Wednesday, 21 February 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on flooding, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 2.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, and time can be shared, and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Technological Universities Bill 2015 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 4.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, statements on Versatis medical plasters to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, and time can be shared, and the Minister to be given not less than four minutes reply to the debate; and Private Members' business, No. 64, motion 14, which is to be taken at 5.30 p.m. with the time allocated to it not to exceed two hours.
I wish to raise a couple of points this morning. I acknowledge there will be statements on the Permanent TSB loan book sale. I hope we can rename them statements on the proposed sale of the Permanent TSB loan book because it has not happened, despite the best efforts of everybody yesterday. Although it has been suggested, the Taoiseach said in the Dáil yesterday that there was no imminent sale of it but then Permanent TSB announced yesterday evening that 14,000 home loans were going up for sale, potentially to a vulture fund, or to somebody else. However, I do not think there will be too many other people looking for them. It is very important that we look at this matter in the round and that we realise that whether it is 14,000 or 20,000 loans - it was 20,000 last week but now there is talk of 14,000 - if one divides that over 40 Dáil constituencies, it works out at about 350 households per constituency. In some areas, there will be more and in other areas there will be less. Every time that happens, a household, a family and an extended family go through huge distress and end up presenting on the local authority list for houses that do not exist or trying to get into the private rented sector where the supply is not available.
Some 75% of Permanent TSB is still owned by the State. The directors should be representing the shareholders but I am not sure they are. The Minister for Finance is the shareholder of three quarters of the company, on behalf of all of us, and it makes no sense for us to potentially throw people out of their houses and then have to rehouse them at enormous cost.
We must look at the long-term sustainability of some loans. I am sure some people have not engaged but I find it hard to believe that Permanent TSB has left people in their homes for ten years without any level of engagement whatsoever. If it has, it is grossly irresponsible that it has left loans in that way without managing them or trying to seek a solution, such as rescheduling debt or examining a proportion of write-down. It is crucial at this point, before the sale goes ahead, that we look at this and try to make sure people in such a situation will not be as badly affected as we think.
The issue has been discussed in-depth in recent days. The Master of the High Court was on the radio this morning talking about it. Deputy John McGuinness was on radio recently and Deputy Michael McGrath was on the radio yesterday. The Taoiseach and Deputy Micheál Martin discussed it yesterday in the Dáil. We are talking about thousands of people. It is not just the 14,000 actual households; it is multiples of the number. Everybody who is associated with the loans will be affected. There is probably not a person in the country who does not know someone who is affected by this. Somebody who has never paid a loan and has completely buried his or her head in the sand needs to be tackled but, equally, we do need to take-----
-----it is the most topical issue on the Order of Business and it must be discussed today.
I acknowledge the references made yesterday to the misdiagnosis of breast cancer in St. James's Hospital. I do not think it is fair. St. James's Hospital is a centre of excellence and is supposed to be the best place in the country, which we look up to, along with a couple of other centres, including St. Vincent's University Hospital. Many people go there thinking they are going to get the best care in the country.There have been misdiagnoses. St. James's Hospital issued a statement to RTÉ saying that while it accepted and apologised for the mistake, a full review of the work was not warranted. Two misdiagnoses ever is too many; in a year it is definitely too many. If we did not have the further review we do not know how the second patient would be. It is serious and I would like to hear from the Minister.
I am conscious of time but I want to mention Syria. We need a debate on Syria where so many innocent victims are being killed. The regime needs to be held to account. We will not be able to do that alone. However, we should not allow what is happening in Syria to happen without a discussion.
Okay, three minutes. All of these relate to children. The chief executive of Barnardos, Mr. Fergus Finlay, spoke in some detail this morning on the launch today of its "Lost Childhood" campaign. This is an important campaign and I looked at the heads of it this morning to see what it is about. It talks about an equal start, equal access and equal opportunity for every child. That is the key campaign message. I refer to equal access to education, health and child care. Everyone is entitled to that equal start.
It was interesting to see in the figures today that 3,000 children are classified as homeless. I spoke yesterday on the Order of Business about the 52 children waiting for consultants with the National Treatment Purchase Fund. All of this is around children and it important. I do not doubt the Government's commitment but we need to emphasis and re-emphasis the importance of every child having an equal start to realise their full potential and to feel loved, cared for, secure and safe. That is the objective of all of us in both Houses. It is something we need to keep at the centre of our political deliberations. It is important.
Mr. Finlay also referenced Project Ireland 2040 and child care on RTÉ this morning. It is important we focus on that as well. I also want to talk about the hospital figures. It is important we have some confirmation from the National Treatment Purchase Fund because there are different figures from different sources. It is important we have correct figures on the number of children waiting for a year and a year and a half.
To conclude, I want to raise an issue I have raised before. I refer to Caranua. For those who do not know, it is a statutory body responsible for administering services and funds for people who were victims of abuse. It arose from the national residential institutions redress scheme. There is much disquiet about this organisation. It is important we have another look at Caranua. We see what its terms of reference are. Do they need to be adjusted? Do they need to be changed?
I started off talking about children. I always use the analogy that we see the world from where we stand and our experiences within it. The people at the other end of the spectrum were the children of the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s who are now having to avail of the services of Caranua. They are telling us they are not getting the support, the housing and the holistic supports needed. We need to look at that organisation again.
I thank my party for allowing me to raise a local issue on the first part of the Order of Business today. Over a decade ago, a generous decision was taken by parents and teachers in the Inishowen area that they would agree to look for one site for a three-school campus. The three schools are Crana College secondary school, based in Buncrana but serving the Inishowen Peninsula, Gaelscoil Bhun Crannacha and Coláiste Chineál Eoghain, an Irish language secondary school and the first of its kind in Inishowen and vital to the Irish language and its sustenance in the area.
They came together and agreed that approach over a decade ago. At the time the vocational educational committee, VEC, was tasked with finding a site. I understand it did find an appropriate site. However, the process was then handed over by the Department to Donegal County Council. As I stand here today, over a decade has passed and still we do not have a site for a three-school campus based in Buncrana and serving the Inishowen Peninsula. It is a scandal that we are in this situation.
Crana College will soon have no area for sports and amenities because it is taken up with temporary buildings to house students. Gaelscoil Bhun Crannacha, a fantastic school, is based in a youth club. It is inappropriate for its needs. Similarly, Coláiste Chineál Eoghain is based in a mill. It is a fine building but again not suitable for a school and for its needs. The issue has come to this. In the public interest, where a site cannot be secured, it is important to move to a compulsory purchase order. The process has been at a snail's pace getting to this point. Negotiations surely cannot go on forever. Where there is an overriding public interest, as there is in this case, the Minister will finally, and I will wrap up with this-----
I want to raise it on the floor of the Seanad. I will see the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, at 3 p.m. today. I will be raising this in person with him. However, I want to raise it on the floor here because the Minister is finally meeting with the board of the Donegal Education and Training Board tomorrow evening in Letterkenny. Before he has that meeting, I want to put it on the public record that he needs to make it clear the deadline for negotiations has come to an end and his Department will invoke a compulsory purchase order. I refer to securing a site and stopping the messing around after all these years. I am calling on the Minister to do that tomorrow night and to end the nonsense. Over a decade has passed. I am asking for this issue to be finally resolved tomorrow night. I ask the Minister to take the opportunity tomorrow night to do what is right.
I want to talk about the issue of prisoners, the prison system and call for a debate with Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan. Two weeks ago some Members might have seen the Joint Committee on Education and Skills discussion on educational disadvantage. A report will come before the House. Figures from the Irish Penal Reform Trust on the education of prisoners show that 25.6% of prisoners had no secondary schooling before they entered the prison system. Another 52% left before their junior certificate and 80% left before their leaving certificate. This shows a common link between the lack of early intervention and investment, and criminality at a later stage in life. I refer to the impact educational disadvantage has.
We acknowledge early intervention is key. I refer to the current prison population. I want to have a debate on the wider issue of whether we are truly meeting the objective of rehabilitating our prisoners so they can be fully functioning members of society. When I was younger a lot of my friends went in and out of Oberstown Child Detention Campus and St. Patrick's Institution for Young Offenders. The common themes among them all at that age were, "When I get out I am going to go back to school", or "I am going to get a job", or "I want to stop robbing". However, something happens that aspiration. They come out and realise they are back into the same cycle. I am referring to the relationship between their own agency and the environment they are in. Perhaps we should have a debate on the current prison system and how we can make it more rehabilitative so we can give people a second chance.
The population of Ireland is going to increase by over 1 million people to 5.7 million people over the next ten to 20 years. That is going to create demand for additional services, jobs and infrastructure around the country. It is critical that we plan in a coherent and sustainable way for the future of our country. Now is the time to put that plan in place. That is why I welcome the launch of the Project Ireland 2040 national development plan last Friday. I commend the Minister and the Departments that put their forces together to map out a strategy and vision for Ireland in that plan. It is important adequate time is given in the House for a full debate on the national development plan to outline the differences to those that cannot understand the failures of the previous national spatial strategy of 2002.The strategy was ambitious for our country at the time but, unfortunately, the infrastructure and capital investment did not follow the strategy. That is why it failed. The difference this time is that there is a ten-year capital plan of over €116 billion being committed to enable the ambitious goals of the national development plan. I ask the Leader to make provision for a fulsome debate in the House on that plan.
I thank Senator Norris for the correction. At the time of the launch of the national spatial strategy, a decentralisation plan was launched by the Government of the time. Fianna Fáil announced various initiatives around the country where Departments were to be decentralised to the various constituencies. It would be timely to invite the Minister of State responsible for the Office of Public Works, OPW, to the House to review the plan. The OPW purchased many sites around the country and we should know, as a matter of public record, what happened to all those sites. Are they in use and what did they cost the taxpayer? I am aware of one in Dungarvan in County Waterford that had a substantial purchase cost, with the view to decentralising services to that site. It lies vacant and is not being used. It was an investment by the taxpayer at the time so we should review the decentralisation plan and learn from the mistakes of the past. We should get behind the new national development plan, Ireland 2040.
This morning I raise the matter of the humble spud, the Irish potato. Yesterday, the Irish Potato Conference took place and some of the results from it are stark manifestations of many of the issues I raised here in the past taking in the entire agriculture sector. It was revealed yesterday that the average price a farmer gets for a tonne of potatoes is €200 to €300. When a potato is sold from a supermarket shelf - potatoes are purchased in our retail outlets every second of every day - the same tonne of potatoes would be retailed at €1,400. The farmer is not even getting 20% of the price but the same farmer takes all the risk. The farmer would be doing very well to get €300.
My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy McConalogue, introduced a Private Members' Bill last year seeking to establish a food ombudsman. That was in March 2017. There is a serious need to introduce a food ombudsman. The farmer cannot be a price taker any more when we see the exorbitant profits being made by everybody who handles the farmers' product before it gets to our kitchen table. We must look into this. The Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, review is ongoing and with Brexit there is no guarantee the payment will be what it was. Farmers are living on subsidies from Brussels and not the price they can get for their products. What they get for a tonne of potatoes is below cost but the price goes from €300 to €1,400 for a tonne when, at most, two other people handle the product. These are a packager and retailer. The time for talking about this is long gone and it must be addressed. I ask that we take immediate action to introduce a food ombudsman.
The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine produced a report on the tillage sector and the grain grower is in the same position. While Irish distillers are becoming global kings, the grain growers of Ireland are working for cost price. Some action must be taken. The day for talking is gone. We know Brexit is coming and the British will leave Europe. We are all lobbying for an improved CAP but it is possible it will not come about. Without it, farming, the agriculture industry and food production will be affected. It is not just about farmers; consumers need food production. The farmers will not be here to supply us with the food we need if serious action is not taken. The figures yesterday were startling. The potato goes from €300 per tonne leaving the field to €1,400 sitting on the shelf of the supermarket. Who is making the money there?
I have spoken many times about Permanent TSB and I do not intend to rehash what I have said but it has just announced that 14,000 of the loans being surrendered to vulture funds relate to individual house owners, and some of these are revised but perfectly functioning loans. I do not see why they should be on the list.
The Government should immediately indicate to the board of Permanent TSB its opposition to this sale. Deputy McGuinness will introduce in the Dáil a revised version of the Bill we had in this House produced by Mr. Ed Honohan, and that is very welcome. We should in this country be prepared to say "bugger off" to the European Central Bank, ECB. Those were the people who helped to create this situation-----
The ECB was criminally involved in the financial distress of this country.
Speaking of financial distress, I have been pilloried to some extent in the columns of Ms Miriam Lord - I had to look for her name on my sheet - after raising the question of the wages we get from this House. She gave half my argument in a frivolous way. I am glad she thinks it is funny. To show how gutless we are in this House and how much we lack respect for ourselves, by my calculation, 111 of the civil servants employed by us in this House get more than we do. That is twice the number of Members in this House. We are pilloried when we say this is not the rate for the job. We need to look at this and show some respect for ourselves.
As Senator Coffey mentioned, last Friday Project Ireland 2040 was announced, and I welcome it in its entirety. I particularly welcome the recognition of the role that Athlone has to play as a regional centre for the midlands. I thank the Minister for listening to me, and I harassed him a lot, the poor man.
I made submissions to the plan. While I was writing to the Minister I got to thinking about what Athlone had to offer. Among these elements are projects that were delivered to the town by previous Athlone town councils. I served on the town council, as did my late sister and my father before me. Through the years, Athlone town councils, made up of all parties and none, set aside money in the budget every year in order to have funding to match that coming from the Government to develop projects in the town. Over a number of years, we have built an amazing regional sports centre, a Luan Gallery on the banks of the river that is second to none and an interpretive centre in the castle. All these are fantastic projects and they are just to name a few. We have also contributed money to the fantastic sports facilities in Athlone Institute of Technology.
If Athlone is to reach its potential as a regional centre, perhaps we must consider reinstating a local authority. The terms of reference of the local electoral area boundary committee are such that towns like Sligo, Dundalk and Drogheda, which were also given a designation in the plan, would be designated as municipal borough districts. It is clear to me that the logic of the role identified for Athlone suggests that the town should be designated as a municipal borough district. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to come to the House. As Senator Coffey mentioned, we should have a debate on Project Ireland 2040 to iron out such issues.
The role of Athlone has changed since the terms of reference of the local electoral area boundary committee were defined and the entire settlement of Athlone should be designated as a municipal borough council. I ask the Leader to suggest this to the Minister and perhaps we could have a debate on it in the House. It could be based in the civic offices in Athlone, as opposed to the county buildings in Mullingar.
There is some really good and positive news from Limerick today. The Nestlé plant in Askeaton has become the first living wage site anywhere in Ireland. This is a result of three years of negotiation and I had a small role to play at the beginning. The key recognition must go to SIPTU and Mr. Enda McDaid in particular, who has delivered a tremendous result. Nestlé is an excellent employer in Askeaton, as we know, and it has always respected the trade union.Today, however, canteen staff, cleaning staff, security staff and everyone else who works at that site, are guaranteed a living wage. This is a massive breakthrough. It is the first of its kind. It should prompt a conversation on what more the Government can do to promote actively the model of a living wage. It makes a huge difference. One will see staff having a wage rise in the order of the best part of €2 per hour. It makes a massive difference to low-paid employees. It is great to see that Limerick has been at the forefront in producing this good news and in bringing forward something really positive and progressive.
Perhaps we should consider making the Oireachtas a living-wage employer.
Maybe we could ensure that the people we work with - the cleaners and canteen staff — all have a living wage, as a minimum. Why do we not take a lead that can be followed throughout the country?
I would like a debate on the living wage on the basis of this good news. Let us see what positive, concrete steps we can take to help low-paid employees.
The new health centre in Limerick, Barrack View, was opened last Monday week. There has been a rise in the incidence of measles in Limerick and the wider region. Today, free vaccinations are being given at the centre from 12 p.m. onwards. It is quite frightening to note the number of people who die from measles each year. I encourage people to avail of the opportunity to acquire a free vaccination for their children. It is free from 12 p.m. until approximately 3 p.m. today.
Senator Paudie Coffey called for a debate on Project Ireland 2040. This is a very positive call and I endorse it. The announcement last week was very positive not only for the country as a whole but also for all the regions. The chief executive officer of the chamber of commerce in Limerick has criticised the plan but he forgets that it is about creating a counterbalance to development on the eastern seaboard. The Atlantic corridor, which the Limerick chamber refused to join up with, will enable us to go from Sligo to Galway, from Galway to Limerick, and from Limerick to Cork. This represents a counterbalance to the development of the east coast region. The economy in the mid-west is growing at a faster rate than in the rest of Ireland. The chief executive officer might have forgotten that also. It is important, therefore, that we present the full facts and figures. We certainly should have the debate.
I do not have good news, unfortunately. INMO Trolley Watch figures for Our Lady's Children's Hospital indicate there were three on trolleys at the beginning of the year and 11 this morning. This is really surprising given that much of the focus in recent weeks has been on waiting lists for extremely sick children. Young children with serious degenerative diseases must wait for up to ten days to access a bed.
I received a response to a parliamentary question about rapid-access clinics for patients with suspected prostate cancer. There are designated centres throughout the country. The national target is to have 90% of patients with suspected prostate cancer seen within 20 working days. This target is not being met. It is significant in St. James's Hospital, Dublin 8, which is in CHO area 7, my area. There are 15 not being seen within 20 working days, while there is none in Beaumont, one in the Mater and none in St. Vincent's. Therefore, CHO area 7 has a large number while CHO area 9 does not.
What is the position on the Comhliosta system, which is the system in the Sláintecare report, and its implementation? Fifteen people are waiting for an appointment in St. James's Hospital for over three weeks, yet none is waiting in Beaumont Hospital. Addressing this just involves common sense; it is a no-brainer. It is not brain surgery that could sort this out. Could the Leader get an update from the Minister on Comhliosta, a very simple initiative that will be easy to implement and that will reduce the long waiting lists by using services in other hospitals?
I appreciate that the Leader has facilitated statements on housing. I hope to contribute to the debate.
The issue of the sale of loans by Permanent TSB to a vulture fund has been highlighted in the media recently, particularly by Fianna Fáil.
That is a good move because all of us in this House should be very concerned about this. When one comes across families who are in mortgage distress as a result of the actions of vulture funds, as many in this Chamber do-----
I appreciate that the Leader has facilitated the debate. It is a timely one.
My second point is on multidenominational education. There was a Commencement debate yesterday on the five schools across the State that have limited enrolment, the Educate Together schools. There is an ongoing issue concerning the relationship between the State and schools that are selling off lands. With Councillor Deirdre Kingston, I met a group yesterday that is very concerned about the issue in Clonkeen. We are concerned about the lack of movement on Educate Together second level schools and on the baptism barrier. There is a considerable debate that needs to be had in this Chamber with the Minister on the relationship between the State and patron bodies and on the facts that patron bodies are selling off lands under the noses of boards of management, that boards of management are now being threatened with abolition, that primary schools that do not have religious patronage are now being told they can have only a certain number of students in September, and that Educate Together skills at second level are not getting support from the Department.
The Leader of the House is presumed to know everything on these occasions and to be able to answer everything. There has been great fanfare over the announcement of the State capital programme recently. It suddenly struck me that I was listening to a proposal for a metro system for Dublin that was no longer to involve metro north but metro north and south. There are statements that it will surface somewhere near where I live, in Ranelagh, but that does not indicate my purpose in asking this question.
Does this mean the green line will effectively be abolished and transformed into a rail line that goes underground somewhere in leafy Ranelagh? Will there be a green line anymore? Nobody has been able to explain this.
Are all the long trams we are now buying to be redundant or what is to happen to them? The Leader knows everything so I ask my question in a spirit of curiosity.Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or a Minister of State at that Department to come into the House to explain to us whether the green line will be abolished as part of this process, whether tram and metro carriages will share the same lines and whether we will have yet more lines? While there is great fanfare about all of these matters, there is absolute lack of clarity on what precisely is meant. Will the tramline along Dawson Street end somewhere like St. Stephen's Green, for example? All of these things are a bit of a mystery and before we get wildly enthusiastic about programmes, it would be interesting to know whether the current complexities in Dublin due to the lengthening of trams on the green line and the extension of the line to Broombridge are a purely temporary phenomenon, whether we are to have an entirely new transport solution and whether both solutions will coexist on the same tracks.
I refer to the desperate situation with which students in the Six Counties are faced because of the Conservative Government's failure to provide adequate information on solutions which will allow for the continuation of the Erasmus+ programme after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. The UK agency for Erasmus+ issued a Brexit update in December which stated the agency "remains wholly committed to" the Erasmus+ programme and its benefits and that it strongly supported continued full UK membership of the programme through to 2020 as planned in the proposed Brexit implementation package.
I am sorry to interrupt the Senator, but as the matter is outside this jurisdiction, it is hardly relevant to the Order of Business in this House. While I accept what he has said, I am not too sure the Leader's knowledge is so all-embracing as to-----
My point is that the Irish Government must not allow Mrs. Theresa May's Government to do this and that the Department of Education and Skills should defend the right of students in the North to take part in Erasmus+ programmes. Such programmes provide them with vital funding to enable them to undertake third year placements that are a compulsory component of their degree programmes. Will the Leader request the Department to stand up for this right? Any engagement by the Irish Government with the British should include standing up for the rights of Erasmus+ students.
Two weeks ago I referred to the emerging concern about the over-prescribing of certain drugs. I indicated that the prescription rates for some opioid painkillers had increased by over 200% between 2006 and 2016. I am talking about drugs use to provide pain relief, anti-depressants and sleep-related drugs, some of which are habit forming. Questions about finance and for the Exchequer also arise in the over-prescribing of drugs, but the more serious question concerns patient safety. Obviously, there is a danger in prescribing certain drugs for months when they should only be prescribed to be taken for a period of weeks at most. In raising this issue previously I also mentioned the problem of the prescription drug dependency epidemic in America. Professor Michael Barry, head of the HSE's medicines management programme, has since said some startling things, including that not enough is being done about this issue. Perhaps most troubling is his belief a root cause of over-prescribing is the fact that doctors are obtaining their information on medicines from the pharmaceutical industry. Doctors are not graded on their drug prescribing capabilities after they graduate from medical school. Certainly I thought the only requirement to be met by a doctor in writing a prescription was that someone be able to read his or her writing, but it seems that there is a serious issue which is all the more serious, given that it is Professor Barry who is raising the matter, saying not enough is being done. He has also referred to the possible troubling dependency of doctors on the pharmaceutical industry for information. Approximately 85% of prescriptions emanate from GP settings, but after they qualify doctors are not tested on their drug prescribing abilities. It is also worth noting that approximately €17 million was paid out by the pharmaceutical industry to doctors and health care institutions in fees and emoluments. There is a connection with doctors who are trying to do a good job while being overly dependent on those with a profit motive. I raise the issue because of Professor Barry's very important intervention. Given what he has said and the fact that it is he who has said it, we in this House must pay attention to the issue.
I thank the 15 Members who contributed on the Order of Business.
Senators Gerry Horkan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and David Norris referred to Permanent TSB, following the discussion yesterday on the Order of Business. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, will take the debate on Thursday on behalf of the Government because the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, will not be available. It is important to reiterate that all of the Members who have spoken about the issue thus far agree that we need to protect the homeowners, families, business people and farmers affected by the potential sale of the loan book. However, it is somewhat premature to get involved in the hysteria about vulture funds and so on because there has been no consultation yet with the Minister for Finance. Deputy Micheál Martin raised the matter in the Dáil yesterday, as did Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. The Minister for Finance and the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, are due to meet today. We all agree that there is a need to protect and assist mortgage holders. The Minister for Finance is also very much aware of the views of members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party on the issue. As many Senators said, we have all met in our offices the holders of distressed mortgages and in the vast majority of cases they are trying to work with and do deals with their banks. However, it is a two-way street - the banks must also communicate and engage with their customers. It is important that during the debate tomorrow we discuss the potential sale of the loan book. It is also important to differentiate between those who have tried to engage and those who have not. There are many people who are not being heard in this debate who are struggling to pay their mortgages. There are business people, farmers and homeowners who are struggling, but who are paying their mortgages. There are others, however, who are not engaging with the banks, which is wrong. The banks' treatment of customers must be measured and balanced, fair and proportionate, but those who do not engage with them are wrong.
I accept that, but there is a balance to be struck. It is not a one-way street, as is often presented. There are people who will not engage, while there are others who are struggling to pay their mortgages. We all know people who are making sacrifices and engaging with the banks. Are we to abandon them, too? The answer is no, but we must be critical also. It is important to point out, as I did yesterday, that there are protections that will not be affected. It is important that we have a debate on the issue because nobody wants to see vulture funds preying on people and making vast sums of money on the back of their distress.
On foot of last night's "Prime Time" programme, Senator Gerry Horkan referred to the breast care service at St. James' Hospital. The hospital has assured the HSE that following the misdiagnosis that was revealed, it carried out a review that was appropriate and in line with agreed procedures. The HSE's National Cancer Control Programme, NCCP, has advised that in the review or look-back exercise no evidence of incompetence on the part of the pathologist involved was found. The NCCP and St. James's Hospital are of the view that another review based on the cases referenced is not warranted and point out that since 2010, a number of processes have been put in place. I agree with the Senator that care must be provided to give the patients involved confidence and peace of mind. As I said yesterday, receiving a cancer diagnosis is horrific in itself but to then discover that one might have been misdiagnosed is equally horrifying. We all accept that mistakes happen, but they should not. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Health to come to the House for a wide ranging debate on health issues.
I also join the Senator in his utter condemnation of the recent atrocities in Syria. The killing of innocent people is appalling in anyone's language. There is an obligation on the State, working through the United Nations or the European Union, to ensure there is accountability and that the regime will be held to account for its actions.None of us can condone or support what has happened in Syria.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of child care and the remarks of Mr. Fergus Finlay around the equal childhood campaign. All of us want to see equality of opportunity. The Government, through child care and education, is trying to enhance the lives of children and young people. I heard this morning's interview with Fergus Finlay. By any measure, to say that a report does not contain the word "poverty" is not a guide as to how one can view a Government or a political party's manifesto, whether it is Sinn Féin's or Fianna Fáil's. It is the actions and outcomes which are important.
Disadvantage is mentioned right across the national development plan. Equally, poverty is mentioned under the child care and education and lifelong learning parts of the document. It is important that affordable child care is available. Under the Government, 7,000 extra children have been brought into child care schemes. We have seen an extension of the early childhood care and education, ECCE, scheme and more access and inclusion for young people with special needs, as well as Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, supporting communities across the country.
It is important, however, to recognise that the most important way of getting people out of poverty is by people having jobs and providing more schools and school places. That is what the Government is committed to. I am happy to have this as part of the debate on the national development plan next Wednesday.
Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of Caranua. While I am not fully au faitwith the matter he raised, it is important that any redress scheme and any organisation involved with it should be held to account. If there are issues, then they should be looked at and addressed.
I apologise but I do not have the information to hand relating to Senator Mac Lochlainn's question on school accommodation. I know, however, as an educationalist in a school which was involved in a public private partnership, that it can be frustrating. A ten-year delay is inordinately long. I am not familiar with the exact intricacies of what has happened in the schools in question. The Minister is going to Donegal tomorrow and it is important the matter is resolved. The compulsory purchase order issue the Senator raised can only be done by the county council. It is an important issue and I wish for all involved that it will be resolved. Having taught in a classroom in a prefab with a storage heater that only worked half the time, its windows falling out and a leaking roof, I certainly would not wish anybody to be working in such conditions. That was during the time of the boom and bloom under Fianna Fáil. One can imagine what it is like now.
It is even better with new schools, new classrooms, new buildings and new technology. The future is good.
Senator Ruane raised the issue of the Prison Service and remarks made by the Irish Penal Reform Trust at the Committee on Education and Skills. As somebody who was involved in that aspect of education, the importance of a second chance and rehabilitation for people in our prison system is one I subscribe to and actively engage with. It was part of my job in Ballincollig community school to work with prison officers in Cork Prison to provide a hurley-making course which gave offenders an opportunity to have a trade and a skill. Several of them did quite well as a consequence of it. The levels of educational achievement and dropout are startling. This is a matter we need to address through inclusion and access to education and second chance. I am happy to have such a debate in the coming weeks.
Senator Coffey raised the importance of Waterford in the national development plan. He has been active in advocating for Waterford. There will be a debate on the plan next week. I would like to have a debate on the current state of decentralisation. I am sure Members opposite would too.
In his pertinent contribution, Senator Paul Daly raised the ongoing issue of the need for our farmers to be given a fair and proper price for their products. In this case he referred to potatoes. In some supermarkets, they are being sold for 99 cent or 49 cent a bag. It is important a fair price is given to the farmer in this case. I am not sure whether we need a regulator or an ombudsman, but farmers need to be looked after. From farm gate to table, they are being left out. I am happy to support any action in this regard. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is aware of this issue and has been putting measures in place. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter.
Senator Norris raised the issue of Permanent TSB. That debate will be held tomorrow. The issue of the pay and conditions of politicians is contentious. If we raise the matter, we are seen as greedy or precious. It is an important matter. There will be a debate next week about the pay and conditions of city and county councillors. Senator Norris could raise the issue then as part of that.
Senator McFadden spoke eloquently about the centrality of Athlone and it being the new regional capital in the midlands. I commend her on her advocacy in that regard. The roles of local authorities and town councils were decided by the previous Government. There is a review taking place. Deputy Cassells tabled a motion on this matter in the Lower House. Does reform of the Better Local Government programme mean we have more councils or fewer? That is debate we can have in the future.
I join Senator Gavan in welcoming the introduction of the living wage for workers in the Nestlé plant in Limerick. I hope all of us, as either employers or employees, will ensure people will have a just living wage. The Government and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, is committed to this. I would be happy to include this in the debate on the Low Pay Commission report. If I am not mistaken, IKEA was part of the living wage agreement. It gave an indication it supported it.
I know people who work in IKEA who came to me about it. Senator Byrne raised the issue of the importance of immunisation in the context of the Limerick measles epidemic. That is an initiative which Members need to promulgate. Vaccinations work and we must ensure that message is sent out to people throughout the country.
Senator Devine raised the issue of rapid-access clinics for patients with suspected prostate cancer. I do not have the specific information for community health care organisation, CHOs, areas 7 and 9. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach indicated, she may get a faster response to the specific issues if she raised them as a Commencement matter. Prostate cancer is one of the fastest growing diseases in the country and it kills.
Senator Ó Ríordáin's issue on education will be taken as a Commencement matter tomorrow.
Senator McDowell will be pleased to know that I do not have the answer to the Luas green line, other than the Government is making Dublin a better public transport place to be. There are issues at the moment but they will be ironed out. I will endeavour to facilitate his request to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, attend the House. He can put his pertinent question about the green line to him then. I do not share Senator Norris's view that they will take one look and go back underground. It will be of benefit to the city and to the people of Dublin.
Senator Warfield raised the important issue of the ERASMUS programme and the benefit of it to students, whether north, south, east or west, and across Europe. Brexit has put this programme into question. The national agencies responsible for ERASMUS are committed to it and it will be part of the Brexit negotiations process. Senator Warfield will have heard Jean-Claude Juncker's concerns that the programme was increasing the European libido. Up to 1 million babies have been born to couples who met on the ERASMUS programme. That in itself is a good support for it. Notwithstanding that, the benefits of it are ones that should be maintained for the students in the North of our country. I am happy for the Tánaiste and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to attend the House to discuss this important issue. I do not mean to denigrate Senator Warfield's remarks but Jean-Claude Juncker's comments on it were interesting.
Senator Mullen raised the important and timely issue of the overprescription of drugs. I am sure he saw the "Prime Time" programme last week with Professor Michael Barry and representatives of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, IPHA. Whether it is habit-forming or patient safety, it is an issue on which we need to have a national conversation. There are people who become addicted to prescription drugs. We are a nation guilty of overprescribing. Professor Michael Barry has strident views on it. I am happy to have this included in the wider health debate.
The Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, will attend the house tomorrow on the issue-----