Thursday, 8 February 2018
Order of Business
Today's Order of Business is No. 1, Data Protection Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to deal with the allegations of some interference with the capital plan by the HSE in what it was putting together? While there is considerable input, the restructuring of the capital plan to benefit some and not benefit all is an issue of concern. There is lack of clarity about this. I do not want to go further on it; I just want to ask the Minister to come to the House to provide clarity and to discuss the capital plan.
Obviously those of us from Kerry welcome the announcement of a new hospital in Cork to provide acute care. Regarding that acute care, as the Leader knows very well, simple systems failure, which we frequently discuss in this House, can lead to up to six ambulance waiting to hand over patients at the accident and emergency department in Cork. Paramedics tell me that they can be there for two or three hours.
It is Cork University Hospital.
It happens time and again. The paramedics are sitting around with acute-care patients sitting in the ambulances waiting to be handed over. It is a pure systems failure. Meanwhile people are in dire need waiting for an ambulance to come to them. That is a systems failure that needs to be rectified. It does not require money; it just requires improved systems.
I know the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, is working on issues relating to Stormont today. Of course, the issue of the Border has come up again. The UK Cabinet, which we know is split, seems to be rowing back on the agreement on the Border it signed up to in December. The British do not want to be in the customs union; they want to have their cake and eat it. It now appears that the Irish Government will have to fight again.
The legislation that is supposed to come from Europe to put into legal effect the agreement signed up to by the UK in December which will clarify what is meant by having by no divergence is supremely critical to the Border. I have explained, as many others have, that many Westminster MPs and Members of the House Lords have come over here and asked us for our ideas; they simply do not have any because they do not know where they want to get to in this Brexit journey. Without knowing where they want to get to, they will find it very difficult to get there.
Whatever agreement and legal text on what happens with the Border comes out of Europe in March is absolutely critical because that is the framework for the remainder of the negotiations between the EU and the UK. The British were asleep at the wheel because they thought there would be a fudge allowing them to rumble on and solve it later. However, there are Border issues on how trade will be conducted and what will be in or out of any agreement between the North and the South. The DUP's insistence that there be no divergence between Northern Ireland and Britain would mean that there would be no divergence between Ireland and the UK which means in essence there would be no divergence between the UK and the EU. At that point one has to ask what the purpose of Brexit is if it is for no divergence on all the issues and the UK has to sign up for all the issues and the customs union.
Time and again it startles me when I meet Members of Parliament from Westminster who do not even know the basics. To see the British Cabinet meet for two days over what its position is on Brexit is nothing short of startling.
I want the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss the capital plan and the allegations. We all know that allegations are made by the media and others all the time. We want clarity on issues raised yesterday in the newspapers about interference.
I raise an issue that Senator Colm Burke raised the other day that I think is very important. I am not sure whether a specific response was given, which can happen, and I apologise if I am mistaken. I refer to the emerging issue of the troubling over-prescribing of addictive and habit forming drugs. Those of us who have been to the United States have often noted and a been a little disturbed by the predatory way drugs are advertised on television. When we learned about the opioid crisis in America I must confess - perhaps due to an unconscious or accidental prejudice - that, frankly, I associated it with people who lived in trailer parks or were not discerning. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is both fortunate and successful in life and who comes from a very successful family. He described how his mother had slipped into an addiction to prescription drugs and really struggled for a long time to be free of the problem, but even then I thought it was probably something that would not happen in more regulated and perhaps sensible European societies, yet, almost unknown to us, we have seen prescription drugs, by which I mean habit forming drugs, such as sleeping pills, pain relief tablets and anti-depressants being massively over-prescribed. Senator Colm Burke focused mainly on the financial dimension, but there is the much more significant human dimension of people becoming addicted. People are unaware of the trap because these are legal drugs. We are talking about people who seek medicines to treat their conditions. In 2016 President Trump described the American opioid crisis as a national emergency. Where are we at in Ireland? The number of prescriptions for one drug, Oxycodone, increased by 159% in the ten years from 2006 to 2016. It is the very drug that is behind the opioid crisis in America. It is a crisis that some say is killing up to 180 Americans a day, or perhaps a minimum of 100. We need to examine closely the over-prescription of drugs in this country. Dr. Emmet Curran, president of the National Association of General Practitioners, has said there is definitely over-prescribing. As we have all seen what has happened in America, we cannot be complacent. There is a money dimension. Dr. Shari McDaid from the organisation Mental Health Reform has claimed there is a lack of talk therapy at all levels of the mental health service. Loneliness in our society is another dimension about which we need to talk as part of our discussion on the issue. I would be grateful, when it is convenient for him to do so, if we could hear from the Minister for Health what is being done to identify the extent of the problem and the way it is going to develop, what has happened and what will happen into the future and how we are going to tackle what is an emerging problem.
On Tuesday the Leader easily accepted that implementation of the UN convention had to be led from the top. To that end, the Taoiseach has a critical role to play. Yesterday the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport heard from two people, one of whom was Ms Alannah Murray. She said:
My documentary on disability with the screen media industry toured the festival circuit and finished its festival run with an award win. Another one of my films recently premiered in Portugal and was also award nominated. I am a TEDx speaker. I am also fluent in Irish. I am about to graduate with a BA in film and production and have my eyes set on a Master’s degree. Like others like me, I am the future of our country.
Mr. Padraic Moran also spoke at the meeting. He works for Sky Ireland as a service specialist. He also works for East Coast FM as a production assistant, sports reporter and broadcast co-ordinator. He spoke about his successful international career as a paralympian.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, also attended the meeting. He said transport boards must specifically include those with "raw personal experience of disability." He also said he would ensure the transport boards under his jurisdiction would include somebody with that experience and that they would be present and bang directly on the table, not others, if one likes, as proxies. The committee is chaired by Deputy Fergus O'Dowd who took over from Deputy Brendan Griffin. I acknowledge and thank my fellow Senators, Frank Feighan, John O'Mahony and Pádraig Ó Céidigh, who strongly participated in the discussion yesterday. There was also a strong turnout of Members of the Lower House for the debate.
The Minister learned about what routinely happened to people with disabilities in using pubic transport. He also got it that he was the boss of the public transport service in Ireland and that he needed to act. Yesterday he set out a list of actions. He is one of 15 Ministers. We are about to ratify the UN convention and the first part, the slow half, of the work is over. At this stage it is all about implementation. I say again that Ireland can get ahead and close out the game to finish the job of providing for emancipation, but we need leadership and direction from the top. Every Minister must set out his or her action plan after he or she has listened to people with disabilities, in the process showing respect for their experiences which will still be difficult for many years to come. Together we can all make great strides in tackling the issue.
I listened with interest to Senator Mark Daly's contribution and agree with everything he said. In the first instance, I suggest he have a serious and indepth conversation with his party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, who has repeatedly refused to engage in anything proactive to do with the North.
I ask Deputy Micheál Martin to rethink his refusal to participate in the United Ireland conference to be held in Cork. He has no problem sharing a platform with the DUP. Whether he likes it, he needs to understand there are many thousands of citizens in the North who are represented by Sinn Féin. He also has no problem engaging with the anti-Brexit party. Confusingly, his Senators have talked about the dangers presented by Brexit and said we must do something about same. If their party leader will not engage seriously in proper indepth discussions to find ways to protect the whole island and demand special status for the North, they should not speak out of both sides of their mouths. I encourage Deputy Micheál Martin to participate in talks because we know that the discussion of the possibility of a united Ireland and the possibilities for the island as a whole-----
-----but also citizens across the island with his approach towards having discussions on the issues mentioned.We need to have conversations across all communities. That was not what I had intended to speak about today.
What leaders of the various parties do or do not do in respect of their parties is not a matter for the Order of Business. The Senator's time is up, but I will give her ten seconds to mention what she was supposed to.
On the floor of this House last week, I raised the issue of religious orders selling off to private developers lands forming part of school properties, with boards of management in certain parts of this city being abolished as a result. The Cathaoirleach facilitated a debate during Commencement matters between the Minister and me to discuss the issue in some depth. I would like to put a letter I have received from a developer on the record of the House. It is quite disturbing. Developers in this country used to own people in the Oireachtas and councillors up and down this land. They used to stuff envelopes full of cash. They now send what I would consider to be threatening letters to people who want to defend the rights of communities to engage in the planning process, and to object or give observations on planning applications. I will read one paragraph, if I might. It states:
I am prompted to write to you following remarks you made in Seanad Éireann on January 30th in relation to our proposal to deliver 536 housing units on lands at St Paul's School, Raheny.
You stated that our proposed development would "destroy St. Anne's Park" and would result in a loss of playing pitches and community facilities.
Your remarks are fundamentally inaccurate and are the latest example of a catalogue of misinformation being dispersed through various mediums and by various people about our development. As you may appreciate, if such inaccurate and flawed information is not corrected in the same public manner in which it was transmitted, it is likely to have a negative impact on our development, which, in turn, will have ramifications for those responsible.
I would like the Leader of the House to restate in the strongest terms the following: that Members of this Oireachtas are not to receive threatening letters from developers; that those days are gone; that no-one in this House is beholden to a developer any more; that in a republic, one is quite entitled to stand up for one's local community; and that for any developer to send any Member of the Oireachtas, councillor or public representative a letter threatening "ramifications" is bang out of order.
We often discuss the environment here, and there are many practical things we can do as citizens to help. It came to my attention recently that the levy of 22c on plastic bags has reduced the number of plastic bags used in this country by 98%. This is a remarkable success. We have a similar problem with coffee cups. I have been guilty of buying coffee in a takeaway cup and disposing of it. I ask that the Houses of the Oireachtas, and we as Members, show leadership in that regard by using recyclable cups. I suggest that the Houses of the Oireachtas catering service sources a cup that Members can carry to and from the canteen. Every day I go into the canteen in the Houses and I see people coming out with takeaway cups. We would all be quite happy to pay a small donation towards the cost of a proper cup.
This is happening in a lot of places. I want to commend the businesspeople around the country who run coffee shops that give discounts to people who bring their own cups. It is the right thing to do. The 218 Members of the Oireachtas could show leadership in that regard, and the catering service here could certainly assist us in showing leadership by sourcing recyclable cups.
Today, and on many days, we discuss the current state of our health services in both Houses. In particular, I refer to the difficulties we have in attracting and retaining professional health care staff to work in our hospitals, whether as doctors, nurses or whatever. We constantly read about the incentives put in place to attract and retain nurses or doctors in other countries.
I was contacted by a young lady born and reared in County Monaghan, who emigrated to the UK to study to become a nurse. She successfully overcame that hurdle, and is now working in a hospital in Belfast. She has a desire to return to her native county of Monaghan, and is considering applying for a job in Cavan General Hospital. She has told me that she has to pay two sets of fees in order to be taken on board by the health authorities here. The total amount concerned is almost €500. This is a time when we are trying to encourage our young people to come back home.
This is one example of a young nurse who has to come up with €500 before the health authorities here will consider her application. It is something we seriously need to look at. I ask that the Leader brings this to the attention of the Minister of Health, Deputy Harris, so that this fee is not a burden on a young person trying to return home, and so that the Department of Health covers whatever registration fees are required. If we are serious about attracting young people, we need to put incentives in place and certainly not obstacles. This is one such obstacle that has to be removed.
I would like to refer to the bus crash that took place in Limerick yesterday. I wish to pay tribute to all involved, including the ambulance services, the fire services, An Garda Síochána, the council, the mid-west community health care units, John the Baptist Community School and the teachers for their very fast response. Counselling and support was offered to all families and to the children involved in the accident while they were in hospital yesterday. I wish to commend the students who got back on the bus this morning and went to school. Only two students have been kept in hospital. Everybody else has been let out of hospital. It is very appropriate to pay tribute to all involved, because it was a horrific accident.
I welcome the fact that 4site expanded its business yesterday in what has been described as the first fibre centre of excellence in Ireland. Established in 2002, the company had 70 employees. It is now creating an extra 20 jobs, growing to 90 employees over the coming months. One thing that I want to highlight about the company is that it has a successful graduate programme. 4site has designed a training programme for its graduates, who are graduates of the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology. The fact that they are working on constantly upskilling and retraining their employees is to be commended. It is great to see a company going to great lengths to make sure that its employees are at a very high standard of training.
I would like to point out to Senator Conway that I have my own cup. Perhaps we could all bring our own cups in the interim to try to protect the environment.
Sinn Féin has raised several parliamentary questions about home help hours. In the area overseen by Community Healthcare Organisation 7, home help hours have dropped by almost 90,000 hours since 2014.It is a vital service to the elderly, the vulnerable, those on disability and those recently discharged from hospital. Home help allows people to stay in their homes and be part of their communities. The Government's ideology of privatisation, enforced by the HSE, is working well. It places an awful financial burden on people who are in no position to afford it. Home help is pertinent in alleviating pressures on secondary health care. It is short-term thinking to cut these hours which will contribute to hospital overcrowding.
It is also a major factor in the incarceration of those in unsuitable and unacceptable places in nursing homes. For example, Senator Dolan has spoken several times about 1,200 people with disabilities under the age of 65 who are incarcerated in nursing homes. All the other residents are almost twice their age and it can reduce their lifespan by two years. This is indicative of the lack of community care. I hope the Leader can give some time and space to this to discuss it further with the Ministers responsible.
On Senator Conway's suggestion, Young Fine Gael ran a campaign for reusable plastic cups for coffee etc. It advocated a 25 cent charge to raise awareness of the damage plastic does to our environment. We have all seen the television programmes showing thousands of tonnes of plastic in the sea, as well as whales and other sea mammals opened up with plastic inside them.
This morning, The Irish Timeshad an article on the national development plan and the need for day hospitals. I have raised this issue here before, specifically concerning the north Dublin area. Swords, near the M50, would be an ideal location for such a hospital because it can serve not just north Dublin city but the whole of Dublin. The national development plan also contains a proposal for metro north which could link such a hospital to our public transport system in a meaningful way.
Day hospitals are a real tool to allow us address the long waiting times for health care. The beds are available when the patient comes to use them. There is no accident and emergency facility, meaning nobody is admitted the night before to the bed for the patient who needs a procedure. Procedures for hernias, gall bladders, plastic surgery, cataracts and so forth can all be done in day hospitals. There are examples of many of these procedures being done in model three hospitals, such as Nenagh, St. John's Hospital in Limerick, Louth County Hospital and many others. It brings the service more available to the patient in a much more calm and settled environment and is successful.
We need at least two such hospitals in Dublin as one third of the population of the country resides here. I appeal to the Government and the Minister for Health to consider putting in two such hospitals in Dublin.
On Tuesday last, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 hit the Taiwanese city of Hualien, killing ten people and injuring more than 240. I raise this on the Order of Business because, like many Members in this and the Lower House, I have visited Taiwan. It is a vibrant and progressive democracy and its people are welcoming. We should recognise Taiwan diplomatically and do much more trade with it. However, because of the One China policy, some people are afraid to do so. That is for another day. Today, I want to remember those affected by this earthquake and send them our best wishes. I hope the Leader will also do so through his office. I know he has family and other ties to the country. It would be nice to recognise them at this time of need.
At the end of 2017, 40,000 people were on outpatient waiting lists for eye care procedures. Recently, however, I have seen posters and leaflets from various Deputies and Senators, not always from the Leader's side of the House, telling people there is no need to wait and how to get faster knee, hip and cataract operations. The posters tell people to ring the Member's office and it will be dealt with. Quite a number of people in counties Cavan and Monaghan have contacted my office on this.
The reality, however, is different. To be treated, one has to get from the waiting list to see a consultant. Some people have been on waiting lists for more than three years. They must see a consultant before they can be referred on to a health service provider in the North or another EU member state. If one manages to be referred on, one must come up with the money to pay for the treatment. Some of these operations can cost up to €40,000. While it is well and good for the HSE to say it will reimburse the patient, the operation has to be paid for upfront. There is no facility within financial institutions in this State which will give a loan to a patient for such an operation guaranteed by the HSE.
People should be made aware of this. Will the Leader use his good offices to impress upon the Minister to contact the financial institutions to ensure the people in question, who are desperately waiting for surgery, are given the money upfront because they cannot afford to pay for it themselves?
I acknowledge the recent passing of John Sheridan, former Cavan and Killinkere football player. He was a member of the 1952 Cavan All-Ireland winning football team. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I want to raise the concerns about the introduction of the cult of Scientology in Ireland and the opening of a rehabilitation centre in Ballivor, County Meath. The cult has purchased a site in Ballivor for €1 million and has got planning permission to open it as a nursing home. It can use this to come in as a drug care centre. There is no regulation of drug rehabilitation centres.
Three weeks ago the Taoiseach told the Dáil, "I am absolutely of the view that the only people who should provide addiction services are those who are appropriately qualified and licensed to do so." Narconon proposes a drug rehabilitation facility that does not meet HIQA or HSE standards. Basically, the patient gets vitamins and minerals as well as spending long times in saunas. This is brainwashing of the most vulnerable people. Articles in America highlight how Scientology has destroyed families. It has cost people millions of dollars trying to get family members out of this organisation. It has destroyed families and communities. The group behind the centre is Narconon, which is part of Scientology, a cult, which is concerning. If it happens in Ballivor today, it will happen in many other towns later. Narconon has millions of euro because it uses the people it has brainwashed to work for nothing.
The drug rehabilitation centre will be right in the centre of the town where 400 children are based in a national school, a child care centre, a Montessori school and a new playground. The centre will have a significant impact on neighbours and the community. The people of the Ballivor are fearful what this cult will do to their community and to Ireland. They will come to the Oireachtas on 6 March with a petition against this facility.I want the Minister responsible for local government to meet these people. Let us do something about this centre in Ballivor. This is the start of scientology coming to Ireland. We do not want this cult in this country.
I want to raise awareness this morning of a demonstration taking place today at 1 p.m. outside Leinster House. People from the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, MASI, will be outside calling on the Government to uphold the Supreme Court decision to give asylum seekers a right to work in Ireland. In May of last year the Supreme Court ruled that a blanket prohibition on asylum seekers working in Ireland was unconstitutional. It took until November for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to indicate how the State would respond to this ruling. As we all know, his response was entirely unacceptable.
Under the Government's new chosen regime, if an asylum seeker wants to enter PAYE employment, the job must not be one that an EU citizen can take up. It must pay more than €30,000 per year. Asylum seekers have been blacklisted from over 70 sectors of our economy, including those of hospitality, retail and health. These are ridiculous limits. Everyone can acknowledge that these are ridiculous limits - that is exactly why they have been set. This is the clearest indication from the Government that it does not want these people here, does not want them to work and wants to encourage them to leave.
If the Supreme Court's focus was on the dignity and inherent right of the individual, then we should all agree that the Government has once again failed to uphold our Constitution. No one here should be surprised when we have over 4,000 people living in detention camps throughout our country. They are living on €20 per week with no cooking facilitates and no prospect of employment, education or integration into our society.
Rather than simply driving past these people, I encourage colleagues to take five or ten minutes to have a conversation with them, link in with them and understand the horrendous conditions they are suffering. Let us be clear. The rules suggested by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, indicate one thing and one thing only: racism. It is a racist response from the Government. It is a disgrace and I will be asking for a debate on the issue.
I wish to voice my support for, and stand in solidarity with, section 39 health and social services workers who provide essential health and social services in our community. In particular, I support their call and case for pay restoration. Their circumstances have been highlighted. Basically, the situation is that they took cuts to their pay, the same as their counterparts working directly for the HSE. Those in the public service working directly for the HSE can have pay restoration under the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation. However, because these workers work for organisations that get a block grant from the HSE, they have no guarantees on pay restoration. It would seem from listening to the workers that some have received some or partial restoration, but others have not received any. It is altogether haphazard.
While I understand that it is complicated because they are not in the direct employment of the HSE, we cannot lose focus on what is fair in this. They are doing similar work to people in direct HSE employment. They should be paid a fair wage and should benefit from the uplift in the economy, the same as public services workers. I call for the Minister to be invited to the House to set out the pathway whereby the issue can be clarified and these workers can be given their fair pay.
I call on the Leader to have some form of rolling debate on the issue of health. Perhaps we could dedicate a day or two days to discussing health and allowing Members to make submissions beforehand that could be discussed. It could even allow us the opportunity to make suggestions to the Minister that would allow him to respond to those suggestions.
Numerous issues have to be addressed in health and they should be discussed in the House. My proposed debate would give us an opportunity for that. For example, the cross-border scheme under the EU directive, which was mentioned by my colleague, Senator Wilson, is an excellent scheme. I have assisted many people in obtaining funding from that scheme. I commend the staff who work in the unit in Kilkenny. They are highly efficient. However, there are questions around the efficiency and effectiveness of the scheme. For instance, let us consider the cost of a hip operation in the public unit at Letterkenny General Hospital. The cost to the taxpayer is approximately €5,500. However, if someone goes across the Border to obtain the same procedure in a private hospital in the North, the cost is between €9,000 and €15,000. In other words, it can be between two and three times the cost.
Major issues around cost efficiency arise within our health sector. Some, including those in the Department of Health, have argued that we are spending more than any other OECD country. That is not actually true because we are on the lower scale of OECD health expenditure. That is factually the position.
They do. We may be spending more in euro but actually as a percentage of GDP we are spending less.
We need to have a debate about how we are spending that money. Let us take Letterkenny General Hospital as an example which was allocated €122 million in expenditure last year. Almost €10 million of that expenditure went on agency staff. That is far more expensive than employing local staff. It is more complicated than that, but I am keen for the opportunity to discuss it because we all have suggestions. Will the Leader arrange a full day dedicated to health to allow us to have a rolling debate in which we could come in and out of the debate along with the Minister?
If possible at some stage I would like a debate on Irish Water, in particular on where the Houses of the Oireachtas fall into the debate. This week I put down a Commencement matter about Belgooly water scheme. It was ruled out of order, and rightly so, because it was deemed inappropriate for the Minister to respond.
There is no clinic in Leinster House at the moment for Irish Water. Previously, the Houses of the Oireachtas had an Irish Water clinic where we could meet officials from Irish Water. We need a review of how we are dealing with the Irish Water project with regard to the consultation and the ability for public representatives to get information. We have a helpline but one might question whether it is a helpline at all. This issue needs to be raised either by the commission or the Leader to ensure that we have a proper chain of command in order that we can get answers from Irish Water.
I have been raising the issue all week because a 3.5 km pipeline or water main was put in two years ago to Belgooly with no water flowing through it. The people in Belgooly have no water. I cannot get a response from Irish Water on when this will be sorted and when the reservoir will be built. We have issues regarding a chain of command and getting information in order that public representatives can know and, more importantly, the public can know.
It is important to bring the Minister for the Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, before the House to discuss not only issues like Belgooly water scheme but other issues relating to Irish Water. I can only speak for myself in that I am not getting the information I require. It is information the community is badly looking for.
I join with colleagues in remarking on the bus crash that took place in Connolly's Cross between Caherconlish and Herbertstown yesterday. I compliment the staff in University Hospital Limerick and those in the school for getting the emergency incident team up and running. I compliment the staff of Bus Éireann for their reaction as well as those in the ambulance and emergency services.
The school bus ran again today. Children were taken to school today, although not a large number travelled. Luckily enough, next week will be mid-term break. The bus will operate again tomorrow. At this stage most people have been discharged from hospital. I have spoken to several parents. They are relieved. People were very lucky. The bus was going relatively slowly and the dyke it fell into was dry. I think people realise how lucky they are that everyone is safe. A number of people are still in hospital, but only a few.We need to ensure that safety procedures on the school bus service are up to par. I would expect they are. We should request the Minister to conduct a review of the safety procedures. I compliment everybody on the handling of this bus crash.
I support the comments made by my colleague, Senator Lombard, on Irish Water. In many cases, the work of Irish Water is seconded out to staff in the local authority. The lines of responsibility are not clear. Let me give some examples. There was an issue with a water main and Irish Water dug up the road. Having dealt with the issue, it did not reinstate the road. A complaint was made to the council, but the local authority believes it is the responsibility of Irish Water to reinstate the road. This is becoming a problem. I suggest that we invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to the House to discuss these issues in depth. The protocols are weak and if we do not deal with that now, it could prove to be a major problem in the future. I certainly support Senator Lombard's call. Conflicts are coming up too regularly on whether it is the responsibility of Irish Water or the local authority to reinstate areas where work has been carried out.
I thank the 19 members of the House for their contributions. I join Senator Wilson and all Members in offering our sympathies to the bereaved families, the Taiwan representative in Ireland, H.E. Representative Tu and President Tsai Ing-wen on the tragic deaths in the earthquake in Taiwan. As Senator Wilson said, those who have visited Taiwan recognise the warmth and generosity of the people, and we offer the people, those who have been injured and the bereaved our sympathies and support. I will revert to Senator Wilson's remarks on Taiwan.
I am seldom speechless, but I have no answer to Senator Daly's-----
The Senator is looking for a debate on an allegation of an allegation and speculation. I can impart some good news to Senator Daly on the capital development plan, and I hope that we will have a new hospital in Cork. We badly need one. It is long overdue. We have three tremendous hospitals in the city serving the catchment area beyond Cork city and county. I sincerely believe there is a need to have a new hospital for Cork along with-----
That is true too. The Cathaoirleach is dead right. When I listen to Senator Daly and his colleagues speaking about his party's record on health, I wonder where I am and what I was doing for more than a decade. I recall that his party leader fled from the Department of Health and Children and left poor Mary Harney in situ saecula saeculorum. There are challenges in the health system that need to be met. The Sláintecare report which is committed to the future development of our health system is based primarily on moving people from acute hospitals and having them treated in the community by the primary care team. This is a model we should all support.
I agree with the Senator on the issue of Brexit and the expressions, how ever one would describe them, emanating from the UK.
That is a polite way of saying it. Senator Richmond, who chaired a Brexit committee of the Seanad, is continuing with the work of that committee. I hope that as part of that committee, we will be able to have further engagement. It is important that we have ongoing dialogue between Members of the Oireachtas and members of the UK Parliament, be it the House of Lords or the Commons, to explain and to influence the situation. It is equally as important, and I am not sounding a partisan note, that we have devolved government in Stormont, with the politicians representing the communities from which they come, rather than having direct rule from the Government in the UK. I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, on his work.
If I may, a Chathaoirligh, I wish to take this opportunity to wish Deputy Adams well in his retirement. I wish the party well on this weekend because political parties reinvent themselves, and for the members of Sinn Féin, this is a weekend for members to say good luck and say hello to a new leader. I wish Deputies Adams and McDonald well.
There is a duty now on the political parties in the North to come to the table and to have the voice of the North of our country heard by politicians in Brexit. I agree with Senator Daly. The Government has been quite clear. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, spoke last week about our role and what we want from the talks on Brexit. We have not demurred from any of the positions yet.
I have already responded to the issue of overprescribing when I addressed the comments of Senator Burke. Senator Mullen is correct in saying that overprescribing has increased disproportionately in a decade. I agree that overprescribing has a human consequence that does not get noticed until death, dependency or the need to access treatment or services to deal with it. We need to highlight the issue of dependency to create awareness of how it has grown.
Prescribing is an issue for doctors and medics. An independent case was taken by an individual doctor. I agree with Senator Mullen and also with the report in The Sunday Business Postthat Senator Colm Burke referenced. The issue was raised at the Committee on Health yesterday. I would be happy to arrange to have a debate on it in this House. We are sleepwalking into a problem and we must take a proactive role in reducing dependency on prescription drugs and overprescribing. Prescribing is a matter for individual doctors. We need to have a conversation on the issue and I am happy to arrange it.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of public transport for people with disabilities. As I said yesterday, it will require a whole-of-government approach and leadership from the top. It is also important to recognise and to give credit to the public transport bodies. There have been improvements and progress has been made around accessibility, but we have more road to travel. The point was made yesterday at the joint committee that it is not just about the buses, Luas or DART service but also about the bus stop, ramp, lighting, and accessibility to the railway or DART station or to the bus stop. The testimonies given at yesterday's committee meeting were powerful. They showed that we need to treat people with respect and with dignity and we have to continue to do that. It is unacceptable that people would have such a dreadful experience, as outlined to the committee. I know from my work in Cork with the disability groups that it is a frustrating and terrible experience. We should consider how, as Members of the Oireachtas, we can engage with each other on how we can make the issues highlighted by Senator Dolan more visible.I would be quite happy to work with the Senator in that regard and to have that debate in the House. Senator Rose Conway-Walsh spoke about Deputy Micheál Martin more than anything else. One point she did not make, however, was that we should invite everybody to attend the united Ireland conference in Cork and to participate in the discussion. It should not just be about one group of people who want a united Ireland. I am a republican and a nationalist. I want to have a united Ireland. Let us include everybody. Let us not wrap the theme around just one group.
It is about all of us having that conversation and being involved in that movement. I saw the list of speakers for the conference in City Hall in Cork. It is one-dimensional. It only has one side. Let us make it broader. That is my opinion. While I agree with the Senator, it is a conversation which we must have in all of the communities of our country - north, south, east and west.
Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to his comments on the Order of Business last week and he read a letter into the record of the House. I will not respond other than to say that it is the right of all Members to represent their communities and their constituencies and to campaign and advocate on behalf of people. That is a fundamental right given to all of us. Equally, a developer, and I am not referring specifically to this case, is entitled to his or her good name and to have any facts and information put out about him or her to be accurate. To be fair, this is a Chamber of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Democracy is about freedom of expression and the ability to come to the House and make contributions.
Senator Conway spoke about the important issue of takeaway coffee cups and Senator Reilly referred to the Young Fine Gael campaign on non-compostable coffee cups. This is an issue we should all be involved in. We were educated on the plastic bag levy and on other things such as seat belts. It is a gradual progression. I know Senator Devine mentioned bringing one's own cup. That is something we should look at. We should think about how we can change. The reusable cups are probably a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and I am happy to defer to it on that matter.
On Senator Gallagher's contribution, we are bringing people home and recruiting them to work in our health care system. The Senator is right that we must do more to retain people but also to attract people back. We need to incentivise that and ensure that our best and brightest health care professionals return to our country. That is a debate which we need to have and I would be happy to facilitate it.
Senators Byrne and Kieran O'Donnell referred to the bus crash in Limerick yesterday. I join both of them in paying tribute to the first responders, gardaí, ambulance personnel, fire brigade personnel, county council staff, and health and hospital staff who worked so hard yesterday. We should be thankful that there was no loss of life. As Senator O'Donnell said, the bus was back today and there were people on it. That is a wonderful thing to say but there is a need to have a review of our school bus transport system. Some of it is franchised out to private operators. There is a need to uphold standards and ensure that they are not minimal but exceptional, because we are talking about young children.
I welcome the new jobs for Limerick the company 4site announced yesterday which Senator Byrne spoke about. It is good to see more jobs in Limerick. I am sure all Members of the House will agree that it is wonderful to see unemployment falling and more people back at work.
Senator Devine raised the issue of home care packages and home help hours, on which I fundamentally agree with her. There is a need to do more and provide more. The Government is committed to it. The Minister, Deputy Harris, secured €25 million in funding for social care as part of the health budget this year. This includes funding for home care supports, new home care packages, and a move away from acute hospitals into transition care beds, which is important. We must work on that. The HSE is developing a policy in respect of home care packages. I fundamentally agree with the Senator. We need to invest more of our health budget in health care packages to keep people at home, keep them out of our hospitals and, as the Deputy rightly said, avoid people being lonely and suffering from isolation. It is a fundamental task which we all must aspire to deal with. I make no apology for agreeing with the Senator on that issue and working with her on it. It is an important issue. I wish that the HSE and some in the Department of Health would recognise the importance of home care packages and the benefits they bring to people in our communities.
Members of our families, our friends and our neighbours benefit from these packages. They are not anonymous or invisible. They are citizens of our Republic. The HSE has a duty to provide care and to work with people.
Without wanting to strike a discordant note, in developing a package around home care, we must bear in mind that it is not about creating an industry for some. It cannot be that. It is about caring for the people who need that help. That is being lost in some cases. I am not saying that it is lost on Senator Devine. I fundamentally agree with her on that particular point. I am not familiar with the area she referred to. If she wants to give me the information, I will forward it to the Minister. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is well aware of it, but I would be happy to take it up with her or with the Minister, Deputy Harris, on the Senator's behalf.
Senator Reilly referred to the issue of the national development plan and day hospitals. This goes back to my comment to Senator Devine. It is about taking people out of our acute hospitals, building transitional care beds and creating day hospitals in which people can have procedures carried out and which will have step-down facilities. That is fundamental to what we are trying to do as a Government in respect of the Sláintecare report. It is about making services easier for people to access. Senator Mark Daly referred to the emergency departments. If we referred fewer people to emergency departments and had more primary care centres, it would also reduce the burden on the emergency departments. It is part of an ongoing process that we must work through to eliminate overcrowding and to ensure that we have day care beds.
Senator Wilson raised the issue of Ireland, Taiwan and the One China policy. I agree with him. There is a fundamental need to review how we deal with many different nations and governments. The Taiwanese yearn to do more trade with us and to engage more with us from cultural, economic and social points of view. We have seen successful Irish companies in Taipei and in many parts of Taiwan bringing in and creating jobs. I understand the size of China and its importance but the One China policy could be looked at in the context of developing further economic and industrial links with Taiwan. We have a very good representative of Taiwan in H.E. Simon S.K. Tu. He works hard in reaching out through the chambers of commerce and in visiting different parts of the countries. This is about having a two-way street. I would be happy to have a debate in the House on that relationship. This is an issue which, as Senator Wilson rightly illustrated, can bring benefit to our country.
I also agree with Senator Wilson in respect of the cross-Border initiative and on the need for people to be able to access the finance at the outset. I know they can get 90% of it back afterwards, but it is an important initiative and it has seen success. People can be referred to the North of our country by their GP in respect of eyes and cataracts. We need to see that initiative developed and I would be happy to invite the Minister in for a debate in that regard.
Senator Butler raised the issue of the Church of Scientology and Ballivor. I know that Senator Butler has been very involved in this issue with Councillor Noel French. The issue is that Meath County Council has granted an exemption to the trust which Senator Butler mentioned. It is important that we have a debate about the role of the Church of Scientology and the cult-like way in which it operates.
Senator Gavan raised the very important issue of direct provision and asylum seekers being able to work in our country. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, have been in the House and referred to the issue. The Government is committed to the EU reception conditions directive and to people being able to work. It is important to recognise that there is now an obligation on Government to transpose that Supreme Court decision into action. I hope that will happen soon. It needs to happen. I accept that.
Senator Mulherin raised the important issue of section 39 organisations. I agree with her. There is an anomaly. The Cathaoirleach and I are familiar with Marymount Hospice in Cork where the workers fall under section 39 and are being paid less than their HSE equivalents. There was a pay cut in some of the section 39 organisations which has not been restored. There is need to see the service level agreement the HSE has with these section 39 organisations changed because if people are not paid properly, the agreement must be changed. That service level agreement is about offering a suite of services which might include respite care, assessment for autism, and speech and language therapy among other things. The review exercise which the Minister has initiated is fundamental to the issue which Senator Mulherin has raised.I hope that, as a consequence of the review, staff in section 39 organisations such as those working in Marymount University Hospital and Hospice in Cork will have their pay restored. The State should increase the block grants it provides to section 39 organisations to facilitate pay increases for workers.
To respond to Senator Ó Domhnall, the Minister for Health has been in the House multiple times. I like the Senator's suggestion of having a rolling debate. We are having a series of debates on health. The Minister appeared before the House last week to discuss emergency departments and will come to the House again to discuss other issues. This process should continue as the topic raised by the Senator is an important one.
I disagree with Senator Ó Domhnaill's analysis of health expenditure. Ireland is among the top five countries in the world for spending per capitaon health. The health budget is higher than it has ever been. The issue is not what we spend but how we spend it and ensuring there is accountability in the system. The system must be reformed to deliver value for money, while also recognising that the patient is at the centre of what we do in the health system. We can have an ongoing debate on health.
Senators Lombard and Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of Irish Water. Last week, I stated that Irish Water should resume its clinic for Members of the Oireachtas. As the Senators correctly pointed out, Members are experiencing difficulties obtaining answers on specific issues that arise in communities. Senator Kieran O'Donnell also noted that Irish Water is also outsourcing work. The important issue is to ensure Irish Water resumes its clinics for Members of the Oireachtas because these give us, as public representatives, access to members of staff who can follow up on the issues we raise and revert to us with responses. I have asked Irish Water to do this. I will also ask the Minister to come to the House.