Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Order of Business
Does the Leader have plans to discuss changes to the health service, in particular, the hospital network? Buswell's Hotel seems to have been booked by the Department of Health today to launch its policies and plans. Why the Minister for Health sees fit to book hotels in order to launch his health and hospital strategies needs to be discussed. He has asked Oireachtas Members to go across the road when there is perfectly adequate accommodation available in this place. I understand a press conference will take place and officials were in and out of Buswell's Hotel today. I do not know why this is happening. Therefore, we need a full debate in this House, this Parliament, this place of sovereignty, where the people are represented to discuss what is happening in hospitals. We are aware of all the promises made before the general election, particularly with regard to the small hospitals dotted all around the country. We already have broken promises, most notably in Navan and also in Roscommon. I am sure my colleague beside me will wish to contribute to any debate on the matter. There is much happening and much is being dressed up today. I want to know the cost of what is happening such as the cost of the use of the hotel. I also want to know why the Department's own offices cannot be used for these events and why Oireachtas Members have to leave a perfectly good place which is available at no extra cost to the taxpayer and cross the road to a hotel to be told about changes to hospital services. More fundamentally, we need a debate in this House tomorrow with the Minister for Health on the subject of hospital services. I look forward to the Leader's response.
Another important issue was raised last week in the other House by Deputy Mattie McGrath - the plea made by the families of the bereaved at Omagh, led by Mr. Michael Gallagher who lost his 21 year old son, Aidan, in the bombing in 1998. They want the truth to be disclosed about what happened. In 2012 they provided a comprehensive report for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, which asked for a full public inquiry, but they have not yet received a real response from the Government. The Taoiseach, when in opposition, promised to meet the families of the Omagh bereaved, but such a meeting has not taken place, nor has he given any commitment to arrange such a meeting. There has been no response in a proper or meaningful way from the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter. Nobody seems to know what is happening and why it is taking so long for the Government to consider this comprehensive report provided by the families who should not be fobbed off any longer by the Government. I ask it to meet them for a full and comprehensive response to be given, by the Minister in particular. I call on the Taoiseach to meet them, as he promised to do. It might be worthwhile having a short debate in this House on the matter. This was a significant and hugely tragic event in the history of this country. It was a desperate event and everyone remembers the details. A debate in the House might result in some action being taken by the Government in order to find out the truth of what happened and give the families some closure. When I met Mr. Gallagher last week, I was struck by his genuineness, sincerity, grief and desire for answers. The Seanad could play a role in helping to move the matter forward.
I pay tribute to Donal Walsh, the young teenager who tragically died from cancer earlier this week. I extend our sympathy to his parents, sister and family. He was a young man who in a short lifetime achieved a great deal, not only in raising awareness of suicide and doing important work on suicide prevention but also in his immense fund-raising efforts for Crumlin children's hospital. Much of his involvement was so commendable and his family must be very proud of him. In my time in this House we have had numerous debates on the subject of suicide prevention, yet the short video on suicide prevention which he filmed spoke volumes. It will have a much greater impact and has done so already than a great deal of other suicide prevention work.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the inspection of centres for children and adults with disabilities.
I am delighted HIQA has announced it will begin inspections of these centres later this year. That is hugely important and is something for which many people have been looking for a long time. It has set out 60 standards which will underpin the inspections. However, it would be good for this House to debate the sort of inspections of centres for children and adults with disabilities carried out in other jurisdictions and the sort of standards which should be adhered to in those centres.
I welcome the progress being made on the Bus Éireann strike at the Labour Relations Commission, being conscious that so many people were affected by yesterday's strike. I very much hope there will be a successful conclusion to the negotiations at the Labour Relations Commission. It is very welcome from the point of view of all sides that the strike has been called off to allow those negotiations to take place and tribute should be paid to the Labour Relations Commission and all those involved in the negotiations.
I, too, pay my respects to the parents of young Donal Walsh who passed away - his mum, Elma, and his dad, Fionnbar. As somebody who has worked for many years with Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin in the area of fundraising, I have seen many young children who have passed through the hospital pass away. Young Donal was diagnosed with cancer at 12 years of age and he had the courage and the wisdom to refuse to give up on what was termed "a death sentence" when he was diagnosed. According to Donal, every day he went to the hospital was like a trip to hell. When one thinks of what is happening in the world today, whether strikes, economic crises and the various issues which come up in the Seanad and in the Dáil, the death of this young man puts life and the meaning of life into perspective.
He became an advocate for suicide prevention in a television appearance and in the press articles written about him. He viewed suicide as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Given that suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people in Ireland, perhaps Donal's death should not be in vain and that is time for the Government to put extra resources into mental health, in particular for young people.
Tá áthas orm gur ardaigh mo bheirt chomhghleacaithe bás Donal Breathnach. I share in the tributes rightly being paid to the late Donal Walsh. He was a teenager who many of us have followed in recent months, since his appearance on RTE television. In those short few months, he achieved what many people fail to do in a lifetime, which is, he found his voice and a way to turn his sickness, his suffering and his impending death into a way to help others. Many people do not find that meaning and purpose in their lives and it is a tragedy for them but it is all the more awesome that Donal did and that he spoke with such clarity. As many people find difficult to do in his situation, he had a very clear idea of what was happening and he was not afraid to face up to that.
He challenged us all - young and old - to be grateful for our lives and to take the opportunity each day presents. His particular message about suicide might have been difficult for some people to hear, in particular other young people, but he had the credibility and ability to say something which was vitally important for them to hear. It was more than just youthful idealism; there was a determined maturity in what he was about. As has been said, he taught us a lot in that short time. He taught us a lot about suffering, happiness and ultimate meaning. May he rest in peace and may his family be consoled by the fine and courageous example he set to all.
On that tragic subject of suicide, it is noteworthy - others have spoken about it - that in recent weeks, a coroner in south Kerry and a coroner in north Donegal have spoken out about the problem of suicide. One asked if we were losing sight of humanity while the other feared we were not taking it sufficiently seriously in terms of the amount of money spent on suicide prevention compared to road safety. For example, €30 million was spent on road safety in 2011 while just €3 million was spent on suicide prevention.
I understand that tens of millions of pounds sterling have been spent in Northern Ireland.
As I have said before, I do not know what the exact answer is for suicide prevention. I do not know if it should be about one single organisation, as in other jurisdictions, focusing on the problem. A lot of it is about attitudes. It is about recognising that the law and the wider culture are educators. Each of us looks to the culture in this situation, and in other areas, to see what is the appropriate way to respond in a time of crisis. Our message must be much clearer as a society. While we console those who have been bereaved and pay a just tribute to those who have died, we must convey a loud and clear message that what has happened is the wrong thing. As has been said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. The debate must continue but in a way that helps rather than hinders.
Finally, I welcome the announcement by the HSE of the membership of a review group to examine the emergency response to the incident of a tragic death of a toddler in Cork last week. He had to be driven to hospital by a local sporting hero because there was no question of an ambulance arriving on time. The availability of emergency services to people is a human rights issue. No matter what difficulties we face as an economy we cannot lose sight of that. I hope that the review group will conduct its work speedily. We must also pay tribute to the great work being done by ambulance drivers, first aid personnel and so on. We have a serious problem if we cannot guarantee a basic minimum response of emergency support and care to people as arose in the very tragic case involving a young boy, Vakaris Martinaitis.
Like others, I wish to express my sympathies to the family of Donal Walsh, a very brave young man. I learned of his death on Sunday night from my younger daughter who, like a lot of young people, got the information on YouTube and Facebook. On Sunday night I sat down and watched his YouTube video on his life and I also read his account of his experience with cancer. He has motivated practically every second level student in the country to raise money for the children's hospitals. In his long writings he stated that when he relapsed the second time with cancer and had to return to Crumlin children's hospital that as he re-entered the ward it struck him that nothing had changed since his first stay. He discovered that the conditions in the ward, in terms of the facilities available, were just as they were when he developed cancer and sought treatment the first time. If his death does nothing else it proves to me that our decision to prioritise the building of a new national children's hospital was not just necessary but long overdue. Much as I appreciate the efforts of young people to raise money for our hospitals, such fundraising should not be necessary in a developed country.
Yesterday, I was very proud to attend the opening of an Access housing unit in Cork with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. It is an innovative new service that will house homeless people by moving them out of long-term homeless accommodation into homes, principally in the rental sector. It was established in response to the unfortunate growing demand for emergency accommodation and a growing incidence of homelessness. The prioritising of homelessness makes sound economic sense for the State because its prevention saves it a significant amount of money. We spend €23,000 on every single person in emergency homeless accommodation. It is in that context that I again ask the Leader to arrange a debate on homelessness, particularly the shortage of housing.
I want to be associated with the expressions of condolence and the sentiments already expressed by Senators in respect of the passing of Donal Walsh. I too offer my condolences to his family.
I want to again register my party's protest at the very light Order of Business for the next number of days and for this week. Only one piece of legislation will be debated this week, namely, Report Stage of the Taxi Regulation Bill. Sin é for the week.
We have one item of legislation. On Thursday we will have the Order of Business followed by statements with an MEP. There is no reason that could not be taken on Wednesday. It is beyond me why we will sit on Thursday. It seems we are trying to pad out days here and not doing what we should be doing, which is introducing legislation. My concerns about that are genuine and I will express them again. I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, to be helpful to the Leader, that we take No. 26 on the Order Paper, which is the Corporate Manslaughter Bill 2013 tabled by Sinn Féin. If the Government is not prepared to bring forward legislation we should debate the legislation the Opposition wants to bring forward.
I ask the Leader that we would be given ample time and opportunity to discuss the detail of the Higgins report, which will be published shortly. I state my objection to the way that report is being launched. It is being launched first to the press at an event in Croke Park following which Deputies and Senators will be briefed. That is not the best way for Oireachtas Members to be briefed on legislation. It should be done in both Houses of the Oireachtas and not initially at press conferences. I register my protest about the way that is being done. That aside, there is no doubt that the Higgins report will have profound implications, both positive and negative, for acute hospital services across the State for generations to come. It is that important, and given that, it is vital that this House has the opportunity to properly tease out people's concerns while welcoming the positive aspects but also to tease out the genuine concerns of patients across the State and also in the Leader's constituency, the south east. I ask the Leader to provide sufficient time for that to happen because we need to have proper debate on the full implications of what will be contained in the Higgins report.
As a former member of Dublin City Council - I was on the council when it came into being - I welcome the news that it has been agreed to treble the number of bicycles available under the Dublinbikes scheme from 500 to 1,500. Since it was introduced four years ago the Dublinbikes scheme has proven a template for cities across Europe and the world and has shown how a properly implemented and efficiently run urban bike scheme can be successful. In a time when we are experiencing cutbacks on all levels it is good to see something being extended. At the end of April last year, Dublinbikes passed 3.5 million journeys and when we consider this was achieved with only 500 bicycles it is all the more impressive. It is envisaged that by 2015 we will be on course to increase the fleet to 5,000 bicycles and it is anticipated that it will extend as far north as Dublin City University. Members will agree that the Dublinbikes initiative has changed attitudes and behaviours, freed up our roads, encouraged many more people to engage in a form of public transport, and is very cheap. Ultimately, it is great for tourists, workers, students and businesses, and it is great for Dublin. I commend Dublin City Council councillors on voting last night to treble the number of bicycles and look forward to further successes from this initiative in the coming years.
I see that our plan to phase ourselves out is almost complete.
I would like to be associated with the tributes to Donal Walsh, a most inspirational young man. I do not want to pour negativity on the positive messages people are giving but, yet again, we in this House are the champions of rhetoric on suicide. Somebody who was dying spoke up and used their impending demise to promote an issue and we stand up, one after another, to say we should put in more resources and talk more about the issue - good old Donal; was it not fantastic the way he did something and we did not. Actions speak louder than words. I have in my hand a policy that was welcomed by everybody. It is comprehensive. It will cost €100 million a year and will reduce suicide by 30% yet we have not even debated it in this House. We could have any amount of the time available this week to debate it.
Actions speak louder than words except when it comes to suicide or unless there is a suicide or some child dies promoting suicide prevention. When are we going to start doing something about it? As Senator Eamonn Coghlan rightly said, let not this man's death been in vain, let it have meant something, finally. Actions speak louder than words. Let us debate it this week.
On an important issue regarding the procedures of the House, there are quotations in an article in today's Irish Examinerfrom correspondence of Members of the Houses with the Standards in Public Office Commission. I ask the Leader to contact the head of the Commission to request the identity of the person who provides briefings to members of the media in place of copy to provide colour articles to make fun of Members of the Oireachtas who go on foreign trips to research and inform themselves of very important issues to the people of the State, such as abortion. Irrespective of whether the trip to the United States of America, on which Members of both Houses went, ought to have been paid for directly by them or was correctly paid for by their hosts, the highest watchdog of the integrity of the Houses of the Oireachtas should not be engaged in gutter-sniping in the press in the interests of feeding copy to lazy journalists. I ask most respectfully that in the interests of the integrity of the House and the professionalism of the Standards in Public Office Commission, we have an answer to the question by tomorrow. It is unacceptable that an article in today's Irish Examinerauthoritatively quotes the private correspondence Members from all sides sent to the Commission for its consideration.
It is appropriate that someone should raise this matter in the House. Perhaps it is most appropriate that it should be me as I have never been on a foreign trip in 11 years in the House. I am the first to acknowledge, however, the importance of such trips in informing the business of both Houses.
It is only fitting that we all acknowledge the sad passing of Donal Walsh and convey our deep sympathy to his family. As a mother of teenagers, I was particularly struck by the extent to which he was a role model at 16 years of age as well as by the unique message he conveyed. I ask the Leader to schedule yet another debate on suicide and reflect on how best to mark Donal's young life and to continue his positive message. He touched young people in a way that few others have managed.
I support the call for a debate as soon as possible on the report by Professor Higgins on hospital reorganisation. While it looks positive, it is worth teasing out given the broad-ranging ramifications it will have.
I welcome HIQA's stated intention today to inspect and register residential centres for children and adults with disabilities. There are 900 people with disabilities living in 1,200 residential centres nationally. They can be our forgotten people. They can be voiceless unless we advocate for them and ensure their services are of the high standard of other people's services. This is what HIQA is achieving. We complain about a great deal in the House, but HIQA is doing fine work. It has done great work in older people's centres and is now moving on to residential centres for people with disabilities. I welcome that and would like to see others do the same.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and can assure Senator Terry Leyden that it is worth waiting for.
I extend my sincere condolences to the family of Donal Walsh. He made a lasting impression and was an inspiration for young and old. I have no doubt that his memory will live on as a powerful advocate on suicide. I, too, would welcome another debate on the issue. It is a discussion that needs to be held continually. Last night in my home town a positive mental health forum that I had set up in January had that conversation on suicide, dispelling the myths about it. It was well attended. It is only by coming forward and speaking out that we can offer help to one another.
I welcome the launch by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, of the national standards for residential services for children and adults with disabilities, which was long overdue. I am delighted that the systems standards of HIQA will be in place to ensure vulnerable people and those with disabilities will have the safeguards they need in order that they will be protected and their quality of life will be enhanced in every way. However, I have grave concerns about the number of people with disabilities who need access to residential care services. There is a difficulty for those trying to access such care. While improving standards, I hope HIQA will ensure the number of beds and services available for people with disabilities will not decrease.
One item of great concern concerns care in the home for the elderly. I refer specifically to the case, brought to my attention in recent days, of a 90 year old woman in my locality who fell three weeks ago. She has not been able to lie down since because of a broken arm, diabetes and a heart complaint. She has been forced to sleep on a chair at night because no orthopaedic bed is available. We spoke earlier about human dignity and people's rights. It is appalling that in a developed country an orthopaedic bed cannot be provided. I do not mind what cutbacks or cuts to services are made, but we owe this to elderly people and all other citizens. A 90 year old woman is struggling when the problem could be rectified so simply. Such persons need the services provided, including continual home help.
The reason for the lack of business in this House is perfectly clear and it is not the responsibility of this House to deal with the matter. The Taoiseach and the cabal that runs Fine Gael have decided that they will take over the role previously held by Fianna Fáil as the slightly constitutional party. They have decided to destroy the Seanad by refusing to refer legislation to it. Members should watch this space. There will be some changes made in the coming weeks, which I think we can guarantee. We will be looking for the co-operation of everyone in the House in that regard.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the welfare of children in the State. A number of Members have referred to the tragic question of an infant in Cork. The infant might not have survived, but an emergency ambulance should have been available for him. There is also the worrying situation where the welfare of children in counties Carlow and Kilkenny is not protected in terms of protection from abuse. We have the question of Bethany Home where children are being abused. I have been raising the matter for many years and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin begged the Government to include in the rescue scheme. If it had been the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, could we imagine such a call being ignored?
However, it was ignored and a programme broadcast last night demonstrated quite clearly there is an utter divergence between the way in which Roman Catholic agencies and Protestant agencies are treated. The Bethany Home should come in. The Sisters of Charity home in Cabra and the Brothers of Charity home in Galway both had fewer criteria than were met by the Bethany Home and yet the latter was excluded, partly as a result of an utterly disgraceful deal done by the former Minister, Michael Woods, which let the clergy off the hook.
Finally, there is an irony about the protest made by Senator MacSharry. I have read the article in question and note a number of Members, including some Members of this House, were apparently mentioned, albeit in not very damaging ways. I, of course, deplore leaks and bad journalism - I am unsure whether this was bad journalism - but these were the very people who, in this Chamber, applauded openly the stings that were perpetrated by the so-called pro-lifers, who I would call anti-choice people, for example, when they went posing as people with crisis pregnancies to the family planning clinics. More recently, people from such groups invaded the clinics of fellow politicians from the other House from the Labour Party, told lies and pretended to have a particular position but secretly recorded the conversations and then fed them to the newspapers. Let us have some integrity in this regard, as well as some consistency. If practices are bad on one side, they are bad on both sides. Let us not have any waffle about the subject.
I wish to raise once again the fodder crisis. While I acknowledge a good debate was held in the Chamber last Thursday, the position has worsened since then on foot of very bad weather. First, I welcome the Minister's decision to double the transport subsidy. This has been a highly positive move since the issue was discussed in the Seanad last Thursday. I now seek the speeding up of the delivery of the fodder that is coming from France but also wish to call on any State agency that owns land banks or has them in its care. NAMA is in possession of quite an amount of land nationwide, which it could make available to the farming community, as did Shannon Airport in the past. I believe Dublin Airport has done something similar. Land banks owned by the State or by NAMA should be considered in this regard, as it would alleviate the problem somewhat for those farmers who now are in severe difficulty.
I wish to be associated with the tributes to the late Donal Walsh. He was an inspirational young man and the point made by Senator MacSharry is very important, in that the very good policy document he prepared should be debated in this House. Moreover, there is plenty of time available in this House and it would be recognition of what Donal Walsh has done. He has been most inspirational and his parents should be proud of him, as should his sister and the whole community in County Kerry, because he has led a campaign that was more effective than all the advertisements issued by any Department or adult because as a teenager, he advocated living one's life and stated that suicide was no solution to any problem a young person might have. I believe this affords Members a great opportunity to express their sincere sympathy to the family. I acknowledge there are rules in this regard but this is an exceptional situation. He raised money for Crumlin children's hospital and certainly used each minute of his 16 years effectively. He will be remembered when many are forgotten in this world but I do not believe the name of Donal Walsh ever will be forgotten because of what he already has contributed.
I also supports Senator Comiskey's call with regard to the fodder crisis. It is not over and 143,000 cattle have died since the beginning of the year. A farmer contacted Connacht Gold's operation in Athleague yesterday and found there is a waiting list for fodder at present. Farmers are in dire straits and there has been enormous psychological pressure on farmers in this regard. I reiterate a comment I made previously that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has let down the farming community. He has neglected his role as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and frankly, compared with previous Ministers-----
-----he has not responded in a positive way.
He is good on PR and was good for photo opportunities down in Cork when some fodder came in but he was not in Athleague yesterday to meet the farmers who were waiting for fodder there. I agree with Senator Comiskey that this matter is not finished. The Minister should continue to provide the subsidy for the transportation of fodder into the co-operatives and marts.
I welcome the offer of mediation by the Labour Relations Commission in the Bus Éireann dispute. That both parties entered further discussion is to be welcomed. All sides need to work together to secure the future of services and jobs at Bus Éireann and to ensure the company's financial circumstances are brought under control. This is not easy for any side, including workers, management and unions. Great credit is due to the Labour Relations Commission for facilitating the talks between all parties. The industrial dispute has already cost the company €500,000, at a time when it is already losing €500,000 per month. Time is of the essence in bringing this dispute to a successful conclusion for the benefit of all concerned, including management, staff and customers.
Let me say a few words on the Croke Park II negotiations. I commend the progress made to date by Mr. Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Commission and the various unions involved. Significant progress has been made with a number of unions. As the Government has consistently said, there is no room for manoeuvre on the fiscal arithmetic as the urgent need to achieve a saving of €300 million in 2013 remains. Mr. Kieran Mulvey, chief executive officer of the Labour Relations Commission, and all the unions involved in the Croke Park II negotiations are to be commended. I wish them continued success in their deliberations.
The costs of living and of doing business in Ireland have always been among the highest in Europe. An announcement last week by the European Commission in Brussels on the payment services directive gives us an answer and the opportunity to do something about it. The Commission has stated the objective of the directive is to encourage more use of electronic payments that will cost the public nothing or very little. We have been very slow to develop electronic payment in Ireland. We have one of the lowest rates of usage of electronic payment systems in Europe. Electronic payment could reduce our costs of living and business by a very considerable amount. There are steps we can take and we can do something about this; it is in our hands. In the past, the European Union has passed regulations and opened the door. Other countries have availed of opportunities afforded to them in this area but we have been reluctant or very slow. Now is the time to do something about this matter. It is worthwhile having a discussion on this in the near future in the House because there are steps that we can take that will encourage far more use of electronic payments.
Some years ago, making a telephone call was outrageously expensive but the cost has decreased dramatically because of technology. The same applies to electronic payments, the cost of which has reduced dramatically. However, we still have a system in which the banks are able to control the costs, almost with a monopoly and certainly with a system that does not afford us the ability to do as we desire. Ireland is still one of the biggest users of coins and money in Europe. The effort now being made by the Central Bank or the Minister, an experiment to do away with one-cent and two-cent coins makes a great deal of sense. In Finland, the one-cent and two-cent coins were never introduced at the very beginning. Prices were rounded up or down by five cent. It did not cost anything but saved a considerable amount of money. A very large number of people do not use the one-cent and two-cent coins anymore. We can take steps to do as I propose but the main aim is to avail of the opportunity afforded by the payment services directive that the European Commission launched last week. Let us make sure we do not leave it for another couple of years before we do something about this.
Two very important reports were released today. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, released a study on the impact of the economic crisis on younger and older people, while the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, released a detailed report on the social dimension of the economic crisis. The details of these reports make for depressing reading. The NESC report confirmed that 22% of all households are now without any work and a quarter of all children are living in jobless households. The ESRI report states that the impact of the crisis on people under the age of 45 years has been dramatic, particularly when compared with the impact on people over 45 years of age. Given the importance of these two reports and the issues they explore, would it be possible to invite the authors of the reports to present the key findings to the House, perhaps through the Seanad Public Consultation Committee? A debate with these experts on the reports would feed into our workplan and the work we do. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee would probably be the appropriate forum. Will the Leader consider that suggestion?
I also second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Cullinane.
Ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt don tseirbhís leabharlainne agus taighde atá againn anseo. Déanann siad obair na gcapall agus tugann siad an-tacaíocht do Sheanadóirí. I commend the support work that is done by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service to help us in our role as Senators and parliamentarians.
I echo the thoughts of my Sinn Féin colleagues that the schedule in the House over the past number of weeks has been lighter than it could have been. To be positive and make constructive recommendations, we often speak about how much European legislation that is laid before the Houses is not debated, so I took an example from the documents laid before the Houses last week. It is quite pertinent to my area of interest as it relates to rural development funding. The document is the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the European Council laying down certain transitional provisions on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and amending certain regulations regarding interim payment procedures for rural development funding for 2014. It goes into some detail about the agreements relating to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and the legal basis for the reformed CAP. It states that transitional rules are needed to define technical arrangements which would permit a smooth adaptation to the new conditions while at the same time ensuring continuity of the different forms of support under the CAP. There will be a great deal of detail in that about payments made to farmers, payments made under the Leader programme and so forth, so it would be beneficial if such matters were discussed here.
There has been much confusion over the last few years about the position with Leader programme funding. Certainly, some local area groups are still confused as to how much funding they will have for the rest of the year. People with projects are asking me to find out when the moneys will be released to them, when they will find out what will be available to them and whether they can make applications under the Leader programme before the end of the year. If there are to be transitional arrangements in place for 2014, it would be useful to debate them with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, and to ascertain what implications they will have for people in rural areas.
The Acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Byrne, called for a debate on the hospital groupings. I will certainly arrange a debate on that in the short term. With regard to the Omagh bombings, the Taoiseach has stated that he is willing to meet with the bereaved families in Omagh. I am sure that will be arranged in the short term also.
The fact that the vast majority of Senators mentioned the sad passing of young Donal Walsh is indicative of the life he led and the example he gave to everybody. He certainly was an inspiration to all who listened to him. While we of course extend our deepest sympathy to his heartbroken family, we should certainly celebrate a life that has given inspiration to so many people and which highlighted the issue of suicide prevention.
A number of Senators, in expressing sympathy, have also raised the question of debates on suicide. We have had four or five debates to date on suicide and its prevention. People have also been critical of funding for mental health services. This Government committed to a €35 million special allocation for mental health services in 2012 and 2013 for adult and child mental health services. The special allocation included the creation of 414 mental health posts of which the majority, 410, are now in place. That is significant progress in that area.
I am happy to inform the House that the budget for 2013 allocated a further €35 million which will include an additional 470 posts that will be advertised shortly. We have seen action in that regard and the Government is committed to the area. The Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, has received assurances from the HSE that the recruitment process for the 2013 posts is in progress. Advertising for them has commenced. An example of the spending involved in the €35 million special allocation on suicide strategy is as follows. The Minister of State has taken the lead and is committed to implementing the recommendations of Reach Out, the national strategy for action on suicide prevention 2005-14. I am happy to be able to inform the House that the national office for suicide prevention has implemented most of the recommendations in the strategy, delivering a general population approach to mental health promotion and suicide prevention, using targeted programmes for people at high risk of suicide, delivering services to individuals who have engaged in deliberate self harm and providing support to families and communities bereaved by suicide. I am not prepared to accept suggestions from the House that the Government is doing little or nothing regarding mental health and suicide prevention.
Senators Bacik, Healy Eames and Moran also welcomed the fact that HIQA inspections will now take place in facilities for children and adults with disabilities, which is to be welcomed by the House.
Senator Mullen and others raised the question of suicide prevention. Senator Hayden outlined that the national children's hospital is of paramount importance. It will commence in due course.
The Senator also spoke about new measures to combat homelessness. I will ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to address that issue.
Senator David Cullinane raised concerns regarding the business of the House. Similar concerns were voiced by his colleague, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, last week when he asked why we were not sitting until noon on Wednesday. I had assumed Sinn Féin Members would know we were commemorating the dead of 1916, but apparently they were not. As I have previously stated, any legislation that is ready to be brought to the House is presented as soon as possible. Since coming to power in 2011 this Government has introduced a considerable amount of long overdue reforming legislation-----
This has given the Seanad a real opportunity to influence debate and legislative provisions, which is more than can be said for previous Governments. I have had every Minister and Minister of State here on numerous occasions to discuss matters which Members have highlighted as being of considerable national importance. Yet, on the majority of those occasions, only a small number of Members have been present in the Chamber to discuss the issues.
Senator Catherine Noone complimented Dublin City Council on the success of the Dublin bicycle scheme and its proposed expansion.
Senator Marc MacSharry referred to the leaking of information by the Standards in Public Office Commission to newspapers. I will certainly raise that matter with the commission and if I receive a response will relay it to the Senator.
Senators Fidelma Healy Eames and David Cullinane referred to the Higgins report. I will ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the contents of that report. Senator Cullinane observed that it will include both positive and negative news. I am pleased to tell him that in the case of Waterford Regional Hospital the news is very good indeed, with a recommendation that services not only be retained but enhanced.
Senator Mary Moran asked about additional residential places for persons with disabilities. I will ask the Minister to address the House on that issue. Senator David Norris raised concerns regarding the welfare of children and referred once again to the status of former residents of Bethany Home. Again, I will ask the Minister to respond to those points.
Senators Michael Comiskey and Terry Leyden referred to the fodder crisis.
I thank the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine for coming into the House last week after he had been requested to do so. He outlined in detail the measures taken. His decision to extend the scheme is to be welcomed by all. We realise farmers still have problems, about which there is no question, and the Minister is doing everything possible to address them.
Senator Terry Brennan welcomed the role played by the Labour Relations Commission in bringing the management and staff of Bus Éireann together. He also welcomed the ongoing Croke Park II talks. I am sure we all wish the Labour Relations Commission every success in the talks.
I could not agree more with what Senator Feargal Quinn said about the payment services directive, the objective of which is to encourage people to use more electronic payments.
Senator Kathryn Reilly called for a debate on the social consequences of the recession. She suggested a recent report on the matter could be referred to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. I am sure the committee can consider it.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh spoke about EU rural development funding. I am sure the matter will be raised at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and, if necessary, referred for scrutiny at the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs which was the subject of a motion in the House last week.
- Sean Barrett
- Thomas Byrne
- David Cullinane
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Feargal Quinn
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Jimmy Harte
- Aideen Hayden
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- Katherine Zappone