Seanad debates

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

10:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on early child care, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.45 p.m., with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 2.40 p.m.; No. 2, the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes; and No. 61, motion 15, to be taken at 5.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Could I ask the Leader about next week? I understand the Dáil is sitting on Tuesday, so I take it the Seanad is also sitting on next Tuesday. It is our view that the Seanad should sit as there is legislation we can deal with but I wish to know what the position is with regard to the sittings next week.

Could I ask about the review of the local property tax, LPT, overseen by Dr. Don Thornhill? Our party, and I am sure others parties, made detailed submissions on how we believe the local property tax could be made fairer. We have proposed a number of legislative measures which were defeated by the Government, and by way of amendment, such that the revaluation date should be frozen. We have also said that all homes with pyrite ratings of one, two and three should receive a full exemption from the LPT, that those living in managed estates who are paying management fees and are effectively paying on the double should be allowed a partial exemption from the local property tax, and that the interest rate on LPT liability should be reduced to 2%. We made quite a detailed submission involving a number of items. I understand the process for the review of the LPT is that a report will be published in June or July - no set date has been given - and that the Government would then act on what it sees fit by way of the finance Bill later this year. Could I ask that a commitment would be given that when Dr. Don Thornhill produces the report, it would be debated in the House?I am aware that many good submissions and ideas have gone into it. Before the Government produces legislation, should it wish to do so, to amend the local property tax and try to make it fair, it would be useful if we had a debate on this issue here.

Yesterday, the Minister for Health was in the House to discuss specific matters relating to alcohol. That is unquestionably important, but every week our health service is falling deeper into a crisis from which I believe it will be very difficult to extricate itself. A record number of over 400,000 people are on waiting lists. Nurses are going abroad and we cannot fill psychiatric nursing posts. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who was speaking in the House earlier, apparently cannot spend the money she has been given for adult mental health services. There has been a total failure in that area and across the health service by this Government. This must debated properly. We must find out from the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, what he is doing. He is very good with the sound bites but people are getting tired of that and want action.

Fianna Fáil has produced a detailed plan on what we would do about health, such as bringing back the National Treatment Purchase Fund which this Government abolished. It would ensure that nobody waited any longer than three months for an operation. That is gone now and over 400,000 people are waiting more than 12 months for surgery. Our health system cannot function anymore. The Minister must come to the House, even if it is to say that there are three things he intends to do. The fair deal scheme is still not properly funded and it still takes 12 weeks, at a minimum, for applications-----

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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That is not true.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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It is true, and the Senator knows it.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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It is not correct.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Darragh O'Brien, without interruption.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I am not aware that the Senator has been appointed a Minister yet. I prefer to hear from the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, than from Minister Burke in this instance. For that reason I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Health come to the House for a debate on health and on some of the examples I have raised. Then, perhaps, Minister Burke on the other side of the House would like-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is over time.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
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He does not know the facts.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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-----to join in and try to defend Government policy in this area. Let us have a proper debate on it.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We are not having the debate now.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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If they want that, invite the Minister to the House. I am proposing that the Minister for Health come to the House today to tell us how he will deal with the crisis in the health system, which is getting worse by the day.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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The tragic news of another baby's death, this time in Cavan General Hospital, is very distressing for everybody and I am sure all Senators would wish to join me in extending sympathy to the family concerned. I renew my call on the Leader to schedule a general debate on maternity services and particularly on the need to ensure sufficient specialisation in maternity services to provide for the safe delivery of service across maternity units in Ireland.

I commend the Heritage Council for the excellent briefing it is conducting today. I visited it earlier and other colleagues will be visiting it during the day. It is on all day today in Buswells Hotel. The Heritage Council briefing conveys the huge amount of work it does in supporting communities with different heritage projects across Ireland. An amazing range of initiatives is supported from Bere Island to Dublin, via the Burren and the Burrenbeo Trust. A huge amount of work is being done on a very reduced budget. The Heritage Council deserves great praise for its work, but I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on a national cultural policy and national landscape strategy to ensure there is a measure of forward planning so the Heritage Council and the organisations it supports are not left wondering each year what funding will be available to invest in different projects. For me, the huge issue from the briefing was the need to ensure the preservation of our cultural heritage and the benefits it can bring, not only the abstract benefit but also the practical benefits in terms of local employment, tourism and so forth. The Labour Party has tabled a Private Members' motion on national cultural institutions for debate tonight with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, but this is a different debate which we should have on support for the Heritage Council and a national cultural policy.

I echo the requests made by Members yesterday for a debate on sentencing and penal reform. We should focus on a report published yesterday by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, "Turnaround Youth: Young Adults (aged 18 - 24) in the Criminal Justice System". This report presents important evidence on the need for differential treatment of young people. We are all aware that younger adults are particularly at risk of becoming engaged in criminal behaviour, more so than older adults, and there are a number of risk factors which may lead to increased risks for particular groups of vulnerable young adults, including those with a history of homelessness and so forth. The report presents the evidence on this in a clear way and it would help us, when debating sentencing and penal reform, to consider the need to ensure that crime prevention measures and juvenile diversion measures are supported to reduce the levels of offending in this cohort of the population.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment proposed by Senator Darragh O'Brien. I do not wish to repeat what I said yesterday, but there is a serious crisis throughout the health service and it is worthy of an urgent debate in the House.

I also welcome the fact the Legal Services Regulation Bill, after a delay of almost three years, will be debated on Second Stage today. As somebody with a practising certificate, I hope this legislation will become law during the lifetime of this Government. I wish to bury the myth that the Law Society wants self-regulation and is against independent regulation. That is not the case. It wants independent regulation, but not Government regulation. That is the key issue. However, I look forward to having time to debate that later.

I have previously sought a debate on the persecution of Christians in different parts of the world. I was delighted to see that debate taking place in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade this morning. I welcome that, although I am not a member of the committee. However, I still believe it is worthy of debate in this House. We believe in freedom of religion, freedom to practise religion and freedom of views but, unfortunately, in huge areas of the world if one is a Christian of any denomination, be it Church of Ireland, Protestant, Catholic or Anglican, persecution is rife. Hopefully, before the summer recess, the Leader will allocate two or three hours to debate that issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It would be a worthwhile debate for this Chamber.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I strongly agree with Senator Bacik in commending the Heritage Council on its work. Its briefing is well worth a visit for all of the reasons the Senator outlined. It dealt with a very important issue which I have spoken about previously, the extension of the burning date to 15 April. We are out of line with the North and our colleagues across the water and we should make strong representations to the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, in this regard. Members will be aware that there were serious fires in Killarney which wiped out many mountain tops and so forth. We were lucky the national park was not invaded by fire. Fires must be controlled through local knowledge and notification. Please God that will happen, but we must have the burning date extended.

Senator O'Donovan referred to the Legal Services Regulation Bill. I also welcome the fact that it will be debated here today. I accept there has been a huge delay with it but much good work has taken place over the last four years. The Bar Council worked very constructively with the Department and the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has been very good with the legislation as well. I wish it well today as it is very much in the public interest.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I welcome the report published today by the National Economic and Social Council senior advisers to the Taoiseach recommending that a number of actions be taken in respect of the rental sector, primarily that rent regulation be introduced - in other words, regulating the extent of rent increases. Rent increases are out of control in this country. They have also proposed indefinite security of tenure and other measures that would make rented housing secure for families in this country.

We are all aware that a document will go to the Cabinet today on the issue of mortgage arrears. A number of Members of this House have taken a keen interest in this issue.The only thing we have to go on is the newspaper reports, which suggest that the bank veto issue will be addressed. It seems that the question of independent expert advice for people in mortgage arrears will also be addressed. I understand that the insolvency term will also be coming up for review. I ask the Leader for a debate on these measures in early course. While some people would dispute that a tsunami of repossessions is coming down the track, I have no doubt that this is going to happen. Some sort of equitable solution needs to be reached in the interests of Irish people as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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It is important to respond to what has been said about the health services. I would welcome a debate on the matter. All the information on the health services needs to be out there. I ask the House to understand what this Government inherited. I have gone through the Portlaoise report. In fairness, some patients were not given adequate care. Certainly, the treatment provided to them was not at all consistent with the proper manner in which they should have been looked after. I think the report deals comprehensively with that. I remind Senator Darragh O'Brien that during his party's term in office, the number of deliveries in Portlaoise hospital increased from slightly over 1,000 to approximately 2,300 without any increase in staffing levels in real terms. That is the reality. We are now dealing with that issue.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator looking for a debate on this matter?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps the Senator will support my amendment to the Order of Business.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I remind the Senator that according to the 2003 Hanly report on maternity services, there were 93 obstetrics and gynaecology consultants in HSE hospitals at that time. The report recommended that there should be 190 people in such roles by 2012, but the reality is that there was no real change in the period from 2003 to 2011. The number of births increased from 61,500 in 2003 to 75,500 in 2009 without any increase in staffing levels in maternity hospitals. We are now having to deal with that issue. It is important for the future that we immediately start to engage in long-term planning, which is one of the things that is lacking in the health services. I would certainly welcome a debate on this matter.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I would like to condemn in the strongest possible terms the abuse to which a young man, Jack Grealish, has been subjected over the last couple of hours simply because he has not agreed to sign up with the Irish team. It just goes to show how dangerous social media can be. It really needs to be regulated. The use of false names and pictures on Twitter, in particular, by people who do what they like could destroy this young man's confidence and career. Indeed, it could destroy whatever chance there is of his playing for Ireland. I suggest, for want of a better pun, that we should put the boot on the other foot. If this was happening the other way around, and the English authorities wanted a young man who was born and raised in Ireland to play for their team, how would Irish people feel if English people were subjecting him to this kind of abuse? We would be up in arms over it. I strongly condemn the abuse that Jack Grealish is receiving.

I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien that we need a debate on the health service. I suggest that we focus particularly on the crisis in the nursing sector. Senator O'Brien and I know well that we can call for the Minister to come in, but it is obvious that he will not be available at short notice. While I will not be supporting the Senator's amendment today, I support his call for a debate. For once, the shortage of nurses, which is a feature of the current nursing crisis, is not a matter of funding. That is particularly true in the psychiatric services. We should do whatever we can to encourage and entice our young nurses to come back to this country and work here. I know of an Irish woman who has come back to live in this country, having trained as a nurse in America and spent 12 years working in a hospital there, but is unable to register with An Bord Altranais. Given that she is 40 years of age, it is scandalous that she needs to do four more years of college. We should be helping people like this and getting them into the workforce.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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I met representatives of the volunteer centre in Galway this morning as part of a briefing on National Volunteering Week 2015. They outlined the progress they have made. Ireland ranks very highly with regard to volunteerism. Approximately 20% of people in this country do not volunteer because they do not know where to access volunteering opportunities or how to get involved in the process. Those involved in National Volunteering Week will outline how people can access voluntary services and get involved in their local communities. Their partnership with LinkedIn will allow them to connect with 1.2 million members to advertise volunteering roles. This significant asset will benefit people who want to apply their skills to local charity groups and organisations, as well as improving their own employability prospects and their professional experience. There is a demand for people with skills in information technology, customer service, event management and education and training. Volunteer Ireland intends to launch a volunteer finder system that will enable charities and organisations to find volunteers with specific skills to help them. Volunteer Ireland is to be commended on this initiative. I wish it every success.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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The volunteer issue raised by Senator Naughton is an important one. As politicians, we would not be anywhere without the volunteers we have. When I was the mayor of South Dublin County Council, I created the South Dublin volunteer mayoralty award. I commend Senator Naughton on recognising all the people who work in volunteer offices in each county.

I look forward to some positive news on behalf of mortgage holders. Many Senators have spoken on this issue. We await the good news in this regard. It is badly needed.

I would like to bring to the attention of customers everywhere in Ireland this morning's report that Toyota and Nissan are withdrawing 5 million cars with defective airbags. Some of those cars are in Ireland. Toyota Ireland is withdrawing 27,000 cars that it manufactured. I want to publicise this news, which has just been released. Toyota Ireland will be contacting the 27,000 people in Ireland who have Yaris, Corolla and Avensis Verso models that were produced between April 2004 and 2007. If one has a model that was manufactured outside those years, one does not need to worry. Toyota has said that people can contact its office. It wants to bring to the attention of the public that this recall pertains to the driver-side airbag. I am using this forum to do so. We all know that Toyota and Nissan cars, including the Yaris, are very safe. The fact that they are recalling them is a plus on their side because there is no national legislation saying they should do so or must do so. I think it is right to bring this to the attention of anyone who is driving one of these cars manufactured between 2004 and 2007. I will not mention the names of the models again. The other one is the Yaris that was produced between 2003 and November 2005.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Darragh O'Brien asked about next week. The House will not be sitting next week. As the Senator mentioned, the Dáil will be sitting on Tuesday, but this House will not be sitting. It will sit the following week.

The local property tax will be reviewed in June and July. We will certainly consider the Thornhill report for debate if it is published before it goes to the Government. The HSE service plan was debated at length in this House in the presence of the Minister. Senator O'Brien seems to be trying to whip up some kind of frenzy in relation to health services. I am glad that Fianna Fáil has produced a health policy after spending four years pontificating on what it might put in it and rehashing failed policies.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I remember what was said about universal health care.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I assure Senator O'Brien that I have made a request to the Minister to come into the House to discuss nursing and maternity services in Irish hospitals. I hope the Minister will accede to that request in early course.On that matter, yesterday Senator Bacik raised the question of maternity services, as did other Senators. I have made that request to the Minister for Health.

Senators Bacik and Paul Coghlan spoke about the Heritage Council briefing. I attended it this morning. It is an excellent briefing by everybody involved. One would not know the amount of work people in the council do. It is well worth a visit by Members who have not yet attended it.

Senator Bacik also spoke about the report of the Irish Penal Reform Trust on youth crime. I have requested that the Minister for Justice and Equality come in to deal with several items Members have requested debates on. The Minister has brought in quite an amount of legislation over the past couple of months and will be here again today with the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011, a substantial Bill, which Senators O’Donovan and Paul Coghlan mentioned. It is imperative that this Bill gets the scrutiny it deserves and is enacted as soon as possible.

Senator O’Donovan and others spoke about the persecution of Christians worldwide. I do not like to duplicate the work of committees. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade is discussing that matter today. I will discuss it with the Minister, Deputy Charlie Flanagan.

Senator Hayden welcomed the report of the National Economic and Social Council on landlords and all that was mentioned in the newspapers today. She also mentioned that mortgage arrears and other matters will be discussed at Cabinet today. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has said that when the Government proposals are announced, he will come to the House to discuss those matters with us.

Senator Burke spoke about health matters and the Hanly report, especially the need for more consultants. That report was published in 2003 and there was very little response to that matter until 2011.

Senator Moloney spoke about the dangers of social media and attacks on individuals by people who will not give their own names. They are nothing but cowards, spewing out vile and dreadful abuse. It is absolutely unacceptable. Senator Higgins is producing a Bill to deal with some of those matters. Some of the stuff put out on social media is absolutely disgraceful, not alone social media but anonymous people attacking people in public life, sporting life and many other areas. Something has to be done to deal with these cowards. On Friday last, I received a phone call in my own home from water protesters and the vile abuse spewed out on the phone to me was absolutely disgraceful. Those people should be dealt with.

Senator Naughton spoke about national volunteer week, wishing Volunteer Ireland every success. This country has been blessed with many volunteers in all areas. Long may that continue.

Senator Keane spoke about the recall of cars that may have defective airbags. Everyone will take note of that. It will be publicised.

I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business as tabled.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Darragh O’Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the crisis in the health service be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 18.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 12.17 p.m. and resumed at 12.51 p.m.