Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Technological Universities Bill 2015 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 3.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the time provided to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time provided for the debate not to exceed two hours.
With the indulgence of the Cathaoirleach, I would like to welcome the members of the Air Corps to the Public Gallery and thank them for their service in the performance of their duties on behalf of citizens.
I also welcome members of the Air Corps to the House and commend them on their public service.
I raise the HPV cervical cancer vaccine and the reluctance of some people to immunise their children against cervical cancer. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Dr. Ciara Kelly in an article she wrote in the Irish Independentin which she stated we should celebrate on the streets that we have a vaccine against cancer. This is a medical breakthrough and the rate of take-up of the HPV vaccine should be 100%. The vaccine could save the lives of 250,000 women who die worldwide from cervical cancer each year and prevent 4.5% of all cancers globally because the HPV virus is also responsible for a large proportion of head and neck cancers. Each year in Ireland, more than 6,500 women need hospitalisation for pre-cancer of the cervix, 300 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 90 women die from the disease. The vaccine could prevent the majority of these deaths.
I also highlight how simple it is to arrange a cervical smear check-up. All one needs to do is enter one's date of birth and PPS number on the cervicalcheck.iewebsite and one is informed when one's cervical smear check is due and an appointment can then be co-ordinated. We need to start taking women's health more seriously and educate people to try to deter scaremongering campaigns that are limiting the take-up rates of the vaccine.
I also raise the scourge of drugs and drug abuse in towns and cities nationwide. The story of Carmel Kidney of Ballincollig in County Cork who lost three sons to drugs highlights the extreme tragedy and reality behind drug abuse. The loss of three sons leaving a heartbroken mother is a cruel reality that is reflected across cities and towns.I have previously raised in this House the issue of drug feuds. This heartbreaking scenario shows the human loss of the Government's failure to crack down and address both drug crime and the prevalence of drugs in towns and cities across the country. Those supplying drugs to our young people across Ireland must be stopped. We need a proper and open debate in this House about how we are going to deal with the scourge of drug-related deaths into the future and drug criminality. We need to discuss openly possibilities regarding legalisation or some form of regulation without accusations from different sides of this House. With the prevalence of new forms of drugs like Fentanyl where only seven tiny grains can deliver a lethal does and which is 100 times more potent than morphine and many times more potent than heroin, we need to think smart in terms of how we address this drugs crisis into the future and we need to start now.
If someone gets out a map of the island of Ireland and looks at the motorway and rail infrastructure, they will see there is a huge gap in the north west of our island. There is no motorway, rail or air link to Derry city, which is the fourth largest city on this island. There is no rail, motorway or air link connecting the fourth largest city on this island to the capital city.
That neglect has severely impacted the entire region. I speak as a Donegal man. This is why it is vital that the national planning framework does not yet again leave behind the north west of Ireland, which has a population of 500,000 people. It is critical that we get this right. We are talking about the next 20 years of investment. It will be linked to the Government's capital plan.
When the draft national planning framework was published, it caused huge alarm and shock in Donegal, Derry and Tyrone. I will tell the House why. Donegal County Council is led by its chief executive, Seamus Neely. Derry City and Strabane District Council is led by its chief executive, John Kelpie. They are both visionary men who have worked together and come forward with a north west city region, which is a plan to turn around the neglect and underdevelopment of the entire north west. It is a plan that can deliver prosperity to our people and connect our region to the rest of this island.
I ask the Government to listen to the appeal in the submission that came late last year from Donegal County Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council and to make sure that when the final draft of the national planning framework is published, the north west city region of Donegal, Derry and Tyrone, which has 500,000 people, is connected and given the resources it needs.
We are talking about the ports of Derry, Greencastle and Killybegs. We are talking about funding Donegal and City of Derry airports. We are talking about delivering the N13, N14 and N15 roads projects. Most importantly, we are talking about linking Donegal, Derry and Tyrone to Dublin through a new motorway.
We are talking about the national broadband plan connecting homes across the region and a proper electricity infrastructure. I cannot stress enough how vital it is that this planning framework should not be Dublin-centric but should take the pressure off this city. We can see how house prices in this city are a nightmare for young people. We can see the nightmare of having to travel to work in this city. This city is being strangled, which is why we need a developed regional strategy. Donegal, Derry and Tyrone - the north west city region - needs to be at the heart of that strategy.
I rise today in reaction to the disturbing threat to pluralist education in Ireland. There is a restriction in intakes for the next academic year for a number of newly-divested Educate Together schools. My own Educate Together school in Tramore is one of these schools. The staff, board of management and parents are extremely annoyed and angered by what has just happened. There were stories over the weekend in The Irish Timesand elsewhere from other concerned parents and educators in Trim and other towns around Ireland.
Educate Together schools in New Ross, Trim, Tuam, Castlebar and Tramore were told they must accept only a half stream for 2018-19 in order not to threaten the viability of other existing local schools. This is a bizarre statement on many levels. How is it possible that in towns like Tramore with an increasing population and a high demand for both primary and secondary education, the divested schools, which are the very last entrants to the education sector and offer the only non-denominational choice for students and parents in their area, are first in the firing line? A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills maintained that this has always been the arrangement under the divestment programme and that Educate Together schools must not crowd out existing schools. If we take the example of Tramore, I know they are already oversubscribed in demand for places for September while the local Gaelscoil has faced lower demand and the other local national schools have maintained a full stream at the maximum number of students allowable under the existing ratios.
Yes, I am. I am calling for a debate because this is unfair and unacceptable. I am asking the Minister to come to the House as soon as possible and explain why he is creating this dilemma for Educate Together schools around the country, particularly my school in Tramore. The people of Tramore are outraged, shocked and upset. If the Minister could come to the House as soon as possible and explain why he is doing it, I would very much appreciate it.
I spoke yesterday about the trauma centre plan, which I believe was brought to Cabinet yesterday. Nothing annoys me and, I am sure, the Leader, more than people delving into places that are better left to clinicians to make decisions so I am not questioning the trauma centres. However, people have contacted me, particularly from the south east, regarding a situation where there is no catheterisation laboratory available or at least, limited availability. Catheterisation laboratories are very dear to my heart and they should be dear to anybody else's heart who has an interest in it.
This morning, Paul Bell appeared on "Morning Ireland" and spoke about the ambulance service. The back of an ambulance is no place for a trauma victim. We must put in place a helicopter service. This requires a doctor, a paramedic and a pilot, together with maintenance crews, in at least three and possibly four locations to deal with trauma if we are to get people to hospitals in time. The clinical side of it will be left to the doctors but the infrastructure to support it will be a political decision and that is a significant cost.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to come to this House before this process moves further to discuss with us precisely how he is going to find the funding and put in place the air ambulance service that will be required to ensure that a person suffering from a traumatic injury or health scare is able to get to a hospital within that magic hour. Getting somebody from Belmullet, Clifden or Dingle in Kerry to a trauma centre in Dublin or Cork simply cannot be done in an ambulance. I have driven every road in Ireland both as president of the TUI and a candidate on the Seanad trail and I can assure the House it is difficult enough driving across some of them sitting in the front seat of a car. I do not know what it would be like lying on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance. It is not something we should turn into a political football but it is something we should discuss openly before this process moves further. I ask the Leader at his leisure to invite the Minister to the House to debate that matter with us.
I wish to raise the issue of the threat of the possible closure of passenger rail lines across the country. The matter may have been raised yesterday. My understanding is that Irish Rail has commissioned a report into the funding of rail services in Ireland. According to a report in yesteday's Irish Independent, in the worst-case scenario, intercity services to Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Kerry, Waterford and Wexford would be axed and services to all other cities and communities on the line, which include large towns like Athlone, Westport, Ballina, Longford, Roscommon and Carlow, would cease.Rail infrastructure is crucial to any modern economy. The Minister should be planning proactively to ensure that there is no threat to vital lines of transport. Decisions on what lines to keep and which ones to close cannot be measured in terms of profitability alone, but must take into account the social and economic spin-off that having a rail service confers on the town. No Irish Rail services make a profit, but that is not unusual as rail services across the world run at a loss and require subvention. I also understand that the scenario outlined is the worst-case one, but I would like the Minister to come to the House to outline what he considers would be the likely scenario and how that would be funded. I want to know that the Minister has a plan and that he can deliver.
In essence, I want the Minister to give assurances to the people of Athlone and the surrounding areas that there will be no risk to their rail service. If looking after services in my area makes me parochial, then so be it. I am guilty. Infrastructure such as rail services cannot be left to chance. We cannot stand back and wait to see what happens. The Minister must deal with this now. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House and let us know what case he is making for towns like Athlone so that we know we are as important to the Minister as Dublin and Cork. After all, I have not managed to make Athlone into a city yet but I am working on it.
I agree with Senators McFadden and Mac Lochlainn. Her contribution comes at a crucial time. The draft national development plan 2040 provides for a possible €115 billion in spending. Without knowing the outcome of Brexit, it is premature. It is very difficult to make recommendations up to 2040 without knowing whether there will be a hard or soft border. That will affect the investment required to compensate for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Quite frankly, trying to exclude cities like Derry, Letterkenny and Sligo and the west coast and ignoring the effect of Brexit on Monaghan, Cavan, Louth and elsewhere does not make sense. The issue should be considered very carefully, bearing in mind what is happening.
Ireland West Airport in Knock is a modern structure and attracts over 1 million customers a year. The surrounding areas have the potential for growth, feeding into the airport. A tax-free zone around the airport would attract industry. Depending on the outcome of Brexit, it would be in the best interests of UK companies to relocate part of their operations to the region in order to ensure connectivity with Britain through Knock airport, which has regular flights to London and elsewhere. It makes sense for them to be located within the European Union and they would benefit from exports to 500 million people. In turn, there are many opportunities for public companies to locate part of their plants elsewhere given the situation. This is all unknown.
Some time ago a point was made about a previous development plan. The need for gateway towns and cities was discussed and virtually ignored. In Roscommon we were lucky to have two decentralisation projects, namely, the General Register Office, which registers deaths, births and marriages, and the register of properties. Both offices have brought economic benefit to County Roscommon and Roscommon town, in particular. Some people knock decentralisation, but it was and is a good policy provided it is carried out in the proper manner. It was done properly in Roscommon. Towns in the region, including Sligo, Longford, Carrick-on-Shannon and Letterkenny all benefitted from decentralisation. People should not knock something which worked. I do not know who is behind the framework. I understand it was drawn up before any submissions were received.
Today's edition of The Irish Timescarries a major story on its front page, which states "Proposed rules aim to limit court challenges to building projects", written by Pat Leahy, the political editor. The article purports to give an account of decisions taken at Cabinet yesterday in regard to planning and infrastructure. This suggests that there will be efforts by the Government to reduce the period for the judicial review of planning decisions and to generally curtail objectors. The Government will have an opportunity at some stage in the future to address this, and I intend to ask the Minister about these matters when he is here to deal with other planning business later today.
I took the time and trouble today to go on the Internet and access the website of An Bord Pleanála. I keyed in a number of Government Ministers currently sitting at Cabinet to determine whether I could identify a pattern of objections or observations. Between that and talking to a number of local authority members, I have ascertained that a substantial number have submitted key objections which are legitimate. They make representations on behalf of their constituents, and rightly so. If the Government's plans were to go ahead, they would curtail citizens who wish to have a judicial review of a decision. I have been involved in a number of judicial reviews where we were successful in overturning Government decisions and planning and local authority proposals. There was always a place for a judicial review. It is an extremely expensive process.
It is important that we do not curtail, clamp down or cut down on our citizens who have a right to engage in the planning process. I accept that there has to be infrastructure. I am reminded of the North-South interconnector and the role of Meath Deputies in that issue. I am reminded of issues to do with Dublin Port, where public representatives objected to job creation and critical infrastructure. I could go on at length.
The House will deal with some very important business later today, namely, planning legislation. I encourage as many Members as possible to be here to deal with the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016. One of the principal tenets of the Bill is that it would advance the independent planning regulator, which is important. We need public confidence in our planning process. I urge people to attend the debate today and make a contribution to that important Bill.
The Cathaoirleach will probably have heard by now that there was a serious bus crash in County Limerick earlier and 15 children have been brought to University Hospital Limerick. I know he will join with me in wishing them and their families well. We are hopeful from the reports we have heard that most will be fine. I am raising this issue because I was going to raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick on the Order of Business.
The Leader will not be aware that a strike was due to take place in the hospital today, which was only called off at 5 p.m. yesterday because it was only then that hospital management agreed to attend the Workplace Relations Commission. Can we believe that in this day and age the hospital would wait that long? I understand members of the nursing unions and the IMO also have strike plans.
The hospital has the worst record in the State for trolleys. Some 1,003 patients were on trolleys in the month of January. It is a national disgrace and a horrific reflection on the failure of the Government to deal with the crisis for seven years. Each year it gets worse. Whenever we raise the issue, the Leader tells us how much we are spending on health. The new system of health accounts provides data which the Nevin Institute has analysed. It shows that our percentage of GDP spent on health is less than countries like Holland, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Belgium. Alarmingly, we are spending twice as much on private health care because of the ongoing crisis in our hospitals.
I am very close to the staff in University Hospital Limerick from my time as a union official and I can tell the Leader that the staff across all grades are at their wits' end. They are in despair. I want to know how the Government can reconcile the €350 million in tax cuts in the budget, which primarily benefit the better off, with the €881 million deficit that the HSE is now facing for this year. I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Health to the Chamber as a matter of urgency. If this issue is not dealt with once and for all and University Hospital Limerick is not given the recognition and funding it needs to deal with the crisis, the people of Limerick will suffer.Today I am thinking about those children in particular queuing in ambulances. By the way, we do not even have 15 ambulances in Limerick city. There is a crisis and it needs to be dealt with.
I wish to raise a matter which has been touched on this morning, namely, a school bus crash between Caherconlish and Hospital. I have spoken to some of the parents of those children. Thankfully, there are no major injuries. Many of the schoolchildren are at the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick. The most important point is that there does not appear to be any fatalities and the children are safe. There have been injuries. A car was involved as well, and the driver has also gone to University Hospital Limerick.
There is a legacy issue concerning University Hospital Limerick. We do not have enough bed capacity. That is why I have been actively seeking the addition of 96 acute beds. The new emergency department is up and running but we are playing catch-up given that the previous Government closed three emergency departments in Ennis, Nenagh and St. John's hospitals without having the new emergency department in place or the 138 beds that were required under the plan at the time.
My main concern today is for the students who were on the bus. I expect an investigation will be carried out by Bus Éireann and An Garda Síochána. There are three elements to note. First, there are no fatalities. That is important. Second, we must find out what happened and ensure the safety of the transportation of schoolchildren. The children in question were travelling to John the Baptist school in Hospital. I know many of the parents. It is extremely important that there is follow-up to ensure that we avoid such a situation ever happening again.
I wish to raise the issue of the fodder transportation subsidy. Farm organisations have been highlighting for some time the serious fodder shortage, in particular along the Border counties of Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal and in the west and north west. Teagasc, among others, has highlighted the issue. Unfortunately, the Government was slow coming out of the blocks but eventually it introduced a fodder transportation subsidy to help farmers with transportation costs if they are forced to buy fodder, for example, round bales of hay or silage from various parts of the country, mainly from the south.
It was with dismay this morning that I listened to a gentleman by the name of Hugh Farrell from Ballyconnell, County Cavan. He was representing the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association. He highlighted the fact that four counties had been left out of the scheme, namely, Cavan, Monaghan, Roscommon and Longford. He was totally dismayed by the development. I would like the Minister to come into the House, if possible today, to outline what criteria were used by the Department in how it defined what counties and what farmers in those counties were entitled to the fodder subsidy.
From talking to affected farmers in various parts of the country I also learned that the subsidy is very cumbersome and there is a lot of red tape involved. The order for silage or hay must go through the local co-op whereas heretofore farmers did it themselves. I compliment the farming community on how farmers have looked out for each other and helped each other. This is a serious issue for the farmers in Cavan, Monaghan, Longford and Roscommon. They need help just like others. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister into the House, if possible today, and outline to us what criteria are involved and to ensure that those counties that are affected are included in the fodder scheme. Farmers are going through a very stressful time and they do not have enough fodder to keep their animals alive.
I am not senior at all. I thank the ten Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business.
I begin by joining with Senators Gavan and O'Donnell in acknowledging the tragic accident this morning. Thankfully, there have been no fatalities. We wish the children and others involved in the accident every good health. As Senator O'Donnell said, it is important that we get the answers to what happened to cause the accident.
I share Senator Ardagh's views about the importance of vaccination generally and the HPV vaccination specifically. I am a former Chairman of the health committee and we held hearings on the HPV vaccine. It is important that we encourage all women to get screened and checked for cervical cancer. The vaccine has been recommended by the World Health Organization, the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics and by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee.
As Senator Ardagh correctly said, women are dying unnecessarily in some cases because they have not availed of the vaccine. I understand there is a lot of commentary and deeply held views on the vaccine and immunisation in general. I do not like to refer to terms such as "empirical data" because we are dealing with the health and lives of women but they show the vaccine works. The HPV vaccine protects women against seven out of ten cervical cancers. They are facts. The points made by Senator Ardagh are ones we should support. The Department of Health and the HSE are to the fore in promoting and advocating use of the vaccine but there is a duty on all of us to inform and advocate on this issue. I accept people have deeply held views on the matter and perhaps never the twain shall meet, but Senator Ardagh has done a service this morning because it is an important topic to raise.
The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, was in the House before Christmas to discuss drugs. I offer my sympathies and those of the House to Mrs. Carmel Kidney on the tragic deaths of her three young sons. Drug abuse and misuse is something we must work collectively to eliminate from society. We have the national drug and alcohol strategy. The HSE, the Department of Health, An Garda Síochána and other cross-departmental and agency groups are working to ensure we have a strategy in place. Increased resources have been allocated. Senator Ardagh is also correct that we need to have a cross-party discussion on the matter and come up with an action plan without making a political football of it. I would be happy for the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to come to the House again to discuss the matter.
I join with Senator Mac Lochlainn in highlighting the importance of connectivity for all parts of the country. He made his contribution in the context of the national development capital plan. Senator Leyden also referenced it. It is important to recognise that it is a ten-year capital plan for the entire country. Senator Mac Lochlainn referred in his contribution to the north west. From my understanding, chapter 8 now includes reference to the areas he mentioned, namely, Donegal, Letterkenny and Derry, along with the importance of the regions.
The important point is whether we want a national development capital plan that promotes connectivity, regional development and jobs. I do not refer to Senator Mac Lochlainn now. He should not say I am doing that. The point is whether we want to create an opportunity to come in here and use it as a talking shop to get a few headlines in a newspaper. To be fair, the plan is about the people and the regions. Senator Leyden talked about decentralisation. It was the greatest fiasco that Charlie McCreevy ever had. It was "back of an envelope" stuff.
With respect, the first draft of the plan drew a line from Galway to Dublin with no mention of any areas north of that line. It is only because of the Opposition that the Government had to redraft the plan. It does not inspire us with confidence.
Senator Gallagher can shout at me all he wants but I do not mind. The Government is about creating good quality jobs and putting in decent infrastructure and connectivity. Then we will have a sustainable future for the next generation on which it can judge us. That is the bottom line. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House when the plan is announced to have a debate on it. We had a similar debate before Christmas, if Senator Leyden casts his mind back.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of restrictions on admissions to Educate Together schools. I am not aware of any change in policy in that regard but I do know only half-stream classes have been authorised. This and the previous Government have given Educate Together more schools than at any time in the history of the State. I am not familiar with the issues affecting the schools raised by the Senator. If she gives me the information, I would be happy to raise it with the Minister. Many Educate Together schools are being built or are on the cusp of being built. We need to get them over the line in some cases. I am happy to work with any Member on this. As an educator and a politician, I very much like the Educate Together model and support it in every way I can.
Senator Craughwell spoke about the national trauma centres and the issue of the cath lab in Waterford. Senators Coffey and Grace O'Sullivan are well able to speak for Waterford. There are 45 recommendations-----
If Senator Craughwell moves house, he will not be driving the car himself either. There are 45 recommendations in the report on national trauma centres. There is a need to recognise that the status quocannot remain. The HSE has been given approval to advertise for a national clinical lead for trauma centres. The aim of the report is to have high-quality trauma services and the priority is to see a reduction in deaths and disabilities. I would be happy to have a debate with the Minister on this in the House. I am not accusing Senator Craughwell but the use of language in presenting the issue is important.
Senator Leyden has spoken articulately in the House before on the issue of Brexit. There will be a built-in review of Brexit in 2022 as part of the national development plan. I welcome this important development.
Senator Boyhan spoke about the issue of planning and the report in today's The Irish Times. I have not read it. The Minister will be in the House later for the debate on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016. There will be an opportunity to have a discussion with him then. The issue of planning and infrastructure exercises the minds of people affected by specific projects, along with those who have an interest in the future development of our country. I have been involved with residents' groups involved in the planning process. I am happy to have this important debate in the future.
Senators Gavan and Kieran O'Donnell raised today's bus crash in County Limerick and the issue of University Hospital Limerick. As Senator O'Donnell said, a new emergency department has been opened there. There is a commitment to open acute hospital beds there too. The hospital capacity bed issue is being looked at by the Minister with a report on it to be published. I thank all the medical, fire and rescue personnel and first responders for their work today in dealing with the crash.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has announced a fodder response scheme. It was raised at the IFA annual general meeting. I have met members of the farming community but they have not mentioned a crisis or that accessing the funding is cumbersome. The people I have spoken to have been complimentary of the scheme when they have availed of it. I am happy to have the Minister to the House at a later date to debate it.
We must ensure all members of the farming community, who form an important industry, are looked after. Despite what Senator Gallagher said, the Minister has been proactive and has engaged extensively on the matter.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of the possible closure of rail services. She referred to a report which was commissioned two years ago. The Government has invested significantly in the rail network. It is important we continue to have connectivity and understand we ensure public transport, be it bus or rail, is available in all parts of the country. It is not just about the Luas or the DART. It is about all members of society being able to access public transport, whether it is in Ballygarvan, Athlone, Monaghan, Limerick or Donegal. It is about connectivity, linkage and giving people the opportunity to reach their full potential. I am sure that debate will be had with the Minister later today.