Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Transport (Córas Iompair Éireann and Subsidiary Companies Borrowings) Bill 2012, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 1.20 p.m.; No.2, Personal Insolvency Bill 2012, Second Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, which can be shared, and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 4.45 p.m.; No.3 Private Members' business, Employment Equality (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2012, Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7 p.m.
I wish to raise an issue in a non-political way and to put on record my grave concern and that of my party at the manner in which the proposed inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar is proceeding. All of us would be concerned that Mr. Halappanavar has said that he will not engage with the HSE investigation. That must be taken on board by the Minister for Health. We had a situation yesterday where three of the Galway medics were stood down. I am not impugning their reputations in any way but I believe they should not have been selected. The decision was made by the Minister to stand them down and that is fine. However, this inquiry will not go any further and will not get to the nub of the matter without the co-operation of the family.
I will say nothing more on the issue now except to ask the Acting Leader to raise our grave concerns with the Minister. A way forward must be found. We agree that we need to get to the truth as quickly as possible but we need the co-operation of Mr. Halappanavar and Savita's family, who have lost a wife and daughter. I ask the Acting Leader to raise our concerns with the Minister for Health directly.
On numerous occasions in this House over the last five weeks I have raised the issue of the home help cuts. I have received no answer that is sufficient. The only answer I have received to date asserts that both Government parties are committed to providing health care services to people in their homes. If the Government was so committed it would not have cut 950,000 hours from the system.
I am sure everyone on the other side of the House has received representations regarding the arbitrary cuts to the numbers of home help hours. I have dealt with numerous such cases. Two weeks ago in Swords I met 320 home help workers who did not know what was going on. Cases are not being properly assessed before cuts are made across the board. When I raise an issue, I am told an assessment will be carried out. I previously described the example of an 88 year old double amputee who had had his hours cut. When I raised his case with the HSE, I was told it would assess him, with the result that his hours were restored. If savings are to be sought in this area, a proper assessment of clients is required. This is happening all over the country. Will the Acting Leader and her Labour Party colleagues give a commitment that there will be no further cuts to home help or home care packages in the forthcoming budget? Will they also commit to ensuring the 450,000 hours cut at the end of August will be restored? Assessments should be conducted on the basis of need rather than as an accounting exercise aimed at saving ¤8 million. It makes no sense. The more people who lose home help hours, the more will end up in hospitals where they neither want to be nor need to go.
All of us share Senator Darragh O'Brien's view that a way forward needs to be found in the inquiry into Savita Halappanavar's death. The trauma endured by her husband is compounded by the confusion surrounding the inquiry. Mr. Halappanavar stated when he returned to India after Savita's death that there was complete silence on the part of the HSE. He was not contacted by the hospital for a full two weeks. That is surprising, given that hospitals are obliged to conduct internal inquiries by their own risk review groups in the event of sudden deaths of this kind. Such a review should have commenced within hours of her untimely death and would surely have involved Mr. Halappanavar. This practice is common to all institutions. Were such incidents to happen in the Houses of the Oireachtas, an airport or a school, such an internal inquiry would be obligatory. The resulting report would indicate whether guidelines were followed and could establish the paper trail and facts surrounding Savita's death. I would like to know the status of the report of the review group and call on the Acting Leader to inquire of the Minister for Health as to its whereabouts. Given that Savita Halappanavar died almost one month ago, on 28 October, the internal report should have been completed by now and I ask that it be released immediately. If it has not been completed, why not? Has the review actually been started?
An independent inquiry must also take place. It cannot be organised or managed by the HSE because it has its own questions to answer. The inquiry could extend beyond an internal review aimed at establishing the facts to take account of the complexity of the issues arising from Savita's tragic death, including the questions raised by Mr. Halappanavar. I urge the Minister to bring the expert review group's report to the Cabinet as a matter of urgency and publish it immediately afterwards. The Government is committed to reporting to the European Court of Human Rights by the end of November and, as a newly elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a breach of that order would be extraordinary.
In regard to the situation in Gaza, I am sure we share enormous concern about the slowness of the emerging ceasefire. I ask the Government to reconsider Israel's membership of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement, EuroMed, which allows it to engage in free trade with the European Union. The agreement is based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. Should we continue to allow Israel's inclusion in the agreement, given what has happened?
Last week we had one of our best Seanad debates with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Shane McEntee, on ash dieback disease. I thank the Leader for arranging that debate and commend the Minister of State on his enthusiasm. I was joined by a number of botanists at the David Webb centenary celebration on Friday. There are several dangers in this area. It emerged during last week's debate that the United Kingdom had largely given up and that it was up to us to protect our stock of ash trees. This outbreak is likely to be ten times as devastating as Dutch elm disease. On Friday botanists expressed their fear that the burning of saplings might spread the spores of the fungus and thereby make matters worse. Concern was also expressed that the GAA, a strongly nationalist organisation, was importing 70% to 90% of its hurleys and thus bringing the disease into the country. I would like to ask the Minister of State whether Ireland could become an island nursery for disease-free trees and whether he could address the fears expressed by botanists that the next wave of these diseases will affect oak trees. The Seanad responded splendidly to a national problem by stressing the all-Ireland dimension. If the UK mainland is not successful in avoiding this disease, the North-South dimension will be important. By expanding the study of these matters in Irish universities, rather than allowing it to contract, we could develop an island nursery for native trees and thereby avoid the destruction by imported diseases of the landscape and the tourism and other amenities which depend on it.
Last week I raised the issue of third level grants and SUSI's operations. We established that while 28% of grant applications had been processed and approved, only 5% had been paid. The position has changed slightly since last week's furore, although it remains to be seen whether matters have improved. Students who encounter problems with grant application approvals are sending documents to us in order that we can scan and forward them to SUSI while keeping a record of everything sent. SUSI is no longer accepting scanned material and is instead asking us to post documents to P.O. Box 12210 in order that they can be scanned and forwarded for processing. I contacted several VECs and county councils this morning. This time last year councils and VECs had paid 90% of grants, compared to a figure of 5% as of last week. Council staff have been reduced to providing a counselling service for distraught mothers and fathers who enjoy no success with SUSI. I ask the Acting Leader to use her good offices to find out by this time next week the exact percentage of grants that have been paid or approved.
I support Senator John Kelly's comments on the ongoing debacle in SUSI. A new system intended to streamline the process has made it a thousand times worse. The centralisation of the process has resulted in disaster for students and families under financial pressure, with students being forced by colleges to consider withdrawing from their courses. The Acting Leader needs to arrange another debate on this issue with the Minister for Education and Skills because some students are uncertain whether they will be returning to college after Christmas.
I would also like the Acting Leader to organise a debate on the creeping federalism of the European Union and the statement made recently by a Member of the European Parliament that there should be a European security concept - euro-speak for a European army - and that there was a political will for military operations, for which we would need an institution. "Institution" in this context means a European army. I ask the Acting Leader to organise a debate on this issue.
The acting leader for the Labour Party mentioned the EuroMed agreement and how Europe is acting collectively. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was asked about the issue of settlement goods being sent to Europe under the agreement. As we know, the West Bank is outside the recognised State of Israel and should not be covered by the EuroMed agreement. When asked what Ireland was going to do about this, the Minister said we were going to work with our European colleagues.
There was a time when Ireland had an independent foreign policy and in the event that a country such as Israel, or any other country, was abusing human rights, agreements would be suspended. It is provided for in the EuroMed agreement that once human rights are abused, the agreement will be suspended and countries will no longer have preferential trade agreements with the European community. We know, and it has been independently verified by the United Nations, that the rights of people in the West Bank are being violated on a daily basis. Why then is the EuroMed agreement still in place? Why is the Minister, Deputy Gilmore, not saying to our European colleagues, seeing as they cannot act or come to an agreement, that Ireland will act alone?
Trócaire, an organisation we all recognise and respect, has launched a campaign to boycott goods coming from the settlements - not those from Israel, but those from the illegal settlements in the West Bank. However, the Government has failed to act. When Ronald Reagan was in power, there were 40,000 illegal settlements in the West Bank. Today, the number is closer to 500,000. Yet Europe has failed to act. I ask the Acting Leader to organise a debate on that issue.
I am very concerned by the ongoing rise in the black market and the devastating effect this is having on our retail sector. Everywhere I turn in Galway, I am told by retailers and their employees that they are being financially devastated by the sale of counterfeit products in unregulated and unpoliced markets and fairs which roll into country towns on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, hard-working retailers who pay rates and provide permanent employment to staff are routinely inspected to ensure they comply with the law of the land in terms of the sale of alcohol, cigarettes and fuel. What is most unfair for these law-abiding retailers is that they must witness a situation in which there are few or no inspections, let alone prosecutions, for the illicit activities being carried out by some unscrupulous traders at markets and fairs, where, for example, DVDs sell for a few euro and 20 cigarettes sell for approximately ¤4. This contrasts sharply with the retail prices of these items, which include various duties and VAT through which retailers make a real contribution to the Exchequer. This is a scandal. The evidence is compelling that we need a concerted effort to get serious about this form of criminal activity.
We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this illicit activity. We must be mindful that it is by no means a victimless crime. The State is being defrauded in the first instance, the taxpayers of Ireland are being defrauded and hard-working retailers are experiencing inequitable application of the laws of the land. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to get tough on these people and make them pay their way, like millions of other citizens. By continuing to turn a blind eye to this situation, we are, at best, aiding and abetting these individuals in breaking the law and, at worst, helping to fund criminal gangs. We must put a stop to this now.
The horror of what is happening in the Holy Land is affecting all of us. However, I am rather surprised that I hear no support for the problems faced by Israel itself. Imagine being in a situation in which bombs and missiles are being continuously loaded onto your cities and you are expected to sit back and do nothing. We want peace in Israel and Gaza, but we expect and only hear anti-Israeli comments. It is time for balance on this and I would like to hear that balance expressed, not just here but in the media as well.
I would like to draw attention to an interesting survey entitled Love Irish Food, which was published this week. When I shop, I like to buy on the basis of price, taste and value. I also like to buy Irish-produced food. I was surprised that the survey indicated that large numbers of people assume the products they buy are made in Ireland. Many people are unaware of the fact that Lyons tea is not produced in Ireland - Barry's tea is - that HB ice cream is not produced in Ireland and that Batchelors beans are produced here while Heinz beans are not. I do not suggest we should boycott these products, but knowing where the food is produced plays a part in the decisions we make.
I bring one bit of good news to the House. I was delighted to discover that the Brighter Evenings Bill, a Private Members' Bill, is being introduced in the Dáil this week. I have had a hang-up for 20 years or more about the need for Ireland to align itself with Central European Time. The good news is that Deputy Tommy Broughan has introduced this Bill in the Dáil. The Bill is based on what has happened in Britain recently, where there has been cross-party support for a Bill suggesting that a three-year test be carried out. We should move to Central European Time for three years as a test, as was done back in the late 1960s. This would give us brighter evenings the whole year round and the benefits of that would be immense. I believe this will happen now because there has been an attitude change in Scotland and other parts of Britain. They will probably accept this. The sooner we get this Brighter Evenings Bill passed, so that we are in a situation to move at the same time as Britain, the better. This would bring all sorts of benefits, including in the areas of tourism and energy. It might also help reduce road accidents. It is something we should undertake and I congratulate Deputy Tommy Broughan on the Bill's introduction.
I join Senator Darragh O'Brien in asking that the situation relating to the inquiry into the events that took place in Galway University Hospital when Savita Halappanavar lost her life to be reviewed in a calm manner. It is obvious that the family of the deceased are unhappy with the situation, and it is desirable that this be taken on board. I am aware this is a particularly delicate issue and that some people have expressed their unhappiness with the appointment of the chairman of the inquiry because of his past. The issue needs to be reviewed. I call on the Minister to sit down with the HSE as a matter of urgency and examine the review to see how it can best be structured to meet the needs of the family and bring a satisfactory conclusion to this issue as soon as possible. It is important for people using the services in the hospital, particularly expectant mothers, that we get to the truth as quickly as possible so that we may allay any fears they have.
I also strongly support my colleague from Galway East with regard to her call for a debate in the House on the black economy. I have raised this issue in the House on a number of occasions. I am deeply concerned that many small businesses are struggling and may cease trading in the new year unless this issue is addressed as a matter of urgency. The State is losing much-needed revenue that could fund some of the services mentioned this morning, such as home help. We are losing up to ¤1 billion per annum as a result of illegal and criminal activity. It is incumbent on the House, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Finance to take a keen interest in this matter. If the State is losing revenue, we are all losers. Many businesses are stretched to meet their daily commitments and must compete with people who are smuggling. Significant revenue is lost, particularly in the cigarette trade. The sale of these products in broad daylight at markets could be tackled easily. I urge the Minister for Justice and Equality to ensure the Garda is keeping a particularly close eye on these activities which take place in many towns throughout the country, particularly at weekends. It is a big issue and needs to be addressed.
Last year I called for a debate in the House on alternative budget proposals presented by parties, Independent Senators and organisations. The same call should be made this year. It is important we have a constructive debate on the budgetary decisions that will be made. The Cabinet will put the finishing touches to its budget and we all know it is about choices. Choices are open to the Government such as whether we cut child benefit or home helps or increase taxes on those who can afford to pay, and whether we go for a property tax on the family home which does not generate income or a wealth tax which does generate wealth. We need a serious debate in the country on how we present budgets and the choices we make.
When it comes to cutting home helps, child benefit, other benefits or allowances for people with disabilities it can quite easily be done and we are then told by the well-paid politicians who make these decisions that must be done in the interests of the country. However, when one puts forward the notion of higher taxes for higher earners or a wealth tax, and we heard the responses yesterday from some people in the Chamber, one is told it cannot be done because we do not want to scare the very wealthy people in the country, and God forbid we might ask them to make some small contribution. If we are genuine about creating a society and showing solidarity with all the people in the country then we must examine all of the options which are out there.
I ask the Acting Leader to make some time available in the coming weeks to properly debate the notion of a wealth tax. Let us see if it would work and how it would work and let people put forward their views, positive and negative, but at least let us debate the possibility of a wealth tax before we dismiss it out of hand and go after very vulnerable people who Members in the Chamber know are suffering because of the five austerity budgets which have gone before. I seek a debate in the House on a wealth tax. This House could play a very important role in debating and teasing out what a wealth tax would look like.
Last week I raised the issue of the establishment of the boundary commission on local government. I was pleased to note that on Thursday the commission was established and the terms of reference were announced. Today I want to raise the issue of local government again and I have a question for the Acting Leader. In the next hour hundreds of ordinary citizens from Waterford city will march on the gates of Leinster House in the Waterford Gives a Shirt campaign.
This campaign has been organised by ordinary citizens of Waterford city. I am sure Senator Cullinane is well aware of the campaign and I am sure he will be supporting it, as I will. The campaign questions why the Minister of the Environment, Community and Local Government chose to close down Waterford City Council. I want to question the Minister on the rationale for closing the boroughs and large councils throughout the country which are functioning very well. The ordinary people of Waterford have decided to donate a shirt, the last thing they have on their back, as a way of bringing their campaign to the gates of Leinster House. In Waterford, the regional hospital is being threatened, the IDA has been moved to Cork and the VEC is to be wound up. Waterford is the gateway to the south east. I live very close to Waterford city in a neighbouring constituency. We have looked to the critical mass of the gateway of the south east for the provision of foreign direct investment to the south east, which will impinge favourably on surrounding constituencies. The IDA has moved to Cork and so have all the recent job announcements. This is a plea from the people of the city of Waterford. Will the Acting Leader ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government what is the rationale for abolishing Waterford City Council and allowing Galway City Council to stay in place?
I am delighted that the people of Waterford are responding at long last to the removal of a fine city council. It is great for a city to have a council and mayor to represent it at home and abroad. It is outrageous and about time the people of Waterford took action. They have been very quiet.
I support the views of Senator Darragh O'Brien on the inquiry into the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, and the concerns of her husband, Praveen, must be taken into account in this regard. It is a very serious situation and I fully concur with Senator O'Keeffe in her views. She spoke very well and the Minister should listen to what she said about the first inquiry which should have been carried out by now as it happened over a month ago.
I am a former chairman of the Western Health Board, and people tend to forget that University College Hospital, Galway, has provided tremendous maternity services. I know from personal experience it is one of the top maternity hospitals in Ireland. This is a tragedy, which is why it grabbed the attention of the country. There is another side to the coin with regard to what has been achieved in the hospital. The quicker the inquiry is carried out, with the approval of the husband, the better. The Government must go back to the drawing board and decide what action will be taken because the issue will not go away. Senator Darragh O'Brien outlined what our view has been from the very start. What happened in Galway has wide implications for every expectant mother and must be resolved. Senator O'Keeffe should send her submission to the Minister immediately if she has not done so already. If he follows the detailed proposal she put forward he would be well advised.
Following on from the previous speaker, the death of Savita is a very tragic situation but there must be some compromise in establishing the inquiry to find out what went wrong. The present debate will not bring about the necessary investigation. In fairness to everyone, there must be compromise by all involved to ensure we establish a proper inquiry team. The chairman appointed has a great deal of experience. He was involved in the inquiry in Northwick Park Hospital where ten maternal deaths occurred in a short period of time. Yesterday I spoke to someone in the UK, and there it is normal for such an inquiry to include local input to ensure the inquiry team is made fully aware of the practices and procedures normally followed in the hospital facility involved. This is why the three people were initially included.
The Minister has agreed to review this and to bring in people other than the three from the hospital itself, which is welcome in view of the family's concerns. However, it is important that a compromise is reached at the earliest possible stage so that as soon as possible the inquiry is held, the facts on what went wrong in the management of the patient are made available to the family, and we ensure it does not occur again. We could still be debating this next year, so all parties need to come up with a compromise solution as soon as possible so the investigation can be carried out and the matter can be brought to a conclusion.
In the centre of Jerusalem there is an independence garden. A feature of this on which people often comment is a memorial on which the following text from Bible is inscribed: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem". I pray for the peace of Jerusalem and Gaza. I was moved last night by the concerns expressed on television by two women, one a Jewish woman who has relatives in Israel and the other a Palestinian woman who has relatives in Gaza, for their relatives. That is a balance of grief. However, when it comes to the actual military situation on the ground, what is required is not only balance but proportionality. On many occasions in the past I have spoken out on behalf of Israel, and I have condemned violations of human rights wherever they occurred. I am not interested in Palestinian or Jewish rights, or gay or women's rights; rather, I am interested in human rights. In terms of proportionality, what grieves me, as someone who loves and appreciates the whole Jewish culture and the State of Israel in its historic role, is the blasphemy against the fundamental ethos of Judaism in the killing of women and children. I never thought I would live to see this day, and I regret that I have.
Account must also be taken of the evidence of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNWRA, with regard to the school that was attacked during the previous invasion and blitzkrieg, from which there was no escape as it was on the coastline of the Middle East. For three and a half years the Israelis said there were gunmen or military targets there, but they have now admitted this was not true. We need to bear this in mind.
I hope that the peace process works. I wish it well and applaud the Egyptians for the role they are playing. It is a question of human grief. It is vulgar to view these matters as if they were a cricket score. The lack of proportionality is extraordinary. Yesterday, 100 Palestinians and three Israelis were killed. I mourn and grieve for all of them, but the question of proportionality arises.
I take this opportunity to say that Hamas was inspired and provoked by the Israelis in order to undermine Arafat. I recall when this was done. However, it backfired on them, which I regret. I have never been sympathetic to Hamas, but it won an election democratically. That will never be accepted here. I condemn the murder of seven people without trial. It is appalling. However, we must deal with the real situation.
I would like to make one final point in support of Senator Daly. I am in possession of legal opinion from Ireland and Britain that a separate ban by this country on Israeli goods coming from the illegal settlements would not be a contravention of any law. We can do it and we should do it now in the context of our taking on the Presidency of the EU Council.
Senator Cullinane, who has left the Chamber, called for a debate on a wealth tax, which I would welcome. I believe all parties are in favour of a wealth tax. The proposed property tax, which Sinn Féin does not support, is a wealth tax. I have read Sinn Féin's wealth tax proposals. I spoke recently to a young businessman from Donegal who has a couple of pubs in New York and told him of Sinn Féin's proposal, which is for a global tax. This means that a person resident in the Republic of Ireland who has property or assets in another country would be required to pay tax on them here also. He told me there was no way he would return to Donegal to set up a business in a country which would treat its diaspora so unfairly.
I am calling for a debate on wealth tax. The wealth tax introduced in Germany in 1997 was ruled unconstitutional by the courts there. Sinn Féin are all over the place in their wealth tax proposals. I would welcome a debate on the matter.
I share the views expressed on all sides with regard to the ongoing conflict being imposed on a stricken region. I also echo the compliments and applause for the Egyptian position on this matter. There had been some doubt following the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are the ideological mentors of Hamas, that this might upset the balance within the region. However, President Morsi is taking a pragmatic view, fortunately, and is obviously aware of the threat to the region posed by any shift in alliances. The fact that Egypt is supporting the continuing bilateral discussions between Israel and Hamas is to be welcomed. It is hoped there will be a resolution of the situation. I believe everybody is agreed that the last thing that is needed is a ground invasion of the Gaza. Israel has overwhelming military superiority but, as even its supporters will say, it always seems to inflict horrors of far greater proportion than needed.
I unreservedly condemn the brutality of Hamas, which killed seven people yesterday. Members of Hamas are the very people who call for justice. What it did yesterday shamed it before the world. Anybody who has sympathy and empathy with the sufferings of the Palestinian people should unreservedly condemn what it did in this regard. I and other speakers have asked that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House to hear statements on this issue. It is imperative that he do so. As I have stated previously - I am sure everybody will agree - this House has a long and proud tradition of discussing the Middle East, far more so than the Dáil, simply because it is the type of Chamber which allows this type of debate. Debates on the Middle East are usually balanced and fair.
I support Senator Quinn's comments in regard to the reports in today's media about Irish consumers purchasing what they assume to be Irish-made goods. In the run-up to Christmas, we should regularly repeat in this House the view that, where possible, people should buy Irish-made goods. As a result of this report, they should now go further in ensuring the goods they are buying are made in Ireland.
Boots, which is now a major player in the retail pharmacy market in this country and a huge supplier of toothpaste, recently stopped stocking Fiacla, which I endorse for no other reason than that it is a toothpaste made in Kilkenny. I do not understand the reason for this decision and propose to write to the consumer affairs director of Boots in this regard. Currently, the range of toothpastes on display in Boots stores here are British-made. The company that produces Fiacla is providing real jobs in County Offaly. I know nothing about the company other than that it produces an Irish product used by many people. That is but one example of what Senator Quinn spoke about. I hope this House will continue to repeat the view to the Irish consumer in the run-up to Christmas that they should, where possible, not only purchase Irish-made goods but ensure the goods they are purchasing are made here.
It is critical that the women of Ireland have confidence in the outcome of the inquiry into the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. Last week, I called for an independent public inquiry in this regard. I repeated that request yesterday. While some progress is being made, it is not adequate. It is critical that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health intervene to ensure an outcome that is satisfactory to both sides, including for Savita's husband Praveen. I take on board what Senator O'Keeffe said, namely, that the hospital has more than likely completed its own internal review at this point and that this should feed into an independent public inquiry. We need to know the truth and the facts and we need them soon. We need to have them prior to our consideration of the expert group's report on the X case.
As matters stand, the waters are being muddied. The absolute truth and all of the facts must be supplied in this case. I encourage the Acting Leader to convey my concerns and those of other Members to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health. There is a need for urgent intervention in order that this matter be resolved.
I am disturbed by reports this morning to the effect that a consultant who has been diagnosed with hepatitis C may have operated on hundreds of women in ten hospitals throughout the country. It is more than likely that the individual concerned was working in the area of obstetrics and gynaecology. I ask that the Acting Leader return to the House tomorrow with a report on the action that is being taken by the HSE with regard to this matter. That report should indicate whether the women involved have been contacted, outline the safeguards that are in place to ensure that doctors are vetted on an annual basis in respect of their own health and state the possible likelihood that doctors who are infected with particular diseases will pass them on to those in their care. Safeguards such as those to which I refer must be put in place in the interests of public health.
Yesterday I asked the Leader to make time available for a debate on agriculture. In his reply he stated that I could perhaps draft a questions which could be forwarded to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney. While I accept that the Minister has been generous in giving of his time to come before the House, it is not acceptable that we should be obliged to put questions in writing when there are very serious issues at play on the entire western seaboard and in other parts of the country in the context of commonage.
Reports emerged this morning which cast doubt over the future of the regional veterinary laboratories in places such as Sligo, where I live, Kilkenny, Athlone, Cork, etc. The reports to which I refer indicate that the idea is to centralise the system relating to blood tests. One could understand why a rationalisation of this nature would be pursued if it led to a reduction in the costs incurred by farmers. However, many of the laboratories to which I refer are involved in many more activities than just carrying out blood tests. For example, they test other samples - a service farmers require in order to do their business - carry out post mortems on deceased animals in order to determine which diseases may be becoming more prevalent again and so on. If the plan to close the laboratories comes to fruition, it will lead to farmers on the western seaboard being marginalised even further.
I ask the Acting Leader, who has an interest in agriculture, to ascertain the position with regard to the review that is being carried out in respect of this matter. Will she endeavour to discover whether it is proposed to close the regional veterinary laboratories to which I refer? Will she report back to the House on this matter as early as next week, if possible? Pending a debate on this matter - which the Leader of the House might facilitate - if anything needs to be put in writing in order to obtain a quicker reply, perhaps the Acting Leader might frame the relevant request on my behalf. When Members of the House seek debates, they are entitled to be facilitated.
Like previous speakers, I am also concerned about reports to the effect that a doctor infected with hepatitis C continued to practise despite the fact that he had received a diagnosis. Doctors are supposed to make people well; they are not supposed to make them sick. I am extremely concerned with regard to what has emerged in this case. A report into this matter must be compiled as soon as possible. The HSE must indicate the protocols it has in place to deal with situations of this nature. Is there a process whereby doctors are required to submit information which indicates that they have a clean bill of health before they are allowed to operate on patients, etc.?
I was very disturbed to learn of unhelpful and unhealthy developments relating to the tobacco industry. Most of the companies in this industry put between 20 and 23 cigarettes in a pack. This is encouraging people to smoke even more. Previous speakers, particularly Senator Crown, referred to the dangers of smoking. I am extremely concerned that tobacco companies are pushing the boundaries in the context of their activities in retail outlets. I understand they are running promotions and offering staff vouchers and money to promote certain brands of cigarette. This is a ruthless and dangerous business and it is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of euro in terms of the effect tobacco products have on people's health. I request that the Minister for Health, who is dedicated to eradicating smoking to the greatest degree possible in this country, come before the House in the near future to discuss the introduction of further regulations and legislation, if necessary, to deal with the tobacco companies which are constantly trying to push out the boundaries in the context of what they can do to promote cigarettes. I hope such a debate will be arranged in due course.
I welcome the decision of the Minister for Health to replace the three consultants from Galway University Hospital from the inquiry team charged with examining the circumstances surrounding the death of that pregnant mother in Galway, which was very regrettable. I am not sure about a public inquiry but there needs to be an alternative inquiry. I have some concerns regarding information relating to the chairman of the inquiry team which has come into the public domain in the past 18 hours or so. I understand that the chairman is a very well-qualified individual.
Yes. I ask that the Acting Leader arrange for the Minister for Health to come before the House. The Minister gave a commitment to Deputy Wallace in the Dáil - I accept that he has modified his language in the interim - in respect of what he intends to do with regard to abortion. This is a highly sensitive issue and it must be dealt with in a fair and reasonable way. Many Senators have called for a very measured approach to be taken by all sides in respect of this very emotive issue. Anything which might skew the position or set the inquiry up in a particular way beforehand is wrong.
All of these developments are leading us in a particular direction. I am seeking that the Minister come before the House in order that we might engage in a fair, open and honest debate with regard to what is happening and whether attempts are being made by means of subterfuge to try to introduce something which is against the will of the majority of the Irish people.
I wish to refer to a matter to which a number of Members referred, namely, the Middle East. We all agree on one thing, which is that diplomacy is a very strong weapon. Unfortunately, diplomacy is often under-used. As we are aware in this country, that can be due to party political considerations, upcoming elections or the need for someone to prove himself or herself to be a strong leader. It is unfortunate that when diplomacy is not used, it is generally replaced by terror. When the latter comes into play, it exacerbates the position and moves the possibility of achieving a solution to one side. Worse than that, the victims are generally innocent people. I refer, in particular, to women and children. The three innocent people in Israel who were killed by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip are not just a statistic, as they were deprived of the human right of life. In addition, their surviving family members will be condemned to mourn them for the remainder of their lives. Similarly, the slaughter of the innocents in Gaza cries out for a halt to hostilities and for justice.
We are all feeling frustrated and helpless. At times, we are extremely disappointed by the very cosmetic press conferences we are obliged to watch on television.
The bottom line is that unless we look after the Palestinian people in a just and right way, give them an identity of their own, allow their nation to function and stop the idea of power politics, quietly in the background, supporting Israel, we will condemn both sides to continuing episodes of terrorism as we are now seeing. We have a proud record of standing up to be counted. We saw that over the years when we stepped out of line with the other powers in order to do that. I hope that we do not acquiesce in some way with what is now happening. Let us stand up and say that the brutality which has been directed towards the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian people is not acceptable under any circumstances.
Senator Darragh O?Brien and many other Senators, including Senator O?Keeffe, Senator Mullins, Senator Colm Burke, Senator Healy Eames and Senator Walsh, raised their concerns about the recent case in Galway of Savita Halappanavar who, unfortunately, lost her life. I will bring those concerns to the Minister and to the Leader. It is imperative that we get the facts about exactly what happened. Women attending University Hospital Galway and other hospitals around the country are concerned that procedures and processes are in place to ensure that something like that does not happen again. As many Members have said, it is a very sensitive issue. The Government is committed to establishing the facts. Yesterday, the three medical experts from University Hospital Galway were removed in light of concerns expressed by Savita?s husband and family about their involvement in the inquiry. I will bring the concerns of Members about the chairman to the Government. The chairman of the inquiry is an expert in the field. He is internationally recognised as having expertise in investigating such situations. That is why he was appointed to chair the investigation.
The Minister indicated that he intends to bring the report of the expert group on the A, B and C case to Cabinet next Tuesday, 27 November and to publish it afterwards. I am sure we will have an opportunity to debate the long-awaited report. We look forward to it.
On the issue of home help raised by Senator Darragh O?Brien, the Minister has said continually that home help will be given on the basis of need. If need is established then home help will be provided. Like other Members on both sides of the House I have brought particular cases to the attention of the local HSE office when there is concern that the home help allocation to a family or individual has been reduced unnecessarily. The hours will be allocated on the basis of need. Senator O'Brien asked me to give an assurance that there will be no cuts in that regard in the budget. I cannot give it. Nobody knows the content of the budget. The allocation to the HSE as a whole will be provided in the budget. We will await the details on budget day and we will have an opportunity to debate the contents of the Budget Statement in the House.
A number of Senators raised the issue of Gaza ? Senator O?Keeffe, Senator Daly, Senator Norris, Senator Quinn, Senator Mooney and Senator Ó Murchú. The situation there is tense. Residents on both sides have experienced casualties; in the Gaza Strip and on the Israeli side. I accept that we must support a diplomatic solution to the conflict. I acknowledge the important role Egypt is playing. It will be key to finding a solution. I hope the efforts of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban, who was in the area yesterday and the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who is there today, will bring about a ceasefire. While none of us knows exactly what is going on I welcome the role Egypt is playing. We hope there will be a ceasefire in the immediate future.
Senator Barrett spoke about ash dieback. We had an important debate last week on the issue. I will bring his point to the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, about this country becoming a nursery for disease-free trees. I do not know whether oak trees are next. A serious situation could arise. The Senator?s point is interesting. We are an island and when foot and mouth disease broke out that was an important element in containing the spread of the disease.
Senator Kelly referred to SUSI. Through the Leader, I will bring his concerns to the Minister and ask for an update on a regular basis on the level of grants that have been approved and the number of them that have been paid, which is the most important issue. There is much concern, in particular at this time of year. Students and their families need grants so they can move on to the next term. The payment of grants is an issue of concern to them and we will ensure there is feedback on the progress in the area.
Senators Higgins, Mullins and Conway were concerned about counterfeit goods, the black market and the black economy. Requests were made to bring the issue to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality and that he would ensure the Garda is vigilant and alert. The issue must be highlighted on a regular basis. We share the concerns. I will bring them to the attention of the Minister, through the Leader.
Senator Quinn referred to the Love Irish Food Survey. I read the article to which he referred with interest. The Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation previously received a submission from Guaranteed Irish, which is a very important authentication. Not every product can qualify. Perhaps we should have a debate on the issue. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, was present in the House yesterday for a debate on job creation. The retail area is suffering and the more we can highlight the necessity for people to buy Irish goods the better. Like Senator Quinn, I welcome the Brighter Evenings Bill. I look forward to progress in the area, in particular given that the United Kingdom is making changes, which was always an obstacle to change in this country previously.
Senator Cullinane called for a debate on alternative budget proposals. Last week we had a debate on the economy in which a total of 11 Senators participated. We previously had a debate on 8 November on public sector reform and public expenditure to which 12 Senators contributed. We will have an opportunity in the coming weeks to debate financial proposals and we will have a chance to discuss alternative budget proposals also. He also called for a specific discussion on wealth tax. In last year?s budget a number of taxes were increased. Capital gains tax, capital acquisitions tax and deposit interest retention tax were all increased, the former to 30%. They could be considered a tax on wealth. We can look forward to finally hearing details on the proposed property tax, which could also be considered a wealth tax.
I am aware of the Waterford Gives a Shirt campaign and today?s demonstration, which Senator Landy raised. I will bring his comments to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan.
The Minister intends his proposals to ensure greater efficiency and better service for the people. I will convey the Senator's comments to him.
Senators Terry Leyden and Colm Burke commented on the Savita Halappanavar case. I will make the Minister aware of the concerns of the House in this regard.
Senator Jimmy Harte also commented on the issue of a wealth tax, while Senator Paschal Mooney stressed the importance of consumers purchasing Irish-made goods.
Senators Fidelma Healy Eames and Martin Conway spoke about the Galway issue. They are also concerned that a consultant who has hepatitis C is working in a hospital. I am not sure of the details of that case or the procedures involved, but I will bring their concerns to the attention of the Leader. I am sure there will be a response from the HSE on the matter.
In reply to Senator Marc MacSharry, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is a regular visitor to the House. He intends to come again in the near future when the Senator's concerns can be raised directly with him. I suggest the Senator submit an Adjournment matter and he may receive a direct response which may be of assistance.
Senator Jim Walsh spoke about the inquiry into the case in Galway. It is hoped there will be a speedy resolution and that answers will emerge. It is important that the Government move forward on the issue. I will bring the concerns of Senators to the attention of the Minister.