Thursday, 10 May 2018
Order of Business
I want to raise a couple of issues in respect of the ongoing systems failure. The CervicalCheck scandal, the HSE and the hepatitis C scandal are all systems failures. We have a systems failure as to the reason Apple has abandoned the €850 million data centre in Athenry. That was abandoned because of a failure in our system in Ireland, which allowed so much delay to be imposed on Apple that it eventually decided to go elsewhere. In Denmark, the exact same data centre was completed while we had not even gone through the planning process.
Today we learn about people facing a mass eviction by a mysterious landlord. Some 40 tenants are being kicked out of their accommodation in north Dublin. Why? It is because our housing system does not work and because of the regulations around houses that make it unprofitable for people in the building industry to build houses and the enormous bureaucracy around the Government's current building programme. There needs to be checks and balances but, ultimately, if the system is too bureaucratic, it will fail people.
It has failed Vicky Phelan and Emma Mhic Mhathúna. Ms Mhic Mhathúna gave an emotional interview. Her five sons, one of whom is just a baby, have a mother who is dying of cancer as a result of a failure of the system. I thank the Leader for organising the debate on the issue of corporate manslaughter. The system is saying nobody is liable to face prison because of a systems failure. We are at the very beginning of this appalling tragedy for women. We should bear in mind that, of the 240 women who got hepatitis C and HIV because of the blood transfusion scandal, of those 1,700 women who had haemophilia, 112 died because of the blood transfusion service. Nobody went to jail because the system does not hold any individual accountable for his or her personal failings. They knew the blood products were contaminated and that people would die as a result but they gave them out anyway. They did the same in France. The system failed. We must either change the system or put people in jail. Those people do not care whether some other person dies as a result of their mismanagement, as we have seen in the HSE. If the Corporate Manslaughter Bill had been passed in 2013, as proposed by the Law Reform Commission in 2005, or if it had been passed in 2016, we would not be having inquiries. We would be having court cases and people would be going to jail. They would be held to account and, while the system would have failed the people, at least those women would be getting justice. They are the ones who are dying as a result of mismanagement in the HSE.
We just heard about the system. It is protected under the guise of a thing called the Carltona doctrine which allows public servants hide behind the Ministers. This morning's interview with Emma Mhic Mathúna was heartbreaking. Here was a young woman who did everything right, gave up her job to be a stay at home mother, raised her children and breastfed them when they were babies. She could not be a more perfect woman in my view. There is the absolute irony of Tony O’Brien, the current head of the HSE, walking out of his job with his pension in his pocket to take up a €65,000 a year job with Evofem Biosciences in San Diego. Its website shows it "is dedicated to developing a portfolio of innovative therapeutic solutions to meet the evolving sexual and reproductive health needs of millions of women globally". What sort of a bloody irony is that? The man who presided over the CervicalCheck scandal in this country is going to a company that claims this. According to the Evofem website it is "science with a soul" providing "innovative healthcare solutions" that "elevate the lives of women". They develop "woman-controlled, easy-to-use and accessible products. Because when a woman is in complete control today, she is in greater control of tomorrow." What sort of a company would employ a man who has just presided over this disaster?
I am sure all the bloody words we say in here are worth nothing to the 200-odd women who today are not sure of their future and to that poor woman who spoke this morning. It is all hot air because nobody is accountable. Nobody ever is accountable in this country. We walk away. If there is any sign that somebody is going to become accountable we give them their pension and ask them to leave and they sail off into the sunset. Goddammit this has been going on since the scandals that led to the economic crash. That was only money. Now we are talking about lives.
Somebody in the HSE knew and sat on that information and denied it those women. If it was my wife, my daughter or my sister, I would be down there with a gun today looking for them. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering that has been caused. I meet ordinary women in the street, good friends of mine who have had a clear diagnosis and tests and they are happy but they went through hell worrying anyway. I said it last week. I am at the age where I get a bowel screen every couple of years. I am wondering should I trust that. For some peculiar reason it seems the women in this country always get caught in these disasters. That is what they are. I do not know that a debate will do anything here. I would love a Minister to come in here and lay out who got the message first. What is his or her name? Who did he or she pass that message to? What was the line of communication that brought that to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, a few minutes before he walked into the Dáil? Give us the names of those people and tell us how they are going to be held accountable. Dammit to hell it is the very least the citizens of this country deserve and maybe if we do that, we will finish up in the situation that no public servant will ever again hide information.
I apologise to the women of Ireland for adding more bloody hot air to the concerns they have because that is all that is coming out of Leinster House at the moment.
I welcome the decisions by Facebook and Google this week to place restrictions on online advertising on their platforms in respect of the upcoming referendum on the eighth amendment. I also want to raise the issue of campaign regulations in elections and referenda in Ireland more generally. Reports have emerged over the past few weeks that Irish voters have been targeted by a range of deeply worrying social media campaigns, mainly in the form of dark advertising paid for by overseas actors which feature blatant untruths, biased information and misrepresentations of the issue we will vote on in two weeks. What most disturbed me was that many of those advertisements were intended to come up during kids' YouTube clips such as cupcake making. Youth Defence advertisements were coming up in very strange places telling kids to ask questions of their parents that they should not be forced to ask until their parents feel it appropriate to have those conversations.
The move by Facebook and Google is timely and proportionate to the concerns raised affecting the "Yes" and "No" campaigns equally and allows for a level playing field where digital advertising will have an organic and no longer disproportionate reach based on opaque and unaccountable funding sources. I particularly recognise the role played by our colleague, Senator Higgins, and the media in uncovering these tactics, particularly The Times, Ireland, and Channel 4, which showed a segment on the issue last night that I encourage everyone to watch because it highlighted just how underhanded and worrying these techniques are. We should not have to rely on media investigations and the actions of private technology companies to safeguard the integrity of our democratic system. We are trying to regulate a 21st century campaign with 20th century campaign law which does not incorporate or address in any way the growth of the Internet and social media as a campaign tool and is not fit for purpose. The strict regulations that we apply to broadcast and print traditional media must now be replicated in the digital spheres particularly in the light of what we know to be true about the recent US presidential election, the Brexit vote and the growth and proliferation of fake news.
We need to also consider electoral reform as the referendum process has shown up several significant drawbacks in the system. We need to create a full-time electoral commission, further empower the Standards in Public Office Commission, create a larger role for the Referendum Commission in respect of fact-checking and responding to the debate, initiate a major update of the registration system to include e-registering and provide greater access to postal voting, arrangements for overseas and emigrant voting and for the removal of cumbersome administrative barriers such as a garda witnessing a simple change of address. These are not difficult or controversial ideas but they would make a significant impact on the workings and operation of our democratic process. Can the Leader invite the Minister of State with responsibility for electoral reform to update the House on his proposals in this area? I would also be happy to consider legislative reform in the terms of a Private Member's Bill and for any Senators to work with me on that.
I echo what the previous two speakers said about the CervicalCheck scandal. I was not here last week when the statements were being made but I was one of those who had to ring that helpline. For many years, I have had to have pre-cancerous cells removed. My last smear was the first in ten years that was clear and I wondered was that smear that I had celebrated wrong. There are 200 women in a much worse situation than me but I was left to question my own health after ten years of abnormal smears. I support anything that is said about accountability in this area.
I did not have the opportunity this week to express my sadness at the death of Monica Barnes, former Deputy and Member of this House. I was a great admirer of hers and was delighted to welcome her on what was probably her last visit to Leinster House on 1 February to launch our Vótáil 100 programme along with other former women Members of the Oireachtas. She was a great campaigner and ally on many feminist and women's rights issues. I know we will have another occasion to pay tribute to her.
I also echo what others have said about the need for accountability in respect of the CervicalCheck story which seems to get progressively worse. I also offer my sympathy to Emma Mhic Mathúna on her recent diagnosis, having heard her most powerful and moving interview.It was utterly tragic news for her and her family to receive and I am sure we all empathise with them today.
I also support Senator Lynn Ruane's request for a debate after the referendum on necessary electoral reforms. I express my strong welcome for the announcement this week by Google that it would stop hosting all advertisements related to the referendum and hope Facebook will follow suit. What we were seeing in the widespread buying of advertising by a particular side was an attempt to manipulate the outcome of the referendum. As others said, we saw extensive use of social media manipulation in the Brexit referendum and the election campaign of President Donald Trump. There are huge concerns surrounding the use of data by Cambridge Analytica and others. I commend Senator Alice-Mary Higgins and other members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment for bringing up this issue, inviting representatives of Facebook and Google to appear before the committee and really pushing for change in this area. I really welcome that change which will see a fairer process in the remaining 15 days of the referendum campaign.
Like Senator Lynn Ruane, I would like to see more extensive reform beyond the regulation of social media and digital advertising, which clearly is needed. We need to see the reforms the Senator mentioned, including greater powers for the Referendum Commission and the Standards in Public Office Commission. We also need more extensive provision for postal voting and a less cumbersome application process to participate in postal voting and for late registration. There are two areas in which we have really fallen down as legislators in regulation, one of which is regulation of the content of posters which has become a huge issue in the referendum campaign. We are all being inundated with queries from constituents and others who are concerned about lies and misrepresentations on posters. Clearly, a body, either the Referendum Commission or a permanent electoral commission, should be empowered to take and address complaints, if necessary. We also need to impose a spending cap in referendum campaigns. There is a cap in every other type of election campaign but not for referendum campaigns. The absence of a cap facilitates the undermining of the democratic process, whereby one side can outspend another. We must look very carefully at the regulation needed to make our election and referendum processes fairer and more democratic in the future.
I inform colleagues that we heard very powerful testimony this morning at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence from Dr. Annie Sparrow, a paediatrician who has worked extensively in Syria. She elaborated on the appalling ongoing humanitarian crisis in that country, particularly for children, with whom she has been working. She has been trying to stem the outbreaks of polio in Syria as a result of the catastrophic war that has been ongoing for the past seven years. I was encouraged and motivated by her presentation to try to renew a cross-party motion on Syria. The Leader has been very helpful in that regard. I have also received support from all colleagues, with the unfortunate exception of Sinn Féin Senators. I hope that this time we will see support from Sinn Féin for an all-party motion on Syria condemning the appalling atrocities being committed against civilians.
-----because I have no doubt that a compromise can be reached, but it needs to be done properly.
Anybody who listened to "Morning Ireland" this morning would have heard Ms Emma Mhic Mhathúna, a 37 year old mother of five children, say she was dying but did not need to be and that her anger outweighed her fear of dying. While I hate saying this, the question must be asked as to whether it amounts to corporate manslaughter. What has happened to women like Emma which did not need to happen is absolutely scandalous, yet nobody is accountable. I met the man in charge coming out of a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts as I came to the House. What does it take? What is it going to take for somebody to be held accountable? What is it going to take for somebody to put up his or her hands and say, "This happened on my watch. It happened under me"? I am not going to say any more about it today because I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be another Emma next week.
I want to look at the process of reconciliation on the island and the way it was turned into a political farce yesterday at Westminster. Victims have been let down by Mrs. Teresa May in preferring to pander to the worst elements of the Tory Party. I heard her being interviewed by Mr. Andrew Marr on Sunday when she made the scandalous suggestion everybody should be forced to speak the Irish language, as well as other nonsense that just beggars belief. The information she gave on legacy cases was inaccurate and is directly contradicted by the PSNI. The majority of historical investigations are being carried out into the actions of republicans and loyalists. An immediate release of funding for the legacy inquest plan is required for the commencement of consultation. Yesterday's actions at Westminster showed that the idea of nationalists taking seats there was more irrelevant than ever. I hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement robustly responds to these false claims. Reconciliation and closure are needed by all those who have suffered as a result of the conflict. This needs honesty and openness, not political meddling by a dysfunctional government in Britain. Some families have been waiting for 40 years for an inquest into the deaths of their loved ones. The funding must be released and the process must begin. The worst scenario is for people to die and never know the true account of what happened to their loved ones. There is a lot of nonsense going on. Just because people are wearing a uniform does not make them exempt in the context of criminal activity. They should not hide behind this; neither should Mrs. May. Progress is needed and the Government must stand up on the issue. Some of the commentary I have heard suggests it has done so, but it really needs to stand up to the British Government and not let the nonsense from Mrs. May, backed up by the Secretary of State, Ms Karen Bradley, go unchallenged. I was disgusted when I heard it yesterday.
I join others who have said the cervical smear issue constitutes a huge tragedy and is quite dreadful. It will be addressed later by the Fine Gael spokesperson on health, Senator Colm Burke, the Leader of the House and others in the Fine Gael Seanad group.
I raise another health related issue. Sadly, each health issue has stand-alone importance. I want to speak about the 12,000 people who are living with Parkinson's disease. There is an excellent branch of the Parkinson's Association of Ireland in my county which is home to 200 sufferers. It is a hugely difficult disease for the individuals affected and their families. The Parkinson's Association of Ireland has 19 branches nationwide. It employs a CEO and an administrator and runs a helpline. It receives no direct funding from the State, unlike several other support groups for those affected by various degenerative neurological conditions. A nationwide Parkinson's disease nurse specialist service which has proved to be worthwhile needs to be supported. The availability of more nurses would reduce the number of inpatient stays in dealing with problems early. There are five such posts, one of which has been vacant for months. It is about to be filled by a part-time nurse specialist, but more specialist nurses must be recruited to cover all areas of the country and provide essential services for those with Parkinson's disease who have the same rights as any other group. It is disgraceful that I even have to raise the matter in the House. Deep brain stimulation surgery can greatly alleviate the symptoms of the disease for some patients, but it is not available in Ireland. This means that patients have to travel abroad for pre-surgery screening, surgery and follow-up care. These are the three central issues of concern for persons with Parkinson's disease and the Parkinson's Association of Ireland.I ask the Leader to bring the concerns of this House - I know my own concerns are shared by everyone here - to the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and to facilitate a debate on this issue in the future. I also ask the Leader to publicly support this important cause. There are huge issues across health. My colleagues will shortly address tragic ones. This issue, however, cannot be lost in the midst of them.
As a former teacher and a current member of my local school's board of management, I want to raise the removal of history and geography as core subjects for the junior cycle. This a regressive step. I am not going to stand here and be hypocritical as I stood here before looking for the inclusion of farm safety, along with other things. I know the logistical nightmare that is timetabling in schools and that three will never go into two. If we include one thing we have to remove something else. History and geography, however, are two of the subjects that form the nation's psyche and give us uniqueness. If we do not know our history and where we came from it blinkers our focus and our vision as to where we are going. The Minister should come in and discuss this issue. I hope it is not a fait accompli. Perhaps we can think outside the box. If it not possible for these two subjects to be part of the core timetable, perhaps we can incorporate them into other core subjects.
For example, there could be a brief synopsis of our history in literature form. It could be used in English for reading, spelling and grammar. While students study English or Irish, they would also get knowledge of our history. It could be likewise within IT, a relatively new subject in many schools. Why not incorporate history and geography research as part of IT training? I hope we can think outside of the box. It would be regressive if we lost history and geography as core subjects. My fear is the next generation in my end of the country might never even know where Cork is and the great historical role it played in the formation of our nation. We need the Minister to come to the House to talk about this and not just let this happen. If it is to happen for the logistical reasons I have mentioned, perhaps we can come up with some alternative so that future generations know the great history of this country. It formed us as a nation and will influence our formation into the future.
I join with my colleagues in saying that our thoughts today are with the people who are getting - or have gotten - the news on the results of CervicalCheck. These results were previously inaccurately reported. It is a challenging time for them, their families and for the wider community as well. It is also a challenging time for people working in the health service. The workload in all of the clinics across the country has increased dramatically. I refer to general practitioners and everyone involved in the healthcare area. We should support them. It is also important that we plan for the future.
One of the problems, about which we need to do something, is to provide a huge amount of information and that is lacking. The whole process of the screening programme may, to an extent, have given a false impression that once a person got the result they were guaranteed that it was proof of safety. It now turns out that it was not. The big issue in this case was that smears were taken which clearly identified there was cancer but that was not identified. That is the issue now. There is also the wider issue that none of these health programmes is 100%. We need to get a lot more information out there. I agree with colleagues in that regard.
There is a need for accountability. The person who was in charge of CervicalCheck has stepped aside and another person is no longer in the post they held. They were in charge of the whole CervicalCheck programme. However, much more needs to be done. One of the issues in respect of litigation in the medical area is that the only people who are in the courts are the doctors and nurses. There is no accountability among people in administration who may have delayed the process of getting the claim dealt with. We need far more accountability.
Also on litigation, we need to be mindful that last year something like €300 million was paid out in claims. There was then €300 million less for healthcare. It does not come directly from the healthcare budget, but it comes from the overall budget. If we settled every current claim, it would cost over €2 billion. We need to be mindful that we need to put in adequate resources so we can reduce the level of litigation. When errors occur, it is important that people are adequately compensated. It will never put them back into the position they were in prior to the error being made but it is important that is taken into account as well. We have a major challenge. We need accountability and we need it across all the sectors involved in this case, whether it is the medical or the administration side.
This morning I brought up a Commencement matter. Unfortunately, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, understandably but disappointingly, was not available. Another Minister took the Commencement matter. The competition for the next director general of the HSE needs to be transparent and accountable. Most of all we need an open competition. To my absolute horror, the HSE cannot find a job description for the director general. It has been like this for years. I asked that we make sure we have a criterion that it is an open competition. I want to know who is on the interview panel. We cannot parachute people, as was done with the most recent one, into posts. I also emphasis the need for clinical experience and not just managerial experience. I refer to hands on clinical experience and that people do not forget what it is like to be a patient or a worker within our health service.
Perhaps we can ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to come into this House. I want to ask him where are the plans the HSE said it would roll out to upskill people in this country. I refer to work, slides and smear tests, etc. being done in-house or shared between ourselves and Britain. Closer to home would make it much more secure and more accountable. When it was outsourced, we did not have the skills either here or in Britain. Those plans to upskill people need to be advanced at a rapid pace. The company or the service needs to be made public. The service needs to be shared between ourselves and the UK.
I was not going to speak on the issue of cancer. I spoke on it yesterday regarding the lack of accountability and the need for accountability at the top management level of the HSE. After listening to the extraordinary interview this morning on "Morning Ireland", we need to look at that issue again. Accountability is very much required at the top of the HSE. We need to look at the issue of confidence in the HSE as a people and as a Chamber. It was a frightening interview. Anyone who has a wife or kids would feel it is the big issue at which we have to look.The confidence is not there. We have to grasp the nettle and deal with these issues in the short term.
I intended to raise an issue mundane in comparison, namely, the lack of ESB power in my part of the world over the past six to eight months. We have experienced at least seven power outages affecting large parts of Carrigaline, Minane Bridge and Nohoval, with some almost reaching Kinsale. Yesterday, the power was out again, as it was last Sunday for three hours. ESB has a Third World network in parts of the country and that needs to be addressed. It is an issue that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment must be aware of in order that he does something to ensure people have continuous electric power. It is a basic service in this day and age and it is bizarre that there have been seven outages in this part of the world since last November. This needs to be brought to the attention of the Minister and ESB Networks to ensure we do not continue to experience these outages going forward. It affects the credibility of our tourism industry and it also has a damaging affect on our agricultural industry and on householders who had no power for three hours on a Sunday of a bank holiday weekend. The Minister needs to talk to ESB Networks to get something done.
I extend my sympathy and gratitude to Emma Mhic Mhathúna following her moving interview this morning and for telling her story. It must not have been easy. It is a dark day for the country.
I am perplexed by the Minister for Education and Skills' proposed policy on school place allocation. He has hit on a new policy of intrinsic discrimination. Under the proposed legislation, if pupils seek to enrol in school with a Catholic ethos and they are Catholic, from the catchment area and their parents and siblings or both have attended the school, there is no guarantee of a place but that place could be allocated to a pupil who is not Catholic, does not prescribe to the ethos of the school, does not have parents or siblings who attended the school previously and who probably has little or no ties to the area. Why is it okay and good to discriminate against children who are intrinsically linked to schools in their area? Will the Leader invite the Minister to come to the House to explain this crazy policy? Perhaps the newspaper reports are not correct but if they are, they are beyond belief.
Following the horrific radio interview I mentioned, Ms Catherine Heaney of the National Museum commented on its good working relationship with the Houses of the Oireachtas and she also mentioned the "very nice space in front of Leinster House". Ms Heaney would be better off concentrating on the museum's work. The beautiful, tactile room we are in now was used for storage prior to us restoring it to its current grandeur. It would be better if Ms Heaney looked after the affairs of the museum and did not worry about Leinster House.
I wish to raise again services at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, NRH, Dún Laoghaire and the provision of rehabilitation services throughout the country. During my first week in the House, I made it clear that I would make this a key issue and I have raised it at least 13 times. Last week, I received a letter from the Taoiseach about it, and while I appreciate his response and the request he has made of the Minister for Health, who is understandably busy this week, to report back to him, some of the same 12 beds that were closed in the hospital during the first week in January 2017 remain closed this week. The hospital board and management want to reopen them. We have been informed that the HSE has a funding difficulty in this regard. Six of the beds have been reopened but six remain closed. It is a scandal at a time when our hospitals are in crisis and there are substantial waiting lists to avail of services in the NRH. Patients who are due to transfer to the hospital are blocking beds in other acute hospitals through no fault of their own, which is unsatisfactory. I have spoken to the Leader previously about this matter and he has pursued it, but it is important to keep it on the agenda. I appreciate the Minister for Health is extraordinarily busy at the moment, but I would like to report in two or three weeks that the six remaining beds have reopened because it is an important issue.
I wish to raise two issues. I support Senator Bacik's call for a debate following the referendum on electoral reform. I would like to broaden that debate to include a preliminary discussion on Seanad reform. Senator McDowell is chairing an all-party committee in this regard, but we should discuss Seanad reform during a debate on electoral reform and put forward ideas for him to mull over.
We will take Report Stage of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 next week. Senator Freeman has been very involved in the legislation over recent years. I ask Members to participate in the charity walk, Darkness into Light, this weekend. Many years ago, I took part in it for the first time and the following year I organised a walk in Naas. I had discussions with Senator Freeman at the time regarding the use of yellow T-shirts.
The event this weekend is an opportunity for people who have been bereaved by suicide to congregate and it is also an opportunity for us to meet them and bring their thoughts to the Chamber. All of us at some stage in our lives have been in a dark spot but we have been lucky enough to find the light. Others have not and we should be supportive of them whenever possible. Next week I would like us to discuss the expenditure of mental health services funding and whether there will be funding to implement some of the proposed amendments to the legislation. Funding has been available for years but it has not been spent, and I would like to ensure that whatever funding is available is used to help properly those who need it in order that they can move from darkness into light.
I join other Members in expressing my deepest sorrow and heartbreak as I heard Emma on "Morning Ireland" this morning. It is one of the hardest and most heartbreaking interviews I have ever witnessed. I compliment Ms Audrey Carville on the manner in which she conducted that difficult interview. It really brings home in the starkest form the reality of what has happened in our health service. Ms Mhic Mhathúna went on to describe a dream she had that she was passing away and losing her life but she did not get the opportunity to say goodbye to her children. It was heartbreaking and I cannot imagine for one minute what that lady and her family are going through. We owe it to her and many others to get to the bottom of this so that confidence can be restored in our health services. The quicker we get to that point, the better.
I rise today to mention another matter that caused me great concern and alarm when I came across statistics from the Central Statistics Office, CSO. They indicate over 300,000 crimes were committed by people on bail in this country between 2003 and 2016. That works out at a startling 2,000 crimes per month committed by criminals out on a bail merry-go-round, if I can call it that. We are all aware of numerous examples of serious crimes committed by people on bail, sometimes tragically ending in a fatality, with innocent people losing their lives. It is a scandal that needs to be addressed. We cannot allow the position to continue where innocent people are exposed to burglary or serious crime committed by people out on bail. We have a duty to protect innocent people and they should be our priority.
I know there is a commitment within the programme for Government on the electronic tagging of criminals out on bail. This must be fast-tracked. We can consider that the cost of keeping a person in prison for 24 hours is approximately €160 compared with the estimated €6 per day cost of electronic tagging. It is time for it to be introduced so our citizens can get proper protection. For that reason I ask the Leader to invite the appropriate Minister to the House to advise us on the status of this legislation.
At the outset I thank colleagues who supported the Bill I brought before the House last evening seeking to bring transparency and enhanced accountability to the local government sector in Ireland. Given that much of today's debate has focused on accountability within the public service and health service, despite the fact that Fine Gael Senators opposite did not support the Bill last night, I hope they will reflect on that. I genuinely believe that the honourable Fine Gael Senators in the House share our views and we can work together-----
I suppose the point I was trying to make concerned accountability in public service, which many Senators raised today. Very often politicians are held accountable by the electorate in every cycle but although we have brilliant civil and public servants in this country, we also have civil and public servants who are not held accountable. The women of Ireland deserve answers. We heard the alarming interview this morning from Ms Emma Mhic Mhathúna and it sent shivers down everybody's spine. We all have sisters, wives, cousins, friends and other women who deserve better than the answers they are receiving this morning at the Committee of Public Accounts from the leadership team in the Health Service Executive.
The Health Service Executive published a new guidelines document on a performance and accountability framework for 2017 but it is not abiding by its own principles or document with this issue. The document provides for the redeployment, expulsion or sacking of individuals who are not performing as they should within the HSE. We need accountability and performance indicators, and we need to see individuals held to account.
The entrenched position being adopted by the leadership team of the HSE is doing nothing to boost the confidence of women in the country now. People in those positions must reflect on them and resign as quickly as possible. We cannot allow the women of Ireland to be treated for one more day in the manner in which they have been. They are frightened and afraid. They do not know whether to accept the results or if their lives are in danger because they are carrying an illness. That is unacceptable. The confidence in the leadership team in the HSE is no longer there and their positions are no longer tenable.
I thank the 15 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senators Mark Daly, Craughwell, Ruane, Colm Burke, Conway-Walsh, O'Reilly, Lombard, Davitt and, indirectly, Boyhan, Devine, Gallagher and Ó Domhnaill all mentioned the cervical cancer screening issue. It is harrowing and distressing for any person to be told he or she has cancer but to have to go on public radio with our national broadcaster and reveal with such emotion what has happened is unacceptable. Senator Ó Domhnaill is right that the women of Ireland deserve better. I cannot imagine the pain and distress that Emma Mhic Mhathúna and the other women are going through. I am very emotional about this because it affects all of us. We all have stories of members of our families diagnosed with cancer and given the news that it is terminal in some cases. It is unbelievable that we must see pain and suffering being endured by people on a daily basis because of a failure to do a job for whatever reason.
I will make this clear, as I have done in this Chamber every day since the scandal emerged. We need accountability and people to be held to account. The buck must stop somewhere. It is why the Government established a statutory inquiry to uncover all the facts.
That is why the Government is determined to get it right. It is about getting all the information and facts so as to restore confidence in the cervical cancer screening programme. We must do that. That brave woman, Emma Mhic Mhathúna, was part of the HPV vaccine advertisement. It shows what we must do and that illustrates the importance of the scoping inquiry. We must get all the information so people like Senator Ruane do not have to come in here and tell her story of sitting in her house, worrying and wondering. There are so many other people affected, including sisters, wives, mothers and girlfriends. This is unprecedented.
The Government cares about what happens.Those of us on this side of the House are as angry and upset as those Members on the other side who have spoken. We also understand that this is about people and that what has happened is unacceptable. We feel every bit as let down as other Senators but the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, as well as all members of the Government, are committed to ensuring that we get the full facts and that we hold people to account.
Senator Daly is right when he says that the system must hold people to account. That is why the issue of Apple is very disappointing.
It is disappointing in terms of people leaving our country but also in terms of investment coming in, and the Senator is correct in that regard. I wish to make it clear, in the context of Apple and Galway, that the Government and the IDA did everything possible to encourage and entice Apple to invest. I think two people objected-----
-----one of whom was not even living in the area. This is not just about a systems failure. We all want to see the democratic process at work in the context of planning matters. At the same time, in this case a person who was not even living in the area objected to this development and the whole system came tumbling down. What do we do? The Government was criticised for introducing the strategic planning initiative. If there were no proper planning processes, we would be criticised. If we try to take councillors out of the planning process and leave it solely in the hands of planners, that raises other issues and perspectives. I am happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss-----
It could, and I am not arguing against what Senator Craughwell is saying. To respond to Senator Mark Daly, it raises the question as to what is the best system for planning. I do not want to see what Senator Craughwell has suggested, whereby foreign direct investors will not come to Ireland, and that is the problem we face.
On housing, we had a debate last week with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We will invite him to the House again to discuss the matter further.
Senators Ruane, Bacik and Lawlor raised the matter of electoral reform in light of the decision by Google to ban referendum related advertising for the remainder of the campaign. I welcome the decisions by Facebook and Google and agree that we need to have an absolute tightening up of regulations around social media and not just in the context of referenda. Social media is the new campaign platform for a new generation. As I said on yesterday's Order of Business, we need to see the establishment of an electoral commission as a matter of priority. Indeed, such a commission is included in the programme for Government. I hope that people will disregard some of the information on the posters used during this referendum campaign. It is disappointing that there is no regulation of what can be included on posters, whether for elections or referendums, other than the name and address of the publisher and printer. It is important that we see real reform of our electoral processes and I am happy to organise a debate on same.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of an all-party motion and debate on Syria. I am quite happy to have that debate but I am sorry that we cannot have it this week or even next week. We will endeavour to have that debate as soon as possible. In the meantime, I urge Senator Bacik to continue to reach out to the other political parties so that we can have an all-party motion on which everyone in the House is agreed. Senator Bacik is right that we must condemn the atrocities that are happening in Syria and condemn all involved.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of events in Westminster and comments by the British Prime Minister. The Tánaiste is in London today and since his appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade he has always been very strong, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, in defending and standing up for our interests and in putting forward a strong case for Ireland, and I know he will do so again.
Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the very important issue of services for those with Parkinson's disease. He is very involved with the Parkinson's Association of Ireland branch in Cavan. He made reference to the need for more specialist Parkinson's nurses and for support for the helpline run by the association. In essence, he raised the need for more investment in services for those with Parkinson's disease. It is a degenerative neurological disease which is devastating for those affected and their families. It is important that services are provided, including day care, helpline support and administration. Senator O'Reilly makes a good case for direct Government funding for the association and I am happy to invite the Minister for Health to the House to discuss the matter further.
I agree with Senator Paul Daly that history and geography should be core subjects in our education system. They encourage curiosity and enhance our ability to understand our past to know where we are going. This is essential in the context of the knowledge economy and I agree with the Senator's remarks in that regard. I am not sure why the Senator raised this matter but I am happy to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss it further.
Senator Colm Burke also raised the issue of litigation and we will have that debate in due course. Senator Devine raised the matter of the appointment of the next director general of the HSE. I share her concerns and her view that the appointment process should be open and transparent. My understanding is that the post will be advertised through publicjobs.ie, as with all other public sector appointments. The Public Appointments Service is independent of Government but we certainly need to look at how we advertise senior posts. As with the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner, I hope that we can reach beyond our own shores if necessary. The position of director general of the HSE is a very important one and I am of the view that it should have been advertised before now. If one takes the example of the GAA, when its director general, Mr. Paraic Duffy, announced his intention to retire, his post was advertised immediately. It is important that we get it right in the context of the HSE.
The Sláintecare report, which is the roadmap for the future of health services in this country, has sections dealing with that issue. It is important that we have someone at the helm who is going to lead and to bring about reform and accountability. To be fair, that is what the Minister for Health is trying to achieve. The job is an important one and I accept the points made by Senator Devine about the criteria for the appointment and how it is done. I am of the view that it must be done in a public and transparent way. I am sorry that the Minister could not be here today to discuss it. I did not see the reply the Senator received to the Commencement matter that she raised but we will have that discussion as part of a general debate on health in the coming weeks.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of the ESB and the lack of power in Carrigaline, Minane Bridge and Kinsale over the bank holiday weekend. This illustrates the need for investment in and the upgrading of the ESB network. I know that the ESB is doing work in some parts of Cork at the moment, but it needs to take note of Senator Lombard's remarks also.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of potential amendments to the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill by the Minister for Education and Skills. My understanding is that the catchment area condition will not be affected. If a pupil is living in the catchment area of a school, he or she will not be affected. The Minister has announced that he is removing the role of religion in school admissions for virtually all primary schools.He will provide that Irish language schools will give priority to Irish-speaking children. He will also provide that a school will be required to open a special class for children with special needs where the NCSE determines it is necessary to do so. We all agree that it is unfair that a child of no religion from a locality is passed over in favour of another of the religion who is living some distance away from the school. We all agree that that should not be the case, as I do as a school teacher. Parents should not feel pressured to have their children baptised to gain access to the local school. That is what we are trying to change. We are not being discriminatory. From my understanding of what the Minister is proposing-----
Senator Victor Boyhan referred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. It is welcome that six beds have been opened. However, I do not have the answer the Senator requires. He has been prolific in raising the matter of the number of beds in the hospital, as has Senator Maura Hopkins. Senator Victor Boyhan has raised the issue 13 times. It warrants us posing the question as to why the other six beds are not being opened if money has been allocated and the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach are committed to opening them? The Senator attended the opening with them. It beggars belief that the HSE has not done what it was asked to do, but, as I said, I do not have the answer for the Senator that he requires. However, I commend him for raising the issue because it is important that the beds are opened.
I commend Senator Tony Lawlor for his very positive contribution on mental health. The Leas-Chathaoirleach ruled on the issue of wearing the t-shirt. It is a symbol that gives light and hope to people.
I congratulate all those who will be involved in the Darkness into Light walk next Friday night-Saturday morning and commend all those who will participate. I congratulate Senator Tony Lawlor on being involved in Naas. He is right - it is about all of us finding a positive space. Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor spoke about the matter yesterday. It is about talking, sharing and working together to alleviate the sense of loneliness, depression, isolation and vulnerability to ensure better mental health for everyone.
I commend Senator Robbie Gallagher's research into the bail figures to determine the numbers of those who reoffend. The numbers are startling and highlight the need to continue to shine a light on the issue of those who are granted bail. If we believe in restorative justice and rehabilitation, we cannot incarcerate everybody. There would not be prison places for the 3,000 people in question, some of whom should not be in prison. The Senator is right - there is a need to address the issue to monitor those who offend repeatedly and send a proper message in that regard. I am mindful that it was the Senator's party, under the great John O'Donoghue, which promoted the concept of zero tolerance. I wonder where it went, but it is an issue that needs to be highlighted. I also agree with the Senator on electronic tagging. We should see it being expedited as part of the programme for Government.
I congratulate Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill on his victory last night with his Bill, to which I spoke. The Leas-Chathaoirleach will not let me repeat my speech on Second Stage and I will not do so, but it is important that we have accountability at all levels of local government, the public service, the Civil Service or any organ of the State. We are accountable to the electorate. We go before the people and are voted in or out.