Thursday, 17 May 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Companies (Amendment) Bill 2012 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude not later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than 1.35 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the 44th Plenary of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1, with the time allocation for this debate not to exceed one hour and with the contribution of each Senator not to exceed eight minutes; and No. 3, statements on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, with the contribution of each Senator not to exceed eight minutes.
I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to come to the House as a matter of urgency. We will not put it to a vote today but we expect that this issue will be dealt with in the earlier part of next week. As many will be aware, the board of Tallaght hospital is meeting this morning to consider the 300-page HIQA report which many of us have been reading about in the newspapers and hearing of in the broadcast media. We strongly object to the fact that the HIQA board will share this report with the media at a press conference at 12 o'clock, rather than circulate the report to Members of the Oireachtas. This shows the contempt in which these Houses are held. This is something the deputy Leader should raise with the Government and with her party leader and the Taoiseach to ensure the appropriate respect is given to the Houses, which represents the people when considering health service reports important to their care. Members will recall the Dublin county coroner's comments last year following the examination of the case of the death of Thomas Walsh, who was just 65 years of age. His death shocked and appalled everybody. The coroner wondered whether it would have been safer for Mr. Walsh to stay at home rather than go into that hospital.
Since then, no patients were meant to be kept on trolleys on corridors at Tallaght hospital. Can the Minister confirm for us that this is now the case at Tallaght hospital? The trolley watch website indicates this morning that there are 13 patients on trolleys there, and 278 patients on trolleys throughout the country. Is the recruitment moratorium too blunt an instrument and is affecting the day to day running of our emergency departments, whether in Tallaght, Sligo or the other hospitals throughout the country? Reports say that recommendations in the report hold consequences for accident and emergency departments all over the country. Will this form part of a centralisation agenda by the HSE and government to wind down more Roscommons throughout the country or will the resources be available to ensure that if standards are to be raised, this will be done and resources will be provided? We know already that 2,000 beds throughout the country remain closed, yet we have 13 people on trolleys in Tallaght and 278 on trolleys nationwide, in contravention of the much promoted report we expect from the HIQA today. Last week in the Dáil we heard the Tánaiste celebrate the fact there was a 17% reduction in the number of people on trolleys at accident and emergency departments throughout the country. I do not feel there is any cause for celebration for any Minister given that in the first four months of this year some 26,000 patients were being treated on trolleys. This is a serious issue and I ask the deputy Leader to raise it and seek an urgent debate in the House with the Minister.
Finally, new groupings of hospitals - trusts similar to the UK model have been suggested - are to be announced this week. I mention in particular the grouping related to the west, where we will have Galway, Portiuncula, Roscommon and possibly, Castlebar, in one group. A further grouping to the north west may bring Sligo and Letterkenny together. When the Minister comes to the House for the debate we seek, will he also be prepared announce a commitment to the continuation of services at each of these hospitals? Will he make a commitment that the proposed groupings or trusts will not be used as a vehicle to centralise services, taking them away from the communities that need them so much.
I welcome the fact that today is UN International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. I also welcome the fact that Ministers Frances Fitzgerald and Ruairí Quinn are hosting an anti-bullying forum and bringing together various stakeholders to help tackle bullying. As we know, some frightful examples of bullying have taken place in our country in recent times, with horrible consequences in some cases. It is meritorious that our two Ministers are jointly on this international day hosting this forum. I wish it well. Will the deputy Leader comment further on this designated international day?
Senator Bacik kindly responded to my request for a debate on the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland report last week and I am grateful to her for that. I understand it is the intention of the Government to facilitate debate in the Seanad on the report and I ask that we have that debate sooner rather than later. Significant attention has been paid to what was said and done at the Oireachtas committee yesterday. I am concerned that the debate on standards in our national broadcaster does not descend to a knockabout type of situation where everybody feels free to let rip on their own issues. What we need is a thorough, analytical debate that concentrates on the key issues and the Seanad could contribute to that. Therefore, we should have the debate in the Seanad on the issue sooner rather than later.
One of the issues I did not raise last week but which continues to trouble me concerns the way in which, at a time of crisis, a consensus seems to emerge that the only thing that can cure a problem is a resignation. I feel strongly that resignation is something that is appropriate in certain situations, particularly when there is a current danger that needs to be addressed. However, I am concerned that there does not seem to be a clear mechanism whereby people in institutions who get things wrong, as happened in the case of RTÉ with the Prime Time documentary, can step back from their position, go through a period of reflection and reform if necessary. Then, it would be seen that people can recover and take up a position of eminence or prominence again. That is a more humane way to deal with human error.
The other side of the issue is that people must be willing to take responsibility for what they have done. As far as I know, it is only the journalist who resigned from RTÉ who has given a personal apology for her role in the affair. I am not aware that any of the other people involved, for example Mr. O'Shea, Mr. Páircéir and Mr. Mulhall - I am open to correction - have expressed personal regret at their part in the serious defamation of Kevin Reynolds. I wonder what that says about them and about the organisation. We need to consider how we deal with crises when they emerge, but we also need to focus on a culture of rehabilitating people. We talk about that in the context of criminal justice, but we should also talk about it in the context of institutional mistakes. This involves taking responsibility, but also providing a mechanism for people to learn, recover and reform.
I welcome the commitment of the Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, to end the sponsorship of sports events by alcohol companies and organisations. This is something for which I have called over many years in the Seanad. People are rightly concerned about the impact of a nanny state, but when it comes to the abuse of alcohol, particularly by young people, and when it comes to the bad example being set in homes and public fora, it is an area where we cannot be too vigilant. Therefore, not only should we be moving to end alcohol sponsorship of sports, we should also be looking at the extent to which we permit public advertising of alcohol at all, particularly on broadcast media. I would welcome a debate on that issue also.
I want to raise one issue and call for the Minister of State to come to the House again to speak on the fiscal treaty. This House should put a message out to the UK Independence Party, UKIP, and to Mr. Farage, Mr. Ganley, Mr. Messerschmidt and these other people who are coming to this country. I understand Mr. Ganley is a temporary resident of this country.
This House should call on these people to desist from their campaign. Mr. Farage, in particular, has come into this country and is distributing leaflets that peddle untruths to every household. This is a departure we cannot accept, where a crowd of people from the UK who are anti-Irish and anti-foreign nationals in their own country want to come here and are being assisted by the usual suspects, who call themselves left wing politicians. These individuals should be asked who is going to benefit financially from a collapse or downgrade of the euro. As the sterling will not collapse, people from the UK will be able to come to Ireland to purchase two holiday homes rather than one. People must understand that certain people have a vested interest in destabilising the euro for their own financial advantage. This is all about money and these individuals are telling us to get rid of the euro while at the same time they are stocking up on sterling and dollars.
The ULA and Sinn Féin should announce they are on a different platform from Mr. Ganley, Mr. Farage and the other loonies on the right. Now we have loonies from the right and the left on the same platform. People must be made aware of who is going to benefit from destabilisation of the euro.
I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to update the House on his plans for reforming local government. It is almost a year since he outlined his proposals and all we have gotten since then are drips and leaks about this, that and the other.
Everybody in this House recognises the importance of local government in this country, be it town council, county council or regional authority. They must be supported. Town councils, in particular, are faced with the sword of Damocles. It has been hinted that the smaller town councils will be abolished while the larger ones will be reformed. Sitting councillors who expect an election in two years time are not sure whether they will still have a constituency.
The Minister owes more than leaks to local government and, indeed, the two Houses of the Oireachtas. He has already dodged his own timetable twice. He indicated that he would make a statement at the AMAI conference, which took place several months ago, and that he would provide further information at the recent county council conference. He brought forth a mouse on both occasions. I hope the Deputy Leader can arrange for him to come to the House so that we can interrogate him.
This House should be the place in which the Minister, Deputy Hogan, makes his announcement and presents the report and recommendations. He has indicated that he will be bringing them forward shortly but we do not know the length of that piece of string and the local elections are approaching.
I refer to the issue of Facebook and the Department of Education and Skills. Two pupils were expelled from a school in Dublin for posting abusive remarks about their teachers on Facebook and a further 40 were given detention for liking the posts. This is a serious matter because posting abusive comments about teachers or children on Facebook is as serious a form of bullying as bullying verbally or by telephone. The ASTI have come out on the issue. I ask the Minister for Education and Skills to draw up a protocol for social media because schools may handle problems differently depending on their principals. It would send a serious message to students and teachers about respect for social media. These media are available for everybody to use but they have to be respected.
I commend Senator Coghlan on reminding us that today is International Day against Homophobia. This is recognised in 100 countries and by the United Nations. This year's theme is homophobic and transphobic bullying. I advise my colleagues to read an excellent article in today's edition of The Irish Times by Michael Barron, who wrote: "To truly end homophobic and transphobic bullying we need to effect structural changes in curriculum, policy, support services and teaching practice which will enable a cultural shift in how we educate young people." I contrast this with a disgraceful article in Alive, a newspaper which is distributed in Roman Catholic churches throughout the country. A column entitled "Editor's Jottings" attacked any attempt to protect young gay people, arguing that such attempts will lead to further bullying and suggesting that those who try to protect vulnerable young people want to increase victimhood for their own purposes. I call for this to be withdrawn. The editorial is unsigned but one of the newspaper's correspondents, Senator Mullen, sits almost next to me and may know the identity of the editor. The editorial states that the attempt to protect young gay people "raises serious questions about any specific campaign to end bullying of these children...For example, if the children are being turned into a target, we may wonder if the real aim here is not to actually increase the bullying, to produce more "victims" and more "concern"".
This is a disgusting and repulsive accusation but it fits into the reaction that ensued when people like Joe O'Toole and I tried to develop a programme to protect children from inappropriate behaviour.
I call for a debate because it is important that we discuss it. The editorial also states: "We may wonder too, if this is not a cynical and cruel abuse of these children and young people in order to promote acceptance of homosexual behaviour in society." Decent parish priests should ensure this filthy and disgusting publication is removed from their churches because it has no place in a Christian context.
While I have commended Senator Coghlan, I cannot commend his party on its recent behaviour, which has been extraordinary. I contrast the cases of Deputy Mitchell and former Senator, Therese Ridge. Apparently Deputy Mitchell was of systemic importance to her party and, therefore, had to be saved.
I ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate a discussion on suicide prevention. I acknowledge that we have debated the issue recently but the Seanad should give a high political priority to this most pressing of issues. Suicide is probably the greatest single issue facing our society and we need to put it near the top of our agenda.
The Joint Committee on Health and Children has appointed me rapporteur on suicide prevention and charged me with bringing a report before the committee. Over the past eight months I have consulted agencies and professional bodies in this area and it is time that I extend the consultation process to members of the public. I intend to hold a series of public meetings across the country over the coming months to ascertain the views of ordinary people. The first meeting will take place in Cork on 28 June. I ask Senators to support this initiative by facilitating meetings in their local areas. I have made information available for anyone who wishes to find out more about the matter. This is an area in which the Seanad could play a useful role and I ask for a joint effort by Senators to give it the political attention it requires.
I ask the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House to discuss the US-Ireland Alliance. The Mitchell scholars programme is a great programme in honour of an extraordinary man but, unfortunately, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade has been unable to get a definitive answer from the president of the US-Ireland Alliance on whether she will appear before the committee to talk about the role and work of the organisation. A letter was sent to her from the chairman of the committee, following a request by members on all sides and from both Houses that she appear before the committee to talk about the US-Ireland Alliance. I find it extraordinary that she would not reply in a clear manner that she is willing to appear. Many members have received invitations from her to attend an event in Dublin next week, which she will be at, yet she does not see fit to talk to the committee. She is most evasive and, rather than accept the invitation, she avoided giving a definitive answer.
It is and it has come up twice, which is why I am asking for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to appear in the House seeing as the president of the US-Ireland Alliance will not indicate whether she will appear. The Irish taxpayer will give over €20 million to the programme-----
The president has not indicated that she will appear before the committee. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is a member of the board of the US-Ireland Alliance and when he comes in he could explain why the president of the organisation will not indicate whether she will appear before the committee.
I support Senator Gilroy in his initiative on suicide, which the House should support. It affects every community the length and breadth of the country and the more we highlight the issue and discuss how we can provide adequate funding to tackle the problem, the better. I am pleased to welcome the Taoiseach's announcement of 150 jobs in Merit Medical in Galway. Ireland is attracting significant inward investment. The trade missions over the past year are paying dividends and it is important that on 31 May we vote for stability and to ensure the euro remains strong to continue to attract the investment we have seen in recent times.
I welcome the announcement by the Tánaiste than €8 million will be provided to tackle child undernutrition and to support cutting edge of research to boost agricultural productivity in the developing world. He also gave a commitment that during Ireland's Presidency in 2013 we will highlight hunger on the EU development agenda.
I would like a debate on admission to universities. When people are studying the leaving certificate, it is important they have confidence in the way they progress to the next level. Happily, some 70% of students do so, which is one of the highest figures anywhere. We have discussed problems in mathematics at second level and our neglect of languages. The system was set up by Professor William Watts, a former provost of Trinity College Dublin, and its strength is that the Central Applications Office is not subject to influence from the universities or outside. That is essential to the fact that every 18-year-old facing the leaving certificate has confidence in the neutrality of the system. I am concerned there will be a repeat of the last meddling, a test called HPAT, designed to reduce the number of women studying medicine. These matters are dangerous and if they cause a loss of confidence in 18-year-olds in the neutrality of the leaving certificate system. Good performance at second level is a good predictor of how people will perform at third level.
I support Senator Gilroy's initiative on suicide awareness. I urge everyone to participate in the process.
For a number of months, Senators Landy and Moloney and I were complaining about the delays in processing medical cards. Another issue has arisen, which is that the interpretation of the primary care reimbursement system of who is entitled to a medical card has been called into question. For years, student between 16 and 25 years were entitled to a medical card if their parents had a medal card. However, a 26 year old mature student with no income other than the grant, who is being subsidised by parents who are also medical cardholders, is being refused the medical card because these people have no income. They have no income because they are full-time students. It is frustrating to explain to these people that an income of nil is less than the guideline figure of €184, which means they should be entitled to a medical card. I am at my wits' end. Senator Healy Eames told me about the case of a person who was refused a medical card for being 10 cent a week over the guidelines for a medical card. There is no common sense prevailing in the primary care reimbursement system. I to call on the Leader to arrange for representatives of the primary care reimbursement system to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children to answer questions on their knowledge and interpretation of who is entitled to a medical card.
Given the day that it is that is in it, I join Senators Coghlan and Norris in condemning homophobic bullying. We are all aware of the consequences of bullying and, in the case of the gay community, it poses tremendous difficulties for people, particularly at a time when they are trying to come to terms with their sexual orientation. It is very difficult. We should condemn it across the board but it also needs to be said, for balance, that the gay community is not without its coterie of bullies. Anecdotally, in colleges, people who are not gay come under certain pressure. I was involved in the debate on civil partnership and I took a particularly strong line because I thought it was overly analogous to marriage. As a consequence, on social media and in my home town I was condemned as a homophobe and a misogynist bigot.
GLEN is very professional. When talking about civil partnership, I ask for a full debate about gay marriage, which was raised in the House because of President Obama's comments. An interesting article in The Irish Times made a case opposing gay marriage by someone who is part of the gay community. I would like to see a debate on that and the ramifications for society and children.
Given the day that is in it, we should acknowledge that on this day 38 years ago 34 of Ireland citizens were murdered in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. After 38 years, our civil societies and successive Governments have failed to bring those responsible to justice. They have failed the victims by not pursuing as strongly as they should have with the neighbouring island in order to have the truth of what happened regarding the collusion involved in those atrocities brought to light so that at least the victims can get some element of closure. They all have our sympathy on the day that is in it.
I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality where people from the gay, lesbian and transsexual community were making submissions. It would be the wish of all to see homophobia eliminated from society. It probably never will be eliminated but the best way of ensuring that it is kept at a minimum is to educate people. It is all about education. I call on the Acting Leader to prevail on the Minister for Education and Skills, even in these difficult times, to provide funding for an national educational programme in all schools so that the young little people who are growing up in this society will not suffer from homophobia and will play an active part in mutual respect. We have a duty to all elements in society to ensure that education is provided and is done properly.
I ask the Acting Leader if she could ascertain a date when this country will ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. I would suggest that this ground-breaking ratification should happen during the six months of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union, between January and June of next year. This society and this country can lead the way by ratifying this very important convention. I ask the Acting Leader to see what can be done to get a date so that we can all work towards it.
We have been talking today about anniversaries and dates. Later this year, the date of 11 December, is the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the first Seanad on 11 December 1922. I ask if we should recognise that event. That Seanad was abolished in 1936 but came back into being in this present form in 1937. The original Seanad was very effective in much of its work. I suggest the Acting Leader might bring it forward as a consideration.
Yesterday the Minister for Finance made some appalling and distasteful comments about the situation in Greece. He said that the only effect of a departure of Greece from the eurozone would be less feta cheese in Irish shopping baskets. This was a flippant, arrogant remark. We have to be conscious that the people in Greece are suffering and there is great concern about what is happening in that country. Any arrogant or flippant comments coming from very senior politicians in this country sends out entirely the wrong message. What we need to do is put in place policies that will support the people of Greece, support all those people in Europe who are suffering because of austerity and put in place policies in this country which will get people back to work.
Yesterday I raised the issue of the need for this House to play its role in highlighting what we mean by the growth agenda across Europe and in Ireland. I make that call again now. The Government strategy is not supported by the trade unions nor, in my view, by the vast majority of the members of the Labour Party because at their national conference they opposed the selling of State assets. It seems we are going to sell off our family jewels, sell off profitable State-owned companies to make a few short bucks so that we can then pay back our debts and have some money for job creation. What we should be doing is using the money we have in the National Pensions Reserve Fund, leveraging some money from the European Investment Bank and also using money from private pensions to stimulate the Irish economy and get people back to work. We need to have a robust and thorough debate in this House about what we need in Europe and in Ireland to achieve growth, investment and recovery.
There has been considerable discussion here and elsewhere over the past several days about the disclosure that various senior staff in the public service had been re-hired following their retirements. Much of the discussion is focused on the appropriateness of this practice, the potential waste, and there has been a focus on the degree of compensation for people whose new temporary salaries are totted up with their pensions. However, there has been insufficient discussion on what is the most important aspect. This is the most telling example we could have of the inappropriateness of mandatory retirement. These people were clearly able to do the job, they are still able to do the job, they wanted to do the job and they were told they had to retire and become dependent on the State. This is irrational. In the best of times if the economy was booming we would have difficulty dealing with the demographic burden that will be imposed by mandatory retirement and by the presence of a large number of ever longer-living retirees who will be using their pension funds. The arbitrary figure of 65 years was one which was chosen at a time when the average life expectancy was considerably less than 65 and it was chosen at a time when people who lived to the age of 65, on average lived maybe two years longer. Now we know that people who live to the age of 65 are very likely to make it close to their 90th birthday.
This does not make economic or demographic sense, coupled with the fact that I know from first-hand experience that many doctors and nurses who work with me in the health service, do not want to retire. They are in the full of their health, they are doing jobs well and they are told one day that they are now surplus to requirements and they must go on the pension and they must become dependent on the State. This policy is irrational and anachronistic and is a breach of people's human rights. I know my colleague and friend, Senator White, will be attempting to address this issue at some stage and I hope there will be cross-party support for an Irish-led initiative for a critical examination of a practice that has become a central tenet of social policy. I do not mean we should terminate optional retirement but I certainly believe we should end mandatory retirement. I would like a debate in the House on this issue.
I wish to be associated with the remarks made by various Senators about the United Nations day which reminds us all about the bullying that persists across this country and across the world against people who are homosexual. I understand that the Ministers, Deputy Quinn and Deputy Fitzgerald, are hosting a forum today on that matter and this is to be welcomed.
I ask the Deputy Leader if the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, could come to the House to discuss the specific issue of artisan food and the slow food movement. I live in Sligo and the So Sligo food festival is being held this weekend. The festival is in its third year and it is celebrating local food and the advantages of having local food in local restaurants. We know from anecdotal evidence and from reports that the food industry, and this aspect of the industry, rather than the great international businesses, is vital for tourism and cultural heritage. Many counties have great food festivals, for instance, the food festival in Donegal this weekend, and festivals in counties Waterford and Kerry. Such festivals should be encouraged in all parts of the country.
I would like to have this debate with the Minister so that his Department could join with the Department responsible for tourism to introduce a renewed policy. It has the potential to create jobs. There is much expertise, particularly among older people and it would be a way of inviting them to become involved and to be of assistance in their communities and in job creation.
As has been said already, today is the 38th anniversary of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. In those two incidents, the greatest number of people were killed in one day during the course of the civil strife on this island. Yet not one person has been prosecuted for killing 34 people, including an unborn baby. It is a national scandal that this issue has not been dealt with. It was swept under the carpet when it happened and the Government of the day did not deal with it in an ethical and honest manner. It was afraid to handle it. The motion on the Order Paper-----
I wish to draw attention to today's order paper, which includes No. 23, non-Government No. 1. The motion states:
That Seanad Éireann is keenly aware of the suffering of the families of those who died or were injured in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and in all the atrocities that were inquired into by Judge Henry Barron; that this suffering is exacerbated by the absence of closure in these terrible tragedies; and that we support their call for co-operation by the British Government to actively participate in a process to help provide answers to the questions that remain unanswered; and that the Irish Government will continue in its efforts to urge the British Government to give urgent consideration to this matter.
This is a national scandal.
Following on from the issue raised by Senator Cullinane, I would like to have a debate on the growth package as it is extremely important. It is also important to outline that the Government has set out a clear path on how it is dealing with the economic difficulties in this country. In the debate perhaps Senator Cullinane could outline where Sinn Féin proposes to get the necessary funding not only to continue jobs growth but also to maintain essential services. That is one of the reasons we are asking for a "Yes" vote to ensure that an insurance fund will be in place. If we are not able to borrow from the markets, the ESM funding will be available to us.
The Senator's party leader has failed, neglected and refused to outline to the public where money will be accessed to maintain essential services. I look forward to a debate on the issue of growth, not only here but also throughout Europe. The sooner we have such a debate the better.
I strongly support what my colleague, Senator John Kelly, said about the medical card issues. I have also come across a number of people who have been refused medical cards simply because they do not earn enough, which is ludicrous.
I wish to speak about the MFGs, or Meitheal Forbatha na Gaeltachta companies which have been closed down for several months. Many worthwhile projects are awaiting funding but they cannot access it because the MFGs have closed. I note the Minister's proposals to incorporate the partnerships to take over the distribution of funding, but what is he waiting for? Let us get on with it. If there is to be a delay, perhaps the Minister could attend the House to inform us what is causing it. We should debate the issue because it is necessary to get funding to people in Gaeltacht areas for their projects.
I also wish to acknowledge that today marks the 38th anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which claimed 34 lives. I commend the Justice for the Forgotten group whose representatives I met earlier this year as a member of the Joint Committee for the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The group will have a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial in Talbot Street later today.
I commend the decision to allow the Irish team to wear black armbands for its match against Italy during the Euro 2012 soccer tournament to commemorate the anniversary of the Loughinisland atrocity in County Down when six men were gunned down while watching Ireland play Italy in a 1994 World Cup match. I commend both the FAI and UEFA for allowing this to happen. Coincidentally, Ireland will be playing Italy on exactly the same date. I welcome the decision which was announced by Mr. John Delaney of the FAI.
Senator MacSharry sought the attendance of the Minister for Health in the House to discuss the 300-page HIQA report on the emergency department in Tallaght Hospital. That report is being discussed by the hospital's board today. The Senator also raised more general concerns about patients on trolleys and issues concerning continuing reforms of hospital services. I will speak with the Leader about organising a debate on the health service generally. We can have another question and answer session with the Minister for Health, which I think colleagues find the most useful format, particularly for discussing accident and emergency services.
I agree with Senator Paul Coghlan's welcome for International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. I believe his sentiment is shared by all of us, and other Senators have also spoken on this issue.
Like Senator Conway, I came to the Order of Business from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. That was attended by a range of seven groups, most of which were NGOs, as well as representatives of the Garda Síochána led by a chief superintendent. They were all there to discuss homophobia and transphobia with members of the joint committee, as well as how to tackle homophobic bullying. We welcome the forum that has been convened on that issue today by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on the BAI report on the media. As he knows, I have already promised such a debate.
Senator Harte referred to leaflets that have been distributed by MEPs from outside Ireland calling for a "No" vote in the forthcoming referendum. I am not sure they are particularly helpful to the "No" side. I am sure that the ULA and Sinn Féin will dissociate themselves from those leaflets.
Senator O'Sullivan wants the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to attend the House for a debate on local government reform. The discussion paper on that topic may not be published in time for us to have such a debate before the end of this session. However, we would all be keen to have that debate early in the autumn session, once we have seen what the recommendations are.
Indeed, and once the Government has made a decision on the constituency revision report also.
Senator Keane sought a debate on local government reform as well as a debate on the bullying of teachers via Facebook. There are reports today that school students have been expelled for this activity. There is a need for a more general debate on social media. I have already raised the issue of who controls social media and whether the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland should have a role, which it currently does not. I would be happy to facilitate such a debate.
Senator Norris also referred to the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, and we share his views on that. He also mentioned an article by Michael Barron of the youth group "BeLong To". I commend Mr. Barron who spoke in Paris yesterday at a UNESCO launch of an international guide against homophobic bullying. I share Senator Norris's condemnation of the editorial in Alive! magazine. I have been the subject of attacks from Alive! magazine before now. I entirely agree with the Senator that the sort of language used in that newspaper is often disgusting and repulsive. I am not surprised to hear Senator Norris refer to this particular article. I share his view that this newspaper should be removed from churches. I do not see why it should be available in churches.
Senator Gilroy referred to suicide prevention and I commend him for his work on this matter as a rapporteur. He has made information available to us all on suicide prevention, as well as holding a series of public meetings on the topic. We might well have an all-party motion on suicide prevention, and if the Senator wishes to draw up the wording, we could agree on it. We have already had such a debate relatively recently but we can certainly have another one. In the last week, other colleagues have sought a somewhat broader debate on the funding of mental health services, which could encompass the issues of suicide prevention and awareness. I will be asking the Leader to facilitate that debate in early course.
Senator Daly asked for the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to attend the House in connection with the US-Ireland Alliance. That is a matter for the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Senator can also write to the Minister about that. A number of colleagues have sought a debate on the Middle East with the Minister in attendance but that would clearly be a broader debate.
Senator Mullins supported the call for a debate on suicide prevention. In addition, he welcomed, as we all do, the announcement of 150 jobs in the medical devices sector in Galway. As the Senator said, it definitely shows the need to keep Ireland on a steady path to recovery and attract these levels of foreign direct investment. In recent months, we have witnessed announcements involving the creation of thousands of jobs, which are very welcome. These are key to remaining on the path to recovery. The Senator also raised the announcement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of €8 million to tackle child malnutrition. Anyone who heard the very disturbing report this morning from Niger of the levels of child malnutrition and starvation there would agree with the Senator's welcome for that announcement.
Senator Barrett called for a debate on admission to universities and rightly paid tribute to a former provost of Trinity College, Professor Watts, on his role in developing an independent system for admission. I share the Senator's views on that. It is a good idea to have a debate on it. We had sought a broader debate on universities and the third level sector more generally, which is something we need to follow up on.
Senator Kelly raised the issue of medical cards and, in particular, the entitlements of mature students. He said that the Joint Committee on Health and Children is seeking to bring in representatives from the PCRS to answer questions on that. It might also be something we could cover as part of a more general debate on health in a question and answer format with the Minister in attendance in this House.
Senator Walsh raised the issue of homophobic bullying and spoke of having been, as he described it, bullied himself. Having just heard the submission from BeLonG To at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the extraordinarily high levels of homophobic bullying experienced by young people, students and children in Ireland, one has to keep a sense of perspective and proportion on this. Some 50% of young people who participated in a BeLonG To survey have experienced verbal homophobic bullying in school, 25% were physically threatened by their peers, appallingly, 34% heard homophobic comments from their teachers and 20% of LGBT people under the age of 25 have attempted suicide. We need to maintain a sense of perspective and to recognise the serious and pressing problem of homophobic bullying in this country and elsewhere.
Senator Walsh also raised the issue of gay marriage. That is being dealt with in the constitutional convention promised in the programme for Government. Senator Walsh also raised the issue of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, which other Senators also raised. There was a motion on that issue in the House on 2 February.
Senator Conway raised the issue of the meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality with the NGOs, on which we have spoken. He also raised the issue of the need for a national education programme. The Ministers, Deputies Quinn and Deputy Fitzgerald, have today launched a forum on bullying in particular and a national education programme dealing with that. Therefore, that is in hand.
Senator Conway also raised the issue of a date for Ireland to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has been dealing with the mental capacity Bill, which we have recommended, as the Senator will know, should be renamed "the legal capacity Bill". The passing of that legislation is an important part of the process necessary for us to ratify the UN convention.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of a very important anniversary, that of the 90th Anniversary of the establishment of the 1922 Seanad on 11 December this year, which we should absolutely mark in this House. I will speak with the Leader about that. It is an excellent idea. I am sure there will be cross-party support in the House for commemorating it. This year is also the 90th anniversary of the 1922 Free State Constitution. That, again, is something that is often overlooked but something which is well worth a commemoration on a national level. I thank the Senator for raising that issue and it is a very important point.
Senator Cullinane, who I am aware is attending a committee, called for a debate on the growth agenda, which I have said we will seek to have after the referendum, although anyone who participates in the debate on the stability treaty this afternoon will no doubt address the issue of growth. It is very clear that there can be no growth without stability and this treaty and referendum seek to promote stability in Ireland and keep us on the steady path we are on.
Senator Cullinane also raised the issue of the sale of State assets. The Minister, Deputy Howlin, made it very clear this morning that no strategically important assets are to be sold. That is also set out in the programme for Government.
Senator Crown dealt with the issue of the rehiring of public sector staff. I have more information on that, which has been provided now. Clear criteria have been set out. Staff should not be retained beyond retirement age - that is the general policy of Government. Any re-engagement should be kept as limited as possible and should be for a restricted period, and abatement of pension is in place to ensure that where a public servant pensioner is rehired, their pension is reduced accordingly to ensure they can never earn more than they would have if they had continued working. There were some particular rehirings across different Departments. For example, 254 teachers were re-employed in the Department of Education and Science until the summer holidays to ensure continuity for students who are facing important examinations at secondary level. I will not go through the list. Clear rationales have been provided for the particular rehirings.
I am coming to the question the Senator asked but I thought I would share that with colleagues because a number of others had raised the issue of rehiring more generally in recent days and I did not have that information when I responded then.
On the specific issue the Senator raised on mandatory retirement age, I agree with him. It is something we should examine in this House and it was an issue we examined in the context of the public consultation committee hearings on the rights of older people. We will have a debate on that issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, has committed to come to the House on, I think, 12 June. That issue is one we should address in that debate because it is a very particular issue. I agree with the Senator that it encompasses people's rights - that of the right of people to continue working if they so wish. That is something we need to examine.
It is also something on which Senator White is working.
Senator O'Keeffe raised the issue of having a debate on slow food and artisan food with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in attendance. Such a debate would be well worth having given the asset that this movement is providing for tourism, the growing number of food festivals around the country and the increase in entrepreneurial activity around artisan food. I have been asked to seek a debate with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on fisheries. We might arrange for the two issues to dealt with in such a debate.
Senator White raised the issue of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. There is a Fianna Fáil motion on this issue but a motion on this issue was also moved in the House on 2 February.
I will check the progress on that. It is also a matter that is being dealt with and that is before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to which the Senator referred.
Senator Burke called for a debate on growth, which we can organise after the referendum. The referendum is critical in seeking to ensure we will have growth and that we will continue to have it in this country.
Senator Maloney raised the issues of medical cards and funding for Gaeltacht services. We might address the medical cards issue during a debate on health more generally and the other issue might be worth raising as a matter on the Adjournment.
Senator Moran raised the issue of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and commended the Justice for the Forgotten group. I think we would all share that commendation. The Senator interestingly raised the point that the Irish team had been given permission to play wearing arm bands in the Ireland-Italy match. I did not know that but that is very welcome and a sensitive and appropriate gesture.
I want to respond to two colleagues, who gave their apologies yesterday, to whom I did not get to respond yesterday. Senator Walsh raised the need for a debate on the media, which I had promised to seek with the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, before the end of the summer. Senator Healy-Eames raised the need for a debate on youth unemployment and trade links with China. We have had debates on those issues with the Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, but we can seek to arrange those again. I give those responses because I did not do so yesterday. I think I have responded to everyone who spoke.