Wednesday, 16 May 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 2.15 p.m. if not previously concluded; No. 2, Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1 but no earlier than 1.45 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 4 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, statements regarding special education provision, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.30 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 65, motion 12, Private Members' business, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. with the time allocated not to exceed two hours.
This month is mental health awareness month and we should all undertake to shine a light on mental health. Fianna Fáil's Mental Health (Amendment) Bill is going through its Final Stages today and I hope everyone in this House will support it.
I am concerned by the fact that the number of children waiting for CAMHS services continues to rise in this city. The latest figures, for March, show a further increase in the number on the CAMHS waiting list in the capital, from 156 at the end of 2017, to 164. We all talk about early intervention being the best way to improve outcomes for children but we see absolutely no action. It is incumbent on the Minister for Health to look at CAMHS services as children and adolescents are our future and we need to invest in them now. Early intervention is crucial. This also applies to waiting lists for speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. The waiting lists are getting bigger and nobody seems to be getting any treatment.
My second issue relates to housing and, particularly, the rental market in Dublin. We have a peculiar situation here with tourists in residential accommodation and the homeless in hotels. In 2017, Dublin City Council spent €97.48 million on emergency accommodation, with some hotels in our city being paid over €1 million. We learn from a daft.iereport today that over half of rental properties in Dublin are listed on a short-term basis only. That means 53% of homes on the Dublin rental market are not available to long-term tenants. It is easy to remedy this. It has been brought to the Government's attention time and time again. The Government must put in place legislation to disincentivise this market behaviour. It has been highlighted before and it is time for the Government to take action.
This is my first opportunity to address the House since the very disappointing decision by Apple to scrap its plans for a data centre in Athenry in Galway. I can tell Senators that, even from my brief discussions with the business community in the US, this has generated a real negative feel factor about the investment environment in Ireland. I am deeply concerned that, having invested so much political capital in Europe to protect our corporation tax rate, we have lost sight of other key pillars of what investors are looking at when they are thinking about entering, or expanding in the Irish market.
Clearly, our planning process, and within that our court system, have proven a total and absolute barrier to economic development. This is not something that can be simply shrugged off or seen as an isolated case. When a major brand like Apple takes a decision like this, it resonates in boardrooms right across corporate America and, I am sure, further afield. We are constantly competing with other similar-sized and larger countries who seek to emulate our model, and the investment community needs to see this Government respond in a meaningful way.
There are many lessons which must be learned from the Apple case that, in my view, are not as complex as perhaps some seem to make out. The most important one is time. It took six months for Galway County Council to approve planning for the data centre, which in my mind does not seem an unreasonable length of time for a project of this magnitude. However, what happened after that is deeply disappointing. It took a full 12 months from the appeal of Galway County Council's decision to An Bord Pleanála to be determined, and that appeal upheld the council's planning approval. It then took 14 months from that decision, which was challenged before the High Court in the Commercial Court, which is supposed to be a fast-tracked court for Mr. Justice McDermott to deliver a judgment, which again upheld the original planning approval. It took a further seven months after that decision for the Supreme Court to decide only that it was willing to hear an appeal.
This means that, in total, from the formal planning application to the Supreme Court decision to admit the appeal a few days ago, a total of three years and three months have elapsed. Quite frankly, this is some kind of a sick joke of a system for an economic development of this nature, and I do not use that language lightly. There has been a lot of talk about the objectors and their vested interests or otherwise, but in my view that deflects from the central issue. One of the largest brands in the world, which employs 5,500 people here, chose Ireland for a further almost €1 billion investment and our planning and legal system, despite upholding that everything which Apple was intending to do was completely lawful, took three years and three months to deliver its decision, with a further one potentially pending if Apple had decided to stick around.
I do not blame Apple. Why would any business stick around when faced with another 12, if not 18, months after an almost three and half year debacle? I recognise that the Government has announced changes so that major infrastructure projects will go through An Bord Pleanála first, but that body took one year in the Apple case, whereas the council actually took six months. I equally recognise the announcement by the President of the High Court, in a practice direction issued in February this year, that Mr. Justice Barniville is specially assigned to exclusively deal with all applications for permission to challenge decisions concerning strategic infrastructure developments.This is welcome, but I question whether it goes far enough. If a person challenges what is thought to be a quicker decision made by this new specially assigned court, what will stop the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court causing further delays, only later to uphold the original decision when the investment might be gone?
In the United States it is common in certain state courts, including appeal courts, for specific deadlines to be imposed for a court to deliver a judgment. Why can a similar system not be introduced here for certain cases? Similarly, if all major infrastructure projects are to be brought directly before An Bord Pleanála why can we not mandate specific maximum timelines and then impose similar timelines for the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court? The global investment community needs to know that we want its big capital investment projects in this country and that the shambles with Apple will never be repeated. I am deeply concerned that this message has not been conveyed. We must have more innovative thinking that will offer investors absolute certainty that this country remains open for business.
I wish to congratulate our two new Members, Senators Marshall and Lawlor. I look forward to working with them.
I wish to convey my condolences to the family of Tom Murphy. I pay tribute to Tom Murphy for his wonderful works and creativity. Rural Ireland, in particular, is much better off due to the life of Tom Murphy. I commend all the work he did to highlight the torture of emigration over the decades. He had an understanding of what it was like to tear families and communities apart. Unfortunately, the same thing is still happening today.
I am currently attending meetings of the health committee. It appears that the more we pursue this debacle and scandal, the more questions are raised and the fewer answers are given. On the one hand we are being given an apology, with people saying it is terrible that this has happened and apologising, yet it is obvious from the documentation that was produced in the last number of days that some of the same officials who appeared before the committee last week did not disclose in a transparent way what they should have disclosed. They are still fighting to keep secret the information on who knew what, and when people knew it. I do not believe that the Minister did not know about that. I am speaking personally. I do not believe it, and the more I hear the more I do not believe it. I cannot for the life of me figure out-----
The reason I find it incredibly hard to believe is that I have been looking at the documentation, which is about how to conceal this, dripping out the information and having the headlines and everything ready. There is also the language used. To think that it would not have escalated to the Minister is beyond credible. We have the documentation from some of the meetings - undoubtedly we do not have it from all of them - and the progress updates for the audit. In each of them, the numbers were increasing all the time and it was obvious to everybody reading them that there was a problem. The language was about how to drip feed this, address the headlines and the legal process for it. That the boss, the man in charge at the top, would not have known about this or would not have been told is beyond belief.
I am delighted to hear the tributes to Tom Murphy. He was an extraordinary, wonderful writer who reached deeply into Ireland and parts of Ireland's experience and imagination that sometimes were never given proper focus. I wrote about him in my thesis many years ago. "Bailegangaire" was one of the most influential plays in my life. He captured not only the realities and sometimes the cruelties of existence in times of pressure but also the passion for life and the extraordinarily transcendent power of the imagination. He celebrates what it is to be able to tell one's stories in difficult circumstances. I am thinking of all those who are telling their stories in difficult circumstances at present in Ireland, and I hope we can move out of the silence and into a space where we can all speak again with regard to the other decision being made on 25 May.
The other issue I wish to raise is different from the extraordinary work of literature and theatre which has so often told Ireland difficult truths about itself. It is the works of manipulation we are seeing in the online space. This might be a useful opportunity to place in context what we have been discussing in Ireland. This week Facebook announced that it had to close 283 million fake accounts in just three months. That is a reminder of the scale of misinformation, misrepresentation and manipulation that is taking place in the online space.
In Ireland also, a multiplicity of accounts are being closed down while other accounts are being opened. I welcome that the Government has indicated that it wishes to examine and support the work on transparency and regulation in the online media space. Can the Leader ensure that in that cross-departmental work which has been indicated by the Taoiseach - I give credit to Deputy James Lawless on this because while he is of a different political persuasion from me he has done great work in this area - those from different parties and none across the Oireachtas will be able to engage in that process in some way? Perhaps he could also indicate the timelines for that process.
I wish to be associated with the remarks on the great loss of the wonderful contemporary Irish playwright, Tom Murphy. He is a loss to the Irish arts community, Irish culture and the Irish nation. It is the job of a playwright to hold a mirror up to the nation and to give expression to the nation and, indeed, the dispossessed and marginalised in a nation. Tom Murphy did that skilfully and successfully as one of Ireland's finest contemporary playwrights.
This is also my first opportunity to congratulate Senators Marshall and Lawlor on their election to the House. I congratulate my colleague, Senator Lawlor, in particular as I worked with him in the previous Dáil. He is a great addition to this House and I wish him every success during his term here.
Next Saturday is World Inflammatory Bowel Disease Day. Inflammatory bowel disease, IBD, covers the conditions known as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and approximately 20,000 people in this country are living with IBD. I am one of them but, thankfully, I have been well and healthy for some time.
One way of avoiding lengthy and often avoidable hospital stays is to appoint what are known as IBD specialist nurses. The Irish Society for Colitis and Crohn's Disease had a meeting with the Minister for Health six months ago to seek a commitment from him to appoint 14 additional inflammatory bowel disease expert nurses to assist patients in the better management of their condition and to keep them out of hospital. A statement was made by the HSE, and by the Minister to the best of my recollection, in November last year that 120 additional advanced nurse practitioners would be appointed. Some of those nurses have been appointed, but to different disciplines.
I ask the House to support me and the Irish Society for Colitis and Crohn's Disease in calling for the appointment of 14 additional inflammatory bowel disease nurses to help the 20,000 IBD patients across the country to manage their conditions better and to keep them out of hospital. Many Members of the House will be familiar with this debilitating condition which can keep people out of work for a long time and affects families and relationships. This is a no-brainer. It makes vast economic sense. For a small investment we can engage double the current number of inflammatory bowel disease nurses and ensure there is a proper regional spread across the country. It would be timely, in advance of the celebration of World IBD Day next Saturday, if the Minister would make a statement committing to doubling the number of IBD nurses in the country to assist the growing number of patients with IBD.
I take serious exception to Senator Rose Conway-Walsh's comments about the Minister, Deputy Harris, who is one of the most sincere, hard-working politicians this country has ever had. It is a disgrace for her to have said that about him.
I ask her to withdraw it. I also have a question for her. Does Sinn Féin actually believe that Gerry Adams was never a member of the IRA?
I wanted to speak this morning because I am very concerned about Claire Byrne's RTÉ programme on Monday night. A lot was said about it yesterday but I was horrified at some of the comments I saw on Facebook last night. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have always said that children with Down's syndrome should not be used on posters because it is wrong, but the "No" campaign are using such children. It is wrong because disability is not a ground for abortion and the legislation will show this. A soldier carrying a child has also been used by the "No" campaign. Again, I think that is wrong and the Defence Forces have come out against it. It gives the wrong impression.
There were comments on Facebook to the effect that the Government will have control over our pregnancies and our children. One comment stated that, if this passed, our children would have no rights and parents will have no say in their cases. The Government would have our children and parents would have no rights. This is outrageous stuff. It is wrong. Claire Byrne's programme on Monday night did nothing to put people straight or to share true and proper information, which is what people need to have when going in to vote on 25 May. I urge people to look at the Referendum Commission booklet and get proper information before they go out and post things on Facebook and Twitter that put people wrong. It is not good enough in this day and age.
The training of young farmers is an issue that has come to my attention recently. We have had many debates on this and we have heard a lot of commentary about the loss of young people to the agriculture industry. There is an anomaly in the training of young farmers. The qualification a trained farmer receives is known as a green cert and this can be achieved in two different ways, either by attending agricultural college for a full-time course or on a part-time basis through courses mainly run by Teagasc. A person, however, cannot do the part-time course if he or she is under the age of 23. This needs to be raised with the Minister and the Minister needs to look at it very closely. A young man or woman is an integral part of the operation of a small family farm holding in Ireland and their parents cannot afford or acquire labour to replace them while they are away on a full-time course. If it is good enough to do the course on a part-time basis after the age of 23, I do not see why it cannot be done after the leaving cert.
One case came to my attention recently. A father is in ill health and his son wished to do the training but, because he is only 19, he cannot do it part time and must wait until he is 23. The elephant in the room is that most, if not all, farm payments due to that business are dependent on him having the qualification. The farm will not be able to draw down the payments it needs for five years. I cannot see the difference between doing the course at 18 or 23 on a part-time basis, in the evenings in winter, for example. It is not viable to have to leave a farm for a full-time course because the person is an integral part of the labour of the farm.
I wish to raise two related issues. I thought about it when the Minister for Foreign Affairs was in the House for a Commencement matter for Senator Robbie Gallagher. This is the 44th anniversary of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and the Minister spoke very well about it today. He also shared with us his frustration that nothing had really happened, having regard to a number of motions passed in both Houses of the Oireachtas. It is important that we remember the anniversary in this week and support the tireless efforts of the Justice for the Forgotten group, which has worked constantly on this issue, calling for an independent investigation and validation. That is the policy of the Irish Government and the Minister outlined that policy to us this morning. We should keep this to the fore. We need an independent investigation of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and of all documents to see what is going on.
This afternoon, Sinn Féin has tabled a motion relating to the hooded men and the injustice they experienced. Those who met them in Leinster House in the past few weeks could not fail to have been moved by the terrible injustice that was done. There is a need for justice, human rights, dignity and respect for people equally under law. Whatever one's view may be about these individuals, we must always defend their rights to fairness, justice and due process.
My two items are legacy issues from the Northern Ireland crisis, which was a terrible blight on our politics and our country. As single issues, they are difficult but we have to address them and put them right. I hope people will be present this afternoon for this very important discussion. I ask Members to keep in mind the people who have struggled and worked so hard for justice to be done, as it hopefully will be in relation to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
I wish to raise serious concerns over the waiting lists for homecare packages in Mayo. The problem has escalated in recent weeks and a large number of people have contacted me to tell me an elderly relative has had a homecare package approved but is currently in a hospital bed and cannot get access to the package. There are a number of such cases in Ballina District Hospital and there are others around the county in step-down and respite facilities. We all know that the cost of keeping somebody in a hospital bed, or in an acute bed or step-down facility, is considerably more than the cost of caring for somebody in their own home.
What is the HSE doing about it? The HSE, which is responsible for Mayo, Galway and Roscommon as one unit of operation, has previous form in this, as I believe homecare packages are being given in Galway but not in Mayo and Roscommon. I understand that this is to alleviate the severe pressure on Galway University Hospital and the numbers on trolleys but that is not acceptable. Mayo has one of the most elderly populations in the whole country and it is very poor form that we cannot get homecare packages. We are only in May - surely they cannot be telling us the budget for the year has been spent already.
Questions need to be answered about how many are waiting, how the budget for Mayo, Roscommon and Galway is being spent and why people are waiting this length of time, blocking much-needed beds in acute hospitals and step-down facilities. I ask that the Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Deputy Jim Daly, be invited to the House for a debate on the issue, to set the record straight and to bring about progress.
I want to raise the issue of Catalonia. I mentioned it briefly during our debate on Europe Day last week. I want to bring to the attention of the House the fact that there have been systematic attacks on different layers of Catalonian society. To date, nine politicians have been jailed. There are no dates for trial. Effectively, they are being interned. A total of 900 mayors are being investigated for facilitating the referendum last year. Former officials of the Catalan Government have been charged with misuse of funds simply for inviting people - diplomats - to visit Catalonia, which is something that has gone on for years. Civil rights groups are under attack for giving out information. For handing out leaflets, they have been charged with hate speech and hate crimes. Teachers are being prosecuted for hate crimes. Their crime was to facilitate debate in schools. Simply to facilitate a debate is now a crime in Catalonia. The firemen who courageously defended people when they were voting are being charged. They were standing in the way of police who were trying to batter people at the time. They are being charged with hate crimes. The colour yellow has effectively been banned in Catalonia. At the Copa del Rey final involving Barcelona a few weeks ago, yellow T-shirts - no slogans just yellow in colour - were taken off the people wearing them. The speaker of the Catalonian Parliament has been arrested for facilitating a debate in the Chamber. What we have, right here in Europe, is effectively the most horrendous authoritarian clampdown on civil rights, even on freedom of speech.
I wish to request a debate on this matter. One does not have to be in favour of Catalan independence - I certainly am and I make no apologies for it - to recognise that something fundamentally wrong is happening in Catalonia right now. There is an horrendous clampdown on civil rights. I do not think any of us should be willing to countenance the wall of silence that has been built up in respect of this matter. We need to speak out strongly. I ask for a debate on this issue.
I was on a Good Friday Agreement tour to Capitol Hill last week with the Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Deputy Crowe. We raised many issues regarding the agreement. We wanted to thank the US people and political establishment for the work they did on the Good Friday Agreement. After 20 years, we wanted to renew the agreement. Many issues were raised, such as the undocumented Irish and looking for answers to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, on which we feel there are not enough answers. There is one aspect which I feel we have allowed to happen. Last weekend in Donegal, a hotel was going to have a function to celebrate the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle but it cannot now do so because thugs who call themselves republicans rang up and intimidated the hotel in order to stop the function going ahead. What would happen if someone had a pub in London that was going to air the presidential inauguration and somebody rang in to stop that? There would be hell to pay. We have a different view and nobody has said anything. The only person whom I have heard say something is a DUP councillor in the North of Ireland. It is a two-way street here. How can people ring a hotel in our Twenty-six Counties and get an event at which people were going to go to watch the royal wedding cancelled? I will not be watching the royal wedding but many people out there will. It is people's right to watch the wedding in the same way as it is their right to watch anything. In case anybody asks, I was not invited to the royal wedding.
That is good. All parties should absolutely condemn this behaviour. If it carries on, we will not be able to do anything. We must stand up to these faceless thugs. I write about the Commonwealth and I get these keyboard warriors typing messages to me morning, noon and night. The more they abuse me, the more delighted I am. For the 25 who take the time to write abuse, I have received about 500 likes. As politicians, we must stand up for all aspects. There are no votes for me in Roscommon, Leitrim or wherever in defending a royal wedding, but it is the right thing to do. We must stand firm.
I wish to comment on the response to the tragic CervicalCheck controversy. As we all know, 209 cases of cancer were diagnosed where results should have been escalated. Sadly, 18 of those poor patients have passed on. I want to flag a patient, Jacinta Doyle, who is a Wexford lady and a mother of two. She had a smear in 2011 and no issues were raised with that smear, but in 2012 she was diagnosed with cancer when she went to her GP complaining of back pain. In fact, she had to pay for a private scan herself in order to obtain a diagnosis. My concern regarding to the whole controversy is the apparent fire-fighting approach adopted by the HSE and CervicalCheck. This lady spent 12 days trying to get answers on where she should go next. She rang the helpline on 28 April and 3 May. On 7 May, she contacted the helpline via Facebook. It was only on 10 May that she was informed that her original smear was tested in the US and that the lab is no longer used.
The constant drip feeding of information is not good enough. It is only in the past few days that GPs got clear notification on how to offer free smears to patients. Said notification indicates that if a patient has a medical card, the GP can fill out a special claim, through a special type consultation, STC, form, and put the card number on it. For private patients who do not have medical cards, GPs can put those people's PPS numbers on the special claim forms. I understand this may be a breach of data protection and the HSE has yet to clarify this. It is time that CervicalCheck redoubled its efforts to try to allay the fears of the women of Ireland.
I understand that the Scally inquiry is under way, but cold clinical words were used when discussing what CervicalCheck saw as a potential scandal and this was wrong. Confidence in the programme has been undermined. As a GP, it is my duty to encourage women to continue to attend for screening and to come to me and other GPs throughout the country with any concerns or symptoms they may have. It is important to recognise, despite the fiasco, that over the past ten years, 80% of eligible women have attended for their scheduled smears and this has led to a progressive reduction in the incidence of cervical cancer. These numbers speak for themselves and we should use our platform here in the Seanad to encourage women to continue with the screening process.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 12 on the Order Paper be taken before No. 1. The Bill I wish to introduce aims to right a long-standing anomaly. At present, 16 and 17 year olds can give consent on their physical or dental health but they must be 18 to consent to mental health treatment. The expert review of the Mental Health Act recommended this be addressed without delay, and this is what I am doing today. The legislation is about rights and stating mental health should be treated with the same set of principles as physical health. It is about young people having rights over their own mental healthcare. It is about the stigmatising mental health. It is apt that it would take place in this month of May, which is mental health month. It has been drafted carefully with our internal drafters here and with the guidance of young mental health advocates. I hope that Senators on all sides will support the Bill.
I second Senator Devine's proposed amendment.I would like to comment on the royal wedding. I agree with my colleague about this. The royal family are extremely popular in Ireland and always have been. I remember well when Princess Margaret was getting married and there was an electricity strike. The women of Ireland ganged up and forced the ESB workers back for two hours so that they could watch the royal wedding. It was marvellous.
The Queen, her gracious majesty by God-ordained, is three times directly descended from Brian Boru, once from Hugh O'Neill, rebel Earl of Tyrone, and Prince Harry is also a descendent of the Roches of Cork. We have, therefore, a direct Irish interest in the royal wedding. It is a bit of fun, it is pageantry, it is glam, people love it. It is a real soap opera. People are going to be on tenterhooks to see if daddy turns up or if he will be doing another gig with the paparazzi. It is great fun.
I want to support my colleague, Senator McFadden, and the comments she made in general. In particular, on the "Claire Byrne Live" show on Monday night, I completely respect that people disagree on the issue with regard to the referendum. That is to be absolutely expected. There would be something wrong if people did not disagree. It has been a difficult issue for this country to discuss for many years.
However, the Irish people were the real losers in that debate. The atmosphere was aggressive, disrespectful and somewhat demeaning to be a part of. To have the memory of a woman like Ms Savita Halappanavar responded to by jeering and heckling when her name was mentioned, regardless of the context, was a new low in the debate. I hope that other programmes learn from this.
I understand that a lot of the time in this debate, it is an echo chamber, as people have their minds made up. On "Claire Byrne Live" a lot of people were there with fully formed views and that has to be respected on all sides. Equally, there were people watching at home who needed to access information that really was not getting out. This may be considered good TV but for me it was appalling. If one was willing to be aggressive in one's approach there was more airtime and I think that is regrettable.
As regards the Down's syndrome point, which is a point that Senator McFadden has made very well, the committee categorically decided and recommended that disability would not be a ground for termination in this country. The legislation has wholeheartedly taken on our recommendation in that regard. For the "No" side of the campaign to insist on using Down's syndrome babies is really appalling. I understand the Down's syndrome association has been very upset about this. I have to categorically state as the former Chair of that committee, that Down's syndrome is not something that was ever envisaged as such a ground, and there are many of the committee members who would be extremely uncomfortable with that.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Can I thank the 14 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business.
Can I begin on my own behalf, as Leader of the House, with Senators Conway-Walsh, Higgins and Nash, in paying tribute to the memory of the late Tom Murphy, the playwright who passed away. As Senator Nash rightly said, he was a playwright who held up a mirror up to the nation. In his work he very ably and sometimes controversially portrayed a different type of Ireland to what some people might have expected to have seen on the stage.
As the youngest of ten children, all of his siblings emigrated and that may have had a bearing on his work and an influence on him. He was, as has already been said here today, a playwright who was influenced by his life. Emigration and displacement were part of what he has written. It is a testimony to him that the President, Michael D. Higgins, who paid tribute to him this morning and earlier presented an award to him, described him as the playwright of the emigrant, whose contribution to Irish theatre has been immense and unique. On my own behalf and on behalf of the House can I offer our sympathies to his family. Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of CAMHS. Obviously the issue of CAMHS waiting times is a challenge. There are, as Senator Ardagh is aware, acknowledged difficulties in the recruitment and retention of specialist CAMHS staff around consultant psychiatry. Recruitment is continuing, both internationally and locally. In the recent budget, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Daly, secured €35 million for new mental health initiatives and I think what he is trying to do, which is very important, is to create more appropriate referral system, whereby people do not have to be automatically seen by a psychiatrist. What he is talking about here is more levels of intervention at a lower level. He is right. Everybody has to be seen by a consultant psychiatrist. However, in saying that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. The Government is committed to doing that. We have seen that 114 assistant psychologists and 18 psychologists posts have just been filled in the counselling and primary care service, which will relieve pressure in specialist CAMHS. It is important, and I accept the point made by Senator Ardagh, that young people especially, who are particularly vulnerable who need intervention and who need assistance, receive same in a timely manner. I concur with the Senator's remarks.
Senator Ardagh also referred to the issue of housing. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, through Rebuilding Ireland is very committed to increasing the housing stock, and to the provision of both social and affordable housing and building in general. The point the Senator made in respect of the issue of the number of homes available for long-term letting is one that needs to be addressed urgently and that is why Government is addressing this through a compendium of measures.
The big issue is that there are people who were in the long-term rental market as landlords and have decided to get out of it. In some cases it is to sell and in other cases it is because Airbnb is easier for them. We need to get that balance right. Some people come in here every day shouting about X and others will look to have Y defended. There is a balance to be struck and I agree with the Senator on that point. I will ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come to the House again in regard to this matter.
Senator Lawless made a very important point about Apple and we discussed it last week on the Order of Business. The Senator is right. The decision of Apple has a repercussion that we may not feel in the short term, but in the medium and long term it may well send a message to international investors that Ireland is not a place to locate. We have an obligation now as a Government and as Members of this House to sell the message through the IDA and through the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, under Deputy Humphreys, that we are open for business. That is why the Government took decisions on strategic infrastructure development whereby one has fast-track planning. We had this debate last week. It is about ensuring that we get a balance on the rights of the person to object and the rights of the company to develop. The Senator is correct in that regard. I commend the Senator for the work he is doing in promoting Ireland across the United States.
Senators Conway-Walsh, McFadden and Noone made reference indirectly and directly to the issue of health as regards the cervical cancer issue and the eighth amendment, which are not linked. I do not want to pick a row on the Order of Business on a very important sensitive matter. I appreciate that Senator Conway-Walsh has left to attend the health committee. It is because of the interventions of this morning, that there is a need to take this issue out of the political arena. We have an independent statutory inquiry established under Professor Scally. I remind Members who may not agree with my next couple of remarks to read his memo which I referenced here yesterday.This is an independent, eminent scholar heading up an inquiry and he expressed concern about the "fevered atmosphere" around the issue. In correspondence he said he was making progress in the investigation but expressed concern that the current fevered atmosphere is posing some problems. I chaired the Joint Committee on Health for five years and, as I have said here every day, when an eminent scholar like this is leading an investigation and is saying that people and officials are being distracted from the work he is undertaking because they need to appear before Oireachtas committees, we have to ask what we want to get. Do we want to have an independent inquiry which will get to the bottom of all this or do we want to have a three-ring circus which ends up in nothing happening? That is a choice. We can leave it in the political arena and have people stepping in and stepping out on "Prime Time", "Claire Byrne Live" and "The Tonight Show". What I have said from the beginning of this awful period is that we have to have accountability. People must be held to account on the basis of all of the facts being made available.
The overarching concern must be support for the women who have been let down by the system. That is why last Friday, the Government announced a series of measures were being put in place. As Senator Swanick also said, we have a duty to restore confidence in the cancer screening programme and the HPV vaccination because vaccination and screening work. That is what we must be about. We can politicise the issue if Members want but I want to see the women and their families supported, the system rectified, confidence in the cancer screening programme restored and those who have done wrong held to account based upon the full facts. I certainly hope that we will not see people using committees of these Houses to politicise this issue because it is not about that.
Senator Higgins raised the issue of online manipulation and fake accounts. She made a very good point in that regard. There is more work to be done and I hope that we can work collectively to ensure that happens. I commend Senator Nash for his contribution with regard to inflammatory bowel disease. The points he made are well supported. Government has committed to funding a variety of posts through the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I do not have all the information to hand but I will certainly be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.
Senators McFadden and Noone also raised the issue of the referendum with regard to posters and broadcasting of debates. The Oireachtas committee on which Senator Gavan, Senator Noone and I sat expressly prohibited and outlawed the issue of disability as part of our report, which is now before the people in a referendum. People have a right to have different viewpoints from one another's. That is called democracy. However, the use of young adults or young children on a poster is both unfair and is wrong. These are people who have a life, who have an opinion and who have feelings. They are affected by the posters and they speak about them. They have spoken to me about them. We are letting them down in this case.
I am all in favour of the right to have a debate in a referendum campaign. If people vote "No", as some will choose to, that will be their decision and I accept that, but please let us not go into the arena and the space in which we use people for political gain in the context of this referendum. The point made by Senator Noone regarding the format of the debate, which we also discussed yesterday, is one which I hope the Referendum Commission can take up with the relevant broadcasters because it was unedifying. Whether it was the "Yes" voters or the "No" voters in the audience last Monday night, the middle ground got lost in the debate. It was not about the people on one side.
I made my remarks on that on yesterday's Order of Business and it has been well documented. Dr. Boylan should not be vilified. He is a person we should support and thank for the work he has done in his professional capacity.
I thank Senator Paul Daly for highlighting and alerting us to the anomaly in respect of the green cert for the training of young farmers. I do not have the information to hand. That may be an issue on which, as a matter of urgency, the Senator might table a Commencement matter. He might get an answer. The issue he raises certainly needs to be scrutinised further. I am not an expert on farming, as the Senator knows quite well, but the issue he raises should be taken further and any anomalies should certainly be ironed out. I thank him for raising the matter. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. As the Senator himself quite rightly said, it is important to remember those who were killed and to commend those who are campaigning for justice. He rightly said that the Tánaiste was in the House this morning for a Commencement matter when he outlined that, as Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, he is actively engaging with the British Government. He has spoken to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, about the issue. To quote from his speech this morning, he has, "consistently underlined to the British Government that the Dáil motions represent the consensus political view in Ireland that an independent, international judicial review of all the relevant documents is required to establish the full facts of the Dublin-Monaghan atrocities." The Tánaiste has been very clear on that. I thank Senator Boyhan for his remarks. The Government is not opposing the Private Members' motion this afternoon, as the Senator knows, and we will have that debate later on. Again, it is important that we ascertain all of the facts and that justice prevails at all times.
Senator Mulherin raised the very important issue of home care packages in Mayo and the length of waiting times. The pertinent point she makes is that the HSE has the information and that people should not have to wait an inordinate length of time for funding or for a place to be allocated because it has ramifications in that there are people in beds in hospitals who are depriving other people of access to the system when they could be at home or in a transition or step-down facility. The point the Senator makes is very valid.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of Catalonia. There was a motion before the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges in the name of Senator Gavan's party leader. It is under review. On the point he makes on the new arrangement now in place in Catalonia, as I said earlier it is important that people are allowed to express a different viewpoint, to protest in a peaceful democratic manner and to have their voice heard. I have always been supportive of that. I hope the issue in Catalonia is resolved. I know Mr. Puigdemont is not under arrest. I think he is still in Germany. Is he?
It serves us all well for democracy to be in action and to let democracy work. The issue is evolving but it is important that people are allowed to express their viewpoints in a peaceful democratic manner.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the Good Friday Agreement. I commend him, Senator Lawless and other Members of the House who were in Washington DC last week for raising the issue and highlighting the progress that has been made, but also for highlighting the issues of the undocumented Irish, the Good Friday Agreement and the need to continue trying to resolve the deficit in Stormont and to ensure we have an Assembly back functioning. I am disappointed that Senators Norris and Feighan have not been invited to the royal wedding. They would have been wonderful ambassadors for this House.
Hear, hear.Married life is good; I can vouch for that.
In response to Senators Norris and Feighan, I am told by my good friend, Senator McFadden, that Marks and Spencer is advertising a commemorative box of biscuits for the royal wedding, so perhaps we can present a box to both Senators next week. I hope that those who are watching the royal wedding enjoy it.
I have replied Senator Swanick's remarks already.
I am happy to accept Senator Devine's amendment to the Order of Business, and I thank her for putting it before us.