Seanad debates

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

10:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill 2012 - Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 2.45 p.m. - Report Stage will be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the consultation paper, Radical Seanad Reform Through Legislative Change, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes; and No. 3, motion regarding the statement for the information of voters on the referendum on children's rights, to be taken at the conclusion of the final Stage of No. 1.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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This morning I note the absence of many of the Labour Party Senators. Two are present - one has just arrived. The Deputy Leader is present. I wonder whether it has to do-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I notice there are four Fianna Fáil Members present.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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What happened this morning is that we have put it up to the Government to provide a quorum in this House. For eight minutes it looked like the Government was not in a position to provide a quorum and the Fianna Fáil Party and the Sinn Féin Party Members came into the Chamber at that stage to allow the Seanad conduct its business for the day. It speaks volumes about what we read in the newspapers today.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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That is nonsense.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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It speaks volumes about the choice the Labour Party in particular made between the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, in recent weeks. It also speaks volumes about the choices the Government, in particular the Labour Party, is making on health care. Serious questions have been raised as to whether the Minister for Health should have been involved in the Balbriggan decision. No one is questioning the right of a citizen to support a Minister, Deputy or other politician. That happens all over the country, but one must ask the question of whether a Minister in return or in any other fashion has made a decision which could be of benefit to a supporter. That is a fundamental question that must be raised. We have not got clarity from the Minister as to how a decision was made to put Swords and in particular Balbriggan, onto a list of primary health care centres. The former Minister of State, whom the Deputy Leader fully backed last week in this Chamber ? she was right to do so ? has raised serious questions about that process. She has said that answers have not been given by the Minister. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has said further clarification must be given. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, stated the affair looked like stroke politics. The Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, suggested in the weekend newspapers that questions needed to be answered by the Minister, Deputy Reilly, on the decision.

We, as an Opposition, are asking the Government today to send the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, to the House. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister of State who has responsibility for primary care be brought to the House to explain the criteria for the selection of the 15 extra sites, in particular Swords and Balbriggan. If the Government side votes against that, it is voting against the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton; the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall; the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton; the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, and all the voices who are raising concerns about the decision, apart from the Opposition parties. They would be going against their own members.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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That is rubbish.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That is not true.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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That should be borne in mind because it raises the most fundamental questions as to what happened in Balbriggan. It gives some answers to what the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, was referring to in media interviews at the weekend and what sources close to her were revealing to the newspapers. Too much has gone on. Too much has been said and not said on the matter and we must have clear answers as to how the decisions were taken. We will not accept in particular from the Labour Party, the sort of guff that has come from the Government in the past week. The former Minister of State rode roughshod through that guff, as did the Ministers, Deputies Burton and Varadkar, and the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton. They do not believe it and neither do we. We need an explanation and the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, is best placed to give the explanation. One presumes that on his appointment yesterday he went straight into the Department and found out what exactly happened. He should tell the Seanad today.

Another issue I wish to raise relates to consumer confidence, which was at a very high rate on the KCB survey in recent years in August. It shot down completely at the end of this month. That is an unfortunate and worrying situation. The reason given by all commentators is the fear of the budget and the kite flying that is going on by various Ministers. The Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, asked his Ministers to take down their kites but they keep putting them up. My colleague, Senator Darragh O?Brien, raised the latest one yesterday, namely child benefit. It is frightening people all over the country. People are wondering whether they will be able to continue to pay for their children to go to crèches next year and perhaps they are pulling out already. Their confidence is shot and the upshot of it is that confidence in the domestic economy is shot because of the kite flying of Ministers. I appeal to them to take down their kites and to carry out a proper, serious budgetary process. They should not put the frighteners on the public because it is putting the frighteners on the economy.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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It is interesting to hear Senator Byrne speak about guff since he is a master of the art of guff. I have made my comment on the record last week in this House on former Minister of State, Róisín Shortall. I stand over that. A number of other Labour Party Senators made comments in this House also. It is interesting that Senator Byrne chose to single out the Labour Party as if this was a single party Government, which clearly it is not. There are two parties in government. Fine Gael is the majority partner in the Government and it is a coalition that is working well. Clearly, Fianna Fáil sees the Labour Party as the real challenge, perhaps because the Labour Party took so many of Fianna Fáil?s votes in the previous election.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Borrowed.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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To hear the Senator singling out the Labour Party for a particular attack is ironic.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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One more member of the Labour Party is overboard. That is the trouble.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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It is very hard to take an attack such as that from Senator Byrne.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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Fianna Fáil tabled a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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In terms of Senator Byrne?s request to have the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, come to the House, I am sure the Leader will deal with it. I hope we will see the Minister of State in the House. We should all welcome him and his appointment, in particular as he has a distinguished record in this House as leader of the Labour Party group in the previous Seanad term prior to February 2011.

I wish to raise two matters; first, on the children?s referendum Bill, I am delighted to see that we will have time today for Committee and Report Stages. We had a very good Second Stage debate on the Bill. I hope we will have a broad debate after the referendum on children?s rights. There has been broad support for the wording of the referendum but there has been some critique, notably from Vincent Browne. I suggested last night in the Seanad that his reading of the Baby Ann case was wrong. I am delighted to see that in today?s The Irish Times he has accepted that his reading was wrong, that he had referred to only one judgment rather than to both judgments in the case, which clearly outlined the reluctance and regret some of the judges felt in coming to the decision to which they came and that the referendum will deal with the decision in that case and will allow clearer criteria for judges in dealing with such cases in the future.

In the context of a broader debate on children?s rights we might also examine children?s allowance. There has been much debate about that. Personally, I believe in the principle of universality. I note Fergus Finlay from Barnardos said he would favour a reduction in the overall amount and to keep the universal principle in place. It is also worth noting the powerful defence of the universal payment of child benefit made by Evelyn Mahon, again in today?s The Irish Times where she spoke of the way in which children?s allowance has been constructed to deal with varied claims of mothers. She reminds us that it was only as recently as the 1970s that mothers won the right to claim child benefit of behalf of their children. It is a payment for children. Perhaps that is the key point; it is a payment in respect of each child and it is for that reason we should defend the principle of universality. We have had debates on the principle previously and I look forward to future debates on it as well.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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In today?s Irish Independent it is pointed out that in the first nine months of the year taxation rose from ¤26.1 billion to ¤28.5 billion. I make that a rise of approximately 9.2%. At the same time current Government expenditure rose by ¤125 million. Those numbers are extremely serious in the context of the Leader organising pre-budget debates.

It means the entire burden of adjusting the public finances is being borne by taxpayers and that nothing has happened on the expenditure side. The rest of the media would make one think there were daily reductions in public expenditures but the fact is the burden is being borne entirely by the taxpayer. That gives the consumer the gloom Senator Byrne just mentioned.

Nine months is about half the term of office of the current Government. We need to discuss the balance of continuing to increase taxes, depressing the market economy, consumer spending, and losing jobs in wholesaling and retailing, or addressing some of the public expenditure issues. Will the Leader ensure our budget debate is balanced around this issue, rather than what looks like a very one-sided approach, as far as taxpayers have heretofore been concerned?

10:40 am

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I refer to the issue of having a serious debate in the Seanad. If we are to do the country a service we should draw attention to some facts rather than give criticisms and negative points - not about the Government but about the country in general. Every time a politician stands up people listen on an economic level. I congratulate Senator Barrett who always brings facts and figures to the Seanad. This should happen whenever there is positive news in the country, when the Exchequer publishes figures that should be repeated, rather than noting every figure the Government or anybody else puts out. The Exchequer figures published only yesterday by the Department of Finance, show the tax take for the first nine months to be ¤26 billion. In the period January to September more was paid in taxes and VAT than was expected. That is a good news story for this country and is one to give to the troika. It shows that the current year figures are performing ahead of target. Corporation tax intake was 11% higher than originally specified - also a good news story. That is what we should speak about for the sake of the country. We want to tell companies to come to this country. The corporation tax is good for the country and every other country in Europe is fighting against us. Let us stand up for ourselves and say we are a good country.

I refer to the criticism of the Department of Health. We have heard this time and again. I heard it when I was a member of a different party and I took it then. I will take it now, too, but much of it is far-fetched. When I was a councillor in Rathfarnham I went to business people and to the Holy Ghost Fathers and asked them if they had a site for a primary care centre. I asked myself who else would do this if politicians did not. Business people are intent on making money - how can we help them? We will turn business people off for life from helping anybody to build a primary care centre. I got a site in Rathfarnham and am delighted to say there will be a primary care centre there although I do not know whether it will be on the Augustinian site, a certain business man's site or a third site. There are three sites and I do not know which will be the one but, by hell, I was going to go out and ask where such sites were. I say to every politician to go out and look for sites.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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Yes, I have.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Let us have a transparent system of selection.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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Put out all politicians to look for sites for primary care centres. The Cathaoirleach must let me put my question. There are three ways involved - direct provision, lease, or public private partnership. The more sites we ask for the better chance there is for getting a site on the ground. I will have to leave my question until tomorrow. I was going to ask about the banks but when I heard this criticism I could not let it pass.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I second the motion proposed by Senator Byrne. Will the Leader ask for a debate on fish farming? The relevant Minister attended the Seanad some months ago. I do not ask that he come today but perhaps he might come before the Christmas recess to discuss this issue, with particular regard to salmon farming, about which I am deeply concerned. There is a current application for a salmon farm in Bantry Bay and other applications for off the Connemara coast and the Aran islands. There is a well articulated and perhaps accurate group of people who are objecting to the whole system of fish farming as it exists in Ireland. They quote statistics from Norway, etc. If the figures they publish are correct - I am not in a position to say, not being a scientist - the whole industry of salmon farming in Ireland, which employs many people and of which we are very proud, with Bord Bia and BIM promoting and lauding Irish salmon, both smoked and fresh, throughout Europe, there is a huge concern about the legitimacy and propriety of certain actions taken in the farming of salmon.

This issue is of great concern to me, leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the particular salmon farm I mentioned. The group introduces issues that are of such concern I would be afraid to eat any farmed salmon. Of all the salmon we eat in this country, in the restaurant in this House or in any other, some 98% is farmed because the catching of wild salmon was outlawed. This is of enormous concern. When the Minister came to the House some months ago, he indicated he had well advanced plans for the biggest salmon farm in Ireland off the Aran Islands. I found that to be both interesting and encouraging but if what is being promulgated by the group I mentioned, which I reiterate is very well organised and articulate, with some of its members former fishermen, is correct it poses a huge question for the salmon farming industry in this country. I would like the Minister to attend and make a statement, clarifying one way or another which direction he and the Government plan to go.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I register my surprise and dismay at the vitriolic attack of Senator Byrne. When I compare the contribution of the Senator to that of Senator O'Donovan, who brought up a very serious issue of national interest, I am shocked.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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Senator Byrne believes this House suffers from national amnesia, or something like that, and that we do not know why we are in this situation. We do. It is not to do with the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party, for that matter.

I agree with my colleague Senator Bacik in that I, too, believe in universal benefits. I am happy to acknowledge there are differences between the Labour Party or the Fine Gael Party. For the sake of argument, I believe in higher taxation and fewer cuts to public expenditure but I know some of my Fine Gael colleagues have different opinions. That is called democracy. We are in a coalition Government, in case the Senator has not noticed. The Labour Party has put its hand up and said it is prepared to compromise, unlike some other parties in previous Governments that drove this country into the place it is today.

I do have a question for the Leader. I do not know if colleagues have noticed there are signs of hope recently in the construction industry and the property market. House prices are beginning to bottom out and are even showing indications of rising. Moreover, the CSO recently pointed out that many older Irish "children" find themselves back at home living with Mammy, not because she makes the best dinner in town or does the washing but because they cannot afford to live anywhere else. We have increased demand, therefore, but there is no banking sector interested in lending money to people in this country. I remind the Leader, yet again, that we need to have a robust debate on the future of the banking sector.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I express my appreciation to the Leader for making time today for the debate on the consultation paper, Open It, Don't Close It. It will be a very useful debate and I hope it receives good attention.

Will the Leader consider finding time for a debate on the timber industry? The Government intends to sell off 85% of our timber in the coming 50 years, according to the figure I was given. I had not realised the benefits we have in fossil fuel timber for heat and energy. There is a good deal to be learned about this. I assumed that burning timber was the wrong way to go but apparently it is the correct thing to do. We have a considerable opportunity here but have not been using it. I realise the Minister may be able to touch on this when he attends tomorrow but it deserves a much wider and longer debate. I would welcome the chance to debate the whole issue of using timber for fuel in the years ahead.

We should hold our heads high with pride because Dublin has the lowest number of road traffic accidents of all the capital cities of the EU. Information in this regard has just been published. We have been successful in respect of this matter and I note that we do not often draw attention to the successes we enjoy. The fact that we have managed to reduce, to a considerable extent, the number of road traffic accidents which occur in the city does not mean that we can afford to relax our efforts in any way. The Road Safety Authority, which does not necessarily always receive recognition for its work, has done a massive job in respect of this matter in recent times. We should be proud of what has been achieved. We must also recognise that there are things we do well.

I stated earlier that I visited Greece a few months ago. The airport workers went on strike on the Sunday after I arrived and then on the following Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, taxi drivers, bus drivers and rail workers, respectively, also went on strike. In that country the belief is that they can solve the problem by stopping work. It may have been when the Special Olympics were held in this country that people were urged to give of their time for a day free of charge. Is there a possibility that we might restart the campaign in this regard? This might prompt people in Ireland - instead of stopping work - to make a decision to work for free for a day. I accept that they would not all be obliged to do this on the same day but rather could do it over a period. If we decided to do as I suggest, it would send out a message to other countries to the effect that Ireland is seeking to deal with the challenges its faces in a different way.

10:50 am

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I wish to raise with the Leader the issue relating to the appointment of a new director at the National Office for Suicide Prevention. I am not sure of the facts but I understand that this position was previously filled and then vacated and that the person subsequently appointed to it did not take up the offer. It is important that this matter be dealt with. I was not present for the relevant debate last week when the issue of suicide was raised. I take the opportunity to offer my condolences to the Pugsley family in Dromahair and to the family of Eugene Gillespie from Sligo who also died in tragic circumstances. I also offer condolences to the family of Larry Cunningham who was buried yesterday and who was the man responsible for putting Leitrim on the map back in the 1960s.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Lovely Leitrim.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I support the amendment that has been proposed to the Order of Business. I take the opportunity to inform Senator Hayden that everyone in the House accepts that we have a new coalition Government. However, that Government also promised us new politics. Unfortunately, the latter have not materialised. The former Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall, described the actions of the Minister, Deputy Reilly, in adding two centres in his constituency to the list of primary health care centres as stroke politics.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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The same crowd slated the former Minister of State a week ago but they love her now. That is great.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Cullinane to continue, without interruption.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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This morning it has been revealed that a supporter of the Minister, Deputy Reilly, owns the site on which the centre in Balbriggan is to be built. The former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, who was given responsibility for drawing up the criteria to establish the locations where the various primary health care facilities would be built, resigned on a point of principle as a result of the way in which the senior Minister engaged in what obviously amounts to stroke politics. This matter goes to the very heart of that for which the Labour Party claims to stand. If it genuinely stands for the delivery of health care based on need, how can it sacrifice one of its own Deputies in order to support a Minister who has clearly been involved in stroke politics? What has happened in this instance is appalling. The Minister for Health should come before the House to explain his actions. He came before us recently to discuss an item of legislation and no one wanted to take from the debate on that legislation by raising other issues. We want the Minister to come to the House to explain what is happening in respect of the primary health care centres, to outline the criteria used in respect of the 15 added to the list and to fully account for his actions. What is taking place at present is causing damage not just to the Labour Party and the Government but also to the roll-out of primary health care centres across the State. That is a tragedy for everybody involved.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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It is not often the case that one can refer to instances where Government charges are actually falling. In that context, I welcome the fact that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, announced significant reductions in the charges associated with co-operatives and those imposed by the Registrar of Friendly Societies. The cost of registering a new co-op has been reduced by up to 58%, while that relating to changing the name of a co-op has been reduced by 44%. The Minister is on the right track in this area but I urge him to accelerate the process of reducing the level of red tape, licensing rules and regulations because we want to make it easy for businesses to operate in this country. The Minister has some very good and innovative ideas and I urge him to move the process forward.

Will the Leader facilitate a debate on workers' co-operatives in the near future? As Senator White will attest, the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation recently received a very interesting presentation from people involved with workers' co-operatives. These co-operatives have huge potential in the context of assisting with the creation of badly needed employment, particularly as those who run them have novel and innovative ideas. We should hold a full debate on co-operatives in the near future. I am sure other Members will support me in my request in this regard.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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We are in the final quarter of the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. On Friday last I attended Age Action Ireland's conference in Croke Park at which Positive Ageing Week was launched and in the middle of which we currently find ourselves. On Monday last I attended another conference in Croke Park which was organised by the Third Age Foundation and which was hosted by the wonderful Mrs. Mary Nally. Esther Rantzen, who spoke at the conference, came to Ireland during the past six months in order to learn from Mrs. Nally how she might establish a senior helpline such as that which is operated by Third Age. The helpline to which I refer is for and is manned by older people. At the Third Age conference, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Mr. László Andor, made an outstanding presentation. In commenting on a positive approach to ageing, he stated "The key is to ensure that, as people grow older, they can continue to contribute to the economy and society, and to look after themselves for as long as possible."

Monday last was UN International Day of Older Persons. Today's edition of The Irish Times contains a beautiful photograph from the Google Silver Surfer 2012 awards, which were organised by Age Action Ireland and Google and which took place at the latter's headquarters yesterday. These awards reiterate the message put across by Commissioner Andor. Catherine Talty from west Clare, who is 96 years of age, won the golden IT award.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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As the author the Fianna Fáil policy document, Active Ageing and Quality Care, I have a very serious question to put to the Leader. The programme for Government states "We will also extend BreastCheck to 65 to 69 year old women". Women are at the highest risk of developing breast cancer between the ages of 55 and 75. This claim is supported by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. While the programme for Government contains a commitment to extend BreastCheck to older women, a date for the extension of the delivery of the service has not yet been announced. I call on the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to deliver on his promise to extend BreastCheck to women between the ages of 65 and 69.

It is a commitment in Fianna Fáil's policy document, Active Ageing and Quality Care.

11:00 am

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I am mesmerised by the fact that Senator Byrne's party spokesperson on health has not been seen for the past ten days.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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That same spokesperson had a major disagreement with the former Minister outside this House.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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Yes. One of the issues that has arisen with regard to health care is the lack of financial management in the HSE. In fact, as few as 10% of the people involved in financial management have a qualification in financial management. We took over that system from the previous Government which allowed the situation whereby people with no expertise were appointed to positions. I ask that the Minister would now deal with this issue as quickly as possible. Another issue is that of junior doctors and I have raised it many times in the House. Junior doctors are only offered six month and 12 month contracts. This is causing a problem because they can get contracts lasting three to five years in other countries. I want that issue to be tackled before 1 January 2013 in order that contracts will be of at least two, if not three and four years duration. The Minister should come to the House to explain that the HSE will implement policies such as the employment of personnel with financial expertise and longer term contracts to those whom we need to work in the health care sector.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I welcome the promise by the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, that he will bring proposals on alcohol policy to Government in the near future. Many of us have spoken about this in recent days and there is concern that the Government has not been fully alert to the sheer urgency of a new, fresh approach to the problem of alcohol in our society. We will await delivery on what the Minister of State has promised.

I refer to another issue that troubles me and to what Senator Comiskey said about the relevance and importance of the issue of suicide. It is a very sensitive issue. I am also conscious there is an argument to be had about the vacancy in the National Office for Suicide Prevention. However, I wonder whether we are inclined to be overly focused on technical debates about those kind of issues. I am very challenged by what I see reported from Dr. Tony Bates who asks whether the debate on suicide is in itself a part of the problem. We often think we should be lancing taboos in society and the more we talk about things, the more we can make problems go away and this is probably true in the case of a range of issues. However, Dr. Bates's argument is very challenging because he asks whether all of the focus on suicide such as the proliferation of organisations and the good work of fund-raising for suicide awareness initiatives could in itself be part of some social permission for people, that it implies normalisation. This is a very sensitive issue and his point could be regarded as being controversial but it is important to approach a debate in a real spirit of truthfulness. I do not know what is best to propose to the House about it because if we ask for a further debate then we must consider whether we are contributing to the very problem that Dr. Bates is hinting at. One thing is sure and it touches on what I said yesterday in another context about child behaviour issues in schools. I will not use the phrase, "man up" as it is not inclusive language but we need to have the debate about values in our society, about what is going on in people's hearts, minds and souls. As politicians we can become too distracted by the day-to-day technical issues which we must deal with but unless we are serious about promoting a culture of deep respect for the dignity of the human person and deep reflection about what is contributing to people's consolation and to their desolation in our world at this time, then perhaps we are really not performing the public service that is demanded of us.

Photo of Jimmy HarteJimmy Harte (Labour)
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I ask the Leader for debate on the situation in the HSE north-west area. Many of the staff who work with people with disabilities or with autism, have had their travel halted. Unless the reason for the travel is a clinical one - this is very difficult to define - they are being informed they cannot travel. In a county like Donegal and it would also be the case in counties Kerry, Cork and Galway, travelling is part and parcel of providing health care and the health care system. I ask that the Minister of State come to the House to explain why the staff have been informed they cannot travel to carry out their duties unless it is at their own expense. The distance from Donegal town to Malin Head means this is a two-hour return journey. The HSE has informed staff there must be a clinical reason for the travel. My definition of "clinical" would be a requirement for surgery or a medical procedure. Many health services have been halted in County Donegal in the past month and it is possible they may not recommence until January 2013. I ask if the Minister is satisfied with this situation.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Yesterday in her absence I congratulated Senator Hayden on her appointment as the Labour Party Whip in the House. I wish her well and look forward to working with her.

On a point of clarification, Senator Colm Burke referred to my colleague, Senator MacSharry, our health spokesperson, as being absent and as having not been seen in the past ten days. I have the height of regard for Senator Burke. Senator MacSharry contributed to two health debates in the House last week. He is always present in this House and at the moment is attending a very important committee meeting. I wish to clarify that situation should the wrong impression go outside this Chamber.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Burke should withdraw his remarks.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Is it the Leader's intention to have the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence come to the House at some stage in the near future? It is important that he attend the House because he is fast becoming known throughout the length and breadth of the country as the Minister for closures. Not alone has he closed Army barracks throughout the country but he has also closed Garda stations throughout the country. As a result of the cutbacks to the Garda Síochána budget, he has ensured that outside of the main urban centres of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, gardaí are not in a position to provide drugs surveillance units. The staff have been redeployed to other duties because the funding is not available to continue surveillance duties. This is a very serious matter, particularly in Border areas because the Border is wide open for distributors to come in to distribute their drugs all over the north east, the north west, and as far as Dublin. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister to the House as a matter of urgency to provide clarification of this serious situation.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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It is good to follow Senator Wilson because this morning I want to congratulate and welcome on board and wish well my new colleague Whip, Senator Hayden. I wish her well in her duties in the future. Following Senator Wilson, I assure her that despite my esteemed colleague's comments yesterday, she has absolutely nothing to fear. I assure the House we will get on extremely well.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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The Senator can show her all the tricks of the trade.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Senators may not realise that I have known Senator Hayden for a long time. I have no doubt we will get on very well.

Senator Thomas Byrne is the acting Leader of the Opposition this morning and to him I counsel caution and urge calm.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Your own party or the Labour Party?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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It may be sexy political-speak to talk about stroke politics; nothing of the sort has been established.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Varadkar said that, not me.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry; the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, may have said something, looked like something or sounded like something, whatever, but nothing has been established. I suggest we should all be calm.

11:10 am

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Paul Coghlan. I join my colleague, Senator Michael Mullins, in commending the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, for the reduction in fees for the co-operative sector which has made a valuable contribution to the economy during the years, particularly in rural areas. Many marts and other cottage industries were built successfully on a co-operative model, with no senior managers claiming salaries of ¤150,000 per year. Instead, people are paid a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. At European level, the co-operative movement has moved into the manufacturing and retail sectors and, in the process, created thousands of jobs. Based on our limited but very successful history of co-operative enterprises in this country, there is potential for large-scale job creation arising from the Minister's initiative. I urge State agencies, including the National Asset Management Agency, to engage with up and coming co-operatives. There are vacant NAMA properties throughout the State which might be used by co-operative enterprises and many other services and infrastructures which could be put at the disposal of this most noble of job-creating sectors. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the House in due course to set out his views on the co-operative movement? It is an interesting route to job creation and could be an important component of efforts to deal with the ravages of the recession.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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I support Senator Rónán Mullen in highlighting the remarks made recently by Dr. Tony Bates on the issue of suicide. I was not aware of the particular remarks, but when Dr. Bates says something, it is important that we listen carefully. The issue of suicide prevention is extremely complex and challenging and I thank the Senator for highlighting that complexity. It is important that we have a debate which encompasses all facets of the issue. There are many myths and misconceptions abroad in regard to suicide, as well as well meaning truisms which may not accurately reflect reality. This is the single greatest challenge facing Irish society - we can live with other crises, but the current situation in regard to suicide is intolerable. As such, I ask the Leader, notwithstanding the discussion that took place quite recently in the House, to provide an opportunity for a debate which encompasses the points Senator Rónán Mullen has raised and allows us to tease out the nuances and complexities of the issue.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I join the calls for another debate on suicide. A format similar to the one we used to discuss job creation would be particularly useful and allow us to devise action points and targets in addressing this horrible crisis.

Colleagues mentioned yesterday that this is Simon Week, an initiative of the Simon Communities of Ireland. Members may not be aware that it is also breastfeeding awareness week. The latest statistics for breastfeeding rates are stark, with Ireland very low down the table. To give one comparison, less than six out of ten mothers in this country breastfeed their babies compared with more than nine out of ten in some of the Nordic countries. While it might not be the easiest issue to discuss, it is vital that the benefits of breastfeeding are highlighted in the public sphere. An interesting statistic I came across was that Ireland was one of the largest producers of powdered milk for babies. While that is very good news for the industry, it does point to the high demand for formula in this country and the correspondingly low incidence of breastfeeding. The low rate persists despite the wealth of research showing how beneficial it is for children's development. The health service should be actively engaged in promoting breastfeeding, while acknowledging that some women will experience difficulties.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the finding in Fáilte Ireland's survey for the period January to July that there was a 14% increase in the number of overseas visitors to this country. The hard work being done by the hotel industry is clearly paying off. Ireland now offers an improved experience for visitors in terms of value for money, which augurs well for the success of the Gathering next year.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Thomas Byrne, talked about what he referred to as the "guff" coming from the Government. We have heard a great deal of guff from the Senator today. As we have explained, the Government is a two-party coalition charged with the difficult task of clearing up the unholy mess left by the Senator's party in government. The Government is in it for the long haul. It is not a temporary little arrangement, as a former leader of the Senator's party once described a coalition arrangement in which he was involved.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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That was 20 years ago.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Government will strive to act in accordance with the mandate given to it by the people to clear up the mess created by the previous Administration.

Senators Thomas Byrne and Sean D. Barrett raised the issue of consumer confidence. I will certainly request a discussion on this issue with the relevant Minister as part of our deliberations on the forthcoming budget.

Senator Ivana Bacik called for a debate on the broader issue of children's rights after the referendum on 10 November. I will be happy to facilitate such a debate. The Minister was due to come to the House to discuss these issues last week, but we decided to defer the discussion until after the referendum. I compliment all Members who spoke during the debate yesterday on the proposed constitutional amendment. I am sure we will have another excellent discussion today when Committee and Report Stages of the legislation are taken.

Senators Cáit Keane and Sean D. Barrett welcomed the latest Exchequer figures. We still have a long way to go in getting the economy back on course, but the figures certainly are encouraging and a step in the right direction. I will invite the Minister for Finance to the House in early course to discuss these figures as part of our preparations for the budget.

Senator Denis O'Donovan asked that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, be invited to the House to discuss fish farming. The Minister will be in the Chamber tomorrow for a discussion on the Common Agricultural Policy reform proposals. I am sure he will be more than willing to discuss the issues the Senator raised, just as he was happy to discuss the same matter on his previous visit.

Senator Aideen Hayden joined other Members in calling for a debate on the future of the banking sector. I will try to arrange that debate as soon as possible.

Senator Feargal Quinn talked about the use of timber for fuel. I will try to get the Minister into the House to discuss that matter. The Senator also complimented the Road Safety Authority in the light of the recent announcement that Dublin was one of the safest cities in the world in terms of the level of road traffic accidents. Dublin City Council also deserves to be congratulated on its efforts in this regard.

I note the Senator's comments on working a day for free. Next week, which has been designated small and medium-sized enterprise week, the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, will come before the House for a debate lasting two and a half hours. Perhaps the Senator will raise this issue with the Minister of State. For the information of Senators, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will also come to the House to discuss the jobs issue in the first week of November.

Senators Comiskey, Mullen, Gilroy and Noone referred to remarks made by Dr. Tony Bates on the issue of suicide. Delays in filling the position of director of the National Office for Suicide Prevention were also raised. I outlined yesterday that the position of director first became vacant on 10 September and the interview process for the post will take place on 22 October. In the interim, the assistant national director of mental health is assuming responsibility for the National Office for Suicide Prevention. It is incorrect to suggest, as it was elsewhere yesterday, that the position has been left unfilled for more than nine months. We will try to arrange a debate on this issue. While I understand the House has debated it twice in the past 12 months, I am willing to discuss with Senators how we can frame a future debate on the issue.

Senators Mullins and Conway noted the reduction in charges for co-operatives, which is to be welcomed by all concerned. We can have a debate on the issue of co-operatives and Senators may raise it with the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, when they come before the House in the weeks ahead.

Senator White referred to Positive Ageing Week, which was also mentioned by Senator Moran yesterday. The Seanad has played its part in promoting the positive ageing agenda, for example, through the hearings of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, and we will continue to do everything possible to promote the issue. I will make inquiries regarding the Senator's query on the possibility of extending the BreastCheck service to older people.

Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of financial management in the Health Service Executive. The purpose of the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2012 is to change the structure of financial management in the HSE. I am sure the House will have a comprehensive debate on the issue when we take Committee Stage next week. The Senator also raised the issue of extending the contracts of junior doctors for two or three years. This matter can be addressed when the Minister for Health comes before the House.

Senator Mullen called for a debate on alcohol policy. As soon as the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, gathers breath and reads his brief, we will have such a debate.

Senator Jimmy Harte raised an issue related to the HSE in the north west. I suggest he raise the matter on the Adjournment for the purpose of securing a specific reply.

Senator Wilson called on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House. The Minister has been in the House on numerous occasions and usually comes in person for all debates on legislation produced in his Department. I am sure he will continue to do so and several more Bills from his Department are due before the House. Drug surveillance duties are an issue not only for the Garda Síochána but also for the Customs service. I commend the Garda and the Customs service for the major drugs seizures they have made in recent weeks.

11:20 am

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Only 5% of the drugs in circulation are seized by the authorities.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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What can I say in response to Senator Paul Coghlan? He is calmness personified.

Senator Noone has highlighted the fact that this is breast-feeding awareness week, while Senator Brennan referred to good news as regards tourism figures. I hope we will have further good news next year when the Gathering takes place.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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On a point of order, I understand it is the tradition in this House for the Chair to intervene if an attack is made on an individual who is not present in the Chamber.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is not a point of order. The position was clarified.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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It would be reasonable to allow me to confirm my attendance in the House for many debates.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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As the Senator is well aware, the record of the House speaks for itself.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Having been corrected on this issue many times in the past when I criticised Members who were not present-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Fianna Fáil Party Whip outlined the position.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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-----I expect to be afforded similar protection by the Chair. I ask for an opportunity to point out that I have attended on each day-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Chair is not involved in this matter.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Colm Burke, a newer Member of the House, is well aware that Senators must attend to many duties, including in the House.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is not a point of order.

Senator Thomas Byrne has proposed the following amendment to the Order of Business, "That the debate on the criteria used for the inclusion of 15 extra primary care centres be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 28.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden..

Amendment declared lost.

Order of Business agreed to.