Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No.1, Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 3.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Seanad Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
I have written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, about a new drug for the treatment of cystic fibrosis called Orkambi which yesterday was approved by the EU Medicines Agency. We have been very slow to give effect in Ireland to EU approvals. This is a ground-breaking drug for CF sufferers that has been shown in America to extend life expectancy and improve quality of life for those who suffer from cystic fibrosis. In the past few years I have spoken about Fampyra, a drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. It took 18 months to have it put on the list. It seems we spend an inordinate length of time in giving effect to EU approvals. I have also written to the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, asking for a timeframe in giving effect to the EU approval of this drug. Cystic fibrosis is a very debilitating condition and anything that can be brought forward to improve people’s quality of life and extend life expectancy should be brought forward. Will the Leader raise this issue with the Minister to find out what the timeline is to have this drug put on shelves here?
We might have a chance to speak to the Minister today, particularly in the light of the 92% vote in favour of industrial action by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. Considered objectively, the health service has descended into chaos. This year up to 80,000 patients have been on trolleys for a period of over 24 hours and that figure will have reached over 100,000 by the end of the year, which will be a record. Waiting lists are extending. Outpatient lists in Dublin have increased by 400%, yet the Minister reacts to this as if he were an independent commentator, as opposed to the person charged with responsibility for management of the health system. I want him to engage immediately. For nurses this is not about additional pay but working conditions and the additional nurses required. The Minister only reacts when there is a crisis. There is no forward planning or leadership on his part. It is about time he came into this House and answered for his tenure in the Department of Health, particularly given we are coming into the winter months when the situation will become more acute. How many 80 year olds and 90 year olds need to spend two days sitting in a chair in Beaumont Hospital or Tallaght Hospital for the Minister to listen? I met an 84 year old constituent last weekend who had spent 36 hours sitting on a chair. I wrote a complaint to the Minister in that regard. It is not that nurses and doctors want this to happen but they do not have the appropriate resources.
The Minister offers sympathy and a bit of apple pie. He says it is terrible and desperate and that he would love it to be better. He is the Minister in control. He is in charge. It is his responsibility.
It is long overdue that the Minister would account for his tenure in the Department of Health. The Minister should come into this House and tell us what he will do as opposed to commentating on what is already happening.
I am tabling an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, would come to the House today and take questions from Members and that he would outline his plans to improve the situation for our sick and elderly in the hospital system between now and Christmas. He should do that immediately. I expect the amendment to the Order of Business to be accepted today. Senators, including Government Senators, are very concerned about the matter because the health system is in chaos. It is in crisis. It has got worse. I did not think it could get worse after the Minister, Deputy James Reilly. I thought there would be some improvement when Deputy Varadkar took over the portfolio but it has got worse.
We now have more doctors in the system than at any time in the history of the State. I have no difficulty with having a debate on health and I am sure the Leader will facilitate it when possible.
I am very happy we passed the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill through the Seanad last night. The Bill will introduce a deposit protection scheme for tenants and a rent-freeze period. These are important measures which will take some of the heat out of the currently over-heated rental market and improve security for tenants. However, the issue of supply of housing remains to be addressed. We will not be going back to business as usual any time soon and basing our rental sector on accidental landlords and people who got into the sector with the intention of making capital gains. Some of the REITs and other commercial companies that have moved into the sector are not remotely interested in providing housing for low income families. Social housing will address some aspects of the issue but the issue is a wider one. We need a debate on the more extensive issue of housing supply and the wider reform of the private rental sector. I ask the Leader to arrange the debate, particularly in view of the passing of the legislation.
I welcome the announcement by Irish Water this morning that it intends to spend more than €2 billion between now and 2021 solving the waste water treatment problem. Like everyone here, I was shocked by the Environmental Protection Agency's report that said there were 45 locations in the country where sewage waste was being pumped directly into the water. Had I known when I was sitting on Duncannon beach in Wexford last summer that it was one of the beaches affected I would not have been so happy. This issue, which shows the justification for having an overarching agency dealing with something as important as water, has to be addressed.
I support the Tánaiste's call for openness and transparency in terms of the earnings of CEOs in any organisation, and not just NGOs, that receives State support.
We were all shocked to see the level of earnings of one of the CEOs of an organisation with which we are all familiar and the debate that has ensued in the organisation. The debate could easily take place in a large number of other organisations. The State needs to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure people know the exact level of earnings in some of these organisations and companies.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on foreign policy? We have had an extraordinary week and a half in Europe between the events in France and the more recent events in Brussels. One of the principal cities of Europe was in lock-down. Last night we saw the shooting down of a Russian aircraft by Turkish military. Unrest and uncertainty around security is escalating. Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade about Ireland's state of preparedness to deal with such a situation? Just because we are an island does not mean we are immune or unique. We need to address the issue of where Ireland stands in terms of our preparedness.
It does not matter when debates are going on as that is defensible because people could be watching from elsewhere and preparing to come in. Only those people who are queuing up to speak are really needed in the Chamber. However, to have the Order of Business attended by one sixth of the membership is very bad.
The Privacy Bill, which I was delighted to see as item No. 3 last week, has dropped down the list. It is now item No. 7. Will the Leader give us some undertaking to demonstrate the Government is serious about the matter of privacy? Many of us feel something should be done about it. Item No. 7 is the Government's Bill and item No. 37 is a Bill on the question of privacy which I took the trouble to draft.
I note that there are 0.02 minutes remaining to me. I wonder how this is calculated. There is another Bill to which I wish to refer, namely, Senator Mary White's Bill on employment, yet there is now 0.01 minutes remaining. This is a device I pioneered a number of years ago, in terms of alerting when there are a couple of minutes remaining to speak but it is over-doing it to indicate as little as 0.01 minutes.
The issue of the number of nurses in the health service is very confusing for the ordinary person. I heard a debate on the wireless yesterday. The interviewer quoted the Minister as saying there was an increase of 700 in the number of nurses. However, Mr. Liam Doran, the head of the INMO, said he was quoting HSE figures and that there was a loss of 200 nurses. How can one make up one's mind when the Minister says there are 700 extra nurses but the trade union representative for nurses is saying there are 200 fewer nurses? Can we have some clarity? Will the Leader ascertain the actual figures and report them to the House?
We read yesterday about a court challenge initiated by a school in County Wicklow against An Bord Pleanála arising from a decision to grant planning permission for a fast food restaurant adjacent the grounds of the school. I will obviously not comment on the specifics of the court case but there is an important public policy issue on the need to align planning policy with the national strategy on healthy eating to be addressed. This is a matter for the Department of Health, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. They need to ensure that planning policy is adequately informed and guided by Government policy in this area. It does not seem right that it should be necessary for an individual school to go up against the might of large fast food companies to ensure students are not excessively exposed to foods that have high levels of sugars, salts and fats. The matter should be addressed.
I second the proposed amendment to the Order of Business tabled by Senator Darragh O'Brien. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board was established in 2004, which is more than 11 years ago. Its activities should be reviewed to see if it is working. From what I can see, it appears more inclined to settle claims without really defending them. This adds to the situation regarding excessive and allegedly fraudulent claims and is affecting the insurance costs of every individual in the country.Insurance is very important and motor insurance specifically because this is what the board was really set up to deal with. It assesses claims but it is taken as a fait accompli that somehow the claim is legitimate. One particular claim has been brought to my attention. It was made in February 2015 for injuries that occurred on 23 December 2014, and the individual had already made two other motor claims in 2011 and in 2012. Either it was a very unfortunate driver or a bad driver, but whichever the case might be, it seems a very convenient way of raising funds. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board is not defending the cases. Once a doctor, a GP or a medical officer, gives a report saying that the person has some sort of injuries, then the board just settles without any debate, defence or investigation. I ask that the Leader would, in the new year, invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the House to review the working of the board. Some of the claims that have been awarded have been higher than claims in the UK. A claim for whiplash, for example, should be the same in adjoining countries. There is no reason a person should be compensated more in Ireland than in the UK. It would be worthwhile to look at these issues. The Bill in question was passed through this House when former Deputy Mary Harney was the Minister and former Senator Joe O'Toole was vice chairman of the Personal injuries Assessment Board when it was established in 2004. While the Senator had every right to be a member of that board, it was unusual for a Member of the Oireachtas to be on that board. I ask that the Minister would consider a review of the board to see if it could be more fit for purpose.
I will give an example. A claim can be made within two years of an event. Surely a person would know within weeks or months if they were injured. Two years is a long time during which a person can decide if they are affected by some scratch to a car or somebody running into a car and then claim. Such a claim could be sent into the board which might say: "Yes, how much do you want?" The person could say: "We'll settle for €7,000 or €8,000" to which the board could say "Excellent", sending a cheque and closing the file but it is the ordinary citizen who picks up the pieces.
I remind those present that today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It marks the beginning of 16 days of action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than one in three, or 35%, of women in the world have experienced physical and or sexual intimate partner violence. I wonder how accurate these figures are because I believe that women who are being violated are not reporting the incidents, which is sad indeed. It is not just women who suffer from violence. I spoke with a young man recently who had suffered two black eyes and had received six stitches in his forehead. I asked him what had happened as I thought it might have been a row in or outside a pub, but it had happened in his own home and by his own partner. We should contribute in any way we can to reduce incidents of violence.
It is unbelievable to hear in the media today that in excess of 40 towns in the State are still discharging raw effluent into our lakes, rivers and oceans. It is a medieval practice. I come from the medieval town of Carlingford where we had a similar situation up until 12 years ago when a new water treatment system was installed. It really helped the town to develop but at the moment it is insufficient to cater for further development. I ask the Leader to call for a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on what are the priorities in eliminating this medieval practice in many towns and villages throughout the State.
It is great to see the home town of the newly crowned Connacht champions represented here, so I second the Cathaoirleach's welcome to the people from Castlebar.
I note that nine amendments from this House have been accepted by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Paudie Coffey, to the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015. Great praise is due to the Minister of State. We had dialogue on Committee Stage and it was important that the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey recognised the role of the Seanad in advising on environmental matters such as climate change. The timing works well because the Paris Conference on environment and climate change, COP 21, will go ahead at the end of this month, despite the problems in Paris, so it is an important item on the Order of Business.
I also note there are some 294 amendments to the Legal Services Regulation Bill, about 240 in the name of the Minister. This shows the important role of the Seanad in the dialogue we have with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald because the Bill will be completely different from the one which was passed by the Dáil due to points raised in this House. It proves the value of having a reviewing chamber in a bicameral system.
I agree with Senator Hayden that organisations which do not publish the pay of their leading people lower themselves in public esteem. We need more openness in our society and some of the organisations which did not respond yesterday do not hesitate to lecture the Oireachtas on how to conduct its duties. Those organisations were remarkably silent when asked to declare the salaries of their executives.
I echo Senator Hayden's call for a debate on housing, if it can be facilitated. No. 47, which has one of those mysterious small numbers referred to by Senator Norris, remains outstanding. It was an attempt to leverage the ability of the Government to borrow money at low cost to help to increase the supply of housing at average or below average prices. That would contrast with the previous regime where the banking inquiry found that 29 people had borrowed €34 billion and sent the bill to the taxpayer. No. 47 is in line with a new way of looking at housing costs at below average and average prices, not lining the pockets of millionaires and billionaires, as happened the last time.
I echo the call I made yesterday for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the HSE to actively engage with the Workplace Relations Commission to avert the proposed strike for 15 December. No one would win in that situation. Elderly people will be traumatised, they will be stressed and worried about the inadequate care they may receive as a result of that strike. There are problems in the health service at the moment. The State has an ageing population, we have an increasing population and there has been major under-investment in facilities for the last decade. However, the emergency department task force which was put in place earlier in 2015 is making progress. There are fewer people on trolleys than there were a year ago and 200 additional hospital beds have been opened since October 2015 with more coming on stream. In facilities such as University Hospital Galway, until such a time as the new emergency department is built, the problems there will not be fully resolved. Actions will be required in the meantime to ensure the problems are minimised.
Senator Norris made reference to the additional nurses who were recruited. There are 800 more nurses in the system than last year and 400 are in the recruitment process. I would welcome a discussion with the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, regarding how these issues can be expedited.
Finally, I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, on the regional action plan for jobs.It is fantastic news that unemployment levels have fallen below 9% for the first time since 2008. However, there are areas of the country that have not benefitted from the upturn in the economy. The regional action plans have the potential to help towns like Ballinasloe, the Cathaoirleach's own town of Castlebar and other towns in the west. I would like a debate in this Chamber on those action plans.
Joining the Cathaoirleach's welcome to the students from Castlebar, I welcome two visitors from Ballinasloe who are in the Visitors' Gallery today, Dan Dowling and Willie Ward.
Yesterday in the Leader's absence, many of us again called for a debate on health care. I support the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. For almost six months now, Senators from Government and Opposition have been calling for the Minister for Health to come before the Seanad, not to deal with legislation but to take statements on health care. An awful lot has happened in those six months. The Government has abandoned the plan for universal health insurance. We have chaos in accident and emergency wards across the State. Capacity has been stripped from our hospitals because of five budgets delivered by this Government.
Every single Government representative has to take responsibility for what is happening in our health service. It is wrong for any Government Senator, be it Senator Mullins or anyone else, to put the blame for whatever chaos they say might arise from industrial action on the shoulders of the nurses. They are operating on the front line under fierce pressure, and have been for years, because of the policies adopted by Fine Gael and the Labour Party and decisions the current Government took when it voted for budgets that took billions of euro out of the health service.
In the Leader's own county there are 300 fewer staff at University Hospital Waterford. One and a half surgical theatres are lying idle because we do not have the nurses, doctors or consultants to make sure people are treated. The Leader knows the figures because I have presented them to him before. The result is over 8,000 patients waiting longer than 12 months, with pressure points in orthopaedics, ophthalmology, and ear nose and throat, where people are waiting in some cases over two years. We still do not have 24-7 cardiology. We do not have the palliative care unit we were promised. We do not have the community nursing unit we were promised. That is why we have pressure in our accident and emergency ward in University Hospital Waterford. That is why we have the lead consultant talking about the chaos in that department. It is a symptom of all the other failures of this Government.
It is good that at some point the Minister for Health might come before the Seanad but that is not going to provide one extra bed, nurse or doctor, or one extra cent for the health service. If the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is coming into the Seanad, I want him to present a plan on how we deal with this problem. It is at crisis point and it is not fair to blame the nurses. They are going on strike not because they want to but because they are forced into it by the unbearable conditions in which they are being asked to work. That is the responsibility of the Leader and the Minister. I ask the Leader to get the Minister into the House so we can have a debate, but let him come with an action plan and let him tell us how he and the Government - the Labour Party and Fine Gael - are going to do something about the crisis in our health services.
I have no doubt that the Leader will organise such a debate at the earliest opportunity.
In reflecting on what is happening in the IFA at the moment, we must realise the importance of the IFA in terms of lobbying and ensuring that farmers get as fair a deal as possible. I consider it one of the most powerful unions in the country and I have no doubt it will overcome its present difficulties.
I do believe that transparency is appropriate at all senior management levels within the IFA and indeed in all other organisations that are in any way supported by the State or the taxpayer. There should be accountability at senior level. There is accountability here in the House because all of our salaries and expenses are published, as is the case with the other House, Ministers and the Taoiseach. In that regard, we do lead by example. I call on all organisations, be they unions, lobby groups, charities, political parties or any other organisation that is supported in any way by the taxpayer, to publish all senior management grades, salaries, remunerations, pensions benefits and so forth. If that does not happen, I will call on the Leader to request the Government to introduce legislation to ensure it does. If there is not a voluntary code of disclosure and ethics in this whole area, we will need to legislate for such a code.
Anybody who was listening to "Morning Ireland" this morning heard a nurse from St. Vincent's Hospital. I do not believe anybody can blame the nursing staff for taking the action they are taking. On a number of occasions, I have myself lain in St. Vincent's in the middle of the accident and emergency department, having been admitted with chest pain, and I can tell the Leader it is not a nice experience. I do not know how they work in it.
We have the FEMPI Bill going through the House at the moment. Yesterday I asked the Minister, Deputy Howlin, if voting on the Bill was going to be whipped. The Minister did not answer. I want to know if I am wasting my time coming in here tomorrow for Committee Stage.
I need to know if we are going to go through a charade here purely to satisfy public opinion or if we are genuinely taking the Bill as this House should.
With respect to my colleagues who have put down a Private Members' Bill this afternoon regarding the Seanad Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2015, I compliment them for bringing it forward. There will be support from the other side of the House for that Bill because it extends voting rights to the proper electorate for this House pending any reform that might take place in the future.
Would the Leader organise a debate with the relevant Minister regarding the closing date for nominations for the next Seanad election? It is wrong----
I also heard that interview on "Morning Ireland" this morning. I was very impressed by that nurse and what she had to say. She also made it quite clear that much of the problem does not lie in the accident and emergency departments. When patients are seen in that department they are now left on trolleys because there are no beds in the wards for them. A lot of it has to do with getting them into the wards.
I will always stand up for carers. If we did not have them we would have a much worse problem because the people who need step-down facilities and care would end up in residential care. The situation in hospitals would be far worse then.
I agree that the Minister for Health has to come in here at some stage to debate this issue. The Leader has told me the Minister is not available today so we cannot get him. I ask the Leader to please put it on the agenda over the next few days to try to get the Minister in here. There are a lot of important issues that need to be cleared up. In Dingle there are empty beds in a ward because of a lack of staff.There is a beautiful new facility for psychiatric services in Killarney that remains unopened because it must be furnished. The shortage of nurses and other staff is a big problem. There are two nurses sitting in the Visitors Gallery who would agree with me on the shortage of nurses. The question of how to entice or incentivise nurses to return from other countries in order that they might work here must be examined. These issues must be discussed with the Minister for Health so I ask the Leader to invite him to come before the House at his earliest convenience.
In the run up to the dark days of winter, should motorists be obliged to use their headlights during the daytime? This is not that they might see ahead of them but to ensure that they are seen. It is particularly important that motorbikes are seen. All cars in the European Union manufactured after 2011 have daytime running lights, DRLs, to improve safety. However, what about cars that were manufactured before that? In 2012, the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, said that Ireland's motorists could be obliged within three years to keep their headlights on at all times in an effort to improve road safety. He said that the Road Safety Authority was likely to consider the measure by 2015. It is now almost the end of 2015 but an initiative in this regard has not been introduced. The Road Safety Authority encourages motorists to use dimmed headlights on a voluntary basis. It believes the cost of forcing motorists to have DRLs fitted to their cars retrospectively would outweigh any safety benefits. Could motorists be required to use headlights at all times, as is the case in other countries? I have a list of the other countries where they are obliged to use them. Studies have shown that where motorists are obliged to use their headlights at all times, it is likely to reduce accident rates by a certain percentage. This matter is worthy of consideration and it should be brought to the attention of the current Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe. We should do this because it could save lives. It would simply involve following what other countries in Europe already do.
I agree with Senator Paul Coghlan about locating fast food outlets in close proximity to schools. There must be a policy in each county council area in that regard. It should not be left solely to the discretion of planners. We are due to have a debate on physical education this afternoon and this issue is relevant to that as well.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an chomhaontaithe sa Tuaisceart. I welcome the new agreement in the North. I particularly welcome the establishment of the new task force and the support and commitment of the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, for it. This is a big step forward. People must make brave moves from time to time. I seek a debate on this. The Minister should come to the House to outline the timescale for establishing the task force and whether he has received any information from the Garda Commissioner on how it will operate.
I note that the number of intermediate bulk containers, IBCs, containing sludge - the result of diesel laundering - that are dumped has diminished considerably in the past six months. In August, there was only one IBC dumped in Louth. The total now is only a fraction of what it was previously. New licensing regulations, the new marker and, I hope, a change of attitude among some people to this activity are bearing fruit. I would welcome a report on this matter. We received a few such reports previously, in less favourable circumstances.
This morning I attended a meeting of the transport committee at which we heard presentations from representatives of the Garda and the Road Safety Authority regarding drunk driving convictions. The figures that were published in the media in the past few weeks were distorted and have been proven to be inaccurate. The figure given in the media was 40%, which compared very unfavourably with the UK rate. However, it was clarified this morning that these figures were based on summonses rather than convictions and that, in fact, Ireland has a very high conviction rate for drunk driving at over 85%. The message is loud and clear - if one drinks, one does not drive.
Another statistic emerged this morning from the Road Safety Authority. Please God and fingers crossed we will end this year with no more road deaths. The figures indicate that this year we will have the best road safety record for decades if the current trend continues. The figures for the period up to this week indicate that 30 fewer people have died than in the comparable period last year, which is, thank God, a great statistic. Every life lost is an unnecessary loss. The statistics show, however, that 65 people died as a result of not wearing seat belts. That is astonishing. Imagine, in this day and age, that 65 people - both drivers and passengers - died on our roads because they were not wearing seat belts. What madness is that? Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to embark immediately on a nationwide media campaign to inform people not only of their legal obligation but also of the folly of not wearing a seat belt? Such a campaign should highlight, as graphically as possible, the consequences of not wearing a seat belt, regardless of whether one is a driver or a passenger.
Senators have mentioned locating fast food outlets near schools. The issue I wish to raise is locating vending machines in hospitals. Somebody recently sent me a photograph of a vending machine containing chocolate, crisps and so forth located within ten yards of a children's unit in a hospital. If we are serious about health issues, then let us at least resolve this one as it affects hospitals. On one hand, we are facing a major task in tackling obesity but, on the other, we are providing vending machines in hospitals. I have no difficulty with staff requiring access to vending machines but the machines should not be placed close to a children's unit in a hospital. The reason many hospitals give for having vending machines is that they are good for providing money. This must be examined. There should be a policy in the HSE on this matter. The issue of locating fast food outlets near schools might not necessarily be within our control at this stage but this matter is within our control and we should deal with it. I ask the Minister to send a message to the Minister for Health on this issue. I intend to write to the Minister about it as well. It is an extremely important matter, especially given the challenges we face in respect of health issues among young people and particularly that of obesity.
First, I commend Women's Aid on the excellent conference it organised today on the challenge of online and technology abuse in shaming and stalking in intimate partner relationships. It draws some very stark conclusions regarding the lack of up-to-date legislation in this area. It is an area that is changing very quickly. We have held a number of debates on this issue but it would be worthwhile to examine it again in the context of comments by senior counsel at the conference today. Perhaps we should look at the models in the UK and Canada as regards the legislation they have been able to introduce on harassment.It is an issue that is worthy of debate in this House.
Senator Brennan referred to the report by the Environmental Protection Agency on urban wastewater which shows that raw sewage is being discharged into 45 lakes, rivers and coastal areas around the State. The report also found that wastewater discharge contributed to poor water quality at seven of Ireland's leading bathing spots. Discharges from Ardmore, Youghal, Clifton and Galway city contributed to poor-quality bathing water at several beaches. Of the 45 areas where raw sewage was discharged, 60% were in counties Cork, Donegal and Galway. The EPA identified instances where wastewater received no treatment or only preliminary treatment prior to discharge. The report notes that the failure to properly treat sewage can pose a risk to human health and the aquatic environment.
These findings copperfasten our view that the setting up of Irish Water is one of the worst policy decisions taken in the history of the State. It has been an absolute disgrace and a disaster.
We all remember the debates in this House when the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, told us Irish Water would save the water system. What has become clear, however, is that the local authorities were actually doing a much better job than the new body is. In my own area, for example, there was at least a plan in place under the local authority for places like Carraroe, Spiddal and Athenry. When we ask questions of Irish Water, there is no answer forthcoming as to when those types of projects will be delivered. There has been much talk recently about the salaries paid to Irish Farmers Association officials but we seem to have forgotten the huge salaries being paid to executives in Irish Water. As I understand it, 29 or so staff are earning a basic wage of more than €100,000.
Some of them, moreover, are eligible for 15% bonuses on top of that. It would be useful for the Minister to come to the House to give a breakdown of how much we are paying these Irish Water executives and indicate whether we are getting value for money or if the money would be better spent on progressing projects around the country to deal with the sewage problems that have been highlighted by the EPA.
I join Senator Jim D'Arcy and others in welcoming the new agreement in Northern Ireland. I especially welcome the appointment of a task force, which we hope will be effective in eradicating criminal activities within what was formerly the Provisional movement and perhaps still is the Provisional movement, particularly in south Armagh and other Border areas. However, I very much regret that the victims of the various atrocities that were committed have been overlooked. Justice for the Forgotten, to give an example, has campaigned for years on behalf of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. All such victims were badly let down by the Government and the Nationalist parties at the negotiations, with the result that the legacy of the past issue has been sidelined. The failure to insist it be treated as a red-line issue reflects badly on all concerned.
Will the Leader arrange at an opportune time for a debate on freedom of speech? Colleagues may have noted criticism in the newspapers recently of the failure by the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute a journalist, Brenda Power, for incitement to hatred in respect of an article she wrote. If we really do live in a free society, then people who take what is not regarded as a politically correct position must be able to articulate that position. Unfortunately, that right is being impinged on in many ways, particularly in respect of small minority groups. We see what is happening on our neighbouring island, where people, even people in churches or religious schools, who advocate to pupils in favour of heterosexual marriage or the benefit of a child having a mother and a father, are being charged with discrimination or incitement to hatred. Some have had to leave their jobs. We urgently need a debate on these issues and this House would be a good forum in which to have it. There are many liberal-minded people in this Chamber who I am sure would be willing to launch a campaign for a referendum on recognising freedom of speech as a right deserving of constitutional protection.
The need to promote peace across the globe is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Here in Ireland, issues relating to our national security are deserving of priority. One of the key underlying factors that is fuelling the activities of ISIS is the radicalisation of Muslim youth, a phenomenon to which Ireland is not immune. According to Deputy Alan Shatter, former Minister for Justice and Equality, at least 40 people from Ireland have joined ISIS. Records in the Department indicate that three of them have been killed. I was watching CNN at the weekend and it seemed to me there was nothing but wall-to-wall coverage of ISIS. I heard an envoy of President Obama speak about the need to isolate and slaughter. For young people listening to that, it fuels their radicalisation. Indeed, that type of language amounts to incitement to hatred. The media have a huge responsibility when reporting on issues like these.
We in Ireland are fortunate to live in a peaceful country. As an aside, I join colleagues in welcoming the new arrangements for the North. However, we are very much a globalised society and there is a need to educate our young people about Islam and The Koran. The latter is being used by ISIS as justification for murders, including beheadings, and other terrorist activities. At a conference earlier this year in Africa, I spoke to a female political leader who expressed the view that if Islamic terrorists really understood The Koran, they would not be doing what they do in its name. What they are doing, she said, is coming from a state of ignorance. We in this country also need to educate ourselves in this regard.
The Cathaoirleach is indicating my time is up. I have two questions for the Leader.
With respect, it is important that I put these questions. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss the teaching of world religions in schools as part of the religious education curriculum, with a view to issuing guidelines in that regard? Second, will the Leader invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the House for a debate on Ireland's national security, our contribution to international relations and peacekeeping and, in particular, how we intend to integrate the refugees who come here. Out of fear comes the absence of understanding and also ignorance and rejection.
Yesterday on the Order of Business, I raised the matter of the 600 so-called teaching jobs that were announced to great fanfare in recent weeks. The Deputy Leader, in response, indicated her understanding that these would be full-time posts. Having checked my sources, I am quite certain that a sizeable number will not, in fact, be permanent, full-time jobs but rather additional hours allocated to certain schools. As things stand, a significant number of teachers at both primary and secondary levels are unemployed or depending on substitute and temporary work. In addition, a large number of graduates are due to come on stream early next summer. Putting out figures that are not accurate only excites false hope for graduates and their parents.
Senator Darragh O'Brien referred to the need to bring EU approval for a new cystic fibrosis drug into effect here. I will bring that matter to the attention of the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. I assure all Members, including Senator O'Brien, that I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House as soon as possible. We have business ordered up to 7.30 p.m. today and, unfortunately, the Minister is not available. I will seek to have him here without delay for a comprehensive debate on the measures that are being taken in regard to hospital emergency department services. It is disappointing that the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has voted in favour of industrial action. That outcome was not unexpected but industrial action, we all would agree, is not the solution to the problem. The director general of the Health Service Executive has already affirmed that health service management is keen to use the State's industrial relations machinery to ensure the proposed action by members of the INMO does not go ahead.There was a list in several newspapers yesterday of people who have not disclosed their remuneration. Senator Conway suggested that legislation should be introduced to allow for the salaries of all CEOs to be made public. I will bring that matter to the attention of the relevant Minister.
Senator Craughwell asked about the Committee Stage debate on the FEMPI Bill. I assure him that we will have a proper Committee Stage debate on the Bill and that the legislation will be dealt with in the same way as all other legislation is dealt with by this House. If votes are called on the Bill then they will be taken.
On the question of the Private Member's Bill, we will certainly have a debate on that. The Bill is very worthy and Members on this side of the House will be giving serious consideration to supporting it. The Senator also had a query on the closing date for nominations for the next Seanad election. The process is set down in law and happens by way of ministerial order. I doubt that the Minister will agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Craughwell.
Senator Moloney called for the provision of more step-down facilities and also referred to the shortage of nurses, which I addressed in my opening remarks. Senator Quinn spoke about motorists using their headlights during daylight hours as a road safety measure, a practice that is commonplace in Europe. I understand that a comprehensive review of road safety measures is currently underway and I expect that a requirement to use one's headlights in the daytime will be introduced in the very near future.
Senator Jim D'Arcy welcomed the new agreement reached in Northern Ireland and the setting up of the task force to combat crime in Border areas, a matter which was also raised by Senators Walsh and Coghlan on several occasions in the past. I agree with Senator D'Arcy that the measures that have been taken to combat diesel laundering are beginning to bear fruit. We are not seeing as much dumping of sludge in County Louth, in particular, as we saw in the past. I welcome the fact that these measures are bearing fruit and hopefully the task force on Border crime will rid that part of our country of the lawlessness which has reigned there in recent years.
Senator Mooney also referred to road safety measures and pointed out that 65 people killed on our roads this year were not wearing seat belts, a damning statistic. I agree with the Senator that a campaign should be run again to highlight the fact that people are taking their lives in their hands by not wearing seat belts. That message should go out from this House and from the Road Safety Authority.
Senator Burke raised the issue of unhealthy food products in vending machines in hospitals, a matter which is under the Government's control. He argued that this should be considered by the Minister for Health and I am sure it will be. Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of wastewater treatment plants. I have already made the point that significant progress has been made by Irish Water in this area and that plans made by local authorities are now being actioned.
Senator Walsh expressed his regret that legacy issues were not dealt with in the agreement in Northern Ireland, a point that was also made by other Members last week. He also called for a debate on freedom of speech. Senator Healy Eames spoke about the radicalisation of youth and called for greater responsibility within the media. She also asked for a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on religious teaching in schools. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House to address that issue. Finally, Senator O'Sullivan asked about teaching posts and I will try to get the exact figures for him.
I cannot accept the proposed amendment to the Order of Business but I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House as soon as possible.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That the House calls on the Minister for Health to attend today to outline his plans to improve the situation for sick and elderly patients in the hospital system between now and Christmas." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Paul Bradford
- Gerard Craughwell
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Rónán Mullen
- David Norris
- Darragh O'Brien
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Feargal Quinn
- Jim Walsh
- Diarmuid Wilson