Friday, 12 July 2013
Order of Business
In recent days, a budgetary provision Members discussed and debated some months ago in this Chamber with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, has come into effect. It will have an impact on single-parent families and according to reports from the Department, approximately 25,000 single parents will now move from direct payments to the jobseeker's category, which will mean a reduction of approximately €60 in their weekly intake. A number of bodies and organisations representing lone parents have criticised severely this move, which has been signalled for quite some time. This comes in the context that at the time the announcement was made, the Minister, Deputy Burton, was outlining her own philosophical views on how she perceived the challenge facing her in respect of the €440 million cut she will be obliged to engineer within her Department's budget later this year. The question as to how she will square this circle obviously remains speculative at this point but she has gone on record, including yesterday, in a view that is confirmed by those representing single parents, that there is a need to improve child care facilities. I hope there might be an opportunity for the Minister to come before the House at some point in the early stages of the new term, if not before the recess, to advance her philosophy in this regard. Both she and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, have indicated they would like to see some rearrangement of the child benefit scheme that would be used towards improving child care facilities.
I also bring to the attention of Members that yesterday, the Taoiseach visited Ringaskiddy, County Cork, where he officially opened a centre to be known as the Beaufort Laboratory. It will mean that hopefully, Ireland will come to be at the forefront of wave energy scientific research. The launch of the centre yesterday, which will create 700 jobs once it is up and running, is of great and far-reaching significance for Ireland because it has the highest potential in the entire world for the generation of electricity through wave and wind energy off our western coasts. It came on the same day the European Union announced its intention to fund approximately €22 billion in research over five areas, one of which was to be in respect of alternatives to fossil fuels. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, to come to the House at some point in the near future to give Members an indication of what is the Government's thinking on the subject of alternatives to fossil fuel energy, with particular emphasis on wave and wind energy. Last Monday, I visited the Orkney Islands as part of a delegation from Committee C of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, the purpose of which was to visit the European Marine Energy Centre there, which at present is the world leader in that regard. Now that the Ringaskiddy centre has been launched - it will take approximately 12 months for it to open and get up and running - I would like to think Ireland will take the lead in this regard given it has such considerable assets in this area.
First, I welcome the passage in the Dáil early this morning of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. It is welcome that after 21 years of legislative inaction, legislation finally is being put in place.
I am pleased the Seanad will have the Bill before it next week. I asked the Leader previously to arrange a debate in the autumn, after the Bill has been passed, to discuss crisis pregnancy in Ireland. I am conscious that today's newspapers report figures from Britain showing that 4,000 women continue to travel from Ireland to England every year for abortions. Since the eighth amendment was inserted in the Constitution some 30 years ago, more than 150,000 Irish women have had abortions in England. We must recognise and seek to address that matter once the legislation dealing with the most difficult cases, namely, where women's lives are at risk, is in place.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on cyberbullying. Senator van Turnhout referred yesterday to the report published by the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Mr. Geoffrey Shannon. One of the key recommendations of Mr. Shannon's report is to provide for a specific offence of cyberbullying. The existing offence of harassment in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act is inadequate for dealing with the serious and tragic cases of cyberbullying such as those which have come to our attention in recent years. The House should debate this issue and address the difficulties arising in respect of how one frames the offence of cyberbullying.
A theme that has been sadly present all week has been the dangers of taking to the water in hot weather. We had two more tragic deaths from drowning yesterday. In the circumstances, it would be useful to have the debate on water safety for which other Senators have called.
I note the Minister of State, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, resigned from her job. She did so in an honourable manner, although I do not agree with her. I do not think much of the Bill that was passed last night - I have not yet had an opportunity to say that. Deputy Creighton's decision led within two hours to the promotion to the position of Minister of State of Deputy Paschal Donohoe, formerly of this parish, who arrived in the Seanad some eight years ago as a kind of a mushroom in one of the rotten boroughs. I was interested to listen to him state on radio this morning that he was being humble. He certainly used the word frequently, a little like Uriah Heep who got the monitor-medal for being "umble" and found it was a great help to him in his career.
Yes. Can we continue to follow the jobs' trail because it appears that anybody on the Government side who behaves treacherously towards Seanad Éireann receives a very nice little pat on the head and other rewards? This is interesting as it is similar to what took place in Gandon's parliament. We should do a study of former Senators who go to the Lower House and rubbish the House they were glad enough to use. That they suddenly do extraordinarily well is remarkable and is an issue we should examine. The Government was cute to bounce the extinction of the Seanad, a mutilation of the Constitution and Oireachtas, right into the middle of a period when it knew the issue would not receive media coverage because Deputies were either murdering each other or behaving indecorously in the other House. The Government wants to preserve the Lower House in order that Deputies can have their horseplay or whatever they want to call it, continue to drink until 5 a.m. and make nonsense of various serious Bills. It bounced the Bill to abolish the Seanad into the House in the silly season and in the middle of a row in the other House.
That is the reason I am asking the Leader to take all these matters into account and to consider, as a matter of honour, voting with us on Report Stage of the Bill when it comes before the House. We are being sold a pig in a poke and this particular pig is unattractive, despite all the lipstick that has been applied, the pink bows that have been placed on its tail and the brushing down it has received. The Government still cannot sell it to the public because people are too cute. It then decided to put it into a nice little wickerwork poke so that nobody would see the pig. If the Government is serious about democracy, let----
Yes, will he and his Government let the people see the pig? The people want to see it. Citizens have one free shot at goal and will be able to administer revenge on the Government for what it has done and the way it has treated them in cutting funding for carers and shoving taxes on them at the instigation of Frau Merkel and the rest of them. This is their one chance and it will not cost them anything to give the Government a right good kick.
Yesterday, I raised on the Adjournment the withdrawal by the Health Service Executive of discretionary medical cards from cancer patients. This is one of many serious issues in the health service. The main issue with the HSE, however, is its creation and the fact that it has turned into a complete waste of money, as acknowledged by everyone from the Minister down. I read in the newspapers this morning that the HSE or Minister has decided to appoint more managers to find more savings in the health service. The number of managers created in the HSE in the past ten years is the root of the problem. It is ridiculous that more will be appointed in an effort to solve the executive's financial problems.
I reiterate the call I made last week for a debate on health matters. As far as I can discern, Ministers in the Department of Health are not managing but delegating work to managers who are being paid €150,000 per annum. This is ridiculous and lies at the root of the problem. Ministers need to take stock and get rid of these guys. When I was employed by a health board in the 1980s, staff officers made decisions. The small number of section officers in place then have gone by the wayside as they no longer make decisions because one must now be on a salary of €150,000 to make decisions in the health service. We will soon have to appoint a super-duper manager to oversee the work of all the other managers. Eventually, he of she will get rid of all the managers. The current position is outrageous. I call for a debate on health matters at the earliest convenience in order that we can solve some of the problems in the health system.
I seek a debate early in the next term on the abuse and misuse of the Garda PULSE system. I will give three brief examples of serious abuse of the system. This morning, I received a telephone call from a professional person, a young man, who was involved in a road traffic accident which resulted in him taking a breathalyser test. The judge in the subsequent case before the courts applied the probation Act. However, when the man in question found employment, his employer ran a check and despite not having a conviction, he lost his job because the incident featured in the PULSE system. This an abuse and misuse of the system. When the young man complained to the sergeant, the latter indicated that it was his view that the judge had made a mistake. Sergeants, superintendents and gardaí may not act as judge and jury. The case was decided in court and was not appealed. The matter should have rested at that.
In a second case, a young man who I knew well got a job driving for the new travelling banks which have replaced bank branches that have been closed. When a check was done on him, it was found that he had been convicted for a small misdemeanour at the age of 17 years arising from a Mickey Mouse charge that was brought when he and a few other young fellows who had attended a party were found on a pub premises about half an hour after closing time. Despite the nature of the charge and the fact that nobody was hurt, the young man's name came up in the PULSE system. Following six weeks of employment, he was sacked for having a criminal record. Is that fair?
The third case relates to a young man who was the innocent party in an affray five or six years ago in which he had the hell beaten out of him and was left with severe bruising. I know the family in question. When he subsequently went for a job, his name featured on a check of the PULSE system, despite the fact that those who assaulted him had been convicted in court and received suspended sentences and heavy fines. A friend of the family, a sergeant in Dublin, asked how the young lad's name featured on PULSE given that he had not done anything wrong and had not been charged. I am sure Senators will see what the problem is from these three examples.
In my view, the PULSE system is being misused. I think it is worthy of a debate here. A professional was refused a job. The telephone call I received this morning angered me. He has done nothing wrong. In one case, the judge applied the Probation Act, which means the man in question has no criminal record. It is an absolute disgrace that the garda is using the PULSE system to stop people from getting work. I hope we will have a debate on justice matters, with specific reference to this issue, when the new term starts in September. We need to consider whether the PULSE system is working or is being abused. It seems to me, based on what I have heard, that it is being scandalously misused.
I strongly support Senator O'Donovan's call for a debate on the PULSE system. The examples he has given the House this morning are very worrying. It would be a major injustice if somebody's access to employment or somebody's career prospects were endangered in any way simply because information of a minor nature is held on a computer system. The Minister for Justice and Equality needs to clarify the matter and assure the House that insignificant information about people that is stored on the PULSE system is not used in a prejudicial way.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the relevant Minister - probably the Minister for Health - on the issue of gambling addiction at an early stage in the autumn session. I heard something worrying on the radio this morning. People in the UK can now access the Paddy Power gambling service online via Facebook. I am sure it is only a matter of time before people here can access it too. There needs to be a great deal of discussion on online gambling and the taxation of gambling activities. Many lives are being ruined by excessive gambling. There is anecdotal evidence of a close link between excessive gambling and suicide. We all know of many families that are in grave financial difficulties as a result of excessive gambling. A significant debate on this issue is needed because it has significant social and health implications for many people. When a calm atmosphere descends on this House again in the autumn, we should discuss how we can tighten the laws that govern online gambling, secure more taxation from such activity, make gambling less attractive and examine the significant health issues associated with gambling.
We are usually treated to a tour de force from the Leader when he responds to the questions we ask on the Order of Business. I sometimes think he must be using radar to know what is going on in people's offices. He always seems to have the answers. That is important because it contrasts with what happened here yesterday. The manner in which the troops of advisers who sit in the chairs beside the Cathaoirleach came in and out of the Chamber and engaged in conversation interrupted the business of the House on several occasions.
Members of this House had to stop speaking. The Minister of State seemed to find many of the anecdotes that were being shared with him entertaining. He did not listen to Senators. It looked particularly bad on television. Perhaps Members of the House are conditioned not to look and see who is present. Ministers and Ministers of State should master their briefs. Those who sit the junior certificate and leaving certificate examinations are not allowed to bring two or three chums in with them to prompt them on the correct answers.
It contrasts unfavourably with what happens in Westminster, when the Prime Minister stands at the despatch box and has to answer without any obvious prompters about the place. The same thing applies in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I ask the Leader to prepare a new protocol for advisers when they enter this House. Perhaps he could start by confining Ministers and Ministers of State to one adviser at a time.
I have to diverge from Senator Norris with regard to the promotion of Deputy Donohoe to the rank of Minister of State. I do so not least because the new Minister of State is a former student of mine. We always follow the rule set by an old tutor in TCD - we hope our students learn as much from us as we do from them, and about half as much from us as from their fellow students. I suggest that Deputy Donohoe would have spotted the design faults in the euro, for example, if he had been around at the time. When we win the referendum and he comes to address this House in its next term, I hope we will be magnanimous in victory. I will try to persuade Senator Norris to be magnanimous too. I wish the outgoing Minister of State every success. She is a woman of principle and that is always to be admired.
I would like to conclude by giving the House a warning based on what is happening across the water. It appears that the Tory Party has a public relations consultant who also advises the tobacco industry and, as a result, a delay in the UK Government's proposals to provide for plain cigarette packaging is being announced as we speak. Senator Crown has warned us about the power of the tobacco lobby. We cannot relax on that front.
I would like to concur with Senator Barrett's views about cigarette companies. On the Adjournment last week, I spoke about the sneaky tactics being applied by cigarette companies to make young people more comfortable with their products.
Their latest insidious stunt is the introduction of a packet of 25 cigarettes that costs €9.90. In other words, the unit cost of a single cigarette has been reduced. I believe that contravenes the minimum pricing laws. It is regrettable that the European Court of Justice has a different view on these things. Senator Barrett is right to remind us to keep the foot on the pedal when it comes to this legislation.
I would like to join others in expressing concern about gambling. I know the Leader made a significant contribution in this area in the previous Seanad. We have been promised legislation in this regard. The traditional betting shop form of gambling is on the decrease throughout the world, including in Ireland. That is probably unfortunate, in a way, because if human beings are responsible for taking bets from people there is some chance that this activity can be policed properly - that bets will not be taken from young people, for example. The huge increase in the amount of Internet gambling has been an unfortunate result of the development of modern technology. In my view, online gambling has very serious consequences for society, particularly people who have a propensity towards addiction. Online gambling is being used as part of the refusal kit by financial institutions when refusing mortgage applications. If they see paddypower.ie or any of the other major gambling companies on a person's bank statement or a credit card statement, that information is used as part of the refusal kit even though that person might be gambling just €20 or €40 a month. This country is losing significant revenue as a result of its failure to regulate online gambling.
Along with other members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I have been to the Betfair headquarters in Dublin. That company is keen for Internet gambling to be regulated. In fairness, all of the big Internet gambling companies want online gambling to be regulated. I have two questions for the Leader. When can we expect proper betting legislation to be brought before the House? Can we have a debate in this House on the effects of gambling on society and on people's mental health? We need to have a debate on this important matter.
I would like to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, calling on the Minister for Health to come to the House today to discuss the health service generally, the reform of the health service and the medical card eligibility scandal. People are having their medical cards taken from them for all sorts of reasons.
The reality is that this Government promises reform in the health service. It promised us the abolition of the HSE and free GP care for all, which is a bit of a sick joke when one considers that since it came into office, it has taken free GP care from people who already have it by taking their medical cards. The Government promised universal health insurance, yet that has not been delivered. Where is universal health insurance? It promised reform of mental health services and we have not seen that. All we have had from this Government in terms of health care is cutback after cutback. In the last budget, €750 million was taken from the health budget and we saw the consequences of that in hospitals throughout the country.
Over recent days, we have seen the most reprehensible and cruellest of all the cuts. This was taking medical cards from cancer patients. That is truly reprehensible. I dealt with 14 cases in Waterford involving people whose medical cards were taken off them. I am sure there are thousands of people throughout the State who are losing their medical cards, yet the Minister talks about free GP care for all when he is stripping people of their entitlements. All we are getting is cutback after cutback. Yes, the Minister will attend the House next week to discuss a very important Bill that I will support but I want the Minister to come in to discuss his failure in respect of the health service because that is what it is. He talked tough and promised a lot, but he simply has not delivered. Those cuts are having a very serious impact on families, individuals and patients across the State and we need the Minister to come to the House to account for his failures in the health service.
I remind the Leader of the concern many people have about the future of the IFSC and the banks, about which I spoke about here some time ago. I know a number of the banks are, unfortunately, winding down. I am talking about foreign-owned banks. I am worried about competition but there is a much more immediate threat reported in The Irish Times this morning. It concerns a radical new plan or rethink for the IFSC. Something is badly needed there. There has been such investment in infrastructure down there and there are some iconic buildings. It will not serve the capital city well if jobs are lost and people are less inclined to live down there. I know the Leader is anxious to have a debate on banks. At a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, I raised the threat of foreign-owned banks winding down and possibly exiting our market, which would be very serious. We had hoped to have the debate, but I think we have run out of time to do it this session. It is urgent. I urge the Leader to arrange a combined debate or two separate debates when we come back.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Cullinane. It is vital we have a debate on the health system, particularly in light of events happening across the sector. Attention was drawn yesterday and this morning by Senator Cullinane to the medical card fiasco and the withdrawal of medical cards from individuals. The response given yesterday, and I appreciate that it is a response from the Department of Health to the Leader of the House, is that a high percentage of the population have medical cards. That is correct, but a high percentage of the population have medical cards through no fault of their own. They have them because they are unemployed and on social welfare because the domestic economy is stagnant and no jobs are being created.
This Government promised a single tier health system when it came into office. It involved the removal of charges for seeing a GP, the shortening of waiting times in hospitals and a move from reimbursement based on fixed amounts to the money follows the patient model. None of that has happened. Waiting times have increased in all of the hospitals throughout the country.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund was axed. Anyone waiting over three months was allowed to go on to that and get their procedure, but that is now gone and there is nothing to replace it.
I commend a Member of the other House who has been referred to here, the former Minister of State, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, on the very determined and conviction-driven stand she took because she believed she was right. The manner in which she was treated by her own party was quite disgraceful.
I have a question relating to the health service but I just want to congratulate Pfizer, the IDA and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on all the work they are doing in job creation and getting money invested in this country. We are creating 2,000 jobs per month while the previous Government was losing 1,250-----
I have no difficulty with having a debate in this House on the health service. Let us be fair in respect of the medical card system. We have gone from more than 1.6 million medical cards when we came into Government to-----
Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an moladh atá déanta ag mo chomhghleacaí go dtiocfadh an tAire Sláinte isteach, ar nós mar a mholamar inné. D'aontaigh an Ceannaire linn go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go dtabharfadh an tAire soiléiriú maidir le ceist na gcártaí leighis.
Gealladh dúinn freisin go mbeadh an athbhreithniú ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla againn roimh deireadh an tsamhraidh. Níl aon rian de sin agus tá an próiseas comharliúcháin críochnaithe le bliain go leith. B'fhéidir go mbeadh an Ceannaire in ann soiléiriú a thabhairt dúinn ar chéard atá ag tarlú maidir le hAcht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla.
After last year's budget, the Leader indicated that we would have a comprehensive series of pre-budget debates this year. I note we have not had any of those yet. By the time we come back, it will be close to the end of September. I would imagine the troika this week is indicating to the Government what budgetary measures it would like to see put in place. It is disappointing we have not had a full series of debates before the break to inform the thinking of the Ministers as to what should be done in the upcoming budget in October. It is very disappointing but even at this late stage perhaps some of the senior Ministers who are dealing with budgetary portfolios could come in and draw on the expertise that is in these Houses in order that they can reflect over the summer on thoughts about what should be put into the budget. If possible, the Leader should give us a listing of the debates to be scheduled when we come back in order that we can have the preparatory work done for those debates come the autumn.
I will ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to come to the House to give an update on both wave and wind energy early in the next session in the autumn.
Senator Ivana Bacik called for a debate of cyberbullying, noting the fact that Geoffrey Shannon has mentioned that it should be a specific offence. We will ascertain if the Minister will introduce legislation to deal with that issue. I will invite him to the House to address the matter.
Senator David Norris rightly praised the former Minister of State, Deputy Lucinda Creighton. The former Minister of State gave a great contribution in the House on many occasions. On behalf of the House I thank her for her time, courtesy and ability in reporting and addressing European affairs matters, in particular, and the way she handled the EU Presidency.
She was an excellent Minister of State and I wish her well for the future.
Senator John Kelly and other Senators raised the question of discretionary medical cards. The matter was raised yesterday on the Order of Business. I gave a fairly detailed reply in which I stated that 48% of the people are on medical cards and more than 2.1 million will be on medical cards by the end of the year. I am repeating myself for those who did not attend yesterday and have raised the issue today. It is wrong. If it is the situation that people who have cancer and have their medical cards withdrawn that is absolutely disgraceful. If that is the situation-----
Allow me to finish, please. I will make representations to the Minister for Health. As regards calling for the Minister for Health to come to the House, we will have the three Ministers for Health in the House for 24 hours, at least, on a Bill next week.
Senator Denis O'Donovan raised a very serious issue of the alleged abuse of the PULSE system. This is a very serious matter which needs to be addressed. I note the examples the Senator gave and I will request the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House for a debate on that item.
Senator Michael Mullins and Senator Martin Conway raised the issue of gambling addiction and online betting. A vast amount of gambling is done online on the Internet. For the information of the House, the betting (amendment) Bill will be going to Cabinet next week and will come before the House in the autumn. That Bill will address the whole area of online betting. Senator Conway mentioned that I introduced a Private Members' Bill in the House which was rejected in the last session. I still believe it is a disgrace that we have a State-sponsored body, Tote Ireland, where children under the age of 18 cannot buy a national lottery ticket or go into a bookie shop and so on and yet children making their first Holy Communion children can queue up at race meetings and dog meetings, in particular. To date, no Government has taken on the vested interests in that regard. I believe that is disgraceful. People would say I am a killjoy.
We can make those points when we are dealing with the betting (amendment) Bill.
Senator Sean D. Barrett raised the issue of advisers and their presence in the House. That is a matter for the Ministers themselves. I do not think we can lay down protocols in this House as regards how many advisers can come in. The issue is probably outside our remit. The Senator complimented his former pupil and former Senator, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on become a Minister of State.
I am sure he will be an excellent Minister of State and will come to the House early in the new year, if not before it.
Senator David Cullinane raised the question of free GP care. I can assure the Senator that is far from being abolished and that we will have free GP care before the end of this Government. He can quote me on that if I am wrong. With regard to universal health care, the Government never said it would introduce universal health care in this term.
The Senator comes in with the usual negative mantra. It was the typical Sinn Féin mantra that we had again today.
Senator Paul Coghaln called for a debate on the future of the IFSC in conjunction with the banking debate. I will raise that matter with the Minister for Finance.
What can I say to Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill?
I will not even deal with some of the issues. As regards shortening the waiting lists, the Senator is totally incorrect. The special delivery unity has delivered significant benefits in terms or shortening waiting lists throughout the country.
Senator Colm Burke raised the question of job creation. I remind Senator Ó Domhnaill that 2,000 extra jobs per month are being created in the economy at present, where 250,000 were lost in the three years preceding our taking over government. The Senator need not lecture me on jobs and job creation. Some 2,000 jobs per month are being created now where 250,000 were lost in the last three years of the previous Government..
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of pre-budget debates. We had them last year and we will do our best. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, has met more than 30 organisations which made pre-budget submissions and has discussed them with the relevant people, those dealing with the areas. The Minister does not go second-hand.
An amendment to the Order of Business has been proposed by Senator Cullinane, "That a debate on the health service and eligibility for medical cards be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
- David Cullinane
- Paschal Mooney
- David Norris
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- Denis O'Donovan
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jillian van Turnhout
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Deirdre Clune
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Jimmy Harte
- Aideen Hayden
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Maloney
- Mary Moran
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- John Whelan