Thursday, 29 September 2011
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the amendment of the terms of reference of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, to be taken without debate; No. 2 motion regarding the extension of the reporting deadline for the Joint Committee on Investigations, Oversight and Petitions from 30 September 2011 to 27 January 2012, to be taken without debate; No. 3, earlier signature motion for the Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2011, to be taken without debate; No. 4, Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2011, Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded.
We are opposing the Order of Business, to which I propose an amendment that the Minister for Health come to the House immediately to discuss the many issues within the health service which amount to a national crisis. A number of years ago a particular Senator, who will remain nameless, used to annoy me as he went through the newspapers each day. I regret to say one has no option but to go through some of the headlines today. They include one over a story on doctors raking in extra cash for supplying hospital scanners - no wonder the health service is in its current state if doctors are doing nixers at the expense of others. Other headlines indicate how the Minister has condemned the nurses' strike and declined to endorse prostate cancer screening services while there are 1,100 absences per day in the HSE.
What has happened about colonoscopy screening, having regard to the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, announced the provision of a centre of excellence in Sligo? Senator Susan O'Keeffe also promised an overall centre of excellence in Sligo. There are also issues with accident and emergency units throughout the country, not least of which is the unit in Roscommon, a topical example. The HSE is pursuing the implementation of recommendations made in three reports dealing with the changing nature of cardiovascular care, the national cancer control programme and the centralisation of pathology services. As my Sinn Féin colleague mentioned yesterday, this discriminates against certain parts - or even half - of the country. It is timely to consider Dr. Manning's input yesterday on what this House might do to ensure its survival and usefulness while upholding the rights of the people.
One wonders what the health strategy is. Representatives of the HSE are appearing before a committee today to defend cost over-runs. Yesterday the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, condemned nurses, but the only solution he advocated to deal with the pressing issue was, "I have asked the Department to contact the HSE with a view to contacting the Croke Park agreement implementation body." Is this the level of general management we have from Government? It is far from general management, I suggest and submit strongly it is autopilot management. It is the kind of autopilot management which runs this Government into the ground as it neglects the care of the people of this country.
What is our health strategy? I can assure the Senator that I was no less vocal when I sat where she sits today when I saw things being done wrongly. I expect her to be equally as forceful as I was when I sat on the front bench on the other side of the House-----
-----when I saw injustices done. This is a disgrace. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, went on a well-documented trip to China with an official not from his Department but from his office, a councillor from north Dublin and his wife. One wonders what level of management and responsibility the Government will take when an Adjournment matter was declined last week because the Minister concerned said it had nothing to do with him that one should talk to the NRA about roads. We are also to talk to the HSE but we do not even talk to that organisation. It might be something if the Minister were to pick up the phone and speak to them.
I have asked the Department to contact the HSE with a view to contacting the Croke Park implementation body. I am bound to say that if this were a business it would be out of business. I had great hopes when the Minister took over for the changes he was planning to make in the HSE.
All I have seen so far has worried and disappointed me greatly. For this reason we are opposing the Order of Business and ask that it be amended in order that the Minister can immediately come to the House. As has been said here previously, he has been here on only one occasion under the new Administration. That was for the taking of important legislation on female genital mutilation legislation but there are many issues, not least those highlighted today, to be dealt with. The Senators opposite need not worry-----
-----they can check the record of the House and they will see how forceful I was in speaking out when things were done incorrectly, and Senators Bacik and Cummins can testify to that. I do not intend stopping now when I am on this side of the House.
The motion on today's Order Paper, amending the terms of reference of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, again gives us a better opportunity to engage with the public and in public consultation. It is part of the ongoing process of reform of Seanad procedures in which we are engaged in this Government, which was sadly neglected under the previous Government.
I also thank colleagues for contributing to the Labour Party's Private Members' motion yesterday with the Minister, Deputy Bruton in attendance. It was again a useful and productive debate with constructive suggestions being made and the Minister saying on the record that he would go back to consider extending the notice period in collective redundancy situations from 30 days. I thought that debate was very much worthwhile having.
I call on the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health, or I should say Minister for Education and Skills to come into this House-----
-----for a debate on third level education in light of the lobby by the Union of Students in Ireland, which many of us attended. The USI has an impressive and reasonable lobbying programme and it calls, reasonably enough, for a freeze on the student contribution currently set at €2,000, no introduction of any further fees and investment in the student assistance fund. It would be worthwhile in this House, particularly given the interest many of us have in education and in third level education, that we would debate the proposals made by the USI with the Minister as soon as we can.
Tacaím leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Bacik. Is minic muid ag lorg díospóireachtaí sa Teach faoi chúrsaí oideachais. Is minic muid ag rá go bhfuil sé fíor-thábhachtach go ndéanfaí eisceacht maidir le cúrsaí oideachais agus go bhfuil géar-ghá le hinfheistíocht in oideachas mar, mar a deir Aontas na Mac Léinn in Éirinn, infheistiú san aiséirí atá i gceist. Má tá ciorraithe le déanamh, agus tá go leor acu le déanamh, caithfear eisceacht a dhéanamh don oideachas le cinntiú go bhfuil árd-chaighdeán ann, mar táimid ag brath air sin.
I am glad that Senator Bacik mentioned the USI's excellent and helpful briefing to Members of the Oireachtas yesterday. We often call for debates on education in this House and we have talked about the importance of third level education in particular and the need for a debate on fees. A point that has been repeatedly made, and rightly so, is that an exception must be made for education in order to guarantee quality in education. It is in investment in our recovery, which was the title of the USI briefing.
The USI made a number of compelling points to us yesterday and one that stood out for me was its observations on the impact of the changes in the grant in the provisions for the availability of the adjacent grant, as distinct from the non-adjacent grant, to students as a result of pushing out the boundaries so that in order to avail of the non-adjacent grant one must be studying at least 45 km away from home compared with 24 km, which used to be the criterion. About 20,000 people have been affected by that.
It is also instructive to examine the comparison between the student grants paid and other benefits paid in the past. The student grant was much closer to the social welfare payments that used to apply. With the changes in recent years the student grant has not improved in any significant way and as a result is now a pittance. The logic for this seems to be that students are expected to have part-time jobs or to get financial support from their families. That was all right as long as part-time jobs were there to be had and as long as families were not under extreme pressure, which they are now with some of them supporting their children's mortgages. We must examine again what is being done to the students of this country.
The welfare officer of UCD, Rachel Breslin, told me that there had been a 30% increase in applications for the student assistance fund. It would make a good deal of sense for Government to increase the allocation made to assist students in emergency situations - the funding the Government would give would be matched by European social funding. It would be a good investment in student's welfare from a Government point of view. We need to take this agenda very seriously.
I am on record as having said that we need to have a debate on student fees. In reality, student fees have been brought back ithrough the back door. The student contribution charge is now €2,000 compared with €1,000 in the past. It has risen substantially and repeatedly and the students are rightly concerned that there might be another increase. They do not want to see another rise in the student contribution charge. It is the worst of all possible worlds for students if fees are being brought in through the back door without any scheme being put in place to facilitate grants, student loans or something that would allow students to plan for their education in order that at least the State would be guaranteed a return on its investment in the future. I would be pleased if we had a debate soon with the Minister for Education and Skills to discuss these important issues.
I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague, Senator MacSharry. The Minister for Health must come to this House. We have been asking for weeks that he come here. The HSE is a basket case. It was created by Fianna Fáil - that is not political points scoring but a fact - and we must do something about it. It is great to find that somebody in the Opposition is of the same mind as me. Ultimately, we will get nothing done unless something is done about the HSE. If people's health will not be taken care of, there is no hope for this country. I join the Opposition Members in asking that the Minister for Health come to the House. I would almost support them in whatever technical move is made-----
Up Mayo is right. However, it represents everything that is good about Ireland. It represents where we have come from and where we should be going. It is fantastic that this painting is remaining in Ireland. It was valued at between €500,000 and €800,000 by the auctioneers, James Adam & Sons, and it sold for €1 million. It demonstrates that when something has quality people will pay for it. There is still money in this country. We have got carried away thinking that we are-----
I support my colleague, Senator MacSharry. I tuned to Ivan Yates's programme on Newstalk this morning and he was bemoaning the fact that the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, despite repeated requests from the radio station, had not been returning its calls inviting him to appear on the programme. It appears the programme has a regular ministerial slot. It is somewhat bizarre. Having listened to Senator MacSharry's remarks something is obviously taking place in the Department of Health that perhaps must be exposed. The Leader might be able to cast some light on the Minister's reluctance. I am sure he is doing a very good job trying to grapple with the complexity of a Department which a former Minister, Brian Cowen, referred to as "Angola", so I can understand the difficulties in that regard.
While I support Senator Mullen's call for a debate on education, I raised the introduction of the registration fee in an Adjournment debate in this House. The Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, replied to it. I have researched the issue. It is an initiative proposed by the previous Administration which was taken up by this Government, presumably because it is seeking to find money wherever it can get it. This is not a new issue although I am glad the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, raised it yesterday. However, it has been in the public domain for the last few months. What is of great concern to parents is the fact that the first €2,000 is not subject to any form of tax relief. If one has a second or subsequent child going to a third level college, one can avail of tax relief amounting to approximately €600 but that depends on the tax situation of the people involved. This is a penal tax and I am glad Senator Bacik has raised the issue. The only way its impact can be minimised for families who are becoming increasingly hard pressed is by the Senator raising it through her party's structures, as we would have done when our party was in government. I am glad the Senator has spoken in so forthright a manner and I hope this will continue. It is a penal tax despite the fact that the Government must find money somewhere.
Finally, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Simon Coveney, was in the House some weeks ago for an unprecedented question and answer session, for which we complimented the Leader. The Minister showed he was very much in command of his brief. I am particularly pleased that the Government has put agriculture at the centre of its policy for economic renewal, on foot of Food Harvest 2020. However, it appears that this Government has now taken ownership of Food Harvest 2020 even though it was quite critical about it when its parties were in opposition. The previous Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, initiated the concept of Food Harvest 2020, brought it through the Government and out into the open. He has been under-acknowledged for the outstanding contribution he made in this regard.
This is the key area of our economy that will probably produce an increased number of jobs and save our economy over the next few years. It is extraordinary, therefore, that the Department is now talking about cutting-----
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food back to the House when the spending review has been completed so we can establish if his Department is seeking cuts of €200 million in its budget? It is quite bizarre. The Government is, quite correctly, placing Food Harvest 2020 at the centre of our economic renewal yet the Department charged with its implementation will take €200 million out of its annual budget. I hope the Leader will convey to the Department and the Minister the importance of ensuring that the budget for agriculture is not only ring-fenced but also increased.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to the House as quickly as possible for a question and answer session. The breadth of issues facing us in education is mind boggling. There is a huge need for clarity. Will continuous assessment be introduced for the junior certificate? We need a response on that. We have heard about the need for a debate on funding to support third level students in continuing their education. We must not cut our future so we must examine how to safeguard education in so far as is possible.
Most especially, I am seeking the Minister's support in taking on the unions to assist newly-qualified teachers to be taken on on probation. There is a means available through the work placement programme. It was approved on 29 November 2010 and the Minister spoke about it in July. He is supportive of it but the unions have written to all the schools urging them not to use this work placement programme to take on newly-qualified teachers for probation purposes. They are afraid it will displace a member of staff. I know of no board of management or school principal in this country who would not advertise a post if they had the numbers for a new teacher. That clarity must be provided. We must give an opportunity to the hundreds of newly-qualified teachers throughout our constituencies who are seeking an opportunity to be probated. They cannot even emigrate in peace because they do not have this fully qualified diploma under their belts. A question and answer session with the Minister would suffice as there have been many queries on education from all sides of the House for some time.
I compliment Senator Michael Mullins on the power of his oratory yesterday. He called for a reduction in air travel tax and the Government in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland responded immediately by cutting the tax on flights between Belfast and New York. We worry sometimes that the proceedings in this House get no coverage but they are obviously listened to avidly in Westminster and Stormont.
I also thank the Leader for the debate yesterday on human rights. It is another one of his innovations which is a huge success.
I welcome the interest in the mathematics issue expressed this morning by the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, in response to the survey. This matter has been raised by Senator Healy Eames, Senator White and many other Senators. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, to the House to debate the issue. He appears to be the appropriate person given that he is so close in age to the people who are facing these problems. What concerns me about what was reported today is that, first, 40% of schools did not reply.
This is a matter involving a budget of more than €3 billion and the employment of 32,000 staff. When we vote €3 billion to employ 32,000 people, we are entitled to a 100% response rate. I fear that the 40% who did not respond are the ones with serious problems in mathematics. This issue has been raised previously in the Seanad and our interest is appreciated outside the House.
The first criterion to teach mathematics is to have studied it for one year. In my own field of economics, one would never equate someone who studied at junior freshman level with a graduate in the subject. The second criterion is that mathematics be taken as one of three subjects in a degree. That is not good enough. Finland, which is the country we are trying to emulate, requires teachers to possess a full degree in the subject they teach. Nothing is good enough for the children of this country and we are trying to promote ourselves as leaders in science and technology. The Royal Irish Academy and the future skills needs group have estimated that our deficiencies in mathematics teaching equates to 80%.
Bonus points, which was the previous response, miss the point because the bonus will go to the 20% of students who have fully qualified teachers or can afford grinds. The problem is presented as one of student incentives when in reality it is one of teacher training. The bonus points solution was arrived at because everyone in the sector sought the easiest way out. We require reforms in the teaching of mathematics in universities and in the organisation of the higher diploma in education. We would be happy to assist the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, in developing this vital national programme. We cannot do much at third level unless we repair the deficiencies at primary and secondary level.
I recognise that people are growing bored at the issue of our health services but I raise it none the less because it is important. It is embarrassing for the country that the Pakistani Embassy had to contact the HSE to find out how we intend to deal with junior doctors whom we invited to take up jobs in our health service and who are twiddling their thumbs in guesthouses. The Department of Health claims it is a HSE problem and the HSE lays the blame on the Medical Council, which in turn claims it was never consulted about the new procedures for category five supervised doctors.
Allow me to make my point. When I was interviewed on radio last week, the HSE issued a statement asserting I did not know what I was talking about and denying that junior doctors in a particular part of the country were waiting to sit exams. This morning I intend to issue an invitation to the press office in the HSE to meet these junior doctors and see that they are living in guesthouses in a country town. If 100 Irish people were invited to take up contracts in Australia and were living without salaries in guesthouses three months later, we would be up in arms. It is a disgraceful situation and it needs to be resolved. We have created a bad name for ourselves in terms of recruiting doctors.
A study due for release in the coming week will reveal that in 2008 an average of six applicants applied for each consultant post advertised but the ratio is now less than two. When one reputable Dublin hospital recently advertised for consultant posts, no one applied for them. We must ask why Irish graduates are disappearing out of this country rather than taking posts as junior doctors or consultants. It is time we had a debate on this issue and I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to allow us deal with this issue. Our role is to ensure the issues that arise are dealt with and not passed from one Department or Government agency to another.
Despite the banter and excitement that surrounded the request for the Minister for Health to come to the House, the issue is a serious one. Senators from all parties have commended Ministers, such as Deputies Bruton, Coveney and Shatter and others, on participating in frank and forthright exchanges in this Chamber. We merely want the Minister for Health to meet us for a similar discussion. Each Member can point to crises in local hospitals, whether it be ward or bed closures. The Minister's response to the potential strike in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick was appalling. Regardless of my view of the Minister, all of us share one concern, that the health service is not working. There is a crisis and a lack of accountability and transparency. I made the point on several occasions that the Minister and his predecessors have imitated Pontius Pilate by washing their hands of any responsibility for what is happening. The responsibility is put back on hospital management and the HSE and there is a merry-go-round of no one, from the Department to the Minister to the local hospitals, taking responsibility.
We all accept that savings have to be made but the recruitment embargo is driving up costs for hospitals because they are forced to take on agency staff. We are faced with the current crisis because hospitals have run over budget by taking on agency staff simply to keep theatres, wards and emergency departments open.
In fairness to the Leader, he has indicated that the Minister will come to the House at some point, but I ask him to fast-track the invitation in order that we can debate the issues arising next week. The exchanges we have had with other Ministers have been fruitful, but this Seanad since its formation has not yet had an opportunity to hold discussions with the Minister for Health, even though health is one of the most pressing issues for the people. It is not good enough that the Minister should hide from Senators or treat this House with contempt by refusing to attend for a debate. I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House for a discussion on the problems facing the health service at an earlier date than the end of October.
I support the request to invite the Minister for Health to the House at the earliest opportunity but, in fairness, the Leader has indicated that the Minister's visit should take place in the near future. I look forward to a substantive debate with him.
Most speakers have debated either the health service or the education system. Since the foundation of the State, these two important areas of public policy have not progressed at a similar rate. Historically the debate on education was not political because there was a view that every child deserved and should be provided with a full and adequate education. While we do not have a perfect system, a good education has been available to virtually every citizen of this State. Simultaneously, however, we have taken the opposite approach to the health service by holding politicised debates on health through the years. We have suffered from that. Since I entered politics, regardless of one's view of the persons who held it, some of the top political brains in the country have held the Health portfolio, from Charles Haughey to Barry Desmond, Deputy Michael Noonan, now Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen and Mary Harney. All of these former Ministers intended to do a good job, but it never worked out in the way any of them expected. Obviously, there is something problematic at the core of the delivery of health services at a policy level. We require not only one visit by the Minister, Deputy James Reilly; we need a much more substantial debate on why the House and the political system have divided so much on the delivery of a health service and why we cannot, as we did on education issues, adopt an all-party approach to ensure every citizens is looked after properly.
I look forward to the Minister's visit and hope it will only kick-off the debate. I appreciate that he is to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children and that some of our colleagues here members of that committee, but in this House of the Oireachtas we need to begin a serious dialogue with him. He has a concept of the health service which is only in its infancy. We cannot expect miracles overnight, but I hope in the next week or two we will hear from him and that we will be able to chart a way forward. There must not be only one visit, a "Hello" and a "Goodbye"; it must mark the beginning of a substantial debate. We need to change the way we engage with the health service from a political perspective because it has failed everybody. It has failed every Minister also, as he or she did not succeed in what he or she had attempted to do.
Senator Barrett raised the issue of the qualifications of mathematics teachers. I agree fully that all teachers should be highly qualified in their subjects. However, merely looking at academic qualifications does not give one the full picture. The Minister is taking an extremely simplistic and ill-thought out approach to this important issue in education. We need to look at the results in schools because it is possible one could have an engineer who only did mathematics for one year in his or her degree course but who went on to avail of every professional development opportunity since he or she became a teacher, who has a passion for the subject, who cares about his or her students who, as a result, are getting good results. Equally, one could have somebody wth a first class degree in mathematics who studied the subject for four years in university and is an appalling teacher. In only looking at qualifications one is completely missing the point. The Minister needs to look at the bottom 100 schools in the State in terms of mathematics results. If these schools are obtaining poor results in mathematics, are they also achieving poor results in other subjects, or is it only that the results in mathematics are poor? Are all of their results in mathematics poor, or is it only the results of students of one particular teacher in that school that are poor? One should feed qualifications in as part of the picture, but one should also look at other matters. One should look at whether they have been engaged in continuous professional development. One should also look at the leadership given in the school. One should look at the culture, the attitude to learning, and all of those aspects that make up a school environment. One needs to look at the whole picture. Personally, I am disappointed that the Minister is taking such a short-sighted and simplistic approach to the matter. I urge the Leader to raise it with him.
I agree fully agree that it is an important issue, but it is not the only one. Everybody knows that the education system is broader and that one cannot merely look at one symptom and assume that it is the outcome of a particular issue. One needs to look at all of the symptoms and diagnose the problem properly, particularly when it is so acute.
Because it is important to do so, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that medics, some of them Irish-trained, have been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a military court in Bahrain. The House has discussed this issue previously. The only crimes of the persons concerned were to assist peaceful protesters who had been shot at by the Bahraini authorities and Saudi troops who had come over the border to put down a peaceful expression of dissent against the Bahraini Government. We passed an all-party motion tabled by Senator John Crown earlier in the year. I ask the Leader to bring this development to the attention of the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and urge them to do everything they possibly can as soon as possible to put pressure on the Bahraini authorities to respect the basic principles of international human rights to which they have signed up and to let the persons concerned out before it is too late.
I second Senator MacSharry's amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Health come into the House. The number of Members on the other side who have supported the principle is encouraging and I hope they will support it in the vote also.
Following on from what many Senators have contributed this morning to the health debate, I was alarmed when I read the article in this morning's newspaper and the language the Minister had used to describe the nurses' action. He stated it was "unsafe, unsound and unwarranted." To me, such language, especially in the situation in which we find ourselves, is completely unhelpful. I know many of the nurses in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital and they are literally at their wits' end. They raised the issue time and again with management, the HSE and the Department, but, like many of us here, it fell on deaf ears. They are not being listened to. They have not become involved in this dispute to improve their pay and working conditions. This is a matter of patient safety and putting the patient first. It is interesting that when they decided to take this action, management had no trouble in opening up an extra few beds to remove bodies from the corridors and into wards. It is engaged in a little cosmetic surgery on the problem.
I agree with other speakers that we definitely need to have the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, come into the House to deal with the grave concerns many of us have about the health service, but I would go one step further. While coming here is all fine and well, I ask the Leader to recommend to the Minister that he visit the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick to speak to the nurses and management to come up with a solution instead of using throwaway remarks and dismissing the nurses' action out of hand.
Tréaslaím le an Seanadóir as an méid atá ráite aige agus aontaím leis. Tá an ceart ar fad aige agus tá súil agam go mbeidh sé ag tacú leis an leasú ar an rún atá molta. I hope Senator Heffernan will support the amendment to the Order of Business because it is important that the Minister come to the House to deal with the matter.
It is interesting. There was cross-party support in Galway on Monday night on another health issue, the closing of St. Francis' home, a HSE-run home for the elderly. All of the public representatives from all parties were present and agreed that the home should be kept open. It has passed HIQA audit with flying colours. The HSE tells us that one of the reasons it is closing down the home is it would cost €200,000 to refurbish it, this at a time when the Government intends, in the next five weeks, to provide €700 million to repay an unguaranteed bond, yet it cannot find €200,000 to keep open one of the best community nursing homes in the country. It is scandalous. That comes on top of the crisis surrounding the fair deal scheme.
I want the Minister to come to the House. At this stage, we do not need him to come for one day; we probably need him to come for one week to discuss all of the issues raised and to tell us what the Government's policy is. Is it intended that the closure of St. Francis' home is merely the first step in the privatisation of the homes for the elderly system? If it is, the people will not put up with it. The people of Galway will not put up with it. Certainly, we will campaign against the closure of St. Francis' home.
Where has big Phil gone? I have been looking for him for the past couple of weeks. We have been raising the issue with-----
Where has he gone? We have been trying to contact him on the issue of Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltacht. There has been much discussion about the closure of TalkTalk, a serious issue, and the loss of jobs. There are 130 jobs being lost in the Gaeltacht and for the past three weeks no one from the Department, Pobal and the company has contacted any of the workers who do not know where they stand. They do not know what their rights are in terms of redundancy payments. Deputy Doherty and I have made numerous attempts to discuss the matter with the Minister who has not met us. He has not replied to our emails. I asked him to come here last week, but he sent the Minister of State, Deputy Willie Penrose, in his place. I want to know where he has gone to. I would like him to come to the House and tell me, the workers in Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltacht, MFG, and those in the Gaeltacht regions what will happen to their 130 jobs and why the Government has not done more to ensure these jobs are kept. It is an absolute disgrace.
The House is well used to hearing litanies of complaint. Much of it is waffle, although perhaps in the odd instance it is justified. In any event, this morning we should recognise the good news story on the front page of The Irish Times to the effect that our cost of borrowing has declined and reduced to pre-bailout levels. This is good news. It shows that the picture and perception of the country abroad is already altogether removed from the more financially troubled eurozone countries. This is good news because it means the return to the markets will be a good deal sooner than anticipated.
There will be further good news on the fiscal prudence front in the budget, please God. We should recognise these things. The Minister mentioned by the Senator is in Brussels today with another Minister on important State business for the future of the country.
I am pleased the Leader has secured a date for the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to come to the House and no doubt he will asked many questions by every Member. I share the concern expressed about the fact that nurses are on strike in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick. I consider it to be a major management failure and a breakdown of relations between management and unions. I call on the management of the HSE in the mid-west and the unions to get the matter resolved as a matter of urgency. The last thing we want to see is vulnerable patients who are under pressure worrying about whether they will have adequate care if they are admitted to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital.
It was disturbing to read in the newspapers this morning about the levels of absenteeism in the HSE, with 1,100 phoning in sick in the HSE west region. There is the makings of an inquiry in this. Certainly, a serious analysis should take place into the reasons for this level of absenteeism. No country, private industry or business could sustain absenteeism at that level. We should find out how much of this is work related. Is it due to conditions within the organisation? Is there too generous a sick pay scheme in operation? These questions must be asked at a time of severe fiscal challenges in the country. We must sort out these issues.
I call on the Leader to include the topic on the agenda for the Minister when he comes to the House.
On a lighter note, Senator Noone referred to the Jack B. Yeats painting, "A Fair Day, Mayo". I remind Members that fair week in Ballinasloe starts this Saturday and we look forward to entertaining as many people as possible in Ballinasloe over the weekend.
Like others, I expressed on Tuesday and express again today my concern about the nurses having to take industrial action in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick. Last Monday week I visited the hospital to see a friend of mine who was a patient there. I was desperately sorry for the staff. The overcrowding was appalling, there were queues of people and the noise levels and mayhem there were most unfortunate. I happened to go through the accident and emergency area to see the patient. I fully understand, therefore, why the frustration levels of staff have reached the point where they have gone on strike.
The Minister must deal with this problem and we must be careful about how we deal with these things. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, is doing a good job. He inherited an absolute mess. The health service is difficult to get right but the Minister has the right policies, attitude and experience as a medical doctor. We must work with him and people must be patient. I call on the Leader to suggest to the Minister, Deputy Reilly, ahead of coming to the House to address it and debate the issue, that we should consider more partnership approaches within the health services.
Next February, thousands will retire from the public service. Many of these would be willing and able to give some voluntary time to assist in getting the country back working again. There should be some scheme whereby the expertise these people have is not lost to the country through retirement and instead could be harnessed and brought in as part of a voluntary programme, not only in the health service but throughout the public service.
The Acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator MacSharry, made a strong point for having the Minister for Health come to the House. I informed the then Acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Ó Domhnaill, on Tuesday that the Minister for Health will be here on 27 October to address questions from the House.
Education and health have dominated the exchanges on the Order of Business. Senator Bacik led off by calling for a debate on education, followed by Senators Mullen, Mooney, Healy Eames, Bradford, Power and others. The Minister for Education and Skills was in the House last week on the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Bill and he will be in the House to take more legislation during October. While it is to be confirmed, I have asked that he would be in the House again for a question and answer session and statements on education on 8 November. The Minister has been fair to the House and he has been here on several occasions to deal with education matters.
Senators Barrett and Power referred to the Teaching Council report and mathematics qualifications and so on. I have arranged that the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, will come to the House on 11 October to address the matter. All items seemed to relate to health and education. The Minister for Health will be in the House on 27 October and the Minister for Education and Skills as I outlined.
Senator Bacik referred to Dr. Manning's address to the House yesterday, which went off well.
The reason it went off well was that Members kept their questions sharp and concise. Some had submitted their questions in advance. Two Ministers will be in the House next week, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. If anyone has questions, I would ask that they would submit them to my office in advance, either today or tomorrow, because if they were to do so, it would give the Minister and the Minister of State a better opportunity to deal with the questions and give a more reasoned response. The people who submit their questions will be called first on the relevant matters. I call on Senators to think about questions on sport and questions to the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, for next week.
I do not believe any items were raised other than the questions on health and education which I have addressed.
I can tell Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, is alive and well. The Senator raised a question concerning a matter in Galway that was addressed by the Minister for Jobs, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, yesterday.
That addresses the matters raised by Senators today.