Wednesday, 18 April 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Bill 2012 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 5.45 p.m. with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 5.35 p.m.; and No. 21(8) Private Members' business to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours.
I wish to give advance notice to the House that we will be sitting on Monday, 23 April at 2.30 p.m. to commence the debate on the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution, the Treaty on the Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union Bill 2012. We will continue the remaining Stages of this Bill on Tuesday.
I remind the House that on Tuesday there will be statements on the Mahon tribunal, as we had indicated prior to the adjournment, which will be scheduled from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. If further time is necessary for the debate on this topic, I will arrange for a discussion on the following Tuesday.
I wish to give advance notice prior to the response of the Leader of the Opposition, of a debate I have scheduled with the Minister of State at the Department of Fiance, Deputy Brian Hayes, on the subject of mortgage arrears, which will take place on Tuesday, 15 May.
It has taken the Leader only six months to tell the House the arrangements he has made for a discussion on mortgages. I was going to raise this issue again. While I might be boring, I am at least consistent, because what we have seen in the most recent mortgage figures is that close to 10% of all residential mortgages on principal private residences are in arrears for more than 90 days. I am glad the Minister of State is coming to the House and I hope he tells us clearly what the Government will do and not what it is planning to do. I hope he will not just set up another committee, because I believe both the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have a committee which has been working urgently on the mortgage arrears crisis since the publication of the Keane report last September. I do not think that degree of urgency is acceptable to the vast majority of people. That follows very clearly from the report of the Irish League of Credit Unions published yesterday which makes stark reading for everybody in this House. Everybody should be concerned that nearly 60% of people have less than €100 per month of disposable income after they have paid all their bills.
We have seen a very substantial decrease in the value of our exports. I am not blaming the Government specifically for that but the economic policies that have been followed by Government and by the European Union are having a negative effect on any chance we have to grow ourselves out of this recession. In my view, it is not working and we need to have a proper debate on this issue on another day. It is of great concern when one in ten people, probably more like one in seven, struggle to pay their mortgages. I would welcome the Minister of State's return because he did say the Government would publish a report before the budget last December but that has not happened.
I propose an amendment to today's Order of Business. Over the past two to three days we have seen the sequel to the horror show that was the household charge, "The Nightmare in the Custom House." We have seen the nightmare in the Custom House II, starring the Minister, on the proposed water charges. Who is going to pay? When are they going to pay? How are they going to pay? Who will install the water meters? Is the National Pensions Reserve Fund going to pay for it? Are we going to have to pay for it over 20 years? How much will it cost? How much free water supply are people going to get? The Government gave mixed messages on the matter.
It concerns me that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, said a number of weeks ago that he was concerned about referenda and that the referendums would not be about the things that they should be, the fiscal compact and the 30th amendment to the Constitution which I have clearly stated here that my party and I will support. I am particularly worried that the ongoing confusion emanating from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and other Departments. I am worried by the fact that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, went on the national airwaves and said that the vast majority of people had paid the household charge, 56% is not a vast majority. I am also worried by the fact that we cannot even be clear on how water charges will be paid, how they will be metered and who will do what. The whole matter is an unmitigated disaster.
I am very worried and concerned that these are the issues that people will vote on when they vote on 31 May. I understand that the Minister is somewhere in Denmark today. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd has been on the radio and every show over the past 48 hours and I expect him to come to the House. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister of State with responsibility for NewERA and the junior Minister at the Department, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, comes here today and explains to us, as Members and to the people, the exact Government position on water metering and water charges, who will pay, how much they will have to pay and when the charges will be introduced and be effective from. Time should be set aside today for the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, to come here and try to clear up all of the confusion that has emanated from the Custom House.
Senator Darragh O'Brien referred to a type of horror film. Let us not forget that the real nightmare on Kildare Street began for us as a country when his party was in government and brought the country into receivership, lost our economic sovereignty and brought us into the IMF-EU programme in late 2010. That was when the real nightmare on Kildare Street took place.
I welcome the decision made at yesterday's Cabinet meeting on water and on the establishment of Irish Water, an independent State-owned subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann group. It is clear. It is a big initiative and an important one. It will be the biggest State company formed in a long time.
It is likely that Irish Water will rival the ESB. It will be important for us as a nation to ensure that we protect a scarce resource, protect and conserve our water supply and do so in a sustainable way. That has patently not been done until now. It is a disgrace how much water we have lost and the poor standard of water infrastructure.
As I said, Irish citizens are well aware of the need to ensure conservation and that a fair charging system will play a large part in ensuring the conservation of a scarce supply.
I welcome the Government's legislative programme for the coming session that was published yesterday. It is an ambitious programme. Quite a number of Bills are due to be published in the coming session and I hope that we will see a large number of them introduced here in the Seanad.
I welcome the courtesy and the advance notice the Leader gives us when planning debates. It means we can plan our debates better and be more informed.
I draw attention to the important debate we are having this evening on criminalising the purchase of sex. We expected the Minister to come back within the past six months on a commitment for the public consultation process. He has done so and I ask the Leader for a commitment on the date for the end of the consultation process and for the Minister to come back to discuss the next steps.
I welcome the establishment of Irish Water and Senator Bacik is correct to raise the issue of the scarcity of water. We are facing a difficult international future with the possibility of water wars and conflicts over it. We should appreciate what we have in Ireland. It is terrible to think that 40% of water here is lost through waste and I hope we are facing a more organised future.
I refer to an issue arising in the other House this evening, which prompts a call from me for a debate on a sensitive issue. For the first time, legislation is being introduced in the other House to legalise abortion. That is a sad situation. The legislation has many flaws, not least that it provides for abortion without time limits, disregards the consent of women in certain situations and imprisons conscientious objectors. It is also based on a false premise, an outdated notion that there are psychiatric grounds for abortion, as was canvassed in the X case, in which no psychiatric evidence was heard. The question is no longer whether abortion is ever necessary for mental health reasons; the question experts are considering is in what circumstances abortion poses a mental health risk for some women. I hope the new information will be heard and this ideological Bill will be rejected. From talking to friends and colleagues in the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, there is a diversity of opinion on these issues. I hope we will not get a blanket ideological "Yes" to this flawed and destructive proposed legislation.
The way in which debates get manipulated is disturbing. A sad situation involves women who would have preferred to abort children they were told could not survive long after birth but who gave birth to them. Those women need to be heard and I am concerned about the National Women's Council of Ireland, in particular, bringing them in when that issue cannot be dealt with without a referendum. There is also a very strong claim of a disabled child to be entitled to have the dignity of a natural end. Women who chose to give life in those circumstances believe it is the best and most healing thing possible. I do not know why the National Women's Council of Ireland is seeking to push the debate at the same time as it attacked an organisation called Women Hurt----–
-----who wanted to tell their stories about how they regret their abortions. Yes, I am seeking a debate. How can the National Women's Council of Ireland claim to represent all the women of Ireland if it is pursuing this ideological approach?
It is important not to wait for the recommendations or options to be set by the expert group. Members of Parliament should take their responsibilities seriously and consider these life and death issues and have a respectful debate where we communicate sincere concerns and ideas about this issue. We should have the debate soon.
Over 50% of water in this country is wasted. Water is a scarce resource and children in this world would die to get water today. They are dying because they are not getting water. We need a mature debate on water services. It is ridiculous that households do not pay for water services given that businesses and farmers have been paying for them for years. I welcome that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and the Government are finally introducing a system whereby there will be a proper, efficient water service. The establishment of a water authority is extremely welcome.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, has been invited and has agreed to visit England. Her visit might be an opportunity for this House to invite the opposition leader in Burma-----
I thank my colleague, Senator Mullen, for reminding me that the National Women's Council is having a briefing session in the AV room. I intend to attend that meeting because it is important that we are fully informed. It is slightly silly to suggest that we should debate matters in anticipation of an expert review on anything. If we are serious about having a dignified debate it is always worthwhile listening to what other people have to say, and I shall certainly do so.
I ask the Leader if it is possible to have a debate concerning the issue of rendition with which this House preoccupied itself when the United States authorities were illegally rendering people to countries where they were tortured. I ask this in light of the fact that a committee was established under the rules of this House. It was the first time that this type of committee had been established. Unfortunately, it was then disestablished as a result of local pressure from business interests but it should be reopened in light of the fact that within the last week it has been disclosed in the House of Commons that very similar answers to those which the then Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs gave both to this House and the other House on the rendition issue have proved not to be correct and that it has been established beyond doubt that the then Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, and other Ministers deliberately misled the House of Commons in Westminster on the fact that particular persons had been illegally rendered to countries where they were tortured. I put the name, number and transit route of this aircraft on the record of this House and I also made a complaint to the Garda Commissioner on the subject. In the interests of morality, human rights and justice I would like us to explore this issue and find out if the same situation obtained in this country, as has now been made clear through the discovery of documents in Tripoli, as happened in England.
I call for a debate with the Minister for Health in the House to explain the position that obtains for people living outside the catchment area of Dublin who have to travel to Dublin for medical procedures. I dealt recently with a case of a young gentleman in Donegal who is in remission from cancer but who was told by St. Vincent's Hospital that because he lived outside the catchment area he could not receive his pain relief. After much debate locally and thanks to a medical practitioner to whom I spoke and a Member of this House, who I do not want to name as he is not here today, who gave advice on the matter, St. Vincent's Hospital said it would treat the patient. The young gentleman from Convoy, Donegal, Thomas Keaveney, who does not mind me mentioning him today, went through two weeks of trauma not knowing if his treatment would be maintained in Dublin having been told he was outside the catchment area. The Minister should clarify the definition of a catchment area. In terms of the Dublin catchment area, Donegal is not in it nor are most western counties and counties outside Leinster. Neither I nor other politicians should have to intervene on behalf of a patient who travels from Donegal to Dublin whose treatment has been terminated because of a cutback in the hospital budget. It is not acceptable and the Minister should explain and find out from the HSE its long-term policy for the type of treatment the young man must have. He has suffered trauma and had to publicly speak about his condition in the media.
I second the proposal by Senator Darragh O'Brien that the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, come to the House and explain the proposals for the imposition of water charges. I notice the Minister, Deputy Hogan - the rottweiler - has been withdrawn and the poodle has been put on the radio stations.
I meant it in a most jocose manner and it should not be taken too seriously. I call on the Minister to outline the situation regarding the fact there is no legislative backdrop to granting the national water authority to Bord Gáis. Bord Gáis is up for privatisation. Will all of the water schemes throughout Ireland and the assets built up by local authorities while providing an excellent water service form part of its assets? The company will have all of the assets and if it is privatised they will go to private hands with no limitations on the charges. At present farm families pay water rates. The Minister does not seem to be aware there is an exemption of 48,000 cu. m. for a domestic house after which the charge is €1.22 per cubic metre.
I am sure he will be informed of it. We are having imposed on us the household charge, the non-principal private residence charge and the water charge. Workers are very concerned. Instead of decentralising services we are centralising the control of Ireland's water to Dublin. Local authorities are in a better position to carry out Government policy in this regard. It has been brought to my attention that whatever decision is made on this issue, all meters used should be manufactured in Ireland. It is possible to manufacture these meters here if necessary. A total of €450 million from the National Pensions Reserve Fund which Fianna Fáil built up under Charlie McCreevy-----
-----will be used for this purpose. No legislative power is involved and the Government has only now responded to The Sunday Times leak in this regard. I am very disappointed in Senator Ivana Bacik, a Labour Party candidate in the general election who opposed water charges. The Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, withdrew the water charge. The Labour Party has done a somersault on water charges.
There is a perception in this country that because it rains so much we should not pay for water. Most of us here know it costs a fortune to treat water. The idea we should not pay for it is somewhat last century. I welcome the establishment of the water authority and that we will have water metering. I am perplexed by the Opposition. There are all sorts of rumours and leaks - pardon the pun - about this. Nothing has been decided on the charges with regard to water metering. It is being established. I ask the Opposition to bear with the Minister-----
Fianna Fáil set us well up over the past 14 years. Water metering should have been attended to before now. I welcome it and look forward to hearing more positive comments on it.
This week is cloud computing week and each day there will be a focus on particular aspects of cloud computing, such as how it can make the public sector more efficient and how the non-profit sector uses cloud computing.
Children in schools are getting involved and students from across the country will showcase their cloud based solutions to worldwide problems at the Irish Imagine Cup finals. A submission which I made to the Oireachtas Joint Administration Committee and the head of the ICT in regard to the movement of some Oireachtas and council IT services to a cloud computing base is currently being considered. This could potentially save us millions of euro per annum.
I support the call that the Minister of State with responsibility for NewERA - which is an oxymoron in the context of the Minister concerned - to come to the House to discuss all issues around the potential water charges and property tax, in respect of which there is confusion. I agree with analogies made in regard to the nightmare in the Custom House and the nightmare in Kildare Street. It is interesting that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, has become the Government's Freddy Krueger.
The Government needs to listen to the people. Working people are paying more PAYE and PRSI and the universal social charge but are getting fewer services. These are the same people who have to pay private health insurance at the same time as paying taxes for health care. Local authority services are being cut to the bone and people are getting no extra service for all of these so-called charges.
During the course of our debate on the household charge we heard many Senators say it amounted to only €2 per week. They are now saying it will cost only €50 per annum for the meter and that charges in respect of water usage will be only a couple of hundred euro a year. However, it is the cumulative effect of all of these charges and their impact on working families that this Government does not get. If it does not get it soon, it will be in serious trouble. It is easy for well paid politicians to say we must pay for all of these services. The reality is that people are paying an awful lot more taxes with less money in their pockets. Unless the Government gets that, it will not get all of these charges over the line.
Unlike some of my fellow colleagues who like to complain, I rise to commend volunteers who willingly give of their time in providing services.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Good Morning Louth which is a service operated by volunteers, many of whom are retired, who take telephone calls from and make calls to elderly people living on their own to ensure everything is okay and to put them in contact with the authorities if they require support. These people are our unsung heroes. We need to commend our volunteers.
I join with other Senators in calling for an early debate on the water charge. Like Senator Leyden, I am concerned that the service provider in this regard will be a subsidiary of Bord Gáis, which under the Gas Acts is a commercial entity. One wonders if the people of Ireland will be responsible for delivering profits for that company and if, as correctly pointed out by Senator Leyden, that new profit making entity, as paid for by the people of Ireland, will be expected to increase the marketability of Bord Gáis for sale, if it is to be privatised.
I note Senators opposite are shaking their heads. Perhaps that is not the case but the questions are legitimate. Senator Leyden has pointed out that there is no legislative basis for the Government announcing that a new semi-State entity is to be operated by a company that has a commercial mandate as determined under the Gas Acts, which is a real cause for concern. Members opposite can shake heads all they want. The people are entitled to information. Quite frankly, the information they have received thus far has been abominable in the extreme.
I heard the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd, say this morning that there will be a free allocation every year that costs €40, which in itself is confusing. We need the facts to be determined and delivered for people.
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to come to the House as a matter of urgency to discuss the health cutbacks throughout the country and their delivery regionally through the HSE. I am particularly concerned about organisations and facilities that are delivering important services to those with severe to profound intellectual disabilities. Wisdom Services, which are based at Cregg House in County Sligo, deliver services to people of that nature across the entire north west. As a result of the cuts in the institution's funding that have been announced by the HSE in the west, the Daughters of Wisdom have announced that they are not capable of continuing to provide services as outlined in the service agreement. It is worth noting that since 1955, each Government of the day has invited the Daughters of Wisdom to provide these important services on behalf of the State. They have done that exceptionally well. Given that no agreement is in place, the Minister needs to take a personal interest in this case and intervene in it as a matter of urgency. Otherwise this problem will be replicated throughout the country.
I remind Senator Cullinane that this Government has taken 200,000 people out of the universal social charge and has restored the minimum wage. It might not be perfect, but it has done the two significant things I have mentioned. It might be useful for Senators Darragh O'Brien, Leyden and Cullinane to listen to a podcast of this morning's LMFM interview with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd. It was a great interview and it made everything clear.
The House should welcome the decision of the vendor of a lock of Michael Collins' hair to withdraw it from auction and instead to donate it to the National Museum of Ireland. I commend General Collins' grand-niece, Mary Banotti, on her dignified campaign to that end. General Michael Collins and his comrades may have had their differences subsequently, but we have to acknowledge they gave their all for Ireland. I am convinced that they would want us to work together for the good of this country, while acknowledging our differences on political philosophy.
No. I have a question for the Leader. Will he agree that the vendor of the cloth that was used to wipe the face of General Collins when he was lying in hospital after being shot should be asked to withdraw the item in question from sale? Perhaps it could be donated to the museum to be buried with the remains of Michael Collins.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to attend the House to explain why he intends to sell the national lottery. It is a bad decision. The sale of the national lottery is a high price to pay for a front-loading of €500 million. The national lottery supports arts and sports projects which are very much a part of Irish society. Some of the young people in the Visitors Gallery will participate in many of those projects in the future.
I would not like to see the national lottery sold outside this country. I would like an explanation of why it is being sold. Why can we not keep it in this country? There might be many ways of doing so. I would like to find out why the Minister is selling it. I would like him to come to the House to explain it. Has the decision to sell the national lottery, which has served arts and sports causes so well over the years, been rubber-stamped in the Department? Will it be decided with a stroke of a pen or will we be allowed to play a part in it?
I was surprised to hear the litany that was set out by my good friend and colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, aided by some of his colleagues. All it could do is sow confusion, especially as the Cabinet clarified all the major matters on water charging yesterday. We know there will be no charge before 2014 and how precious and scarce water is. We know about the cost of water treatment, pumping water into reservoirs and piping to individual houses. A good service has been provided by the local authorities down through the years in this regard but, as has been said, farmers and businesses are paying for water already. Unless one meets the cost of sinking a well or develops a means of harvesting rainwater, which would also require treatment because of the acid in the atmosphere-----
Yesterday in the Irish Examiner, a chartered engineer, Mr. Kevin Murray, estimated that the average consumption per house is 150 cu. m. At estimated current prices, this is worth €345. Mr. Murray questioned the point of having a €400 meter when the annual bill is only €345, particularly for small users. Lone small consumers should not only be exempt from the water charge but also from metering. Mr. Murray writes about a pointless exercise: if one cuts one's consumption by 10%, one saves less than what it would cost to install the meter. There is a difficulty arising in that regard. The purpose of the article is to suggest the Government should start with the big customers, bigger houses and those with bigger lawns and then work down towards those in small housing units, whose consumption is quite low. The latter will not be able to achieve the savings that would make the meter worthwhile.
I am concerned over the choice of Bord Gáis Éireann to run the company. The evidence from the National Competitiveness Council and the Forfás report is that Irish gas is substantially more expensive than that in the United Kingdom. The figures in the Forfás report of December last suggest that what will cost one between €6 and €8 in the United Kingdom will nearly always cost above €10 in Ireland. How did Bord Gáis Éireann, which is uncompetitive by UK gas industry standards, manage to impress the Cabinet so much?
My third concern relates to the energy regulator. We have high gas and electricity prices. The regulator is supposed to protect us from water prices and the charge for the meter. The regulator believes the head of the ESB should be paid four times more than the Taoiseach. I hope that does not set a precedent when he is looking for the cost base of Irish Water. It would be unacceptable to all in the House if yet another massive pay bill were created by the setting up of Irish Water. I want the Leader to discuss those points with his colleagues in the Cabinet.
I welcome the Government's clarity yesterday on Irish Water and how it is to be set up. There is no confusion. Those who were misinformed in this area are actually creating the confusion. Tomorrow, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, will be in the House so we can ask him about the proposed sale of part of Bord Gáis Éireann. I refer to the generation element, not the transmission element. This will afford Senator Leyden an opportunity seek clarification from the Minister directly.
Any of us who has been a member of a local authority knows well that what is proposed is badly needed. We need to ensure we have water of the same quality from Mizen Head to Malin Head and in our major cities. It was stated that 40% of water that is treated to a high standard of potability leaks from the system and this costs money. Therefore, we should all welcome the fact that the regulator will be involved and will decide prices rather than politicians or civil servants. The decisions will be made in an open and transparent fashion.
We are not taking money from the National Pensions Reserve Fund. It is on loan and the arrangement is over 20 years. The money will be refunded.
Through efficiencies introduced by the national water authority, this cost will reduce, which we should all welcome. Senator Darragh O'Brien has experience of his local authority's difficulties with water. Any member of a local authority knows that the water services investment programme arises as an issue year in, year out, yet no funding has been provided for it. This is a way of providing a long-term sustainable solution to that problem.
Perhaps I am premature, but has the Leader received any indication of when the Government's promised legislation on water charges will be laid before the House? Will it be a Seanad or Dáil Bill? Due to its controversial nature, chances are that it will be a Seanad Bill. We would welcome that, as it would provide us with more time to reflect on the matter.
As someone who believes in the continuation and strengthening of local democracy, I have not enthusiastically embraced the idea of praising the Government for setting up a water authority. It seems that the Government is continuing down a path initiated by the previous Government, in that it is setting up yet another quango and reducing the role and authority of local councils and local councillors. This seems to go against the Government's assertion that it will strengthen local government. This afternoon, the Seanad will debate a Bill that will remove further power from local authorities in terms of driving licences. I will welcome the debate on water charges.
Regarding the idea that this initiative will ensure water quality, Ireland actually has excellent water quality. While I appreciate that there were particular difficulties in County Galway, it has been proven time and again that the water coming out of taps is generally as good as, if not better than, the bottled water for which one pays €2 or a minimum of €1 in one's local store. No question marks surround the quality of water. The problem lies in wastage. I do not know why it could not be addressed via existing local authority structures. Any money collected could be reinvested at local level. However, that is a debate for another day.
I applaud and agree with Senator Jim D'Arcy's reference to the late General Michael Collins. The loss of Michael Collins was a devastation for Ireland that resonates to this day.
I concur with the concerns expressed by Senator Mullen regarding the activities of the National Women's Council of Ireland. As a State-funded body and particularly in respect of a controversial matter like abortion, the Government has a responsibility to ensure that the council takes an even-handed view, puts forward both sides of the argument and does not pursue a specific agenda.
I have visited a number of countries in which water was in scarce supply. At one hospital, water needed to be collected from its roof - it only rains there for two weeks per year - and stored in ten 50,000-litre tanks. That supply must sustain the hospital for 11 and a half months. In this light, one appreciates the value of water.
In some Irish local authority areas, that more than 40% of water is wasted indicates significant inefficiencies. We must address this issue. Centralisation has been mentioned. One of the good initiatives taken in the past 20 years was the establishment of the National Roads Authority, NRA. It is not too long ago that the road network between Ireland's two major cities, Cork and Dublin, was appalling. It was the NRA's careful planning and work with local authorities that brought about changes in road infrastructure.
Likewise, setting up a national authority for the supply of water while involving local authorities is the way forward. This is what the Government is doing. When we debate the matter, it is important that the Minister make available to us details of wastage in the system so that people can see that they are not getting value for money. At the end of the day the taxpayers are paying for that wastage and they want value for money. Senator Cullinane referred to services being wound down or restricted. In the health care area, the number of medical cards has increased from 1,145,000 to 1,736,000. At the current rate of progress more than 2 million people in this country will have either a medical card or a GP only card by the end of this year. Somebody has to pay for these cards and the only people available to pay for them at present are the taxpayers. What we are proposing will provide value for money. Let us have a debate on the matter so that the Minister can show us where inefficiencies are costing the taxpayer money. This is a way to create efficiency and value for money.
I ask the Leader to seek clarification from the Minister for Health on an issue I alluded to previously but which is becoming more acute, namely, whether there has been a change in the process for deciding what anti-cancer drugs will be made available through the health service.
Good research shows that countries which underspend on cancer drugs have inferior cancer outcomes. A famous study carried out by the Karolinska Institute several years ago caused a great deal of controversy in this regard and other research conducted by a young health economist working with me came to a similar conclusion.
The country on which we have most closely modelled our health system is the United Kingdom, which is the most advanced rationer of cancer drugs and among the large western health systems has the worst survival rates in many cancers for which records are kept. It is upsetting to discover that the philosophy followed in that country appears to be entering our health service. Our historically poorly developed cancer service, which had few specialists and a long waiting list, had the advantage of offering good access to drugs. Our ability to access drugs like taxotere, which is a good chemotherapy drug, herceptin, which was a stunningly important drug for a small number of patients with breast cancer, and other drugs was substantially better than our colleagues in the United Kingdom. A small amount of cancer tourism even took place under the radar with patients coming here for treatments that were unavailable in the UK.
However, it appears that the UK model is now being applied to our decision making process. An entity called the national centre for pharmaco-economics, the head of which was reared in the culture of British health care rationing, is now making decisions that appear to routinely deny drugs to cancer patients in Ireland. This has reached a crisis level with a particular drug called ipilimumab, which is used to treat patients with melanoma. Ipilimumab is expensive and does not work very well for most patients but a small number win the big lottery in that they seem to be cured.
As a society, we have to decide whether it is worthwhile to invest approximately €4 million per annum in providing this drug for suitable patients who have this disease and for whom no other curable therapy exists. It is an easy decision for me if our health system can afford to spend money to have the communications clinic write speeches for the Minister for Health or on establishing corporate affairs in every country. If we can afford to pay €10 million per year for HIQA, which has not saved a single life in this country, I cannot understand why we cannot make these drugs available to our patients. I have recently heard that another promising breast cancer drug is also being denied. Many of the treatments we routinely use today would never have been passed if the same rules were followed 20 years ago.
I am aware that we do not live in an economic vacuum. I do not argue that there should be limitless amounts of money to spend exclusively on expensive cancer drugs but we are misspending much of the money in other areas of the health service instead of investing in these drugs. For this reason I seek a clarification from the Minister on the status of the decision making process for cancer drugs and, in particular, ipilimumab. I have a 21 year old girl and a 32 year old mother of a young family who are asking me every day whether I can procure this drug for them. Not only is it being refused by the HSE but now the private insurers are following the lead. One small office somewhere in the bureaucracy is making powerful decisions to make these drugs unavailable across the entire health service.
It would be appropriate to invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to have a full debate on the whole water issue. As previous speakers have said, it is such a vital national resource that it needs plenty of debate and discussion. Many Senators would like to have an input and give information to the Minister on the possible structuring of the charges.
As we all know the farming community and business community are already paying for water as are people in rural areas who are in group water schemes. There is an inequity that people living in towns and cities are not charged for water. We now need to ensure that this valuable resource is available for business and for job creation into the future. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the cost of it is shared equitably throughout the community. I hope we can keep the charges lower than what Senator Cullinane's party is charging people in the North of Ireland.
I have a matter to bring to the attention of the media. Some of the recent coverage has been totally inaccurate. We will need to have another debate on media standards because some elements of the media are unable to present information that is given clearly by Ministers in a clear and coherent way to the public.
Is dóigh gur ceart dom, tar éis an méid atá ráite ag mo chomhleacaí an Seanadóir Ó Maoláin, iarratas a dhéanamh go dtabharfaí cuireadh don Chéad Aire agus don Leas-Chéad Aire sa Tuaisceart teacht ar chuairt anseo, mar is léir fós go bhfuil go leor míthuisceana ann maidir leis an chaoi a bhfuil an stát á riaradh thuas ansin. As part of the programme of bringing guest speakers to the House, we should invite the First Minister and Deputy First Minister from the Northern Executive to clarify the situation in the North as there is considerable misinformation as highlighted by what Senator Mullins has said.
I raise the issue of a group in a very difficult and vulnerable position at the moment - lone parents. They are being demonised in the media at the moment and there is considerable misinformation about their situation. The SPARK organisation is campaigning on their behalf and is trying to bring to the attention of the media and politicians the difficult situation in which they find themselves. This morning the Seven is too Young group, representing the OPEN, NWCI and Barnardos made a very good presentation highlighting the problems they have with the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. I call for a debate on the situation of lone parents.
I am afraid we are falling back into an almost 1950s mentality with single mothers being told they might as well stay at home with their children and raise them. They are being made to feel they should not worry about trying to get educated or get a job. They are made feel unimportant and they see others being prioritised. That is a very dangerous road to go down. Their plight crosses many different Departments. There are issues regarding social protection, finance, education, transport, housing, children and health. There is considerable expertise in the Seanad which would be a very good place to have a debate on these different issues. We have people with experience in many of these issues in their own child care authorities and representative organisations in which they have worked. Such a debate could be very beneficial and would be very timely. These people certainly feel marginalised and if some of the changes proposed are forced through, it will have a very detrimental effect on their situation and on society in general for the next 20 or 30 years.
I support Senator O'Donnell's call for a debate on proposed sale of the national lottery. I am calling for a full debate on the national lottery, which Senator Conway has also called for on a number of occasions. I would welcome such a debate.
I commend the Government on clarifying the water meter charges at yesterday's Cabinet meeting. Ministers have now said they will establish a quango called Irish Water. Together with the regulator, the new body will decide how much taxpayers will pay for this natural resource. The Government will therefore be able to hide behind the regulator and Irish Water, while saying "It has nothing to do with us".
I feel sorry for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, who is an honourable and decent man, and is doing his best. This is his third nightmare in the Custom House. First, we had the septic tank debacle, which was followed by the household charge fiasco and we now have the water meter confusion. I do not blame him. He is the Minister responsible for the environment, community and local government portfolios, but he is only carrying out what the Cabinet decides. He does not decide these measures - the Cabinet gives him the go-ahead to implement these decisions. Time and time again, he has been wrong-footed and scapegoated by his Cabinet colleagues, so I feel sorry for him. I would welcome him to this House on any occasion if he wants to clarify the situation and agree with me.
There are many urgent items on the agenda that attract our attention, or which may distract us from other matters. However, figures published yesterday showed that one third of all babies born in Ireland this year are likely to live to be 100, that is, until 2112. It seems to me that those of us who are here now have a responsibility to ensure that the earth is still around in 100 years' time, and is still a viable place where our children and grandchildren can live. It is said that we have the responsibility of minding the earth for the next generation and this is an opportunity to do so.
I am raising this matter because I have just come from a meeting to publicise Dublin as the city of science for six days from 11 July. The objective is to help people to recognise that Ireland is serious about science. Perhaps the Leader can find some time for a debate on science in the next few weeks. This is a big event that will bring five Nobel laureates here, along with other important scientists. I do not think we have ever had anything like this in Ireland before. In fact, I do not think that anything like this has been held in Europe in the past. It is a worthwhile investigation because the responsibility is on us to care for this earth. Let us ensure that this House is aware of the opportunities, possibilities and potential of being able to do something about it.
The question of water has dominated the Order of Business, with quite a number of Senators contributing. The Government made a series of decisions on the establishment of Irish Water at yesterday's Cabinet meeting. It will be established as an independent State-owned subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann group. This has followed a detailed analysis as to whether the public utility, Irish Water, should be established as a new State agency or under the stewardship of an existing State agency.
There will be no up-front costs to households for water meters or their installation. The exact details on pricing and the operation of the free allowance will be a matter for the regulator, as has been pointed out. We are the last country in the EU and the OECD to charge for domestic water supplies.
With regard to Bord Gáis, the Government completed a detailed analysis as to whether the public utility, Irish Water, should be established as a new State agency or under the stewardship of an existing State agency. On foot of that analysis the Government yesterday agreed to establish Irish Water as an independent State-owned subsidiary within Bord Gáis Éireann. Irish Water will be established as a public water facility and will remain in public ownership. I remind Members on the opposite side of the House, the Fianna Fáil Senators, of their party's commitment prior to the last election that the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government included a commitment to introduce charging for treated water use that is fair, that significantly reduces waste, is easily applied, would be based on a system where households are allocated a free basic allowance with charging only for water use in excess of this allowance and that in keeping with the allocation of greater responsibility to local authorities, these will set their own rates for water use. This is the Fianna Fáil stance and it would mean different water charges in every local authority-----
I remind the other side of the House of the Fianna Fáil policy with regard to the EU-IMF agreement, "The Government will prepare proposals for the implementation of the recommendations of the independent assessment of the transfer of responsibility of water service provision from local authorities to a water utility, in consultation with the European Commission services with a view to start charging during the EU-IMF programme period". It is a pity that the Fianna Fáil Senators do not read what was committed to-----
Senator Bacik and other Senators raised the question of the plentiful supply of water. I agree there is a plentiful supply of water in the country but there is not a plentiful supply of treated water and this is what has to be paid for. A total of €1.2 billion is spent on the provision of quality treated water and it will have to be paid for as outlined in the EU-IMF deal which was signed up to by the previous Government.
Senator Mac Conghail referred to the Private Members' motion. The Government amendment to the motion is very conciliatory and I expect a very good debate and that the House will agree to the amendment as outlined.
Senator Mullen and a number of other Senators referred to a Bill dealing with the question of abortion which is being taken in the other House. This House will have ample opportunity to debate that Bill if it reaches this House. On that matter, the Government submitted an action plan on 16 June 2011 to the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe relating to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of ABC v. Ireland which was delivered on 16 December 2010. As per the programme for Government commitment and the submitted action plan, the Government has established an expert group drawing on appropriate medical and legal expertise with a view to recommending a series of options on how to implement the judgment of the European Court. It is proposed that the group, chaired by Mr. Justice Seán Ryan, will report within six months. This report is due in July 2012. The Government is of the view that this is the appropriate forum in which to examine this complex and sensitive matter.
Senator Conway requested that Aung San Suu Kyi be invited to address the House. We will certainly raise the matter with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and inquire about the availability of Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Ireland.
Senator Norris sought a debate on rendition. We will see whether we can get time to debate that issue. I note Senator Harte's comments about catchment areas and I am sure the HSE and the Minister will clarify the situation for the Senator when he requests that information.
Quite a number of points were made about water charges, which I have answered. Senator D'Arcy mentioned the donation to the National Museum of locks of hair belonging to General Michael Collins. The vendor is to be complimented for donating these to the National Museum rather than putting them up for public auction. I agree with the Senator's comments about the swab that was also supposed to go for auction; I hope it will be given to the appropriate authorities. Something like that should not go for public auction.
Senators O'Donnell and Wilson spoke about the national lottery. The lottery will not be sold; it is the sale of a 20-year franchise that is being discussed. The majority of the up-front money from the sale will go towards the national children's hospital, but a percentage of lottery funding will still go to worthy causes. Senator Coghlan poetically answered Senator Darragh O'Brien on the question of water. I will certainly discuss with the Minister the points made by Senator Barrett about the Irish water utility.
In answer to Senator Mooney's question, I am not aware of when the legislation will be forthcoming, but I will update the House when I have that information. Senator Crown spoke about the important issue of anti-cancer drugs and their accessibility. I suggest to Senator Crown that he table a matter on the Adjournment so that he can receive a comprehensive reply from the Minister which will clarify the position.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh mentioned lone parents. I wish to advise the House that the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill will be discussed here all day and practically all night on Thursday of next week, after being discussed in the Dáil on Wednesday. We can also discuss it on Friday if necessary. There is quite a lot about lone parents in the Bill, and the Senator will have ample opportunity to debate the issue at that point.
Finally, Senator Quinn spoke about Dublin being the city of science and mentioned what is coming here in July. This would be a good opportunity for us to have a discussion on science and innovation, and I will try to arrange that debate as soon as possible.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 20 (Sean Barrett, Thomas Byrne, John Crown, David Cullinane, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Darragh O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Ned O'Sullivan, Feargal Quinn, Kathryn Reilly, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 30 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Colm Burke, Deirdre Clune, Eamonn Coghlan, Paul Coghlan, Michael Comiskey, Martin Conway, Maurice Cummins, Jim D'Arcy, Michael D'Arcy, John Gilroy, Jimmy Harte, Aideen Hayden, Fidelma Healy Eames, James Heffernan, Imelda Henry, Lorraine Higgins, John Kelly, Marie Maloney, Mary Moran, Michael Mullins, Catherine Noone, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Susan O'Keeffe, Pat O'Neill, 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.