Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 June 2015

10:30 am

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re renewal of certain provisions of the Offences against the State Act, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.15 p.m., with contributions from all Senators not to exceed four minutes; No. 2, motion re the Criminal Justice Amendment Act 2009, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed four minutes; No. 3, National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 4 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 4, Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 6.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The political commentator, Gore Vidal, once said that the four most beautiful words in the English language were "I told you so". I will not say "I told you so" to Senator Coghlan but I think I did. When it comes to the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill, which in-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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There are two Senator Coghlans in the House.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I meant Senator Paul Coghlan. In 2012, my side of the House tried to pass the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill. I think we were told at the time that it would be fine, that there was nothing to worry about and that all would be well. Now we see that all is not well. If the Government had accepted the NAMA and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Transparency Bill, we would not find ourselves in the situation we find ourselves in today. Senator Paul Coghlan said that "too many Members are willing to buy the line on transparency peddled by some, such as Senator Daly, without looking at the facts".

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We will not rehearse yesterday's business. We had a motion on that in the House yesterday.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We now we have an inquiry thanks to the fact that the Government would not accept the transparency Bill we proposed. We lost that vote 17 to 24. Now the Government is acting but it is after the horse has bolted.

I ask for a debate on an Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, who is in prison in Egypt. Amnesty International has said he is entirely innocent of all the charges he is facing. He has been in prison for 666 days - one year, nine months, 28 days. No trial has been held to date. A new trial date, the sixth, has been set for August but that could also be postponed. In a note he smuggled out from prison, he said that he wakes up to the screams of people being tortured and wonders whether he will be next.

The Government needs to act. The Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade has asked that these Houses send out a delegation. If Members opposite would like to visit this Irish citizen in prison in Egypt, they should join that committee delegation if it receives permission from the Government to go. The Government needs to act as well and the Taoiseach needs to get involved in the same way the Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia got involved in similar situations where their citizens were being held in prison in Egypt under President Sisi. The Government has not acted to date. If Ibrahim Halawa was a Catholic from Mayo rather than a Muslim from Dublin there might be more action. He was born in Ireland, was 17 years of age when he was arrested and has been in prison for two years.

The Government's policy on Roscommon and its mental health services is a matter of concern. It involves the most vulnerable people in our society - those suffering from Alzheimer's disease and mental health issues.To quote Dr. Kelly: "The Government's policy in Roscommon re ... the Rosalie unit in Castlerea in tantamount to elderly abuse." The former chairperson of the Western Health Board is accusing the Government of elderly abuse. A meeting is taking place tonight in Roscommon. Our motion is No. 16 on the Order Paper. I note that Senator John Kelly from Roscommon is not present today to support the motion.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We do not allude to Members who are not in the House. I ask the Senator to refrain from doing so. The Senator knows how the rule operates here.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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There are Members missing who had been speaking on radio-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator talking about some of his own again?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We are not talking about our own. What we are talking about is the fact that a public meeting is taking place tonight in Roscommon on this issue. We have a motion on the Order Paper. We will not press it to a vote today because, unfortunately, some Members from the Government side, are unable to assist us.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Members from the Senator's party are also missing.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We will table it next Tuesday. I give notice that we will put it to a vote on Tuesday in order that all Members opposite will have an opportunity to assist us to pass that motion-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is not today's business. The Senator is way over time.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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-----to keep that Alzheimer's unit open and those who have been talking the talk on radio will be able to do something in the place that counts, that is, here. I ask that Government time to be set aside for a debate on this important issue and in regard to what Dr. Kelly, the former chairperson of the Western Health Board, has said that the Government is abusing the elderly by closing down this unit.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Will the Member opposite obey the Chair? With all due respect, Senator Mark Daly has some nerve to say "I told you so". What about the things he told his leader, Deputy Micheál Martin? He should go back and talk to him again.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We are on today's Order of Business.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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What the reporters said did not suit him in Kerry.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Is the Senator talking about the IBRC?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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On the Order of Business.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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To what is the Senator referring?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption, please.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Coghlan is lacking in transparency in the most obvious manner.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is the master of double talk.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator is master of lack of transparency. I do not even know to what the Senator is referring.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Allow Senator Coghlan to continue, without interruption, please.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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On the issue of Mr. Ibrahim Halawa I ask the Deputy Leader to arrange a debate. That is humanitarian matter and we will not divide on it.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for his support on that issue.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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As regards the Commission of Investigation, I salute the Minister for Finance for his astute and deft handling of that entire matter. The appointment of Mr. Justice Daniel O'Keeffe is an excellent one and I have no doubt he will do a superb job.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We had that debate yesterday.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I know we had.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We should not have it again today.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Member opposite, who is the Deputy Leader today, has referred to the matter and I am merely responding to it.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I told him he was out of order.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator should respect the Chair.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I will certainly respect the Chair.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator cannot turn around and say he will respect the Chair and do the opposite.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Naval Service deserves great commendation for the work the Le Eithnehas done and continues to do in the Mediterranean and please God will be offering assistance for months to come. I hope that leaders at European level can make proper provision for these people who are coming from north African shores.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on the city of Dublin. For many years I have spoken about the situation of Dublin on a non-partisan basis and some weeks, or a couple of months ago, I referred to the dereliction of the Georgian core, which I have repeatedly drawn to the attention of the city authorities. One of the houses I mentioned in North Frederick Street collapsed. There is a whole series of situations where people are discriminated against. In the living city initiative, Dublin was excluded and now there is a square footage limit which deliberately and specifically excludes Georgian restoration, so there is no incentive.

Finally, there is the Dublin City traffic management plan which is absolutely asinine. I rode a bicycle for many years and was knocked off three times on O'Connell Street. Now we have cyclists who are gone absolutely mad. Apparently they are not required to wear helmets, although it is the law that they should. They cycle the wrong way up streets, they cycle on the footpaths, they cycle against red lights and so on and meanwhile cars are going to be banned. My journey from North Great George's Street to this House will be impossible. Suffolk Street is going to be closed and the College Green gate is going to be implemented. Why is it that people in the inner city were never given recognition for living in the inner city? Nothing is done to facilitate them. I suggest we recommend to the authorities that, just as in Jerusalem which has a different coloured place for people who live in the old city, we should introduce that system here to allow people who live in the city not to be imprisoned in their houses but to get in and out in their motor cars. There is a terrible prejudice against the private motor car in the city. It is just asinine. One has only to look at the back gate of Trinity College where metal spikes have been erected and a path built, resulting in larceny, crashes and traffic jams. It is deliberately using the infrastructure of the city in a manner that is dangerous to the users of cars and pedestrians. I call for a debate on the city of Dublin with particular emphasis on the Dublin traffic plan.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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The unintelligible noise coming from the Opposition benches is that of Senator Mark Daly jumping on every passing bandwagon that has come through the House since Christmas. If he had taken the time to attend a debate in the House yesterday when the Minister was present he could have put his one-upmanship to him.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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As I said earlier we are not discussing yesterday's business.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We did that two years ago.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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The Minister was here yesterday.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I do not like closing the door after the horse has bolted.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Daly, please.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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The Minister would have answered Senator Daly if he had the courage to come in for the debate.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Two years ago he said there was no need for transparency.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Will Senator Daly please allow Senator Gilroy to make his point?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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If he wants to keep referring to me I have no problem with that.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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If the Senator had the courage to come in to the House yesterday and put his concerns to the Minister-----

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Two years ago the Senator voted against it. We have it here.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I will have no choice but to adjourn the House if the Senator continues in this vein.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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If the Senator wants to refer to the facts about the vote on transparency in the IBRC two years-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is Senator Daly going to continue in this fashion? If so, I will adjourn the House.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I will if the Senator continues referring to me.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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I will not refer to Senator Daly at all. The Senator from Kerry also referred to the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs committee in respect of an Irish citizen. All Irish citizens are treated in the same way in the Republic-----

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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They would not say that in Roscommon.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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-----irrespective of the Senator's innuendo that the Government would dare to treat somebody of a different ethnicity differently in a Republic, which he suggested it did.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator should speak to the family.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator had sufficient time to make his point.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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The Senator also jumped on the bandwagon by raising the mental health services in Roscommon. It is blatantly transparent and he even admitted to the fact that he wishes to score political points as opposed to having a genuine concern for the service users of the mental health service in Roscommon.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Dr. Kelly is raising the same issue in Roscommon tonight if the Senator wishes to attend.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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A Chathaoirleach, may I make my contribution without interruption, please?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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A question for the Deputy Leader would be admirable.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Will Senator Daly please refrain?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I do not want the Senator to go without a reply.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I may have no choice but to adjourn the House.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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If the Senator wants to continue asking questions, he should put a question to the Deputy Leader.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does Senator Gilroy have a question for the Deputy Leader?

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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I have several. I could not allow the bandwagon effect to pass without comment. On an unrelated matter, there are some anomalies in the price structuring fare of public transport in Ireland. A comparison of bus fares in Cork and similar bus fares in Dublin shows a price differential. I ask the acting Leading to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on public transport pricing policy.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I support motion No. 16 on the Order Paper:



That Seanad Éireann opposes the closure of the Rosalie unit in Castlerea, County Roscommon, which cares for psychiatric patients including those with Alzheimer's and dementia.
I ask the Deputy Leader to provide time for a debate today, otherwise, with my colleagues, we intend to move the motion for debate.The situation is that the matter has been raised by people like Councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice, Councillor Orla Leyden, Councillor Nigel Dineen and other councillors. Others involved include Dr. Greg Kelly and Dr. Charles Byrne, who is the chief psychiatrist in County Roscommon. He has expressed his concerns in today's local newspapers. He is a consultant psychiatrist and he has strongly criticised the plans to close the Rosalie unit at Áras Naomh Caolinn in Castlerea.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We are not having a debate on that.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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He has called for the decision to be reversed. What is happening down there is absolutely elder abuse. The 25 patients are being thrown to the wind without any concern whatsoever just because the HSE wants to cut costs. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is absolutely not carrying out her duties.

I am calling on Senator Kelly to use his influence in the Labour parliamentary party to reverse this decision, which is against the interests of patients in County Roscommon. We are going to continue to move this issue in this House. We are going to get a situation where there will be a vote in this House. We will call on Senator Kelly to vote against the closure of the Rosalie unit in Castlerea, County Roscommon, rather than being on radio talking about this. Deputies Frank Feighan and Denis Naughten and all the other Deputies have no influence. I want them all involved on this issue to ensure we have no further downgrading of medical services in County Roscommon.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Senator Leyden is the choirmaster. Is that it?

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I support Senator Norris in his suggestion that we have a debate on Dublin. The advances we have made when it comes to cycling and walking in this city are fantastic. At the same time, I agree entirely with Senator Norris. We do not have the climate, first and foremost, to be constantly on foot or bicycle in this country. While the ideal is that we would have people on foot and reduce congestion, we need to remember the motorist in the context of the overall debate on how we move around our city. I support Senator Norris in his call.

An issue I wish to raise briefly is that of inheritance tax. This is a matter we could usefully debate in the House. It has come to light recently that the rate at which the tax is imposed is the seventh highest among countries that are members of the OECD. The tax kicks in here at a much lower value than other western countries. By way of example, in Britain the exemption from the tax is set at almost £450,000 for one category while in Germany it is €380,000. This report shows that compared with the United Kingdom, a person here will pay far more when she inherits. In Ireland, the capital acquisitions tax is imposed at a rate of 33% on amounts over €225,000 for a son or daughter. The rate has soared from 20% in 2008 and the tax-free threshold has been cut in half.

This makes it all quite onerous on people if they inherit even a modest house. Families are suddenly being hit with serious inheritance tax bills this year as rising property prices push them over exemption limits. Revenue currently allows people to pay over a period but at an interest rate of 8% per year if families choose to pay by instalments. Given the sums involved, this can sometimes be quite large. A rate of 8% per year strikes me as onerous. Perhaps there is a case to be made for reducing the rate of inheritance tax, raising the level at which it kicks in or reducing the rate for interest on instalments. Certainly, it strikes me as rather punitive.

In any event, it is certainly worthy of debate. The reduction in the tax-free thresholds has resulted in even modest properties, particularly in Dublin, where house prices are higher, being hit with big tax bills. Many countries have recognised that estate and inheritance taxes are a poor source of revenue and some have eliminated these taxes altogether. It is worth noting that 13 countries have repealed inheritance tax, including Norway, which is hardly regarded as a tax haven. I would welcome a debate on the matter.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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Will the Deputy Leader arrange a debate on services for children with physical and mental disabilities? I know we have had a number of debates with the Minister before, but not specifically on children. There have been a number of reports in recent weeks about a lack of speech, language and occupational therapists. A number of campaign groups have sprung up throughout the State in places where, unfortunately, families of children with different forms of disabilities are engaged in battles with the State to get services for their children.

There are a number of problems, but the first problem is the absence sufficient therapists. As we know, therapists sit on diagnostic teams and assessment teams within the HSE. In the absence of enough therapists, especially senior speech and language therapists and child psychologists, the diagnostic teams are not in a position to provide the diagnoses and assessments as quickly as they should. In fact, while the HSE policy is that all children should be assessed within three months, we now know from replies to parliamentary questions to the Minister with responsibility for this area that many children are waiting longer than 12 months. We all accept that this is completely unacceptable.

I can give an example in my city of Waterford, where the senior child psychologist post is not filled. It is vacant. I was in discussions with senior management in the HSE. They are concerned about it because it is a specialised area and not a post that can be filled easily. They now have to look at buying in some of the services simply to carry on with the diagnostic assessments. I am fearful that children will have to wait longer for these assessments because of a vacuum in respect of these posts.

Will the Deputy Leader arrange for that debate, specifically on children with disabilities? We have had a number of debates with the Minister of State. In fairness to the Minister of State, she has been very good at coming in to the Seanad to discuss issues in respect of her brief. This is now a national story. It was covered in a number of national radio stations, some of which have worked with families, made freedom of information requests and obtained information in respect of the long waiting times. I call on the Deputy Leader to arrange for that debate as soon as possible.

Photo of Lorraine HigginsLorraine Higgins (Labour)
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I raise the issue of the need for a dedicated eating disorder specialist unit. According to the Eating Disorder Association of Ireland, Bodywhys, up to 200,000 people in Ireland may be affected by eating disorders. An estimated 400 new cases occur each year and there are up to 80 related deaths annually. These illnesses affect women and men of all ages and from all walks of life. In light of these figures, it seems shocking to me that there is no dedicated eating disorder specialist unit in this country.

In 2006, A Vision for Change emphasised the need to establish a national centre for eating disorders. At the time it was proposed to be included in the new children's hospital. The report also recommended the development of four specialist multidisciplinary teams nationally to deal with eating disorders, one per HSE region, and the provision of 24 public eating disorder beds nationally. Nine years on from A Vision for Change, there is still no national centre for eating disorders nor have any specialised localised services been developed. Given the scale of the problem, why is this not being prioritised? It is clearly a big issue if 80 people are dying annually as a result of eating disorders.

Constituents to whom I have spoken and who work with those suffering from eating disorders or who have family members who suffer have made it clear to me how desperately the services are needed. I have raised the matter with the Minister of Health in the hope that movement can occur to get these services established for the benefit of the thousands of people affected as well as their families. We need a debate in this House because it is an issue of priority and we need to give it the time it deserves.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent)
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On Tuesday this week I supported the call from Senator Bacik to have, at the earliest possible opportunity, a debate on the media and media ownership in the context of what we expected to be reported from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White. I understand the Minister, Deputy White, yesterday launched some type of policy guide or initiative. I repeat the need to have an urgent debate on media ownership and the desirability of having a balance of ownership in Irish media. I do so in the context of the recent pronouncement from the Competition Authority in respect of Ryanair's supposed dominance of the Irish market and the view of the Competition Authority that, from an air travel perspective, competition is not only desirable but necessary. What is good for free trade and free travel should also not only be good but also necessary for the media. The need for a fair and balanced media presentation is vital in our democracy and media ownership is central to that debate.

The disappointing thing about the pronouncement yesterday from the Minister, Deputy White, is that any proposals that would stem from his policy document will not be retrospective. This means not only that any current dominance in the media will not be challenged but also that it will be literally copper-fastened in law. It is some since the Tánaiste, Deputy Burton, spoke about what she described as the possible Berlusconi media complex in Ireland. At least in the case of Mr. Berlusconi, while he had a particular agenda, he stood for election.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I join Senator Noone in asking the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Finance on the issue of inheritance tax. As she said, it is a particularly punitive tax and the thresholds need to be reviewed in the light of rising property and land prices. This tax is causing hardship for families who in many cases have to come up with large amounts of cash to pay the taxman following the death of a loved one. The matter needs to be addressed because we are certainly out of kilter with other countries in Europe on this tax.

I welcome yesterday's announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, that the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act 2015 will come into force on 1 July. The primary purpose of the Act is to make provision for a broad range of health services free of charge to those who had been in the Magdalen laundries. These women were treated very badly by the State in the past and it is good to see that some efforts are now being made to redress the injustices inflicted on them.

The services to be provided include general practitioner, medical and surgical services; drugs, medicines and surgical appliances; nursing services; home-help services; dental and ophthalmic services; counselling services; chiropody services; and physiotherapy services. The Act also provides these women with exemptions from charges for acute inpatient services. These services are being provided in addition to the other suite of services announced earlier which include ex gratiapayments and pension top-ups. I welcome that this issue, which was never dealt with by any previous Administration, has been addressed by this Government. A major injustice that was inflicted on many unfortunate women is at last being put to right.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I will give some good and some bad news and in the process ask the Deputy Leader and the representatives of the Government parties to communicate to the Minister for Health and possibly to schedule a debate in this Chamber on an issue that has become a low-level national emergency.

I will give the bad news first on this beautiful sunny summer's day. The incidence of malignant melanoma in Ireland has skyrocketed in recent years. This is a cancer which in its earliest stages should be cured if it is removed with a simple excision of the affected area of the skin, but in many cases it is not cured. It is a disease that can present with a more advanced disease or which has propensity for relapse. The scary thing is that historically, this disease when it comes back has been very difficult to treat and is usually fatal.

The incidence of the disease has skyrocketed in Ireland in recent years. This is totally due to increased sun exposure. As a national group we are not well endowed with defences against the sun. We were designed for spending our time in the grey misty skies of north-western Europe. Now that we have more opportunities to access the sun through travel we are seeing a colossal increase. This is not just some visitation from God. This is something we do to ourselves and we can do something about it.

I will now give the good news. Last week in Chicago, at the conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, extraordinary data were presented about newer immune system treatments for the minority of patients who have advanced secondary malignant melanoma. Without boring Members with all the details, this was a large 1,000-patient study. I am very proud to say approximately 20 members, who were recruited through the All-Ireland Co-operative Oncology Research Group, an organisation which I, along with my colleague John Armstrong founded 17 years ago, were part of this trial and contributed to the data. More than 50% of patients with this advanced, usually incurable cancer had major remissions of their cancer. Approximately 20% to 25% of them had a complete disappearance of the cancer. We believe it is likely that many of those patients will be cured. So this is a stunning event.

The problem is that it will be extraordinarily costly. The other information that came from Chicago last week is that these types of new immune system treatments, which were of use principally in relatively uncommon cancers, may work in lung cancer, some types of bowel cancer, possibly in bladder cancer and in a variety of other diseases. So a torrent of data may become available to us over the next year or two that these new and very expensive drugs have life-saving potential.

We need to do some forward planning. There is no doubt that we will be spending a bit more on drugs if we approve these drugs. I make a specific suggestion to the Government party leadership because we cannot initiate money Bills here or make specific financial proposals. I would like if somebody in the Government would take on board as a project a plan for the next budget to impose an additional €5 tax on a pack of cigarettes which would be ring-fenced for one purpose only, which would be the provision of expensive drugs and medications for people who get smoking-related diseases. I would not be so sectarian as to deny my colleagues in cardiology access to this as well. The money should be designated for the treatment of diseases caused by smoking.

This would have the twin effects of raising revenue and disincentivising people from smoking. I believe this should be done. We have talked about it in the past. This country is not good at ring-fencing taxes and the reality is that tax gets a bad rap. We know what has happened in the past with tax money being frittered away in the financial sector and on things that were completely non-productive.

We should take this on board as a policy and ring-fence the €5 additional tax. We should also put a tax on sunbeds to be used to address the same issue. We should then completely remove all VAT from sun-protection products, which should be considered as medicinal agents. Otherwise not only will we have the tragedy of many people - many of them young - getting incurable cancer, but we will also have the financial consequences of paying for the treatments we will not be able to afford, some of which will costs hundreds of thousands of euro.

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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A number of people in my area have brought to my attention the new - or not so new - concept of angel workshops. It purports to provide angel therapy, a non-denominational spiritual healing system. It may seem like a funny subject until one realises that people are paying €50 or €60 per session to talk to the angels. Some of the people who have contacted me have other illness, including psychological illnesses.

I have done some research into the matter. It has been in existence since 1958. Nonetheless, there is no proven benefit to people. People are entitled to do what they like with their money and people are entitled to provide whatever services they like. I want the Deputy Leader to inquire from the Revenue and the Minister for Finance as to whether this operation, which is spreading across the country at a rate that only angels could do, is tax compliant and that there is some regulation of it.

In the world I live in there is one Lord, one God, but everybody is entitled to believe whatever they want to believe. Given that this organisation and its workshops are extracting €50 or €60 for an afternoon sitting in a room in the belief that one is being put in contact with angels, some regulation needs to be applied to it.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Are they getting through?

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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I ask the Deputy Leader to raise the matter with the Minister and perhaps she can have some divine intervention on the matter.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I do not believe I have ever previously been asked to exercise divine intervention powers. I thank Senator Landy.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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There is always a first.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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There is always a first time.

Senator Daly spoke about NAMA and the IBRC. I do not believe there was any specific question for me. I would be tempted to say that if it was not for Fianna Fáil economic policies during 14 years in government, of course, NAMA and the IBRC would not have been necessary, but we are where we are.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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There is always a necessity for transparency. Does Senator Paul Coghlan not agree?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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We had a full debate last night on the IBRC motion, so I will leave it at that.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The horse has bolted.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Senator Daly also raised the case of Mr. Ibrahim Halawa. It was a case I would have raised had I not been acting as Leader today. It is a matter of grave concern. I am very happy to seek a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, in this House. I know others are also concerned about it. Like other Senators, I read the text of the hand-written letter, written by Mr. Ibrahim Halawa in prison. It is on the record that his family is very concerned about his state of mind as evidenced by the letter.I did ask for a briefing on the case. I understand Ibrahim's father and sisters met the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, last Thursday evening and that his mother is in Egypt. The two objectives of the Irish Government are to see this Irish citizen being released by the Egyptian authorities in order that he can return to his family and studies in Ireland and to provide consular support to ensure his welfare while he remains in detention. The matter of immediate concern is the further adjournment of his trial. As I understand there has been a request from defence lawyers that hearings not take place during Ramadan, the next hearing is scheduled for 2 August. Ibrahim has received over 40 consular visits since he was first detained, the most recent of which was on Monday, 8 June. Irish Embassy officials attended the most recent hearing on 3 June and will attend the next hearing on 2 August. Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin and Cairo continue to provide strong consular support for Ibrahim and his family. His bail application on 26 April was supported by the Irish Government but was refused, with all of the other bail applications in the case. The Minister met his Egyptian counterpart following the bail application refusal and discussed the case with him in some detail. There are ongoing contacts. However, I am happy to ask the Minister to come to the House to address us on the matter and discuss if there is anything further the Irish Government could be doing. That the matter is before an Egyptian judge and not directly in the purview of the Egyptian Government is a difficulty. There is immense concern about the conditions in which Ibrahim is being kept, the legality of his detention and the nature of his case. I take issue with Senator Mark Daly's outrageous statement that there might be a difference in treatment if this Irish citizen was of a different religion. I take exception to that statement, as addressed by Senator John Gilroy. We should request the Minister to come to the House for a debate on the matter and I will do so.

Senator Mark Daly also referred non-Government motion No. 16 on the Order Paper on the closure of the Rosalie Unit in Castlerea, County Roscommon. As it deals with a very specific matter, I suggest it would be more appropriate to raise it by way of a Commencement Matter.

Senator Paul Coghlan also referred to the case of Ibrahim Halawa and the grave humanitarian concerns raised. He also welcomed the establishment of the commission of investigation and the appointment of Judge Daniel O'Keeffe. I echo his views in that regard. He also spoke about the tremendous work being done by the Le Eithneand the Irish Naval Service in the Mediterranean. I understand that to date it has saved the lives of 1,153 migrants, which is an amazing achievement. I join the Senator in sending our commendations to the crew of the Le Eithne.

Senator David Norris called for a debate on the city of Dublin. I disagree with his remarks in that regard. It is important that we emphasise the need to facilitate cyclists and pedestrians in the inner city. For far too long, the car has been king in the inner city, but that is about to change. I speak as a resident who lives in an area between the canals, as does the Senator, and a regular cyclist. This is not about climate conditions, as those who are all-weather cyclists wear waterproof clothing. We need to do more for cyclists and pedestrians. I am very excited about Dublin City Council's plan under which it is not proposed to ban cars from the city centre but to make College Green, in particular, much more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. I do agree with the Senator, however, that the council must make provision for those who live in the city and support his proposal on the use of different coloured plates in that regard.

Senator John Gilroy spoke about the bandwagon effect. I agree with his remarks on the issue, on which I have commented. I also agree with his comment that the appropriate time to make points in that regard was during the debate last night on the motion on IBRC. The Senator also referred to the case of Ibrahim Halawa, an issue I have addressed. He also sought a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on public transport pricing policy. I am happy to ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate on that issue.

Senator Terry Leyden also raised the Roscommon issue. I have dealt with it.

Senator Catherine Noone supported Senator David Norris's call for a debate on the city of Dublin. As I said, I will undertake to arrange such a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Senator Catherine Noone also called for a debate with the Minister for Finance on inheritance tax. It might be better to have that debate prior to the budget. I will endeavour to arrange it.

Senator David Cullinane called for a debate on services for children with disabilities. I remind the Senator that two weeks ago, on 27 May, we had a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on health services for people with intellectual disabilities, during which a number of Senators raised the points raised today by him, including those about waiting lists and the delays encountered by children, in particular. I will, however, endeavour to arrange a further debate on disability services. As stated by the Senator, the Minister of State has been proactive in coming to the Seanad for debates. I am sure she will be happy to do so again. However, it may not be possible to arrange such a debate bearing in mind that we have a very heavy schedule and that the Minister of State was only recently in the House to discuss a related issue.

Senator Lorraine Higgins spoke about the need for an eating disorder specialist unit. I agree with her that there is a need to prioritise this issue. The House is scheduled to hear statements on tackling obesity on Wednesday next, from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m., in the presence of the Minister for Health. That would be an appropriate time for the Senator to express her concerns.

Senator Paul Bradford called for a debate on media guidelines, a debate I have previously sought to arrange. I will, however, endeavour to arrange it. I agree with the Senator's comments in that regard. The media merger guidelines published yesterday by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, set out the procedures to be followed when a media merger takes place or is proposed and give guidance on what the Minister will take into account when assessing whether a merger would or would not be in the public interest. Recent events have caused the issue to be of much greater political significance.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Very much so.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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On the specific question of retrospectivity, I understand the guidelines are effective from 31 October 2014, the date the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 was signed into law. It is under that Act that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has the power to determine whether a proposed media merger would be in the public interest. I am happy to seek a debate on the matter in the light of recent events.

Senator Michael Mullins also called for a debate on inheritance tax. I will endeavour to arrange such a debate. The Senator also welcomed the commencement, from 1 July, of the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Act 2015. The Minister's announcement on the commencement of the Act is welcome. The Senator outlined the purpose of the legislation. That the survivors of the Magdalen institutions, in particular, are to be adequately provided for is hugely welcome. As the Senator said, this is a legacy issue. This is the first Government to deal with what has been a long-standing injustice for the women concerned.

Senator John Crown spoke about the skyrocketing increase in the incidence of malignant melanoma. As stated by him, it is a source of huge concern. I am sure everybody welcomes the new treatments being trialled which show some positive advances. I liked the three specific proposals made by the Senator. Perhaps we might put together a cross-party motion on positive steps that could be taken to deal with this issue, to include a tax on cigarette packages, a tax on sunbeds and the removal of VAT on sun protection products. I recently had to purchase sun protection creams for children. It costs a minimum of €10 to buy a small bottle which does not last very long in providing protection for a child exposed to the sun every day while on a sun holiday. The aforementioned proposals represent practical and useful measures. We should consider how we might advance them.

Senator Denis Landy referred to angel workshops and the issue of divine intervention. I agree with him that it is a serious matter if people are being exploited. It raises issues not only on the tax side but also on the trade description side. There are a number of options we could examine in terms of regulation to ensure there is no exploitation. I will discuss with the Senator how we might approach the issue.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 12.20 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.