Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on alcohol consumption in Ireland, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called to reply no later than 6.10 p.m.
Last Friday, I attended a briefing by a cardiologist, Dr. Donal Kelly, in Sligo General Hospital. He is campaigning for the provision of a catheterisation laboratory in Sligo General Hospital. It would address the needs of those with cardiac problems in an area with a population of some 276,000. That excludes large portions of County Donegal, primarily because there is currently a catheterisation laboratory in Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry. However, if one includes Donegal the figure is well in excess of 300,000 people. The last Government approved the provision of a catheterisation laboratory in 2009 but due to the economic crash it did not provide the necessary financial support, so this is not a new issue.
It was taken up by this Government and the former Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, instituted a review group. The conclusion of the group was that it would prefer to wait and see the turnout in the Derry hospital location and what the benefits of that would be before it would move to approve a catheterisation laboratory in Sligo. If one looks at the map of Ireland, like the cancer services issue which caused, and continues to cause, controversy in my part of the country, it is as if a blank sheet of paper has been draped across the region north of a line from Dublin to Galway. It is as if the region does not exist in terms of the provision of these types of services.
The doctor in question has pointed out that this would be cost effective. In fact, it would not only be cost neutral but it would save €3.6 million over the ten-year period of the lifetime of the technology involved. The matter has been raised in the Lower House by local Government Deputies but they only got as far as tabling a parliamentary question, which seems to be just about the optics. Parliamentary questions are very important when wishing to highlight issues but this issue has existed for so long that it requires a decision.
The reasoning and logic behind this is inescapable; it is a no-brainer. Not only would it provide a service that would not cost the State anything but it would save money and would provide a service that would address the needs of people who have all types of cardiac problems, specifically those who suffer from a type of cardiac arrest that requires hospital admission within 90 minutes or else they die, as was stated during a briefing. Will the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, come to the House today to explain why the Government will not approve the provision of a CAT laboratory facility in Sligo General Hospital? I want him to look me straight in the eye and tell me why he will not approve it, how he can justify saying "No" and putting it on the long finger, as in the report's conclusions two years ago, and why he will not provide this service which would save lives. If one life is saved as a result of the provision of this CAT laboratory facility, then it would be worthwhile.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on maternity services in the coming weeks in light of the reports on the tragic deaths of babies in the Midlands Regional Hospital. I am sure all colleagues will join with me in commending those parents who have fought so bravely since the deaths of their babies to ensure that matters came to light and in offering sympathies to them. Clearly, the reports of what HIQA has said about the Midland Regional Hospital and the tragic deaths raise grave concerns on the way maternity services are configured, or were configured at the time, which is not very long ago. I know changes have been made and that the director of the HSE has been very clear on the changes that still need to be made.
What is of great concern is not only the issues within the hospital that gave rise to the tragic deaths, or that may have given rise to the tragic deaths, but the way in which parents were treated subsequent to the deaths of their babies and the difficulty they had in establishing exactly what happened and in getting information generally from the hospital. A number of issues have been raised which lead us to require a more general debate on the state of maternity services and how they should be configured. There has been some clear indication of the need to ensure specialisation in particular centres and I think that is the way it seems to be going. As colleagues did last week, I ask for a debate on education, in particular noting the new Springboard offering of 9,000 free higher education places for jobseekers which was announced by the Minister for Education and Skills last week. The new Springboard offering of 9,000 free places is the largest offering yet. It is the fifth year of the Springboard programme. It would be useful to have a debate on the work done by the Springboard programme. We should look at how the jobseekers who participated in the Springboard programme have done in terms of getting jobs since. There are some very encouraging figures for same. According to the Minister's figures, as many as 20,000 jobseekers, over the four years since 2011, have participated on Springboard courses and 74% of them are no longer on the live register, which is welcome. Indeed, 95% of the jobs they have got are in Ireland, with 49% of those jobs located outside of Dublin.There seems to be a good geographic spread of jobs and a strong positive indication that these courses are the right courses to reskill or upskill people in areas like ICT, entrepreneurship, cross-enterprise skills and so on. Perhaps the House has not focussed on that aspect of vocational or targeted education and training, and I ask for a debate on it.
I commend Dublin City Council for the great work it did in my area in supporting two festivals that were successful. The first was Canalaphonic, a music festival in the Portobello and Dublin 8 areas, with singers on a barge on the canal. It was an innovative idea and it went well. The Harold's Cross festival has been running for a number of years and is supported by the council and local businesses and communities. These are good examples of the kind of community support councils can offer and the good work councils do that is often not noted at national level.
Can I compliment the Cathaoirleach on his attire? He has a very county look this afternoon and it is nice to see it in the House.
Some years ago, I raised the question of the decline of Georgian houses in the city centre of Dublin and I tabled amendments, or recommendations as they are called, on budget day. I discussed this with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and he subsequently introduced the Living City initiative. However, there were supposed to be EU reasons it was confined to Waterford and Limerick. They were overcome and I spoke to him again explaining how essential it was that Dublin be included.
Now, we have the Living City initiative extended to Dublin but some mean-minded, ideologically driven little squirt of a civil servant has inserted a measure capping it at 200 sq. m. when Georgian houses are all over 400 sq. m. This was no accident and was deliberately done. A Department of Finance source said it was in order not to create a tax relief for what was described as mansion houses. Yes, it was done deliberately to help people like myself. I will not benefit from this because I have finished my house but people on limited resources take on a house and do it up one room per year. This person seems to want to have Georgian houses divided up into one-bedroom flats again. This way leads to disaster. Fly by night businesses will be encouraged to take up these grants. It is quite extraordinary. It is a hucksters' charter and will do nothing for the Georgian houses for which I made the initial appeal that led to the Living City initiative. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Finance, as I will do, and send on a copy of the Order of Business and ask what on earth is going on. How is it that Fine Gael is standing over a deliberate, ideologically-driven attack on our Georgian heritage? That is what it is and it is not good enough that this comes from anonymous civil servants.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to consider the results of the recent UK elections. I would particularly like to discuss the matter of the Sinn Féin candidate in the north Belfast constituency who sent out election leaflets stating that Catholics are now in a majority in the constituency, with Catholics at 46.9% and Protestants at 45.6%, and suggesting that people make change and make history. Have we learned nothing? Is this what it means to be an Irish republican? What about the ideals of Wolfe Tone with regard to the unity of Catholic, Protestant and dissenter, or the ideals of the Proclamation, cherishing all the children of the nation equally? To add insult to injury, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure tried to justify the remarks. At least, a former chairman of Sinn Féin at Queens University Belfast was brave enough to state that it was an absolute disgrace and the very antithesis of what republicanism represents.
Everyone else has been silent. To quote a former Member of this House:
The sectarian politics that this represents has no place on our island. Are these the true colours of Sinn Féin? Sinn Féin should explain itself. I would like the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to come to this House so we could discuss these issues before this goes too far.
Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died...
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Mooney.
I want to raise the plight of Irish nurses. Most of them will do a four year degree and some do more than five years for certain specialties such as cardiology, oncology and so on. Unfortunately, a substantial portion, probably 35%, of our trained young nurses flee this country because of pay problems and the better facilities abroad. They are being encouraged to go to England, Australia and Canada. If this had happened four years ago, at the start of the Government's term, we would say there were problems and that the economy should recover, but this is the fifth and final year of this Government. I implore the Leader to arrange a special debate in the House and to bring in the Minister for Health to address the particular problem affecting nurses, who are our front-line staff.
I notice today that in the oncology department of Cork University Hospital, the nurses have decided, with the imprimatur of their union, to work to rule. If all the nurses in Ireland, whether in Dublin, Waterford, Cork or Galway, decided to work to rule, the hospitals would come to a standstill. They are actually doing about 33% more in their efforts as nurses to keep hospitals going and look after sick patients.
If this brain drain continues, the damage to our economy will be severe. It costs an average of €120,000 to train a nurse from start to finish as they now do a degree course. If 30% to 35% of our young nurses are leaving the country, and some will never come back, it is a major problem. I am not saying this in a political, knocking way but we should have a debate on the situation, which is getting more and more serious. At the same time, we are employing nurses from the Middle East, India, Pakistan and elsewhere on an agency basis. Some day, the system will collapse and we will see our hospitals totally devoid of Irish nurses, despite the fact that we are currently sending a third or more of them to Canada, America, Australia and England, where they are getting better pay, better facilities and, in many cases, more respect.
It is about time we had a debate on this issue. I compliment Senator Colm Burke, who, on many occasions, has raised issues like this in the House in regard to junior doctors and so on. There is a serious crisis coming down the track in the whole area of the staffing of our hospitals. I particularly want to raise the issue of the nurses because they are the front-line staff on whom we all depend if we end up in hospital.
I call on the Leader to facilitate a full debate in the House at the earliest juncture on the HIQA report on Portlaoise General Hospital. This does not just have to do with Portlaoise as it has ramifications for health services and all regional hospitals the length and breadth of the country. I do not know if any hospital could hold up to the forensic scrutiny that has been brought to bear on Portlaoise.
It is an important, seminal report. In fact, HIQA said it is probably one of the most significant reports it has ever conducted. However, it need not have happened that we have had such a report because, in 2006, the front-line nursing staff at Portlaoise General Hospital wrote to the then Minister for Health and Children, imploring her to intervene and pointing out that if the hospital was not adequately staffed and resourced, there would be consequences and terrible tragedies to follow. They were proven correct, unfortunately, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.What we need now is to make sure this never happens again. I commend HIQA for the thoroughness and comprehensiveness of the report. After nine years, families and patients finally have answers, accountability and access to what actually happened. They should never have been treated in this way. As Senator John Crown, who has expertise in this area, has pointed out, the performance of Portlaoise hospital was expected to go from 1,000 births to over 2,000 births inside a couple of years with fewer staff. It was being treated as if it was a factory or a conveyor belt. One cannot run a hospital or a health service that way. Portlaoise is a major hospital at the crossroads of Ireland. It is important this does not happen again, yet today we have had the astonishing intervention of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine calling for the closure and downgrading of the accident and emergency department there. This is absurd. One does not solve a problem by creating a bigger problem. If the accident and emergency department in Portlaoise is deemed to be unsafe, we solve the problem by making it safe and providing it with proper staffing levels and proper resources. I implore the Leader to have the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, visit the House at the earliest juncture. He has intervened robustly in this matter and, while I commend him for his actions, we need to debate this and tease out the consequences.
I would like to bring up the whole issue of charging and sentencing in our criminal justice system. I am particularly concerned about the number of cases in which the evidence would suggest that it should be murder yet in which manslaughter is substituted. When a person is found guilty of manslaughter in circumstances where a finding of murder would be more appropriate, it gives rise to an injustice to the victim and the victim's family.
A preference for a finding of manslaughter probably has its origins in times when the sentence for murder was hanging. Faced with the choice of having a person convicted of murder and sentenced to hanging, juries found it easier to make a finding of manslaughter as the offender would not be hanged but would be given a jail sentence.
This practice of interchanging the charge of murder with charges of manslaughter is deeply wrong, especially given that capital punishment no longer applies. Where the evidence of a crime points to murder, I do not think the charge should be reduced to manslaughter. Juries should not be encouraged to dilute the gravity of the offence. It would be valuable if the Minister for justice were to come to the House sometime soon to have a debate on sentencing and particularly the aspect I am raising here today.
I support Senator Bacik's call for a debate on Springboard. I have been involved with Springboard since it began five years ago. I am very impressed by its achievement and the number of jobs that have been created. These were people with degrees which were not suitable any more - perhaps during those years when the construction industry dropped, architects, quantity surveyors and others found their degrees were not suitable. With Springboard, they were able to undertake a different degree altogether. It has worked very well. The Government invested a lot of money in it and is doing so again this year.
I was interested in certain reports in the media this morning outlining the NRA's views on multi-point tolling as a potential solution to congestion on the M50. I know a number of people living along the M50, in Carpenterstown and Castleknock, who would have concerns about multi-point tolling. Even if we are told it could be cheaper, most people know the reality is that we will be paying more for journeys on the M50, against a backdrop of road tax and fuel prices going up. It is just not something I would welcome. I believe it would be counterproductive as it would lead to traffic displacement if the tolls become more expensive as a consequence. Traffic would move into residential areas around the M50. For the people in and around Castleknock and the Phoenix Park, this is a point of great concern. It is exactly what the M50 was intended to help us avoid.In its own report, the National Roads Authority, NRA, suggests that measures such as varying the tolls based on peak times is something that could be done in conjunction with the introduction of multi-point tolling systems. However, the question that must be asked is why that cannot be done now in the same way it has been done with the port tunnel. Surely there are ways of reducing tailbacks and congestion without the all too easy mantra of "Let's charge more"? It seems clear that demand management measures must be considered and, therefore, I am calling for a debate on the NRA's recent comments on multi-point tolling and, in particular, for it to come up with some measures to ease congestion on the M50, which is the most used road in the country and a vital economic corridor. I would like to hear the Minister for Transport's views on the matter and whether we are in the same position that we were in in 2013 when the Department was opposed to these moves.
I advise Senators that the Alfred Beit Foundation in Russborough House has decided to sell eight masters' paintings via Christie's on 7 July. They will realise approximately £10 million. Sir Alfred and Lady Beit will forever be recognised by the State as among the greatest champions of the arts in Ireland. They placed their home, the Richard Castle-designed Russborough House, and the greater part of their internationally important art collection in trust forever for the benefit of the Irish nation through the Alfred Beit Foundation. They also made an extraordinary gift to the National Gallery of Ireland of 16 of their finest paintings, including paintings by Vermeer, Metsu and van Ruisdael. In today's terms, the value of those gifts runs to hundreds of millions of euro. The paintings I speak about are by Rubens, Adriaen van Ostade, David Teniers the Younger and Francesco Guardi.
While I acknowledge that Russborough is in need of repair and that the Alfred Beit Foundation has had to do this, I call on the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Alfred Beit Foundation to come together to consider bringing these paintings back to Ireland and for us to find it within ourselves to restore Russborough House. These paintings will be lost to us forever. They are one of the reasons people come to visit Ireland. We can never regain these gifts of heritage and beauty. I would be eternally grateful if the Leader could urgently bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
Along with my colleagues, I call for an urgent debate on the demise of rural towns. Towns with a population of 2,000 to 3,000 are dying in rural Ireland. There is no question that we can see recovery in the cities, and it is welcome that the numbers on the live register are decreasing, but small towns are dying. Businesses cannot afford the rates and they cannot compete with the multinational companies. We need a cross-party debate in this House to consider how we can bring jobs to the regions. Regardless of whether it requires extra incentives, we must put something in place, and the need for such a debate is urgent.
I call for a debate on rural transport and, in particular, Bus Éireann's involvement in the provision of transport to rural areas. Bus Éireann is the only State transport provider for much of rural Ireland. It has a public service obligation contract to the State and its job is not to think solely in business terms, but to provide a vital link to otherwise isolated communities.
In recent weeks we heard the news of the elimination of the No. 7 Dublin to Cork route, which currently goes through parts of Kilkenny and south Tipperary, and the scaling back of the No. 5 route between Dublin and Waterford, which serves part of north Wexford. The cutting of services to small villages and towns is a disgrace. The management of Bus Éireann forgets that taxpayers' money is invested into Bus Éireann to provide a public service. It seems to believe that the sole purpose of the company is to make money rather than to serve communities. Its media and public relations manager said there is no doubt that the decisions will impact on rural communities but the demand is not there to sustain the business.
Since 2011, Bus Éireann has cut almost 100 services leaving many towns with no public transport options. I am concerned that if it is not called to task on these cuts, we will see further cuts across the country. It must be remembered that the motorway network which has connected our major cities and has drastically cut journey times is welcome but it has led to the bypassing of many towns, and those towns rely on the Bus Éireann routes that still use the old roads. In east Galway, towns like Loughrea, Athenry and Ballinasloe have been bypassed by the N7 motorway but many people still pass through those towns using the Bus Éireann route to Dublin and Galway.Bus Éireann needs to be reminded of its public service obligations. If the cuts in the south are repeated nationwide it will be another sad milestone in this Government's comprehensive neglect of rural Ireland. Access to transport is a major quality of life issue, especially for older people. Proper transport links give a lifeline to many communities in tackling the very serious problem of rural isolation. I would be very grateful if we could have a debate on this issue.
I support Senator Mooney on the issue of cardiac services in Sligo hospital. I was at the briefing on Friday too. It was frightening to hear that it is the only area in the country where if one had a cardiac arrest one could not be treated within 90 minutes. To be treated within 90 minutes is vital to recovery. That is only possible if there is a helicopter available, but that is not possible at night. I am setting up a meeting with the Minister for Health on this issue to show him the presentation given to us on Friday. I know he will be in the House later this afternoon.
I call for a debate on public services and, as an extension of that, on public service pay. The Government announced in the so-called spring statement that extra money would be made available for public spending, and there are discussions beginning with the trade unions on public sector pay. It is important that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform come to the House to listen to the views of all the parties and the Independents on all of those issues and how we should and could use whatever increased financial capacity we have in a fair way. There is no doubt that low-paid workers in the public sector need more money in their pockets. That can be done in many different ways, through the pension levy and wage increases. We can spend the money fairly.
There is also a need to rebuild our public services. We heard about the cardiology services in one part of the country. In the part of the country the Leader comes from, Waterford, I had a meeting with hospital management last week at which I was told that the clear commitment given by the previous Minister for Health to 24-hour, seven-day cardiology cover in Waterford and the south east was unlikely to happen in the short, medium or even long term. These are areas that we need to invest in. We have to rebuild and have a vision for public services, and they need to be resourced. We need to use whatever capacity we have to do that on the one hand, but also to make sure that low-paid and middle-income workers who disproportionately bore the brunt of seven years of austerity are the ones who benefit, not those at the top, whether in the public or private sector.
We need a debate on these issues. As the Minister prepares to spend €1.5 billion of our money, taxpayers’ money, in the upcoming budget, and given that the Government said in the spring statement that there was to be a new way of doing business, listening to the Opposition and all the rest of it, we should bring the Minister in and have a constructive debate on how to use the resources of this State to bring about fairness, to have a real recovery for all citizens and to rebuild our public services.
I am calling for a debate on carers and the key role they play in our communities, providing vital support to the vulnerable in our society. This support is perhaps the most valuable of all work, giving dignity, security and comfort to those in need. Regrettably, over several budgets, their income has been reduced, which has placed many carers and their clients in difficult situations and has put them under pressure. We all know they fulfil several crucial roles and are indispensable to the people who use them, but they are also indispensable to the State. Carers enable people to be cared for and treated in their own homes and communities, reducing demand on already stretched State resources and the HSE. The services carers provide should be remunerated accordingly. I feel quite strongly about that, given the savings their selflessness generates for the Exchequer.
I propose a debate in this House on introducing a graduated scale that could be developed to help quantify the work done by carers across a broad spectrum. This scale could be used on a case-by-case basis to ensure fairness and responsiveness to individual situations. I have no doubt that by restoring the cuts to carers and creating a system that better supports them in their work, their families, communities and the institutions of our State will benefit. I acknowledge the tremendous work done by carers the length and breadth of the country.I sincerely hope we will be able to debate this issue and consider the introduction of a graduated scale for carers. I hope this matter will be given priority.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the regeneration of rural Ireland? It should focus on the establishment of a partnership between community organisations on the ground and State policies. Rural areas underwent a major improvement in the period following the 1950s. This was very pleasing as it followed a period when people believed rural Ireland was virtually dead and beyond repair. It was only when we travelled abroad, particularly to the United States, and met some of those who emigrated in the 1940s and 1950s that we realised what a great loss these people had been to the country. Rural areas face a comparable threat again as the infrastructure of many areas is being decimated. While this issue was barely discussed for a number of years, most commentators now accept that we have a major problem.
Certain organisations drove regeneration in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Senators will be aware of many of the leaders and visionaries involved in these organisations. The Celtic tiger made us all a little soft, however, and many rural organisations were sidelined, weakened or ignored. Government policies will not work unless the spirit that prevailed at that time is rejuvenated in rural areas. This requires the creation of a partnership between rural areas and State policies. Small businesses and shops have closed in many small towns and villages and the emigration of hundreds of thousands of young people in recent years has left behind a sense of hopelessness. While I welcome the suggestion by the Taoiseach and his Ministers that the time has come for our young emigrants to return, we must admit that the number of jobs available would not be sufficient if they were all to do so.
I praise the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, for the manner in which he has reached out to emigrants. Given his background as a hero in Gaelic football and someone who comes from Listowel, which is the type of community to which I referred, the Minister of State has done good work.
Without action, we will continue to bemoan the manner in which rural areas have become fragmented. If we are not careful, we will see a return to the circumstances that prevailed in the 1940s and 1950s, although they will be somewhat different.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the creation of a partnership between the community spirit on the ground and Government policies. This would be a first step.
I noticed recently, while in the sunny south-east, that Lord Waterford was photographed in similar attire.
The House should consider Senator Norris's idea on the regeneration of Georgian houses now that Dublin has been included in the Living City initiative. Most Georgian houses in Dublin are of the size he mentioned. The scheme would fail in its primary purpose if it did not encompass all of Georgian Dublin.That does need to be examined, and perhaps we can do something about it.
I very much agree with what Senator Kelly said about the towns of Ireland. Senator Ó Murchú referred to rural matters. Towns are being decimated by all the out-of-town growth we have had. Reference was made to Loughrea, Athenry and Ballinasloe. I do not know whether they all have traffic wardens, but many other towns do, and that is having the effect of driving more people out of towns. It is something we must address. I look forward to an early debate on the matter if the Leader can arrange it.
I welcome the public service pay negotiations that started today. I wish to place one particular sector in focus for all of us because I hear people talk constantly on the radio about productivity and demanding more from the public service. In 2008, the institute of technology sector had a budget of approximately €542 million and 4,845 staff, catering for approximately 67,400 students. By 2014, the budget had been cut to €354.133 million. The number of academics had been cut to 4,300 and the number of students had been increased to 83,000. That is a cut of almost €188,000, a reduction of more than 500 academic staff and an increase of 16,000 students. The public service has played its part in bringing this country out of the doldrums it was left in after the collapse. I believe this House should warmly thank the public service for what it has done. It carried the debt of this country on its back and it got nothing for it.
I join with my colleague, Senator Quinn, with respect to his call for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the criminal justice system. I am sure some Members present listened to an RTE radio programme yesterday morning on which a number of thugs were interviewed following their appearance in Tullamore court. They thought it was hilariously funny that they could refuse to pay their fines, get a jail sentence, be sent to Dublin and get a good dinner and a bus ticket home for free. Apparently, that is the situation with such young thugs. We are talking about making attachment orders for water charges to people's dole payments. Those thugs should have their fines attached to their dole. More importantly, we should see them out in high-visibility suits cleaning the streets of this country.
I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Craughwell. I too have heard stories of people in my home town who have been escorted to Mountjoy in taxis paid for by taxpayers, but on reaching the prison they are sent home, sometimes arriving home before their taxi driver. I too agree that perhaps such people who are before the courts could do community service. There is plenty of litter. We are constantly trying to make this country greener and free of litter. His suggestion is a great idea. I totally agree that there is plenty of scope for such an approach.
Once again, I request an urgent and full debate on residential services for people with disabilities. The shock and worry are still present for many families of loved ones in such centres as a result of the "Prime Time" programme. People who have family members in such centres, or who avail of respite or other services in the centres, have conveyed their concerns to me. It is now five months since the "Prime Time" programme aired, when I made my original request for a full debate on the matter. I accept we did have a half-hour debate on that day, but I have repeatedly called for a full debate on the matter. While I welcome yesterday's announcement that five people will go before the courts and that people will be prosecuted for the absolutely appalling behaviour that took place, the House should be provided with a full update from the Minister not only on what happened in Áras Attracta but on the steps that are being taken to rectify the unacceptable situations that have come to light following HIQA inspections of other services around the country.I specifically ask that the Minister again come into the House regarding the six-week closure of respite services, with little notice to families, in the Health Service Executive-funded St. John of God services at Drumcar in my native County Louth. This is a service funded by the Health Service Executive, HSE, which has closed to facilitate staff training and development, as well as implementation of quality and safety improvements. No alternative options have been offered to families during this time and many of these families have approached me in desperation.
Yes I am, as I have stated. How is the HSE funding being used for the six weeks during which no respite services are being provided? A full and broad debate is needed as a matter of urgency on the HSE-funded disability services that are provided nationwide.
I wish to welcome further good news on the jobs front here in Dublin. Alexion Pharmaceuticals, which is based here, announced recently a €450 million expansion to its premises that will increase its workforce by a further 200, as well as creating 800 construction jobs over the next four years. This is great news for the construction industry and must be welcomed by all Members.
I support the call by Senators Quinn and Craughwell for an urgent debate in this House with the Minister for Justice and Equality. I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Quinn that murder charges should not be diluted and should be punished accordingly and the issue of life sentences must be considered. When I was in my teens, I knew a middle-aged man who received a life sentence for murder and who died in prison 46 years later. To be fair, the man was not fully compos mentisbut he spent 45 and a half years in prison and died there. While I do not suggest that, the question of a life sentence of 15 years being reduced to 12 years is farcical. Murder is murder and I refer to repeat criminals, the question of free legal aid, breaking and entering and liabilities on house owners and business people. It cannot be right that somebody who breaks into one's premises and who cuts his or her hand has a claim against one. As for the Cathaoirleach's definition of reasonable force and my definition of it, were I to get some fellow coming out of my house with my television after breaking and entering, I would stop him from getting out the front door with it. The issues must be addressed and a long debate is needed here in the Seanad on the entire criminal system.
I wish to bring Members' attention to the daft.iereport published yesterday. It shows yet again that rents are rising nationally but particularly in areas outside Dublin, in other words the doughnut effect, for the simple reason that it has become too expensive to live in Dublin. I would like there to be two aspects to a debate on this issue, the first of which would be to talk to the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection about how rent supplement benefit is insufficient to enable people to live in the Dublin region. This is a matter that requires urgent debate, as failure to be able to pay rent is driving people into homelessness.
However, the aspect I wish to raise today is a recent report from UCD indicating that it is intended to increase the price of on-campus accommodation by 20% next year. Access to on-campus accommodation and student accommodation is an issue of access to education. While one is talking about rural Ireland in this regard, for many parents who live outside an urban area, the ability to afford accommodation for their children is the deciding factor as to whether that child will ever get the chance of a third-level education. It is horrendous that on-campus providers can raise charges by such an extent. Incidentally, the increase for the same educational institution last year was 16%. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, should be invited to the House to answer the question as to what type of arrangements these universities and institutes of technology have with on-campus providers. Who sets these rent levels and how can any university stand over an on-campus provider that sets its rental levels based on the average rents charged in Dublin 4?That is definitely an access to education issue. Now is the time to engage in a debate on this matter, not next August or September when students are seeking accommodation. I request that the Leader ask the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to come before the House in order that we might discuss the policy of the Department of Education and Skills towards on-campus accommodation as a matter of urgency.
I wish to support Senator Whelan with regard to the report relating to Portlaoise hospital. It is important that this matter be debated. In that context, a number of key issues must be considered. In the first instance, there are 19 maternity units throughout the country. Why is it not possible to publish perinatal morality rates relating to each of these units, particularly when, as I understand it, such information is available? I also understand that an impression is being communicated to the effect that the larger units have far lower perinatal mortality rates than their smaller counterparts. It is about time all the relevant information relating to this matter was made available. There are some very good units throughout the country which are functioning extremely well. Those units that are providing a very good service should not be treated unfairly. In the context of what Senator Whelan said in respect of Portlaoise hospital, the number of births in this country increased from 61,500 per annum in 2003 to 75,500 in 2009. Very few additional staff were employed to allow the service throughout the country to cope with this increase. In other words, the health service did not respond to the requirements for front-line staff. People must understand that those who operate on the front line in hospitals work extremely hard and are very dedicated and committed. It is wrong that the impression has been given that the entire health service is failing in terms of delivery. It is important that we support those on the front line. Between 2003 and 2013, around 700,000 babies were delivered in Irish hospitals, and 99.9% of those deliveries were perfectly normal and resulted in good outcomes. We seem to lose sight of what constitutes good news when we are discussing the health service. That fact should be borne in mind. There is a need for a debate on this matter in order that all the relevant issues might be put on the table. We should not just focus on circumstances in which things have gone radically wrong. I accept the need to highlight such instances and to put in place remedies to prevent any recurrences. However, we must give credit where it is due, particularly where services are being delivered.
Many significant issues have already been raised in respect of shortcomings relating to various services within the State. We must accept, however, that those issues pale into insignificance when compared with what the unfortunate people of Nepal are enduring at present. For the second time in two weeks, Nepal has been hit by a major earthquake. Today's earthquake had a magnitude of 7.3 and resulted in the deaths of 37 people. A further 900 individuals have been injured. Of course, these casualties are in addition to the 8,000 people who were killed as a result of the previous earthquake. We should applaud and support in every way possible the aid agencies and NGOs that are working in Nepal in the most difficult of circumstances to try to restore some sort of normality to the lives of the unfortunate people who live there. Many Irish aid agencies are involved in fund-raising activities for Nepal at present. I welcome the contribution the Government has already made and I hope it will be in a position to provide further support. In addition, I hope it will call on all other countries across the globe to provide assistance. As individuals, we should try to help the people of Nepal either by making a financial contribution or by supporting the fund-raising activities to which I refer. We are all aware of what happened here during the Great Famine. However, we must recognise that people in Nepal have literally been left with nothing.
I strongly support the call for a debate on sentencing with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald. I wish to confirm for Senator Craughwell that the Minister is addressing this matter in the context of the payment of fines. Criminals are running rings around and laughing at the justice system.Deputy Fitzgerald is a reforming Minister and she is doing a superb job. We would all like the opportunity to say a few words on the issue of manslaughter versus murder during the debate that the Leader, no doubt, will organise in due course.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of the provision of a cath lab in Sligo Regional Hospital. I am acutely aware of the problems relating to CAT labs because there is only one in Waterford but there is a need to staff a second lab. The Senator is correct that if people have a heart attack, there is a 90-minute window. Sligo is a case in point but if people have a heart attack in Waterford after 5 p.m. on Friday, they have to be transported to Cork and, therefore, one has to have a heart attack between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, which is ridiculous. Nobody can legislate for that. It is a serious matter, which I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Health because CAT labs are an absolute necessity, especially in Sligo, as few facilities are available north of the town and in the north west. Perhaps the Senator might table this issue as a Commencement debate to elicit a response from the Minister.
I will address the other health matter raised but I will have to amend the Order of Business because the Minister for Health, who was to take the statements on alcohol consumption, will be held up in the other House to deal with matters relating to Portlaoise hospital during the Topical Issues debate. He is anxious to deal with those matters in the other House but he is also anxious to attend this House to deal with the debate on alcohol consumption in Ireland. I propose that the debate on alcohol consumption in Ireland now be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude no later than 7 p.m., with the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 6.50 p.m. That will address some points raised on the Order of Business.
Senators Bacik and Whelan and several other Senators raised the question of the HIQA report regarding Portlaoise hospital. It was a damning report and the Government has accepted all eight recommendations. As Senator Bacik and others mentioned, there is a need for specialisation of maternity services. I will ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the specialisation of maternity services in the country. The Minister will deal with the Portlaoise matter in the other House.
Senators Bacik and Quinn referred to the success of the Springboard initiative. It is proving to be successful and the figures outlined by Senator Bacik attest to that.
The Senator also complimented the councils in Dublin on their efforts with community festivals. This is something that local authorities throughout the country do well.Senator Norris spoke about the Living City initiative, and was supported by Senator Coghlan. There is no question that it is a very positive scheme and will be beneficial in the cities. We referred to it on the Order of Business last week. As Senator Norris mentioned, capping the scheme at 210 sq. m would rule out Georgian Dublin, and I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Noonan. I do not believe it is the intention to exclude these wonderful houses.
Senator D'Arcy called for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, to come to the House to debate the results of the UK elections and the elections in Northern Ireland. He also mentioned the offensive sectarian leaflets distributed by a Sinn Féin candidate during the elections. There is no place for this type of sectarianism in Irish politics, be it North or South.
As he mentioned, the leaflet is totally against republican ideals.
Senator O'Donovan spoke about Irish nurses, who are front-line staff. I understand that recruitment of nurses has recommenced, particularly in specialised areas. We will try to bring the Minister to the House to debate the question of resources in the health services, particularly nurses, non-consultant hospital doctors and consultants. We are very short of them. Many posts have been advertised in recent months but they have not been filled.
Senator Whelan called for a debate on maternity services with particular reference to Portlaoise. I will try to organise this.
Senators Quinn, Craughwell, Mullins and Brennan spoke about sentencing policy and the reduction of charges from murder to manslaughter. Senator Craughwell also spoke about fines. I hope the Minister will address this as a matter of urgency, because people are laughing at the Garda. They are sentenced to a month or two, but they go to the prison and return the same day. In many cases they pass out the cars they went up in, which is an absolutely ludicrous situation. I have asked the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, to come to the House to speak on six or seven items. She will be here next week to speak about the Legal Services Regulation Bill. She has had a busy time with legislation and I am sure she will address the issues raised as soon as her diary permits. I will certainly keep the pressure on with regard to bringing her to the House to discuss these matters.
Senator Noone spoke about the NRA and recent comments on multipoint tolling. I agree with her it would be interesting to hear what the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has to say, and I will certainly request a debate on the issue. Perhaps she could table a Commencement matter if she wants an earlier response.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien spoke about the Beit collection, the proposed sale of paintings to restore Russborough House and the need for the Beit Foundation and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to get together on this matter to try to retain these valuable paintings in Ireland. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.
Senator Kelly spoke about the decline of businesses in small towns. This matter was raised by Senator Ó Murchú regarding the regeneration of rural Ireland and creating partnerships between communities and the Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, came to the House not so long ago.We also had the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, in to speak about the Action Plan for Jobs and the emphasis on regional job creation. Bringing people back home is part of that. However, I will try to ensure both the Minister and Minister of State come back to the House for further discussions. Notwithstanding that our engagements with the Minister took place quite recently, I agree there should be ongoing debate on these matters. Issues affecting rural areas and the future of small towns are of paramount importance to the communities affected and the country as a whole.
Senator Rónán Mullen raised a similar theme in referring to rural transport provision and reminding Bus Éireann of its public service obligation. The State gives more than €95 million in subsidies to the company. That issue could be included in the broader debate on issues affecting rural Ireland.
Senator Comiskey supported Senator Mooney's comments regarding cardiac services in Sligo.
Senator Cullinane welcomed the public service pay talks, as did Senator Craughwell. Senator Cullinane emphasised that it should be staff on low and middle incomes who benefit as a result of pay increases. For once I am in agreement with the Senator. It is the Government's intention that those people will be helped, in line with what was done in the last budget. I am somewhat surprised at the Senator's comments given that his party considers people earning more than €32,000 to be wealthy. Indeed, his colleagues voted against taking those people out of the 41% tax bracket in the last budget. People out there need to realise that Sinn Féin considers that workers on €32,000 are wealthy. That message should be made clear.
Senator Lorraine Higgins referred to the quality of work done by carers and called for a debate on the introduction of a graduated scale of payments for them. I will try to organise a debate on that issue with the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton.
I already dealt with Senator Ó Murchú's comments regarding rural areas. Senator Paul Coghlan indicated his support for efforts to regenerate Georgian Dublin, as also mentioned by Senator Norris.
Senator Mary Moran called for a further debate on residential services for people with disabilities. I am delighted to report that we will have statements on health services for persons with intellectual disabilities on 27 May, to be attended by the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.
Senator Terry Brennan welcomed the announcement by a pharmaceutical company of its plans to invest €450 million and create new jobs in Blanchardstown. It is wonderful news for people in the area. Senator Brennan also raised the issue of sentencing policy.
Senator Aideen Hayden referred to the daft.iereport showing an increase in rents in Dublin, an issue of which we all are aware. The Senator requested that the Tánaiste come to the House to discuss an increase in rent allowance payments. Senator Hayden also raised an important point regarding proposed increases in on-campus student accommodation of 20% this year, following increases of 16% last year. The Senator rightly points out that this is a deterrent for young people in rural areas from accessing third level education. The arrangements between accommodation suppliers and the universities and institutes of technology should be investigated. An additional 20% increase on top of a 16% rise is exorbitant and I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the matter.
In raising the issue of maternity services, Senator Colm Burke pointed out that there were more than 700,000 births between 2003 and 2013 and only in a minuscule number of cases did things go wrong.Senator Mullins spoke about the further major earthquake in Nepal this morning. He complimented the aid agencies working in very difficult circumstances. I will ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to give the House an update on the situation in Nepal.
Senator Paschal Mooney has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health to address the issue of the approval of a CAT lab facility in Sligo General Hospital be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I am grateful for the Leader's response - not only for the empathy he has shown with regard to an issue that obviously has an impact on his own part of the country, but also for his intention to communicate directly with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, on this issue. Therefore, I will not press the amendment.