Thursday, 29 May 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Industrial Development (Forfás Dissolution) Bill 2013 - Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
What is the Government's opinion of the proceedings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and in particular the evidence of the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality? I raised the point yesterday in advance of the meeting because it was very clear to anyone who was interested that Mr. Purcell would not answer questions on the commission of inquiry, led by Mr. Justice Nial Fennelly, into matters arising from the resignation or forced retirement of the former Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan.
It beggars belief that the Taoiseach will not answer questions on his role in the matter publicly. I asked him about this here some weeks ago. It was he who sent Mr. Purcell to meet the former Garda Commissioner. He can tell us what he asked him to say. Yesterday, a long-serving senior civil servant was thrown under the bus to save the Taoiseach. It is incredible that a Secretary General refuses to answer questions before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. How does that bode for the banking inquiry the Government wants to set up? What does it say to witnesses who will come before that inquiry, when they see someone in the employ of the State not answering questions from elected Members of both Houses, who represent the people? It is my view that he has been told not to answer those questions. This will be the end of this Government. The Taoiseach sent Mr. Purcell to the former Garda Commissioner’s house. What did he ask him to say? The Taoiseach will not answer that question publicly, to the media or in these Houses. He has said instead that he will co-operate fully with the Fennelly inquiry.
Three inquiries will cost a minimum of €2 million. Last week, I mentioned a drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, fampyra, which costs €264 a month. It keeps people mobile, independent and active. From next July this Government will stop paying for that drug. It would cost €3,000 per annum to give a person independence and improve their quality of life yet the Taoiseach feels it is right not to answer questions and to insist on waiting for the report of the Fennelly inquiry. Three inquiries will cost €2 million. What does the Government say to people suffering with multiple sclerosis when it removes this important drug from the drug payment scheme because the Health Service Executive, HSE, and the Department of Health cannot afford it? The Taoiseach can afford a €2 million cloak in the form of three inquiries.
What happened yesterday evening is extremely serious but how can we expect Mr. Purcell to answer questions if the leader of the country will not answer questions about his role in a debacle that has brought the justice system to its knees? It is an extremely serious situation. Senator Paul Coghlan can shake his head all he likes.
I have a degree of sympathy for Mr. Purcell because I have no doubt that the lawyers in the Department of Justice and Equality, in the Office of the Taoiseach and back channels of Government have told him not to respond to any questions relating to the resignation or forced retirement of the former Garda Commissioner and the Taoiseach’s role in that.
Yesterday morning, the Leader told me to wait and see what happens because all that I said was conjecture. What I said yesterday morning happened last night.
-----because of how Government has dealt with this matter. If the Government does not get its act together and deal with this transparently, this will be one of many incidents that will bring this Government down before the end of this year. For the Taoiseach not to answer questions to which he has answers-----
I agree with Senator O’Brien that the cost of various commissions of inquiry is a matter of concern but I have already acknowledged that a previous Government established a much better model of inquiry. I think Michael McDowell was the Minister for Justice and Equality who, in 2004, established the Commissions of Investigation Act, which has been a dramatic improvement on the very costly system of long-running tribunals of inquiry that had gone before it. This Government attempted to ensure that Oireachtas committees would have powers of compellability, fact-finding and so forth but the public rejected that in a referendum. The banking inquiry will have to operate under the constraints set out by the Supreme Court.
This practice went on for three decades under the regimes of a range of Governments. It is certainly true that the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality sought, and it was agreed, that the terms of reference would also include the events surrounding the departure of the former Garda Commissioner.
The meeting lasted three hours. I could only attend the end of it because it clashed with another meeting but it seemed to me there was a reluctance to answer. That is for sure. The Fennelly commission will have the appropriate powers of compellability and fact-finding and I hope full answers on those matters will be given there.
The committee also had a two and a half hour hearing with the acting Commissioner of the Garda Síochána and with Baroness Nuala O’Loan, the former Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, at which we heard very important recommendations for reform of policing oversight. That meeting received much less attention but it was very important. No doubt we will be able to have a debate here on the committee’s recommendations on policing oversight and the reform of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, in due course.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan agreed with my proposition that we should consider deferring the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner until the independent policing authority is put in place to ensure that it would take on the appointment of the new Garda Commissioner. I am very glad that it will not be an internal process but will be external.
Will the Leader arrange for a debate with the new Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, on developments in the regulation of crèches and child care facilities? I note that a year on from the "Prime Time Investigates" programme which exposed serious problems in the running of crèches, Ciairín de Buis, director of Start Strong, said yesterday there has been very little change.
With all due respect, Senator Bacik has been somewhat disingenuous about the sequence of events she has attempted to outline. The core of the issue is that the Government decided in setting up the Fennelly commission that it was, as Senator Bacik correctly points out, to focus on the alleged recordings at GSOC but it tagged on the forced retirement or dismissal of the former Garda Commissioner.
The committee attended by the Senator yesterday should have been allowed to pursue that matter.
Despite the fact that people spoke about the compellability issue through a referendum, the Government subsequently introduced legislation to enhance the powers of committees such as the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, although it has refused to use it. It is like a dog which does not bark. Those questions should have been asked and answered yesterday. It is not for the Fennelly commission, as that is only kicking the matter to touch.
Serious questions should have been answered by Mr. Purcell. He admitted that he met the then Garda Commissioner, Mr. Callinan, outside of normal office hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and he also indicated that he engaged mainly in telephone calls. I would like him to clarify the events of a telephone call allegedly made by him on the morning after his visit to the home of the then Garda Commissioner Callinan in which he allegedly asked him to reflect on the discussion which took place the night before. That visit occurred as a direct intervention by the Taoiseach and Mr. Purcell was requested by the Taoiseach to visit Garda Commissioner Callinan. What happened at the meeting and what subsequently happened with the telephone call or calls which Mr. Purcell allegedly made the following morning, asking Garda Commissioner Callinan to reflect on his position? Within an hour or two of the alleged calls, the Garda Commissioner had tendered his resignation.
These are the questions which the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality should have been in a position to put to Mr. Purcell and they are the questions he should have been allowed to answer. It is very disingenuous to suggest the Fennelly commission will look at this matter, and that is a whitewash.
These people have acted with the utmost propriety at all times. The Senator will have to wait. He and his party sought examination of issues in the public interest and we have agreed to that. I agree fully with Senator Bacik, who indicated that the Fennelly report is there-----
Yesterday, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, addressed the Seanad about the reconfiguration of maternity services across hospital groups. He mentioned issues surrounding the procurement of the report which examines this. It has subsequently been brought to my attention that there may be serious repercussions to this statement and the Minister was not fully open or transparent with the information available to him. I understand the report to reconfigure maternity services was commissioned to a company called the Health Partnership, and worker representatives believe the report will result in the closure of maternity centres in Portiuncula Hospital at Ballinasloe and in Letterkenny, with the possible downgrading of other services in the group.
The company was set up by the current chair of the hospitals group, Mr. Noel Daly. Mr. Daly was appointed chair of the group by the Minister, who expressed full confidence in him at the time.
He is the chair of the hospital group in question and involved with the company which produced the report. It would appear there may be a major conflict of interest in the commissioning of the report, and the Minister must make a clear statement that the report is to be withdrawn completely, with Mr. Daly to review his position as chair of the board. When appointing chairpersons to the hospital group, the Minister identified a number of key responsibilities, including ensuring compliance with the code of practice for governance of State bodies, undertaking an assessment of the composition, competency, profile and potential conflicts of interest-----
I have a number of pertinent questions for the Leader. The person in question, the chair of the north-west hospital group, set up the company in 2004 and also appeared to be involved in plans to develop the €75 million Wyndale Clinic which was to be located on the grounds of Letterkenny hospital.
I have some serious questions to be addressed by the Minister. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister come to the Seanad today to answer these questions. Does he agree that the report into the reconfiguration of maternity services in the west and north west cannot be relied upon as independent and fully accountable, and will he ask for it to be withdrawn immediately? Does the Minister feel the chairman of the group should review his position? What is the nature of the relationship between the Minister and the chairman of the west and north-west hospital group?
It is very important as the Minister was not forthcoming when he had an opportunity yesterday to address these issues. He brought up the procurement issue but he did not give us the full information he should have. We have seen decisions taken with Ballinasloe-----
I ask that the Minister comes before the House to give us a full, frank and transparent report on the issues surrounding procurement of the report which considers the reorganisation of maternity services in the west and north west, as well as any matters around the chairmanship of the board. What is the appointment process for the chairpersons of boards? Was that process carried out through public appointment? I understand it was not.
I am sure the Leader will deal with the point. The news today that two teenage girls were found hanging from a tree in northern India after they had been gang raped is horrific, and that comes only a couple of days after a Pakistani woman who was three months pregnant was stoned to death outside a court. Recently we have seen what has gone on in Nigeria with the actions of Boko Haram. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on what I see as an internationally deteriorating position for women, and perhaps the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade could discuss the issue in general.
I second the proposal by Senator Ó Clochartaigh to amend the Order of Business. Any names put on the record today were put on the record yesterday by the Minister, so I cannot see how anybody's reputation has been impugned.
I ask the Leader for a debate about the setting up or expansion of small businesses in this country. I do so having recently met people from a small food-based artisan company who wanted to expand and develop their product. After difficult negotiations with two banks, finance was provided for the project, and subsequent to that is a roadblock of the significant number of regulations from the Departments dealing with agriculture, food and the environment. The people in question had looked at France, Germany and Italy, but in this country the regulations are so cumbersome and difficult that they may walk away from this project which could create 12 or 14 jobs in west Cork. I am not saying it is the fault of this Government and it is something we have had to deal with in Ireland for a while. There should be a debate on the issue as in France, Germany and Italy, the state agencies seek to help people progress these projects after finance has been secured. In Ireland, unfortunately, for the past ten or 15 years the regulations have been more cumbersome and we seem to have the attitude of hindering any progress. It is shame we are over-regulated in Ireland.
I do not speak of doing anything underhand, but if the regulations that apply in three of the original European Union states of France, Germany and Italy are at a much lower level than they are in Ireland and jobs that are most welcome in rural Ireland and that we badly need, are being stymied and held back by over-regulation, we must do something. It was not an easy task to get the banks to provide the funding but that job has been done. However, the regulations are so severe and cumbersome - there are 14 pages or 15 pages of regulations to be complied with - that the person who wants to develop the project and to expand an existing small business employing 14 people is finding it very difficult to do so. The situation is crazy. We should have a debate in this House on this serious issue. I hope the Leader will facilitate a debate along the lines I suggested yesterday on the creation of sustainable jobs in rural areas, as opposed to them being announced in major cities.
I wish to raise a harrowing story that was highlighted in the Mail on Sundayat the weekend but got overlooked due to the election frenzy. It relates to a mass grave in Tuam, County Galway, where the remains of approximately 800 children - citizens of Ireland - were buried. The area is well know by locals. Many of the children were born outside wedlock. They were thrown lifeless into a pit with a sack to cover them. The children were buried without a coffin in a disused water or septic tank on grounds of the former Bon Secours home for unmarried mothers in Tuam, an institution which operated until 1961. The children were often no more than babies.
The cause of death, where it can be ascertained, was listed as being due to malnutrition, convulsions and pneumonia. The mortality rate is estimated to be akin to that of the 17th century. The site has no memorial and it has been reported that there is a Garda investigation into missing death certificates. The grave is now surrounded by a housing estate and is nothing more than a bare patch of ground, which was lovingly attended to by a local man, who recently passed away, and his wife. The local community in Tuam is endeavouring to raise funds for the erection of a monument. I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the relevant Minister in order that at the very least, the State might provide an acknowledgement of the existence of those citizens, the 800 babies.
Could the Leader indicate whether he has had a response from the Minister for Justice and Equality on the matter of the Director of Public Prosecutions pre-empting a future decision of the Supreme Court or an Act of the Oireachtas in issuing a directive to the Garda Síochána instructing it to allow a suspect to have his or her solicitor present during Garda questioning?
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on a matter I raised in the Seanad based on an initiative started by Young Fine Gael. Young people from 16 to 18 years of age will now be eligible for student fares on Bus Éireann, Luas, DART, short hop Irish Rail journeys, on Dublin Bus and in Cork. That is a help but I also ask that the initiative would be extended to Bus Éireann nationwide and to Irish Rail nationwide. Action was taken on the campaign, which was begun by Young Fine Gael, brought to the Seanad by me and passed on to the Minister by the Leader.
The second matter I raise is one I also raised prior to the election. It is time for a motion to be passed in this House that the electoral register would be based on one's PPS number. It is everybody's right to vote but not everyone exercises the right. I came across a few people last weekend who found out at the polling station that they had been taken off the register. That could not happen if the register was linked to the PPS number. I urge the Leader to arrange to have a motion passed in this House for a change in the electoral register as I outlined, and for it then to be brought to the attention of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. It should not be the case that one would physically knock on doors to ask who lives in the house and then put those people on the register. Given today's technology the way to proceed is by using PPS numbers.
As our economic challenges continue to be a huge reality in the lives of parliamentarians, I wish to highlight what I believe is a piece of low-hanging fruit, dressed up as the betting legislation. I urge the Leader to have a chat with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, about the status of the legislation and to note that its passage is vital to the industry and for the revenue it can give the State. We all know from people we meet, especially younger people, that tax-free online betting is the way to go. Zero betting tax is achieved for the State from online betting. It is a major tax avoidance hole.
We must also take betting shops into consideration. When I first came to the House two and a half years ago I met many representatives of bookmakers. They were very worried then and they are much more worried now about their betting shops. The potential loss of 500 jobs would cost €6.3 million in betting duty, PAYE and PRSI to the State. If 500 jobs are lost that would mean a bill of €7 million in social welfare. We are losing approximately €23 million in online betting even before we get to the detail of the legislation and talk about percentages. I would be most grateful if the Leader could put the matter at the top of the Minister's agenda.
I congratulate Young Fine Gael and the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, for listening to it and introducing the transport initiative outlined by Senator Pat O'Neill. I asked the CSO to calculate figures in that regard because the savings made by school-going children, especially where there are two or three children in a family, could be substantial. We hear much talk lately about those over 18 having to pay water charges. The initiative will recoup money into the pockets of householders that would have been expended on transport for schoolchildren and college students.
I wish to raise the serious issue of the closure of a crèche in Tallaght Hospital. I congratulate the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on his new role. I would like him to come to the House to discuss preschool regulations.
I met the assistant CEO. The issue is important. A report that has not been published is being used against parents. I want the Minister to ask for the report. The crèche is not being closed by the Minister. One must take all of the issues into consideration. Nurses have to work at 8 a.m. and many crèches are not open. The crèche must stay open. I ask that the Minister would come to the House to ensure that is the case. The crèche will not close without a fight. The management will not do that to the nurses.
I agree with the comments of my colleague, Senator O'Neill, on the electoral register. It is in a mess. Every individual living in the State or contributing to it should be entitled to a vote. It is wrong that people would be inadvertently removed from the register. The Seanad could do the citizens of the country some service by proposing a number of recommendations regarding the electoral register. Linking it to the PPSN system is probably the way to go. A previous Oireachtas committee on the environment made such a proposal a number of years ago and I am not sure why it has not been implemented. That is a matter we should examine and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government should be invited to come before the House.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business requesting the Minister for Health to come before the House again today to provide clarity to the confusion he created yesterday on the future of maternity services in the five hospitals in the west-north west hospital group. Confusion has been created-----
I support the amendment. The Minister created absolute confusion yesterday. A report has been published which the Minister tried to rubbish by accusing the HSE of breaching procurement guidelines. Answers need to be given by the Minister regarding his knowledge of that breach, the person or authority responsible for approving the commissioning of the report, whether the HSE has actually paid for that report yet and whether the Secretary General of the Department or the Minister's office was aware of the report. The Minister must also address his failure yesterday to give a concrete commitment to the five maternity units in the five hospitals which were the subject of debate here yesterday. He has an obligation to clear up the confusion he created.
I wish to congratulate the Minister, Deputy James Reilly. Perhaps he will be here later but I would like to congratulate him in advance of his appearance. He was formally recognised this week by the World Health Organisation for his work on tobacco control. The WHO identified the Minister as a key international figure in the fight against the harm caused by tobacco, as part of its annual World No Tobacco Day initiative.
The threatened strike at Aer Lingus this weekend will be very disruptive for tourists and those looking forward to taking a break this weekend. I believe it would be better for everyone if the strike were called off. I welcome the fact that IMPACT has accepted an invitation from the company to return to talks. This is the third threat of strike action since the start of this year, which is damaging the company. The dispute is about rosters. The unions are rightly looking for an improvement in terms and conditions and rightly so. However, there are two sides to this story and the way to address it is through bilateral talks or talks at the Labour Relations Commission which is charged with arbitrating on issues like this. I join the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, in encouraging both sides to talk with the LRC before any strike takes place.
I agree with Senator Terry Brennan that there has been a lot of muscle-flexing by unions with regard to strikes. It is a pity that the very precarious position of the economy and the slim chance of recovery is being put at risk because of people trying to extract more from what is not there. Trade unions should be thinking about the people who are unemployed. Without the job creation that is essential, those people's lives will not be restored to what they were in the past. I would like to think that the unions will act more responsibly than they are speaking.
I agree with the point made by Senator O'Neill. I also met people at polling stations who had been on the electoral register all of their lives who turned up to vote but found that their names had been removed from the register. There must be a better way of maintaining the electoral register. In the context of the enormous percentage of people who do not even bother to vote, it is a real pity that those who make the effort are deprived of the opportunity to cast their vote. In many cases, such people are known to the presiding officers. If there are errors in the register, we must find a way to ensure that they can be rectified on polling day, if necessary.
I support the calls by my colleagues for the Minister for Health to come to the House to provide clarification. The Minister commented yesterday to the effect that there were no reports recommending the closure or reconfiguration of maternity hospitals but we have seen the report which refers to reconfiguring maternity services and the option of closing maternity units in Portiuncula Hospital and in the relevant hospitals in counties Mayo and Sligo. We know that no decision has been made but the Minister said, in regard to the reports, that they were "unsubstantiated" and "politically motivated".
I ask that the Minister would come into the House to clarify such comments. If it is the case that these reports were carried out by the hospital groups and are politically motivated, that raises serious questions about the capacity of the CEO of the HSE. There are already questions hanging over him and the Minister. I ask the Minister to come to the House to clarify the position.
The Minister said that an examination and evaluation of the maternity hospitals is being conducted in order that a national strategy be devised. He said that each of the 19 maternity units is being examined and that the Department is also examining national and international evidence of best practice in order to determine how to move forward.
Surely that confirms everything that Senator MacSharry has been saying in this House over the last few weeks. The Minister started by dismissing it and then went on to confirm it. That is not the way for a Minister to act. The parties opposite did so poorly in the recent election because the people do not trust what they are saying to them. We need transparency, straight talking and honesty from Ministers. I appeal to the Minister for Health to return to the House to put the factual position on the record.
I wish to remind my colleagues that Friday, 6 June is the closing date for submissions on the new national framework for suicide prevention. Myself and a group of people who are deeply interested in reducing the number of deaths by suicide got together in Killarney recently and have formulated a submission. All of the submissions received will inform the development of a national framework for suicide prevention for 2015 to 2018. I urge my colleagues to read the Australian framework for the prevention of suicide which has worked and has reduced the figures there. It is my belief that we need to set up a national suicide prevention authority with ring-fenced Government funding and good leadership. I urge my colleagues to examine the issues and make a submission before the closing date.
-----the maternity services at Portiuncula Hospital and that the services there would grow, be enhanced and further funded.
I also welcome the announcement yesterday of a framework agreement between the Minister for Health and the IMO which sets out a process for engagement concerning the GMS GP contract and other publicly-funded contracts involving GPs. The framework agreement sets out a proposed process for engagement on all aspects of the GMS contract with GPs, with due regard to the IMO's role as a representative body of medical practitioners. That is a very welcome development because there seems to have been a log-jam prior to this.
On International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, I ask the House to honour the memory of the UN peacekeepers who lost their lives in the cause of peace and to pay tribute to all of the men and women who have served and who continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations and to acknowledge their high level of professionalism, dedication and courage. Ireland currently has approximately 400 Defence Forces personnel serving in 13 different missions throughout the world. It would be appropriate at some time in the future for the Leader to organise a discussion with the Minister for Defence on our peacekeeping missions abroad so that all Members of the House would have a full understanding of the role of our peacekeepers.
Statistically, this is the most dangerous weekend on our roads. I appeal to all road users to exercise great care so no family will get that awful knock on the door, informing them a loved one has lost his or her life. It is incumbent on all of us to highlight the need for increased road safety and ensure the number of deaths on our roads is kept to an absolute minimum this year.
I want to endorse my colleague’s observations about this weekend’s traffic and thank An Garda Síochána for launching a go slow on our roads day tomorrow. This bank holiday weekend is the one in the year in which, proportionally, most people lose their lives on our roads. Perhaps it is because of the feeling it is the start of summer. The Garda will encourage the go slow tomorrow and enforce traffic regulations.
Why has Fianna Fáil so much difficulty with the review of national maternity services, given it was the party which drove-----
Fianna Fáil had immense difficulties in bringing in the national cancer programme and eight centres of excellence, which caused enormous difficulty, particularly in the north west, because it meant services could not be delivered in the way they had in the past. At the time, it relied on the best medical advice available not just in Ireland but across the world. I would have thought Fianna Fáil would have been the first in the queue to congratulate the Minister for Health, his Department and the Health Service Executive, HSE, for wanting to have a review of maternity services in this country so as to improve them, not reduce them. I would have expected Members opposite, considering the more complex world in which we live and the way medical services are provided, would want to ensure we have a first-class maternity service, as we have had in the past. That is what I believe will come from this national maternity service review. I urge Fianna Fáil to stop encouraging a conversation which is scaremongering. By all means have the conversation about how this review might succeed in providing the best service and care for the women of this country and their babies rather than scaremongering.
I endorse my colleagues’ call for the new Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to attend the House for a debate on crèches.
Yesterday, the Minister for Health clarified the position on the review of maternity services in the west. I remind my colleagues across the floor of the House that in 2003 the then Government produced a report stating that by 2009 there would be 179 consultants in obstetrics and gynaecology.
The Members opposite did absolutely nothing when there was plenty of money coming in to the Revenue Commissioners and the Exchequer. By 2010, there were 125 obstetrician consultants, 60 short of what Fianna Fáil set out in its 2003 target. Will Fianna Fáil Members please stop giving out false information?
Being involved in the legal profession, for anyone to produce a draft report like the one in question, I actually believe they have no knowledge of what is going on in the maternity services. It is a disgrace that someone drafted such a report without knowing what is going on in maternity services. I am referring particularly to litigation in the maternity services which is an area that needs to be addressed. It is important we have a debate on this matter. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board was established for personal injuries suffered in car accidents but nothing has been done for negligence claims in medical services. It is time we examined this whole area of lump sums being paid out when we should examine the Canadian model.
Comhairle na nÓg attended the health committee for a discussion on youth services this morning. There are 48 different youth services providing services to 382,000 young people. This has not been debated in this House. It would be appropriate to have a debate to see how we can further develop and enhance these services. Many people work on a voluntary basis in the organisations in question.
As the counting in the European elections ended at 4 a.m. this morning, I congratulate our successful candidates for the European Parliament, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin for winning four seats each. Jim Nicholson is now the longest serving MEP from the island of Ireland and Brian Crowley, the second longest serving. On the island of Ireland, I note we have achieved perfect gender balance with seven male and seven female MEPs. Can we ask the Scandinavians to please note that as they tended to cite our previous representation balance as evidence that Ireland is not in favour of gender balance? This was the perfect gender balance election and compliments to the electorate and all the candidates.
I want to raise the issue of live RTE coverage of the upcoming Special Olympics national finals in Limerick. The games will be held between 12 and 15 June, featuring 1,500 athletes competing in 14 different sporting competitions with over 3,000 volunteers and thousands of family members and supporters. These national finals are a culmination of four years of local and regional competitions which include one in every three of our people with an intellectual disability participating. This will be one, if not the largest, sporting event in the country this year.
I have made numerous representations to officials in RTE as I believe we have an ideal opportunity to showcase the wonderful hard work of these athletes and their volunteers who have been training tirelessly over the past several years for their events. There is not one Member who does not remember the incredible coverage of the 2003 world games which Ireland hosted. I have been informed by RTE this week that live broadcasting is very expensive and it would not be in a position to provide it over the course of the games due to a lack of resources. It has assured me it will report on the games on news bulletins. However, I believe this will not have the same impact as live coverage. I have written to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte. I encourage the Leader and colleagues to raise it with him too.
I believe our country will be missing out on this fantastic opportunity. This is also an ideal time for a debate on the Special Olympics to show our appreciation to these athletes and volunteers. I ask my colleagues to support me in calling on RTE to provide live coverage of the national games.
Senator Darragh O'Brien raised several issues which he also raised over the past several days. The justice committee will deal with matters pertaining to it. I certainly do not want to interfere in its work. The Senator seems to have a crystal ball as to when elections will be held. I must get a look at it as there are a few things I would like to know myself.
Senator Bacik pointed out the appropriate powers of the Fennelly commission and called, as did other Members, for the regulation of crèches.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of the Secretary General of the Department of Justice and Equality. I understand he has already received a letter from the Fennelly commission asking him to appear before it.
Senators Ó Clochartaigh, Ó Domhnaill, O’Keeffe and Mullins raised the issue of maternity services in the west and mid-west.
The Minister gave a very clear, comprehensive response and will answer any further questions.
The Senator is never very good at letting people speak. He should try to listen to people's replies. We have listened intently to what people have said and I am doing my best to reply. Freedom of speech is not a very good issue with the Senator. The review of maternity services is of paramount importance to women, children and everybody in the country. It is agreed that we should have the review the Minister spoke about yesterday. If there are any questions to be answered about individuals compiling reports, the Minister will be willing to answer them.
Perhaps the Senators could table an Adjournment debate motion calling for those answers rather than doing it second hand. I am only trying to point them in the right direction; whether they go ahead with it is their decision.
Senator Hayden called for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, on the deteriorating situation of women, particularly in India and Pakistan. Senator O'Donovan raised the over-regulation of small businesses in some sectors. State agencies are there to assist companies to expand, not hinder them. I am very concerned about what the Senator said about over-regulation hindering job creation. This matter should be addressed and if he has details of the case in question I will bring it to both Ministers he mentioned.
Senator Naughton raised the appalling situation of a mass grave in Tuam. A monument should be erected in that area. The new Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, will work on the issue of the DPP's advice about suspects having their solicitors present and we will see some action on it in the very near future. Senator Quinn proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 11 be taken before No. 1. I am happy to accede to that request and will accept the amendment.
Senator O'Neill raised the problems with bus transport for teenagers aged between 16 and 18 and welcomed the action by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar. Senator O'Neill also asked that the register of electors be compiled from PPS numbers, and a number of other Senators referred to the matter. Although it comes up after each election, nothing seems to be done about it. We will try to arrange a debate on the matter with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. The compilation of the register has caused problems for many years. It is difficult when people who have been on the register for years find they have been removed and cannot vote while others do not bother voting. There is a major problem.
Senator O'Brien raised the gambling control Bill, the heads of which have been published by the justice committee. I am seeking a debate on the committee's report on the Bill. The Betting (Amendment) Bill is also due. I have raised the issue of online betting with the Minister on a number of occasions. The vast majority of betting is done online and it is wrong that those who bet online are not taxed. It is a difficulty for the betting shops. A number of betting shops, both independent and those in betting chains, are introducing machines that I believe are illegal into their betting shops. The Revenue Commissioners should tackle this issue.
There is no licence to operate these machines in betting shops and the Revenue Commissioners should take immediate action to ensure they are removed. It is a major problem and I hope the Minister for Finance will tax online betting in the budget because it is long overdue. I have raised it for over four or five years.
Senator Keane raised the closure of the crèche in Tallaght Hospital, which will be dealt with as an Adjournment debate matter today. Senator Brennan raised the issue of tobacco control and the recognition by the World Health Organization of the efforts of the Minister for Health in this regard. The Senator also raised the proposed strike in Aer Lingus and the damage it would cause to tourism and the economy, and urged all parties to engage with the Labour Relations Commission. We would all agree with that suggestion.
Senator Walsh raised the issue of maternity services and people being removed from the register of electors, which I have dealt with. Senator Moloney reminded us that the closing date for submissions for the framework for suicide prevention is 6 June. Senator Mullins clarified the matter of maternity services, welcomed the agreement with the IMO and called for a debate on peacekeeping abroad, which we can arrange. Senator O'Keeffe joined Senator Mullins in raising road safety with the bank holiday coming, urged people to be more careful and mentioned the national slow down day. It is important that we all be very careful on the roads this weekend. Senator O'Keeffe also commented on the review of maternity services, and I share her concerns on that issue.
Senator Colm Burke raised the lack of the employment of consultants in medical services between 2003 and 2009 when the country was awash with money. That is a fact. The Senator also called for a debate on developing and enhancing youth services. We will ask the new Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to come here for a debate, which is long overdue. We have not had a debate on youth services for some time.
Senator Barrett raised the European election results. I congratulate former Senator Clune, who has been elected to the European Parliament, and wish her well for the future. I also congratulate the other candidates from the Seanad who contested the European elections, who acquitted themselves very well. Senator Moran complimented the athletes and volunteers of the Limerick Special Olympics. Special Olympics Ireland is a wonderful organisation and shows us volunteerism at its best. It is regrettable that RTE would not have live coverage of the events. I support the Senator's call for live coverage of this wonderful event.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the procurement of a report on the reconfiguration of maternity services in the north west be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Paschal Mooney
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Averil Power
- Feargal Quinn
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
Senator Feargal Quinn has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 11 by taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he wishes to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed. Is the Order of Business, as amended, agreed to?