Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

11:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Order of Business is No. 1, Central Bank Bill 2014 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken 11.45 a.m. and to adjourn not later 12.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 49, motion 10, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.45 p.m.; and No. 2, statements on the youth guarantee and rent supplement, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 4.55 p.m.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

A few short weeks ago the Taoiseach came to this House to bring forward legislation on an inquiry, led by Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, into Garda whistleblowers, the alleged bugging of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission and the resignation, retirement or forced resignation of former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan. During that debate I suggested to the Taoiseach that he could simply have outlined to the House what he asked Mr. Brian Purcell, Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality, to say to the former Garda Commissioner. He knows what happened and he could have put the matter on the public record in this House. He refused to do so, and he refused again earlier this week on our national broadcaster. We are now left in a situation whereby the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will meet this afternoon to discuss the Guerin report and the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality will appear before that committee to answer questions on the report. We are led to understand that Mr. Purcell will not be answering any questions relating to the conversation he had with the Taoiseach in advance of his visit to the former Garda Commissioner to ask him to resign, if that is what happened. In effect, the waters have been completely muddied.

I put it to the Leader that Mr. Purcell is being put in an invidious position by this Government because he is being asked to go into a committee where every member, which I assume includes members on the Government side, will be asking him what occurred during his conversation with the Taoiseach in advance of his meeting with the former Commissioner. He will not be in a position to answer those questions. His position will probably then be untenable and he may have to tender his resignation at that stage, all because the Taoiseach will not tell us what he asked Mr. Purcell to say to the former Garda Commissioner.

This is an incredible situation. When the Taoiseach was in this House he promised us he would ensure we got to the bottom of the matter and that we would find out all the facts. In respect of the Fennelly report, the Taoiseach could have told the Seanad what he said but he has refused to do so. If what I suggest transpires, it will further undermine the authority of the Department of Justice and Equality, or certainly its Secretary General, and will have ramifications across the Department and those who administer justice in this country. This situation is being created by the Taoiseach and the Government. I put on record my absolute displeasure at this and my hope it is not the case. Has the Taoiseach, the Department of the Taoiseach or the new Minister for Justice and Equality instructed Mr. Purcell not to answer questions relating to the resignation of the former Garda Commissioner? Has he been told not to answer those questions later today? If the Leader has the answers to my questions, I ask him to tell us and, if he does not, to inquire into the matter.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to assist those on the Government side. The Leader has been trying for the past 14 months to get the Minister for Health to come to the House to answer questions on medical cards and the removal of discretionary medical cards. I welcome the Leader's comments in regard to his displeasure at what is happening. The Minister is blatantly refusing to come into this House and the only way we can get him to do so is by passing an amendment to the Order of Business on the matter. I am therefore proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, would come to the House to discuss exactly what is happening and what form the review of the removal of discretionary medical cards is going to take.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Leader will, of course, respond to Senator O'Brien's comments about the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality but, as a member of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, before which the Secretary General, Mr. Purcell, will appear at 5 p.m., I advise the House that the committee has corresponded with Mr. Purcell to tell him it is reserving the right to ask any questions that are within its orders of reference and remit. That is absolutely proper and appropriate for an Oireachtas committee.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Is Senator Bacik happy he will answer those questions?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Unfortunately, I cannot predict how the answers will go. Clearly it is within the right of any witness not to answer questions. We have seen it happen previously in Oireachtas committees that witness did not answer questions or did not answer them adequately. One cannot predict what answers will be given, but certainly the committee has expressly reserved that right.

I support the calls made yesterday by Senators Zappone, Hayden and others for a debate on homelessness. I am conscious that we will have a debate this afternoon with the Minister for Social Protection on the issue of rent supplement and the youth guarantee.

That is very welcome. The issues to do with rent supplement feed directly into policies on homelessness. I know the Leader has made every attempt to ensure we will have a debate on homelessness with the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. I will do anything I can to assist in ensuring that debate will be held because it is a very important issue.

I ask for a debate on the issue of the implementation of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act which provides for a 30% quota or target of candidates of each gender for all political parties in the next general election. I ask this in the context of a very changed gender breakdown of councillors following the local elections. Yesterday I spoke about the defeats suffered by the Labour Party but many Labour councillors and candidates were returned. In particular, women candidates and councillors appeared to fare better than men. The overall picture for the gender breakdown of councillors across all the local authorities shows a significantly improved situation for women. A total of 21% of councillors are women compared to only 16% after the 2009 election. There has been a significant increase in the number of women councillors. It has been estimated by Women for Election that this represents a 33% increase in the number of women councillors, given the reduction in the number of seats.

The by-election results show that we have the highest representation ever of women in the Dáil, with 27 women, 16.3%. This is very welcome. I ask the Leader for a debate on what this means for the implementation of the political funding legislation which was initiated in this House and which was passed with general support and which it is hoped will result in a great increase in the numbers of women candidates in the next general election. What we have learned from the local authority elections is that where there is an increase in women candidates this follows through to an increase in women who are elected. People will vote for women and every political party has an obligation to ensure it has a significant proportion of women candidates at the next election.

11:40 am

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I rise to second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Darragh O'Brien on the medical cards issue.

I ask the Leader to ascertain what is the current status of the proposed Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, which rows back somewhat on the fisheries Bill 2006 and with which I had a significant issue. I have been asking for more than 12 months for a debate on the fishing sector. The summer is coming and the weather is calm. During the storms of the winter many fishermen were without an income for prolonged periods and were unable to get fish assist payment. They were living on crumbs. I ask for a debate on the fishing industry and on the situation of the inshore fishermen. I ask that the debate be held as soon as is practicable.

We should have a debate on job creation in rural Ireland. The Government, with some merit, crows loudly when jobs are created in places like Dublin, Galway or Cork city, but in huge areas in the Leader's county of Waterford, in west Cork, parts of Kerry and the west, no sustainable jobs have been created in the past four or five years. That issue is worthy of debate. It is a significant loss that there is no senior Minister dedicated to rural affairs. The jobs situation in many parts of rural Ireland is acute and the only answer in those areas is widespread emigration, which is a sad substitute for jobs. I hope for a positive answer from the Leader with regard to a full debate on those issues.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the suggestion by the leader of the Opposition regarding the medical cards issue. The review of medical cards is unnecessary and I have made my view clear on this matter. Such a review gives a very false and misleading impression. As recently as yesterday evening at the Joint Committee on Health, representatives from one organisation alleged that the number of medical cards was reduced by 10%. Such a reduction in the number of medical cards would see 190,000 cards withdrawn. That is not the position. In fact, the number of medical cards has increased by 12.5% since 2011. However, the review of medical cards is causing unnecessary alarm. My argument is that if four out of 100 medical cards are withdrawn because of the change in the criteria, the unfortunate problem created is that the 96 people who retain their cards are convinced that someone tried to take their cards from them. I do not believe the current review is doing anything for anyone and it is not doing anything for the provision of health services.

If I may say to the leader of the Opposition I was surprised to find that when we visited the PCRS in Finglas last week, there was no representative from Fianna Fáil.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Senator's party is in government and it created the mess with the medical cards. What is the Senator's point?

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am concerned that Fianna Fáil has such a strong-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We have been raising the issue for the past two years.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----opinion when there was-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Senator Burke, without interruption.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I do not see the relevance.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I did not interrupt the Senator.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There was no one there from Fianna Fáil. A number of very constructive proposals were raised at that meeting and these will help the situation. One of the proposals is that elderly people can nominate a designated person to correspond with the HSE on the review of medical cards.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

They are called public representatives.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I mean a member of the family. I ask the Leader for a debate on the review of medical cards. We need to change the current system to ensure that unnecessary alarm is avoided. The current review is causing unnecessary alarm.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I agree with the point about the medical cards issue made by our leader, Senator O'Brien. While I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Reilly, is coming to the House today to deal with another issue, we want to discuss this issue with him. We commend the Minister because unlike some of his colleagues he always makes himself available for debates in this House. That is not an issue but we want him to come to the House to deal specifically with the review of medical cards.

The PCRS is not doing its job correctly. Its ability to impress with regard, for example, to the five or six members of the joint committee who visited its premises to survey its work and who were shown around to prove how well the system works is a back-slapping exercise and it does not interest us.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It was not a back-slapping exercise. It was constructive. Senator MacSharry was not there.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Senator MacSharry without interruption.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I did not interrupt Senator Burke. The good reason I was not there is that we passed an all-party motion in this House that the Order of Business takes precedence over any committee work. That is the rule I followed. I ask the Leader to remind his junior colleague that the Order of Business takes precedence and on that day we were raising very important issues, one of which will be dealt with by a Private Members' motion on maternity services after the Order of Business this morning.

If Senator Burke inquired from any of his defeated colleagues in Sligo, Leitrim, south Donegal or Roscommon, they could tell him that the medical card issue was the single most important issue on the doorsteps in those constituencies. That is why I and some of my colleagues did not engage in a futile back-slapping exercise. The people I listen to in the context of the review of medical cards are the elderly, the sick, the handicapped people and those who are terminally ill, who have informed me, first-hand, of the failure of the system, so I have no interest in wasting resources and taking these people from their work to facilitate a media exercise to try to make a failing Minister and Department of Health look better. I look forward to that debate and I hope it can be held as early as possible. The Minister is coming to the House today but we need a debate on this issue which, along with maternity services in the north west, is probably the reason Fine Gael and the Labour Party collectively lost 160 seats nationally.

11:50 am

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are at a moment when we need to reflect on the lessons learned and the message sent by the recent local and European elections. Can we have a debate on the EU structure? We have seen how popular it is to oppose European Union domination. There is a very important distinction to be made between being anti-EU and EU domination. Senator Colm Burke has proposed on several occasions that this House have a dedicated role in the scrutiny of EU legislation and directives which affect people’s lives.

Deputy Luke "Ming" Flanagan was elected as a new Member of the European Parliament as a result of that agenda. I do not blame people for being upset when we have not acted to ensure adequate scrutiny of directives and legislation before it affects their lives.

The second lesson we need to learn and to discuss here, is that it is time to move from being pro-economy to pro-people. The narrative needs to change. A former colleague of mine, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Donohoe, spoke all about the economy on "Prime Time" two nights ago. The people have taken it in the neck for the economy for the past six years. The economy must serve the people. It is a very important distinction. We all mean well but we must tweak it in the right direction. The Labour Party is paying the price this week. Fine Gael is too although it is muted.

We all want stable government. The Taoiseach needs to come into this Chamber to discuss and hear about the lessons learned from the local and European elections. I ask everybody in this House to grow up and forget about taking sides. I want stable government for this country, even though I may be physically on this side of the House. Let us be there for all of the people. We all have to learn.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis na daoine ar fad a sheas sna toghcháin, go háirithe leo siúd ar éirigh leo. Maidir leis an dream nár éirigh leo, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeachas a dhéanamh leo, mar bhí cúpla seachtain an-gnóthach acu. I congratulate everybody who stood for election, particularly those who were elected. It was a busy period and it was not easy for anybody but it was important. Some people fared better than others but many Members of this House took part and I congratulate them all on doing so well.
Health services and medical cards were a massive issue during the election campaign. It was one of the major issues brought up on the doorsteps when we were canvassing. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, accepted late in the day that there was a major issue around discretionary medical cards. I support the call for an immediate debate on the restoration of the discretionary medical cards. It is vital that they be restored immediately. My party colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, is preparing a Bill to make that change. It is the right thing to do. I remind the Government Members present today that they voted for cuts to the health budget which are part of the reason for these cuts in the medical card provision.
I am also concerned by a call this morning from the Irish College of General Practitioners about universal health cover. According to an article by Paul Cullen in The Irish Timestoday it has criticised the Government’s plan for universal health insurance:

. . . saying it will reduce patient choice and "do more harm than good". The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) says the plan will result in fragmentation in the health service and greater inequality affecting poor and rural patients.
Rural Ireland cannot take any more cutbacks. There are serious problems in providing dental, medical, nursing and other health-related services. There is no social worker dealing with the rural part of County Galway for those aged between 18 and 65. Rural health services have been stretched. We need a full debate on this Government’s universal health cover plans. It does not look as if it will be possible to implement them. The ICGP has serious concerns about it. The health service is in chaos. I am not confident that the Minister has a grasp of the issues. We need to debate them as a matter of urgency. As an immediate step discretionary medical cards need to be restored and another approach taken.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

There is a proposal to close the Teach de hÍde located at the Sacred Heart Hospital, Roscommon. It caters for clients with mental health issues who are collected every day and brought to the centre, which is nice and homely. It is suggested that the service be located at a primary care centre, which does not have the facilities for the people who need the service.

I congratulate all those who ran for election to the European Parliament. I will be very sorry if circumstances do not turn out well for Pat “the Cope” Gallagher. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan has delivered a great reward for Roscommon in being elected. Nothing concentrates the minds of politicians and governments more than a by-election. I would not recommend that Fine Gael put up a candidate but I hope it does.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

What is the relevance of this to the Order of Business?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The relevance is that Fine Gael must reverse the lies and false promises to retain the accident and emergency unit in Roscommon County Hospital.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Is the Senator asking for a debate?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes. This will be the issue in the election. No Roscommon man was ever before elected to the European Parliament. This is a major step. Now we have an opportunity in Roscommon for the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health to come down and explain why they misled the people of Roscommon in 2011. They will have to say whether they will re-open the accident and emergency unit in Roscommon County Hospital. If they do not re-open it Fine Gael can forget about winning a seat there. Fianna Fáil will contest, and hopes to win, that by-election. It has an honourable track record in respect of the hospital services in Roscommon.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I want the Leader-----

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

He is making a speech for the by-election.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I invite all the Members of the House to Roscommon, South-Leitrim for the by-election. I hope they enjoy their time there and get a rough ride on the doorsteps.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

After the local and European elections we have all suffered major losses.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Senator’s party did. We did not. We increased our seats.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Some people have made gains. I congratulate those who were elected and commiserate with those who were not. Some very fine people have lost local and European seats.

I pay tribute to one person, a cousin of mine who died suddenly on Friday, Councillor Owen Bannigan of Lough Egish in County Monaghan. He served the people very well. He was an outstanding member of his community, party and family. He died doing what he loved best, serving the people on the canvass on Friday. I also pay a personal tribute to his family as well.

I have raised the issue of discretionary medical cards countless times. It is one of the main issues on which the people have spoken. I note the Minister of Health’s comments of yesterday that he would sort them out for people with motor neurone disease and Down's syndrome.

I would also like a debate on the issue, as certain conditions cannot be categorised. I have stated from the day I entered this Chamber that all people with a disability should be entitled to a medical card, regardless of income. It should be an automatic entitlement. People come to me every day who may be slightly over the threshold but they may have children and if the assessors saw what parents are coping with on a daily basis, there would be a change. This is our opportunity to examine the issue of discretionary medical cards, and I join the call for a debate on it.

12:00 pm

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Figures last month indicated that consumer sentiment is higher than it has been for seven years, and there is a great confidence that what is happening in the economy will lead to success. I am very worried nonetheless about what I have heard on radio, particularly yesterday and at other times, about us having to change direction now. That is mainly coming from the Labour Party, and I can understand that. If at this stage we change direction too suddenly in order to make ourselves more citizen-friendly, there is a serious danger that we could throw away all the good work of recent times. I urge that in the next two years we take care to ensure we do not throw away all the good work that has been done.

For example, this House has taken an interest through legislation in upward-only rent reviews. The Government could look at this in a customer-friendly manner that would also help citizens while helping to get our shops open again. The issue of upward-only rents was mentioned by the two parties in Government and it was included in their programme for Government but they seem to have changed their mind. We have put the legislation through the Seanad but can we ensure it gets through the Dáil? If the President decides there is a question over whether it should become law, he can send it to the Supreme Court for a decision. At that stage we would know if the legislation would be inside the limits of the Constitution. Tackling the issue will get shops open, and 12 business associations - which to my knowledge had never come together before - are urging the Government to do something about this issue. We have demonstrated what can be done in this House so we should encourage the Government to take it to the next stage and make it law.

When I came in this morning I noted significant amounts of graffiti in different places around Dublin. We are not nearly as bad as other countries but if we are to encourage tourists to come to the country because it looks so well, we should see what can be done to avoid this graffiti. A while back a local garda saw two young fellows putting graffiti on a wall; a neighbour took the two 14-year-olds by the scruff of the neck home to their parents. One parent said that boys would be boys but the other parents got their boy to clean the graffiti with a toothbrush, and it took him a week to clean what he had put on the wall. There are steps we can take to help encourage tourism in the country, and we should make graffiti unacceptable.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am delighted to hear an aware and astute man such as Senator Quinn acknowledge and remark on how consumer sentiment is getting stronger. Going around to the doors for the elections, many people told me that in the small and medium enterprise sector, as well as retail, there was a bit of a pick-up, although it was nothing extraordinary. This was in the last quarter of last year and following through to this year.

Yesterday I launched an e-learning network in Dundalk Institute of Technology for further education colleges in the north east region. The message from career guidance personnel in those colleges and the institute in Dundalk was that they were finding it easier to place students in employment. It is necessary to follow our course and stability is very important. People who have worked hard and have been put to the pin of their collar - these people may be in their 40s and have family members in third level education - need a bit of a break from paying the universal social charge or similar measures.

I acknowledge the great achievement of Sinn Féin in different areas. Louth has not been rolled over by a Sinn Féin tsunami; we had eight Fine Gael councillors and we now have seven, with the councillor who lost being replaced by a fellow from the Fine Gael family. We are still there.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Is this relevant to the Order of Business?

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is completely irrelevant.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

In Swords the party has none where it had nine.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is still in denial.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I congratulate Fianna Fáil on its performance too. The Senator is certain to get to the Dáil.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Like other colleagues I pay tribute to everybody who put themselves forward for election, be it the local elections, the two by-elections or the European Parliament elections. I congratulate all those who were successful and commiserate with the many who were not. Very many fine councillors have been lost throughout the country, mainly from the Government parties of Fine Gael and Labour. It is time for their colleagues in this House to stand up and be listened to at parliamentary party meetings. I have no doubt that issues like the discretionary medical cards and household, water and septic tank charges have not come as news to the councillors who lost their seats or colleagues in this House or the Lower House. I have no doubt people stood up at parliamentary party meetings and explained the reality on the ground. I have experience as a Fianna Fail Senator of being part of a parliamentary party which brought issues on the ground to the party hierarchy but I was not listened to. In that case 160 decent people lost their council seats over two elections. Those opposite should take a little advice. They should stand up and be heard at parliamentary party meetings or the same fate may face some of them in the next general or Seanad election.

I pay tribute to the late councillor, Mr. Owen Bannigan from County Monaghan, who died suddenly on the day of the election. He was a very fine representative for the people of his electoral area and he was very vocal about many social issues throughout the length and breadth of the country. I join with Senator Moran in paying tribute to him.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Like others I congratulate everybody who made it through in the different areas of election over the weekend. I commiserate with those who lost seats and particularly those who in participating put their life blood into local and national politics. It is a difficult day for those people. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Clune, for her achievement as it is not easy to get elected to the European Parliament.

The drug Fampyra was mentioned by Senator O'Brien yesterday and this is a serious issue for sufferers of multiple sclerosis.

It is a really serious issue for sufferers of multiple sclerosis, MS. A friend has unfortunately contracted the disease and it appears to me that the only reason he is still mobile is because of the drug. It is the human side of Government that sometimes gets lost when one enters politics. One is in difficulty when one loses humanity. The provision of the drug is something that must be funded. We cannot allow people to lose their independence because of the cost of the drug. The drug that my friend has been using for some time on a trial basis is a new one but it is coming onto the market as the trial has been concluded. In this Chamber we are good at some things; we are quite good at some of the small, human stories. This Chamber should be able to raise a flag for people who suffer from MS and do something about it. I call on the Leader in a constructive manner and not in any confrontational way, in the same way as the issue was raised yesterday, to ask the Minister for Health to come to the Chamber. The issue is very specific to a small number of people who suffer from MS. If the Leader were to ask the Minister to come to the House, he would have the full support of every Member to do something about the situation.

12:10 pm

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I strongly support the call by Senator Michael D'Arcy. This is a very serious issue. I heard a detailed discussion on the drug in question on the radio recently and I heard stories of patients who had benefited significantly from it. We must tease out the issue with the Minister.

I join colleagues in congratulating everybody who was successful in the recent local and European elections. It is a particularly proud moment for us that one of our colleagues, Senator Deirdre Clune, is now a Member of the European Parliament. We wish her well and every success in her career at European Parliament level.

I ask the Leader to arrange a discussion on serious and violent crime at the earliest opportunity with the Minister for Justice and Equality when she settles into her new role. I say that in light of the discovery of two badly decomposed bodies on a remote island in County Meath yesterday. Our hearts go out to the families of those two young people whose lives were so violently taken. The situation shows the depths to which the criminal underworld in this country will go to deal with people who have crossed them in one way or another. It is important that the new Minister would hear the views of the Members of this House on how badly we need to tackle this very serious cancer in society.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

A number of Members raised issues today that were raised on yesterday's Order of Business. I do not know whether they were present yesterday but I find it difficult to have to repeat myself day after day for people who were not present on the previous day who come in and make the same points. However, I will deal with some of the points raised this morning.

Conspiracy theories were advanced by Senator Darragh O'Brien on the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have been right so far.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will not second guess what will happen at the committee meeting today.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I bet Senator Cummins a fiver that I know what will happen.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I have no intention of second guessing what the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality will say.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We will talk about it tomorrow then.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Let us wait and see what the man has to say.
A number of Members raised medical cards, which is a matter that was raised yesterday. We will ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to speak on that specific matter. He will be in the House for two hours today to discuss another matter on which he was requested to attend. It is important to note that 96.4% of the reviews on medical cards that have been carried out confirm continuing eligibility but that is no consolation to the people who have been put in the position of having to provide documentation on more than one occasion in some instances. The matter will have to be addressed. The Minister has said he will deal with it. I will ask him to come to the House to speak to us on discretionary medical cards. The Taoiseach has said the Government will examine the issue and deal with it as a matter of urgency.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on homelessness. On numerous occasions I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to come to the House and I will continue to ask her to have such a debate. We will have a debate today on rent supplement, which was sought by a number of Members. The debate will be with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. The Senator also commented on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act and the implication for women in politics. It is good to see that we now have more than 21% of women elected to local authorities. That is a significant improvement on the previous local election results.
Senator O'Donovan raised the fisheries (amendment) Bill. I understand that the heads of the Bill have not yet been cleared by the Cabinet. Fianna Fáil tabled a Private Members' motion last November on fisheries and maritime jurisdictions but I will ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, to come to the House for a further debate on fisheries. The Senator also inquired about job creation in the regions. I will ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to come to the House for a debate on the issue.
Senator Healy Eames raised EU legislation and EU scrutiny. It is part of the Government's proposals being considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, for the House, which I am sure will be accepted. An improved economy means improved benefits for people also. That is what the economy is about.
Senator Leyden spoke about Roscommon hospital. He should ask the consultants there whether the hospital has improved in recent years. The consultants have said the hospital is a lot better off now than during the period to which Senator Leyden referred.
Senators Moran and Wilson referred to the death of former councillor, Owen Bannigan. I echo their sentiments and express our sympathy to the Bannigan family on the death of Owen in his early 50s. He was an outstanding councillor. I knew him well. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Senator Quinn warned that we should not throw away the gains made in the economy and that we should not change tack at this stage. I will find out the exact position on upward-only rents and whether legislation in that regard will be tested by the Attorney General. We will have to wait and see what the Government decides but I will inquire on the status of the Bill. I agree with what the Senator said about graffiti. It is not something tourists like to see and it should be tackled as a matter of urgency. I am sure local authorities are doing that but they need the help of parents in particular where children are concerned. I note the point he made in that regard.
Senator Jim D'Arcy emphasised the importance of economic stability but also the need for people to benefit from the recovery.

Senator Wilson spoke from experience regarding seat losses and what should and should not be done.

Senator Michael D’Arcy raised the issue of the provision of the multiple sclerosis drug, fampyra, which was also raised yesterday by Senator Darragh O’Brien. As I said yesterday, this matter should be addressed by the Minister in a compassionate way. If people’s conditions are improving because of a drug, then funding for it should be made available.

Senator Mullins called for the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the House for a debate on crime. I will request she attends. She was here yesterday for the DNA database Bill which will be of assistance to the Garda in fighting crime. It is one of several provisions the Minister will be bringing before the House in this term.

12:20 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I too would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy for the late councillor, Owen Bannigan, who died during the local election campaign.

Senator Darragh O’Brien moved an amendment to the Order of Business, “That a debate with the Minister for Health on the form of the review of the discretionary medical cards be taken today”. Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 10; Níl, 25.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Labhrás Ó Murchú and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan.

Amendment declared lost.

12:25 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Is the Order of Business agreed to?

Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 10.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan; Níl, Senators Labhrás Ó Murchú and Diarmuid Wilson.

Question declared carried.