn sna toghcheantair. Guím gach ráth arís don samhradh.
Senator Tony Mulcahy and I would be only too delighted to look after colleagues from any side of the House who decide to staycation in County Clare. One of the country's greatest tourist attractions is the Cliffs of Moher. I am delighted that the pickets have been removed and that all parties have returned to the negotiations. The Labour Relations Commission discussions have broken down and the matter has been referred to the Labour Court. I appeal to it to expedite the matter as a matter of urgency. I also appeal to both sides, management and unions, to bear in mind that what is happening at the Cliffs of Moher is extremely important in terms of the future of the tourism industry, given that the site has been entered for the competition to decide the seven wonders of nature. It would be wonderful if it was named as one of the seven top tourist attractions in the world. It is estimated that such a designation could lead to an additional 5 million tourists being attracted to the country every year.
I thank the Leader for the work he has done to ensure the project will be foremost in the mind of the Government. It is unfortunate that Fáilte Ireland has washed its hands of it and stated it is a matter for Shannon Development. I would like the Leader to write to Fáilte Ireland to point to the importance of the competition for Irish tourism, not just the industry in County Clare. He should ask the Government to instruct Fáilte Ireland to become an active participant in the project.
I wish everyone a nice, restful summer. We have been productive in what has been my first term in the House. The manner in which we have done our business has been extremely professional.
I am delighted the Family Home Bill, in my name and that of Senator Marc MacSharry, is on the Order Paper and listed for debate on Second Stage. If Senators have any doubt about it, they should contact FLAC which has provided briefing notes for a number of Senators on the Government side. Its comments on the Bill are generally favourable and while it has raised some issues about it, these have been dealt with in the overall context of Fianna Fáil policy. We have also discussed the Bill with the New Beginning group which was so successful in its court case this week. I pay tribute to it because it seems to involve genuine people concerned with protecting people in their homes. For those who have concerns about the Bill, I encourage them to consider the property law book by Andrew Lyall who points out that no guidelines are available to the Judiciary in regard to how it exercises discretion in granting repossession orders. That is what the Bill does - it fills a gap. I will not be accepting any ifs, buts or what ifs. This is a good Bill and if necessary, amendments can be made on Committees Stage.
A number of issues must be addressed regarding Phil's poll tax, as it will be called. He is setting neighbour against neighbour in council housing estates. Those who have bought their houses will be landed with the charge, while those who rent theirs, whether they are working or otherwise not in receipt of social welfare payments, will be exempt. My estate does not look like it is unfinished, but there are 50 empty units. Will I have to pay the charge? We do not know. The Government raised €400 million through a pensions tax in order to provide tax relief for the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Tony O'Reilly and we have not gained any benefit from it in terms of job creation. This poll tax will not be accepted. It is an unfair tax and there will be no requirement for local authorities to improve or cut services. Meath County Council has an excellent business development section which tries to attract business to County Meath. It is doing the job of the State agencies. There are great inefficiencies in local government, but this point has not been addressed. In this instance, there is an extra cost to the public. While we are expected to pay, there is no expectation that the local authorities will improve their services, answer the telephone or cut costs.
I am and asking that the matter to be examined again. There is an expectation that property owners will pay the charge in respect of a rented house, but that is not true if one considers the standard letting agreement, under which the tenant is usually liable for any current or future local authority rates or taxes on property. I suspect no owner will allow a tenant to get away with not paying the charge. The Government should stop blaming the European Union and the IMF. When we met them, we were told we had a national parliament and that it should throw this off the table.
I wish to follow up on the comments of Senator John Crown on the figures for County Roscommon. For the past few weeks I have been in discussions with a number of people involved in health care. The figures for the procedures they have carried out do not correspond with the figures given. One person has advised me they were credited with carrying out operations they had not done. These are the records sent from the hospital to the Department of Health. Will the Leader bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Health? On the next occasion he is in the Chamber, he can deal with this issue to ensure proper records will be kept on the procedures and operations carried out and the information conveyed to the relevant authorities.
I am not calling for a debate but asking for the matter to be dealt with in order that proper records will be sent from hospitals to the central unit which records the numbers of procedures carried out. The information crediting consultants with operations is inaccurate, which raises serious questions about who is recording the figures. Records are kept very well in theatres but in-between the number of procedures seems to be incorrectly recorded.
People are sometimes critical of the medical professional. I spoke to someone at 9.15 a.m who had been in the operating theatre for six hours last night. In an adjoining theatre an organ harvesting procedure was completed at 12.30 a.m and the team flew back to Dublin to undertake appropriate transplants. Its members worked into the early hours of the morning. This shows the dedication and commitment of those involved in the medical profession and that we do not give them credit. We can be over-critical in how we approach some debates. I ask people to bear this in mind. The team in question worked very hard for many hours to ensure the quality of life of a number of patients would be utterly changed. I congratulate everyone involved in the medical profession. I ask the Leader to take into account the issue of records and how they are conveyed to a central unit.
It is interesting to find that this is the day the Leas-Chathaoirleach cannot ask if we are calling on the Leader to arrange a debate on an issue because the Houses are taking a break for a few weeks. I would like to give Members some homework to do. I was impressed by the words of the largest pharmaceutical company in Britain which stated the UK regime made it attractive to conduct more business there. It pledged to shift more manufacturing activities to Britain in response to the tax incentives offered. I would like to Members to do homework on the following issue. The Government did something similar in recent weeks in reducing the rate of VAT and the travel tax to provide an incentive for companies to conduct more business here. A very large number of those companies did not pass on that tax reduction. Our homework in the coming weeks is to remind those companies that did not pass on that reduction to do so. It is not easy to tell in some cases if they have done that because we would not remember what they were charging a few weeks ago but as far as I know all the newspapers have reduced their prices. I have been in a number of restaurants that brought down their prices but I am also aware of a number that have not done so. This applies to airlines too and a number have not reduced the travel tax or the value added tax, yet somebody in Britain is saying they will move their pharmaceutical business here because of the tax incentive introduced here. We have done that but I fear some of the businesses are not responding and if that is so, it is highly unlikely we will be able to make the case to any future Government to do the same.
On this glorious day when thoughts are turning to buckets and spades, sun, sea and sand, as alluded to already, we should remember that in the south west, the Leas-Chathaoirleach's own part of the country - Kerry, Cork and Clare - we have more blue flag beaches than any in many other parts of the country, which Senators are very welcome to visit. Further inland in that area is an iconic tourism project, Killarney House, about which there is heightened speculation that something very good is in the offing. I hope it is true and if it is, I would like to pay a brief tribute to the Minister and Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputies Leo Varadkar and Michael Ring, and to the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, who, through all the interest groups including the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Office of Public Works, the local community and so on-----
I believe it is, with respect. I would like to pay tribute to them and to Fáilte Ireland because Killarney House and gardens is in immediate proximity in the town yet is within the confines of the national park. It is fronted by the golden gates the Leas-Chathaoirleach would be familiar with-----
-----and it could become the golden gateway to Killarney National Park, our foremost national park. It can be a beautiful civic space and amenity and can become the St. Stephen's Green of Killarney. The restoration of that property, which sadly has been allowed to become something of a ruin, would be a fitting tribute to the former owners, John McShane and his family, the man who built Washington, renewed the White House in 1852 and built the Pentagon-----
I would encourage the Leader to spur on those relevant Ministers, who are doing such a good job, as is he and all of his colleagues with the consultation committee that is in the process of being set up. We had a wonderful debate with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, which I hope we will have more of in the autumn. We are going in the right direction. We should think positively, enjoy the beautiful day and wish the players in the Irish Open well. The flags of all the nations are flying well down there.
This morning in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Irish Exporters Association's list of the top 250 exporters in the Republic and the top 50 in the North. We are privileged to have the global brands here. The top one, Johnson & Johnson, had exports worth €8.5 billion. Microsoft had exports worth €8 billion, and we have Google and Intel. We have a thriving exporting industry, led mainly by the multinationals. It is good to see that the Kerry Group is number 6 on the list of 250; Glen Dimplex is number 11; the Irish Dairy Board is number 15; and Glanbia is number 17. Our indigenous food and drink industry is most successful.
Yesterday I drew attention to the dire straits of the 600 Irish suppliers to Superquinn and the overnight takeover of Superquinn by Musgrave. I am delighted to say that Musgrave will make a fund of €10 million available to the Irish suppliers, particularly the people who do not have credit insurance if the company to which they are selling goes out of business. The big companies I named earlier such as Intel, the Kerry Group etc. will have insurance against losses but the small indigenous companies employing five, 20 or 100 people could go out of business because they do not have credit insurance. They cannot afford to pay for the insurance but their small food industries are a major contributor to every parish and county.
The Bank of Ireland and AIB have worked in some way with Musgrave in providing the €10 million fund but I want them to cough up the other 35% of the approximately €50 million owed to those Irish suppliers. It is about time the screws were put on them, so to speak. I want to move an amendment to the Order of Business. I want to know the reason the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, can attend the MacGill Summer School in Donegal but he cannot come here.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, should return from Donegal and come into this House today to discuss what he intends to do about the indigenous businesses. We have a dynamic exporting sector but what about our domestic economy?
I am not calling for a debate or for any Minister to come before the House. I am looking for action on a very serious matter. In the course of my work during the week I made representations on behalf of a patient in my constituency who needs a very specific operation which necessitates a neuro-stimulator. Out of frustration the consultant e-mailed me yesterday from the department of pain management in St. Vincent's Hospital. That consultant has been instructed by hospital management not to operate on this lady because she is not from the Dublin region. There are only four centres that do this type of operation. St. Vincent's Hospital is the centre of excellence for pain management and for this surgery. Three other smaller hospitals do it, all of which are in Dublin. That consultant is instructed by hospital management not to operate on this patient because she is living outside the Dublin area. I do not want a debate or for the Minister to come into the House. I want action on this matter. I will give the details to the Leader. This lady is suffering cruelly with pain and she needs this operation but because of where she lives she will not be operated on. I know our health service is suffering but this is taking that to a new level.
Tá seans ann gur dea comhartha é go bhfuil an ghrian ag taitneamh. Seans go bhfuil Dia thar a bheith sásta linn toisc an obair atá déanta againn sa Seanad agus tá súil agam go mbeidh an scéal amhlaidh leis an bpobal. Tá sé fíor go bhfuil fuinneamh agus neart nua le tabhairt faoi deara sa Seanad seo. Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeannaire agus le gach éinne atá freagrach as sin. Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil an obair maith á dhéanamh chun sinn féin a chruthú mar Sheanad. Séard atá i gceist ná go bhfuil muid ag díriú ar na rudaí is tábhachtaí - cúrsaí fostaíocha, cúrsaí airgid agus cúrsaí eile den saghas sin - de bharr an brú atá ann don phobal i gcoitinne. Tá súil agam, nuair a thiocfaimid thar nais tar éis an samhraidh, go mbeidh seans againn arís díriú ar rudaí a d'ardaíodh anseo gach maidin. Bíonn freagra le fáil ón gCeannaire gan amhras, ach is minic nach mbíonn ar ár gcumas freagra a fháil thar nais ó na hAirí iad féin. Tá sin thar a bheith tábhachtach. Leis an dul chun cinn agus an leathnú amach atá á dhéanamh ar an Seanad, tá súil agam go mbeidh seans againn díriú ar na ceisteanna agus sin a dhéanamh.
I suppose every day is an eventful day in the history of Ireland. Yesterday was eventful in Tipperary because the Minister announced that the two parts of the county would be amalgamated. I do not know whether this is good or bad news but I can tell the House that Tipperary was first divided in the 13th century to combat lawlessness at the time.
I can only assume the Minister's declaration yesterday indicates the county is now exceptionally law-abiding. Depending on where one comes from, one might assume the Minister is particularly happy with the progress of the hurling team this year. I am not sure of the reason. Irrespective of internal amalgamation in any county, such as amalgamation of the city and county councils, be it in Limerick or Waterford, for example, I genuinely hope there will never be amalgamation in respect of two or three counties, as mooted at one stage. I hope the Leader will keep an eye on this. My reasoning is that loyalty to a county is one of the most intrinsic elements of community life. This is diluted the moment there is amalgamation affecting two counties. I hope we are finished with that idea and that it will not be realised.
Yesterday at a committee meeting we discussed the appointment of a new chairman for the National Concert Hall. The debate widened very much into the area of arts and culture. I was very impressed with the unanimity of members regarding the importance of the arts and culture, not just to social life but also to economic life. I was very cheered when I understood the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht would be appearing in the House yesterday or today to discuss this matter. He is a Minister for whom I have great regard, he is down to earth and there is no codology whatever attached to him. I would have liked the debate to have occurred before the summer recess and I hope the Leader will arrange for it soon, perhaps on the first day after the recess. There is a train of though that arts and culture should be at the bottom of the list for funding but this does not take cognisance of their economic value and particularly the positive image of Ireland they generate abroad.
I hope that, in the very early stages of the next session, we will be able to discuss this.
I have raised on a number of occasions the 1916 commemoration, which is gradually approaching, and particularly the development of Moore Street. I would put my head on the block and go so far as to say that if we develop Moore Street in the manner suggested, we will not only have a reminder of the eventful historic period in question but also a huge tourist attraction at our disposal that would attract millions of people. We hear about the importance of the Alamo but it would be secondary to that of Moore Street. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, will probably be dealing with this. I understand he will be visiting Moore Street. Perhaps his visit could be combined with his visit to the House.
Tá súil agam go mbainfidh na Seanadóirí taitneamh as an samhradh. Chomh maith leis an Seanadóir Coghlan, I ask that those going to Killarney go via the Rock of Cashel and Brú Ború at its foot. They would all be very welcome because the significance of Brian Boru was that he united all the people of Ireland. When Queen Elizabeth II requested specifically that she be brought to Cashel, she must have been aware of the significance of the site in terms of it uniting all the people. Let this be our mantra in the next session of the Seanad.
When the Senators are on tour, they might come to Roscommon also. The last High King of Ireland is buried in the abbey there so it might be nice to come along to pay tribute.
I thank Senator Crown for his comments on Roscommon County Hospital. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, should examine the Senator's statement. He said quite clearly that there is some confusion over the mortality rates at the hospital, reflecting in particular on the excellent work of Dr. Patrick McHugh, who served in the hospital as county physician from 1977 until this year.
The figures are quite dramatic: 12% in 2008; 4% in 2009; and 8% in 2010. The average is approximately 8%. The mortality rate reflects the general experience of patients throughout the country. It is not very fair to judge the work in any hospital on the basis of the number or condition of patients. Many patients are treated initially in Roscommon and then sent to Galway, where they are secured. The mortality rate at a hospital such as that in Galway does not reflect the reality of the work in Roscommon. The statistics are very unfair, therefore.
The Minister, whom I do not believe will be here before the recess, should make a statement on this matter. The revelations are very difficult for and reflect badly on the excellent doctors and nursing staff who have worked in Roscommon in recent years. The statistics have certainly dented the morale in the hospital at a critical stage. We should reflect not on saving Roscommon hospital but on developing it. We have no choice but to proceed in this regard because the hospital is providing an excellent service.
Senator Crown has done a great service for the people of Roscommon and his fellow professional Dr. McHugh in trying to correct the figures in a very clear and comprehensive manner. Senator Crown's status is such that this will help the hospital. He has done a great service for the people of Roscommon and the medical profession in the county hospital. I thank him on behalf of the people of Roscommon.
I second Senator White's amendment to the Order of Business.
It would be remiss of me on the last day before the recess not to say a few words. It is 70 days since I first attended the Seanad. It has been most rewarding and fantastic to meet all the old and new Senators and the Members of the Dáil.
Senator Ó Murchú stated the arts and culture are not prioritised by the Government as much as other areas where funding is concerned. Six years ago or thereabouts, London was awarded the right to host the Olympic Games. Approximately four or five years ago, the then Minister responsible for sport established a task force to identify how Ireland could take advantage of this. I heard recently that tourism may be the driving force behind the Irish economy. Taking account of the leap year in 2012, today is exactly 366 days before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London.
In recent months, before I came to the Seanad, I did some investigating when I heard various organisations in Ireland such as UCD, DCU and UL and young entrepreneurs were trying to bring various teams to Ireland to prepare for the London Olympic Games. To my knowledge, the National Aquatic Centre is the only organisation which has attracted a team, namely, the US synchronised swimming team. I am afraid it is too late. I do not know what work the task force has achieved to date but all indications are that the answer is "nil". I would love to know, because it will be a number of weeks before we return to the Seanad, what is happening with regard to taking advantage of the London Olympic Games and making it worthwhile for Ireland.
While perhaps it is too late to bring teams to train in Ireland, it is not too late to attract the hundreds of thousands of tourists who will go to London to watch the Olympic Games. Why not attract them to Ireland to visit the ring of Kerry and Counties Clare and Mayo to see what a wonderful country we have. Irish sportsmen and sportswomen have brought much pride and boosted the morale and economy of Ireland, not only in recent years but in recent weeks. We are all very proud of them. In the coming days, the sportsmen in Killarney will show Ireland at its best, not only on the golf course but in the television pictures beamed throughout the world. What work has been done by the task force to take advantage of the London Olympic Games which are 366 days away?
I was very pleased to hear Senator Coghlan compare Killarney national park to St. Stephen's Green. Those of us who live in the greater Dublin area will help him defend Killarney and I ask him to help us defend St. Stephen's Green because it is under threat from an extremely expensive and wasteful project which is damaging in environmental terms, namely to dig it up to make an underground railway station. I ask Senator Coghlan and the Leader to have a word with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. He is inclined to cancel the project and the Ministers, Deputies Noonan and Howlin, might be happy with the money that would be saved. As we are on the topic of St. Stephen's Green, I compliment the Government on removing one of the eyesores in the area, namely, the Anglo Irish Bank sign. It was a great development.
Senator Ó Murchú and I share many interests. We had not discussed this in advance but I had also intended to call for a debate on the arts. The Leader explained during a previous sitting why he feels it is not possible to have such a debate before the recess and this is a pity. I am strongly influenced in making a contribution this morning by the comments of Colm McCarthy at the MacGill Summer School. He seemed to suggest we would not gain anything economically from promoting the arts. I must say I was somewhat astonished because this flies in the face of the reality, which is that the only heroes the Irish people look to are those in the sporting world and the arts. They are leading the field in this regard, as was explained. We are most definitely a country punching way above our weight in artistic and sporting endeavour.
I wish to lend my voice to those of Senator Ó Murchú and others in asking the Leader to introduce at the earliest possible opportunity a debate on the arts. It is important, if for no other reason than to allow the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, who has got off to a flying start, to come to the House and outline the Government's policy. I agree with Senator Ó Murchú that the Minister is a decent man. Such a debate might also help to improve the national psyche in that it would be an opportunity for all sides of the House to wallow in the national pride we have in our artists and sports people. Like many Members of the House I had the opportunity to visit the Abbey Theatre and I thank Senator Mac Conghail for allowing us that pleasure. We saw a play by a former Member of the House, Brian Friel, with whom I had the honour of sharing the Chamber. We also met some of the actors, who are wonderful people and great representatives of the continuing Irish theatrical tradition.
The storm clouds are gathering internationally with regard to the economy and I share Senator White's insistence - and that is the right word to use - that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation come before the House to outline the Government's policy. One has only to look at the financial press in the past two days, particularly the remarks of the former French finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, who is now in charge of the IMF. A newspaper article reports that she stated the single biggest threat now facing the world economy is the sovereign debt crisis. We are far from being out of the woods. In the same newspaper, David McWilliams bemoaned the fact that for the €1.1 billion we are giving away 14% of our major bank in what could be considered a fire sale but is being lauded as a sign of confidence in the Irish economy.
There are issues the House needs to debate. When the Minister, Deputy Bruton, was in opposition he spouted on national radio and television about everything that should have been done for the period he was not in government. Now that he is in government we do not see sight nor sound of him in the House. We deserve the courtesy of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation coming before the House-----
-----because the economy is the single biggest issue, as Senator White stated. I hope the Leader will prevail on the Minister, whatever his reluctance is. I hear he is sulking for some reason. Perhaps the Leader will get him out of his sulk-----
I have no doubt the Leader will be able to organise bringing the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to the House early in the next session. I assure Senator Mooney the Minister is not sulking. He is heavily weighed down by the enormous mess-----
I ask that we use the same question and answer format we had for the debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coveney. I have no doubt the Minister will facilitate this.
I strongly support the request by Senator Ó Murchú for a discussion on the arts and culture. There is no doubt they have a huge contribution to make in the economic recovery of the country. Wonderful festivals are being held throughout the country and I must mention the two-week festival that concluded recently in Galway. As other Senators are extending invitations, I ask as many of them as possible to head west for the remainder of this week to enjoy the racing festival. When they are in Galway they should spread out to the east of the county and visit some of the wonderful tourist sites-----
Yes, and the west. People naturally head west but they do not always head to the east of the county.
Yesterday, Senator Quinn raised the issue of the very low level of organ donation. We should have a very open and frank discussion on this in the Chamber. We need to do something dramatic to increase the level of organ donation in the country and the House should be used for a broad discussion and debate on it.
Unfortunately, people in every part of the country are seeing the enormous increase in the level of suicide, particularly among young men. Recently, I listened to a man speaking on the radio about 16 people he knew from his area in a county in the south of the country who had lost their lives through suicide. This is a crisis of enormous proportions. If the numbers losing their lives through suicide were dying on the roads, a national emergency would be declared. The incidence of suicide is a national emergency. Will the Leader ask the CPP to invite an expert in this area to address the House to facilitate us all in having a frank discussion and to help us in order that we can help our constituents?
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil don Seanadóir Byrne agus do Sheanadóirí eile ar son na hoibre a rinne siad sa Seanad agus sna rialacha nua atá againn anois.
I thank Senator O'Brien and other Senators for their comments on the improved ways we are going about doing our business and I hope the results of that will continue in the new session when we will experience new changes to Standing Orders, which will allow us to invite guests to the House who can inform us regarding various issues. It is hoped at least two people will address the House in the next session and that this will generate more coverage of the proceedings of the House. A number of Members have addressed the lack of coverage by the press. It is depressing that the McGill Summer School is getting more coverage than the Houses of the Oireachtas but the craic in Donegal is probably better than in Leinster House.
Action speaks louder than words and we will go ahead and progress the reforms we initiated this term. We should expand on the new format we adopted when the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food attended the House. In that regard, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs will probably come to the House on the first day of the new session for a wide-ranging debate on the arts and heritage and to address issues raised by Senator Ó Murchú and others. I hope a similar format will be used whereby the Minister and spokespersons will make statements, which will be followed by a question and answer session for the remaining hour and a half. That is the way we should try to make progress in the future.
I am delighted Tourism Ireland enlisted so many Senators to give a synopsis of what is available in various counties throughout the country and I am sure we will all avail of the beauty spots. I note Senator Crown's comments on Roscommon hospital. We have to move on and the Government's aim is to provide the best services for the people of Roscommon. With regard to his comments on Whitfield Clinic in Waterford, it is a matter of grave concern for the people of Waterford and the south east and we hope, in particular, there will be no threat to the radiotherapy facility. Over the past ten years commitments in writing were furnished and statements were made by former taoisigh and Ministers for Health and Children regarding the provision of radiotherapy services at Waterford Regional Hospital, which were never delivered on. A facility is available in the Whitfield Clinic and I hope it remains open and accessible to the people of the south east. An excellent service is provided at the clinic and I hope that will continue. The Government does not make appointments to the board of UNICEF Ireland.
Senator Keane referred to the difficulty with press coverage, which I have addressed. There are 34 new Senators and some of the older Senators are learning day by day. None of us professes to know everything.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of the Financial Regulator's comments yesterday. The Government's position is clear on the salaries of bank officials and chief executive officers. It should not top €500,000 per annum.
With regard to the €100 household charge raised by many Senators, it was part of the bailout agreement. We have renegotiated quite an amount of the package, which we were told would be impossible to do. If anything further can be renegotiated, the Government will do it.
Senator Gilroy has conducted significant research into Swissco Limited. If he wishes to pass any information he has to the Minister, I will facilitate that.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to the problems that remain for the country. While it was good to secure the reduction in interest rates and longer maturity dates for the loans, we still have major problems to deal with and I hope they will be addressed during the Government's term in office. I will try to arrange a debate on natural resources in the next session.
Senator Conway referred to the Cliffs of Moher. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is well aware of the project, given the Senator has highlighted it on numerous occasions in the House. Like Senator Byrne, we all welcome the debate on the Family Home Bill 2011 and I am sure we will have a good debate.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of proper records being conveyed from hospitals to the HSE or the Department of Health. I can convey his concerns to the Minister. Everyone would like to note the undoubted dedicated skills and commitment of medical professionals in the country. They do an excellent job. We can be critical at times but, on the whole, they are wonderful people who provide an excellent service to the community.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of companies passing on the recent reduction in VAT and other taxes and I agree with his comments. I listened to a radio programme during which there were many complaints by members of the public about companies, restaurants and so on that had not passed on the reductions. The Minister will monitor this, as he said he would when he implemented them.
Senator Paul Coghlan asked about the restoration of Killarney house and gardens. He has piloted this project over a long number of years and it appears his wish will come true and that the house and gardens may be refurbished in the near future.
Senator Mary White is correct to highlight the success of our exporters and the Irish Exporters Association. Exports are important to our economy and this sector is performing well. I note her comments about the Musgrave group. I assure her and other Members that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will attend the House during the next session and, hopefully, he will be here early in the session. Reference was made to him attending the McGill Summer School in Donegal but I understand a few Fianna Fáil Senators are present as well.
Senator Sheahan raised an important issue regarding a constituent of his and there seems to be discrimination regarding where the person lives in the context of receiving pain management. This is a matter that can be raised with the Minister for Health. It is disgraceful if people are discriminated against in receiving medical treatment because of where they live.
Senator Ó Murchú asked for a debate on the arts. When the Seanad resumes, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, will attend the House. I also note the Senator's point about the unification of the two Tipperary county councils. A few weeks ago I did not want to hear much about Tipperary after Waterford's defeat in the Munster hurling championship.
Senator Eamonn Coghlan raised the report of a taskforce on how Ireland could take advantage of the London Olympics. When the Seanad returns would be an opportune time to have a debate on the benefit of sport. The Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Michael Ring, is enthusiastic about his portfolio. I will invite him to the House to address the taskforce's report on how we can take advantage of next year's London Olympics.
I note Senator Barrett's point about metro north and St. Stephen's Green. I do not know what the decision will be on this matter.
Regarding Senator Mooney's point about the Abbey Theatre, I, along with many other Members, recently attended Brian Friels's Translations at the Abbey Theatre and was struck by the number of tourists at the performance. When I inquired further, I was informed tourists make up a sizeable number of ticket sales. The arts are a tourist attraction and that should not be lost on Colm McCarthy and others.
Senator Mullins inquired on the format for question-and-answer sessions with Ministers. I hope there will be such sessions with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton.
Senator Mullins raised the matter of increasing the level of organ donations. It could be debated on Private Members' time. Regarding his point on suicide, it is a national emergency and having an expert to attend the Chamber for a debate on it should be examined by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I wish everybody a happy, enjoyable and relaxing holiday. I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Seanad staff who have to put up with us and all the changes we have to make.
I appreciate the Leader's point that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will attend the House in September. I have a huge responsibility as Fianna Fáil Seanad spokesperson on jobs and enterprise, however, and must insist that the amendment be put.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 13 (Thomas Byrne, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Darragh O'Brien, Ned O'Sullivan, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 29 (Ivana Bacik, Sean Barrett, Paul Bradford, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, John Crown, Maurice Cummins, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, Caít Keane, Fiach MacConghail, Maire Maloney, Mary Moran, Tony Mulcahy, Michael Mullins, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Feargal Quinn, Tom Shehan, Jillian van Turnhout, John Whelan)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Susan O'Keeffe.
Amendment declared lost.