Thursday, 8 November 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills entitled, Report on tackling obesity and the promotion of healthy eating in schools, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2., address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Deirdre Hargey, Lord Mayor of Belfast, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; and No. 3, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 2.15 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later and to be adjourned at 9 p.m., if not previously concluded. The House will suspend at 6 p.m. for a period of 45 minutes.
I agree with Senator Norris on the matter to which he referred.
I wish to raise a very serious matter referred to by Mr. Justice Peter Kelly in the High Court, namely, the retention and recruitment of doctors in our hospitals. He said that the standard of doctors being recruited to hospitals in Ireland is particularly low and the case before him, whereby a doctor was struck off the register, was not an isolated incident. Clearly, this is a very serious patient safety issue. The judge said that he was going to refer the matter to the Minister for Health and the HSE. We cannot have a situation where doctors recruited have inadequate skills and experience and are let loose on the public. It is simply criminal. I hope that the Minister will come to the House to discuss the recruitment and retention of doctors.
I also wish to raise the matter of the contents of a recent "RTE Investigates" programme entitled, Troublemakers, which highlighted the case of the Fitzgerald family. Mr. Patrick Fitzgerald was not allowed to visit his wife when he wished. His visits were restricted to certain times. All of us have had family members in hospital, nursing homes or hospices at some point. The severe restriction on visiting hours, as highlighted in the programme, is harsh and cruel. I cannot imagine how I would feel if I were in the same position as Mr. Fitzgerald, unable to visit a loved one in a nursing home or hospice. I understand that the HSE has yet to contact all the families featured in the documentary. Again, I ask that the Minister of Health would come to the House to discuss these issues.
The last issue I wish to raise is a particular problem in urban areas and is a pet hate of mine, namely, people parking on footpaths. This often means that people using wheelchairs or other walking aids or those pushing buggies cannot get around the cars and are forced to go out onto the road. It is a growing problem in cities and stems from a lack of awareness. People need to be cognisant of the fact that if they park on a footpath, they must leave sufficient space for wheelchairs, buggies or other walking devices. It is very unfair and dangerous not to do so and drivers need to be more thoughtful when parking their cars.
I am delighted to find the Leader in good spirits again today. I wish to refer again to the Defence Forces. I read this morning that the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, has 30 cases lined up for the courts with respect to the working time directive and there will be many more such cases. There are also High Court cases pending related to the use of Lariam, a drug which is given to other ranks troops who are travelling overseas. Is it the case that the Department of Defence has such deep pockets that it can afford to run every single case through the courts, knowing it is going to lose? The Department has lost every working time directive case it has fought thus far. It has been told to implement the working time directive. However, we all know that in order to do so, it will have to increase the strength of the Defence Forces to around 13,000 but it cannot even recruit enough personnel to fill the current establishment of 9,500. The Defence Forces strength is below 9,000 at the moment, at approximately 8,800.
I am a bit like a long playing record in here with respect to the Defence Forces but the people to whom I refer are in the Leader's constituency. We are hearing stories about soldiers being sent to Haulbowline to do non-naval and shore duties. If this sort of thing is happening, is it any wonder that people are walking out by the new time? We have been told that as many as 2,000 troops have been recruited in recent years but new recruits cannot fill the posts of experienced personnel. The working time directive is about respecting peoples' lives and prior arrangements and about not dropping things on them at the last moment, like the Government is trying to do in this House today. A little bit of respect goes a long way.
My main point is that public money is being spent by the Department fighting cases even though it knows that it cannot win them. When are we going to wise up and stop this behaviour?
I have to take a deep breath today. The Leader will know that my first speech in the Seanad was for the nurses of Ireland. The Taoiseach yesterday and the Minister for Health today showed they must be badly advised given their most recent decision to cancel Christmas leave for nurses and doctors. It has drawn the ire of health workers and the health unions, including the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, and the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA. It is deflecting from the real crisis, including the absence to date of a winter plan and inadequate bed capacity. The trolley crisis and the waiting lists in our health service are not just a Christmas problem but represent a year-round crisis due to the lack of capital investment in public hospitals. There are 500 permanent hospital consultant posts unfilled. There are 2,500 nursing vacancies, with at least 1,000 nurses due to retire this year. The winter plan is now to cancel Christmas for staff. The Leader does not understand-----
This is to do with the lack of bed capacity and investment. Do Senators know anybody in the system who has not worked 24-7? Many of us gave up our Christmases with our children to go into the hospital. We have almost had our dinners at 6 a.m. to go to the hospital to take care of people, yet we are now told we cannot have Christmas because it is our fault that the system is a failure. The Government is so out of touch and arrogant. The nurses and medics hold the front line and now they are told it is their fault. In March during the snow, we marched for miles to get to work. We stayed in the hospitals overnight to provide care. This is arrogance at its greatest. Does the Government have a clue? It is so out of touch. This will not be taken well. Nobody will come back to this country.
I was thinking of an interview I read in which the Taoiseach said his favourite character, Tiny Tim, should get a job. This paints the Taoiseach as Scrooge. It would really make sense, therefore, that Christmas would be cancelled.
I echo Senator Ardagh's call to have the Minister come to the House to speak about the restriction on families who wish to keep their loved ones in a decent state of well-being and mental health when the latter are in hospital for a long stay. I watched a television programme on this. Two girls from the west were barred from visiting their dad in his final months and did not get to see him again until the day he was dying. As a daughter who spent every day in the nursing home with my father for two years before he passed away, I found the programme extremely horrifying to watch. It merits a conversation in this Chamber. At some level, it is definitely a violation of the human rights of both the family members and the individual in hospital.
I called a number of months ago for a conversation on the national drugs strategy. It has not happened in this House. It has happened in the Dáil. Last month was the 20th anniversary of the opioid treatment protocol. It would be good to have a conversation on the protocol and the strategy this side of Christmas. The working group on drug decriminalisation will, I hope, release its report before Christmas. Therefore, it would be good to have a conversation in the lead-up to publication.
Before I call the next speaker, I would like to say the Order of Business is a proposal by the Leader as to how the business of the Seanad should be dealt with. It is not the announcement of a decision. It is open to the House to accept, reject or amend the Leader's proposal. We have already had a proposed amendment.
I thank the Chair for that clarification. That means we have, in fact, the opportunity to reject this outrageous proposal, which is totally undemocratic. In case I run out of time, I would first like to propose an amendment to have the debate end at 5.15 p.m., to be concluded on another day.
Let me get to the grist of the matter because there is something serious here. I believe we are in circumstances that are grotesquely unconstitutional because the business of this House is apparently being run by a person who is not a Member of this House but who is an Independent Minister in the Government. It is completely inappropriate for a person from the other House to be dictating to this House the manner in which it should conduct its business.
I am proposing the amendment because we are doing a very good job in carefully perusing the Bill. When it gets through eventually, it will have been thoroughly examined and ratified. That is my very strong feeling. We are in circumstances in which a Minister is attempting to act unconstitutionally.
On a completely different note, I would like to pay tribute to the late, great musician Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, whom I believe died yesterday. I had the privilege of having been shown around the world music centre in the University of Limerick. It is wonderful what Mr. Ó Súilleabháin has done there, melding traditions, ideas and artistry from all over the world. He was taught by the late Seán Ó Riada. One can see that influence in his work. I refer in particular to the kind of repetitive, percussive, staccato elements that echo the bodhrán in Irish music. I am afraid we have lost somebody of great significance but he has left behind him a wealth of really remarkable cultural material. We would all want to send our commiserations to his family.
We have seen again today that the issue of health is very emotive and complex and sometimes very political. In Roscommon today, the plans for the Mayo Roscommon Hospice are being launched. This is the final piece in a jigsaw that has been a success story.
People talk about Roscommon and what happened but anybody who wants to go to Roscommon University Hospital sees the strategic moves that Government made. The then Minister for Health, my colleague, Senator Reilly, made significant decisions, including setting up a hospital trust. Roscommon University Hospital has had €20 million spent on it and it is twice as busy but, more importantly, hundreds of people are alive today because of the air ambulance and advanced paramedics, but nobody says that because there is nothing to be gained from good news in health. Senator Devine is right to mention the medical staff around the country and I am thinking of them because they need to be protected. We have to be careful that we do not make health an emotive and a controversial issue but I know where the Senator is coming from.
Today I am wearing the shamrock poppy pin and it is to remember the 200,000 Irish people who fought in the First World War, especially the 50,000 who died. I thank the people who wore the pin and also the Members from across parties in both Houses who showed respect and tolerance to people wearing the pin. The pin is there and it is a matter of choice. I know there are many commemorations on Sunday and most of the Members here will be attending them to show respect to and to commemorate the men from our island who died in the First World War.
I request that the Leader of the House, Senator Buttimer, arrange an early discussion on the old question of the cost of insurance, particularly in light of the fact the Personal Injuries Assessment Board has reported that the average claim for whiplash in Ireland is €20,000, five times the average in the United Kingdom for similar complaints. There have been 4,500 settlements in the first six months of this year. It is an enormous cost to the State and to people who have cars insured because it mainly has to do with car crashes as opposed to fire, theft or other insurance issues.
I praise the President of the Circuit Court, Mr. Justice Raymond Donal Groarke, who has been president since June 2012 and served in the Circuit Court from 1995 or thereabouts. I am sure Senator McDowell would agree that he is an outstanding judge because in recent times he has adjudicated on cases of complete and utter fraud in the courts and we all owe him a great debt of gratitude. He is doing more than the Government is to solve this problem. The judicial appointments issue is important so that we get the right type of judge and I am pleased to say that Mr. Justice Groarke is a wonderful judge and it is good to commend somebody of his calibre, courage, conviction and commitment to the job in this House.
Also, An Garda Síochána should have a dedicated fraud squad. When people go into court with cases which are totally falsified they should suffer repercussions and the cases should be followed up. I know of one case in Roscommon town where a young man drove into a person from Poland and very little damage was done but within six months the person who was driving the other car and got a scratch on the side of the car decided to put in another claim for whiplash. That young man is now paying a premium of €5,000 a year for what I regard as a falsified claim because I followed up on it and I found the same Polish gentleman out fishing in Lough Ree catching a major pike.
Insurance companies are too quick to settle these cases. They should have investigators out there looking at each case, although some insurance companies are better than others. It is a wake up call so I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, to come to the House to discuss the work he is doing on this.
I have only come in here recently and I am still getting a feel for the workings of the place but I am a legislator. We are all legislators and we are here to legislate. We have legislation going through this House and there is much filibustering going on. There has not been a vote during nine sessions on the legislation and there has been a lot of carry on from some people from the legal profession that I do not entirely condone.
After listening to Senator Leyden's contribution on the large number of fraudulent insurance claims, we should name the legal firms involved in these fraudulent claims. I mention the costs associated with this because 40% of the cost of the claim is paid out to the legal profession.
We will be discussing a legal Bill today because we are Senators who are here to legislate so I have no problem in staying here late because this is our role-----
-----until nine or ten o'clock to get legislation through which is to the benefit of the ordinary people. Senator Leyden identified a judge who is positive against false claims coming through and maybe this legislation will bring forward more of those types of judges who are needed to look at what is before them and deal with it properly.
-----and if we had fewer words in it we would not have had such a long discussion on it so I support what the Leader is proposing today. I also support Senator Leyden's call to bring the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, in here to discuss false insurance claims.
I would be doubly impressed if he had contributed one word on this Bill and I would be trebly impressed if I had any evidence that he has read one line of this Bill.This Bill has nothing to do with false claims.
That was dealt with in 2004 by means of the Civil Liability and Courts Act, which introduced lengthy provisions for countering false personal injuries claims. Furthermore, Senator Ó Céidigh took an initiative in this House to strengthen the law on perjury. If Senator Lawlor is so keen on doing something, let him make available some Government time to deal quickly with Senator Ó Céidigh's Bill.
----- and will come back to Senator Ó Céidigh on it. Let us be clear about what we are discussing. This legislation has nothing to do with false claims.
On the Order of Business, I see no reason for the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill to be the subject of an extended debate today. We should stick to our ordinary procedures. Therefore, I propose that the debate on No. 3 should conclude at 4.30 p.m. I understand Senator Freeman will be seconding that proposal.
I wish to raise a matter raised previously by Senator Devine, who quoted people incorrectly. It is important to realise that between 22 December 2018 and 2 January 2019, there are 12 days. Seven of those are weekends or public holidays. The issue that arises relates to moving people out of hospital and into step-down facilities. What the Taoiseach was referring to is the fact that many people who are in hospital can be moved to step-down facilities. Last night, I spoke to people involved with Nursing Homes Ireland, NHI, who told me that, in the three-week period from Christmas day, they have very little contact with the HSE or hospitals regarding the taking patients into step-down facilities. I draw attention to work done by NHI as far back as June, July and August in the context of engaging with the unit dealing with the hospitals winter programme. The NHI received a letter on 31 August from the HSE's special delivery unit outlining that, at the emergency department task force meeting on Thursday, 30 August, the agenda for the forum was amended and the NHI presentation was removed from the programme. It is not acceptable that NHI attendance on the day was relegated to a network opportunity and not true collaboration. The NHI represents a sector that is prepared to help deal with hospital overcrowding but it was excluded by the HSE's special delivery unit. I also have before me a letter, dated 31 October 2018, from Ms Anne O'Connor, co-chair of the emergency department task force, and Ms Phil Ní Sheaghdha, head of the INMO, which advises the NHI that its correspondence will be brought to the attention of the emergency department task force for discussion at its next meeting in November. We are talking about correspondence from June, July and August being discussed in November, when we are already into the winter period. The same person from the INMO was on the radio giving out about what the Taoiseach said. The co-chair of the task force is not prepared to engage with the NHI, which is prepared to help deal with hospital overcrowding. This needs to be put on the record and we need to know why the task force is not engaging with NHI and is not prepared to plan for the three-week period in early January in order to take patients out of the hospital sector and make accommodation available to them in step-down facilities where required. We need answers on this issue from the task force. We need to know why it is not engaging with the people who are prepared to provide a service.
I second Senator Craughwell's proposed amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that the House discuss the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill until 5 p.m. and then adjourn. That was the time originally circulated to all Senators last week. On a serious note, many of us made arrangements - in my case, childcare arrangements - on foot of that 5 p.m. finish. I do not believe it is in keeping with family-friendly workplace procedures to have a sudden change to the schedule like this, to such a late hour on a weekday evening-----
----- particularly when the Bill in question is not a matter of urgency. Those of us involved in politics - in my case, for what seems like a very long time - have no difficulty with sitting for long hours and sitting late-----
I thank the Senator.
We have no issue with sitting late to deal with matters of an emergency nature or in respect of something that is urgent. This is not either and I am one of the very few Members who, like Senators Norris and McDowell, has sat through many hours of Judicial Appointments Commission Bill debate and I still have quite a number of points to make on that legislation. Indeed, the Labour Party has tabled a number of amendments which have yet to be debated. In that context, I am anxious to ensure that I am here for the full debate but I have made arrangements and it would be very difficult for me to be here until late tonight. On that basis, I am opposing the Order of Business as proposed by Senator Buttimer and seconding Senator Craughwell's amendment which proposes that we debate the Bill until 5 p.m. and then adjourn. We can come back and debate the Bill further and take as long as it takes.
On a related note concerning childcare and the workplace, I was delighted that we could all support the Fianna Fáil Private Member's legislation, the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill, last night. Senator Ó Ríordáin spoke on behalf of the Labour Party. We are very anxious that this Bill would be progressed through the House. It progressed through the Dáil, despite being a Private Member's Bill from the Social Democrats, with all-party support and I hope that the same will happen in this House. I know that those of us on the Opposition benches will work together to ensure that it passes without delay. There are so many people contacting Members who are hoping to see the extensions to parental leave proposed in the Bill coming into force.
I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, for organising the display of the Fearless Girl statue in Leinster House today. It is wonderful to see that icon of gender equality and women's rights in the House.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I will come to that matter presently.
I would like to be associated with the tributes to Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, who gave a lifetime to music in Ireland. It is an art form that does not get the same exposure as literature, for instance. Professor Ó Súilleabháin was part of a long tradition of Munster pioneers like Seán Ó Ríada and Aloys Fleischmann in Cork and has left behind a proud record.
I wish to advise the Leader and Members of the House that I have taken on new responsibilities as party spokesman on foreign affairs, the Irish abroad and the diaspora.
I am glad to be appointed to that position by the leader of my party, Deputy Micheál Martin. I look forward to working with our Dáil spokesperson on foreign affairs, Deputy Niall Collins, and to engaging constructively with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. We will give constructive criticism where necessary. At present, a great deal work is being done on the issue of visas for the undocumented in the USA. In fairness, my predecessor did a lot of work on it and I intend to bring some fresh initiatives and new energy to that particular portfolio. I had a brief meeting this morning with Deputy Deasy, the special envoy on that area and offered him my full support. Hopefully, we will get that over the line in the coming weeks. It is a matter for internal US politics which, unfortunately, is entirely confrontational, polarised and divisive at the moment be we are hopeful of a bipartisan approach to this matter. We might be lucky. As the Tánaiste has stated, it is our intention to find new legal pathways for emigration to North America and to give comfort and relief to those who are already there in an undocumented position.I look forward to that.
I have a choice of motions but I have selected to second Senator Norris's proposal to adjourn at 5.15 p.m.
I will not enter the debate on what time we should adjourn. That has been debated at length by so many other Senators this morning and this afternoon.
I bring to the attention of the House a significant development that has happened in the last 48 hours in my part of the world in Cork. Amazingly, we have a major hospital in Cork University Hospital, CUH, but since 2003 we have no helipad. If anyone knows the geographical nature of my county, it is more than 120 miles long and we had no helipad in CUH. The significant development is that CUH has applied for planning permission 15 years after demolishing the previous helipad and now it is going ahead. It is amazing to think that we had to wait 15 years for a helipad in such a major hospital with such a vast sea that has such activity that we have all unfortunately seen and that needs the co-operation of the Coast Guard services. In future we need to plan forward for where these major hospitals will be placed and then build the infrastructure around them.
It is bizarre that we had to wait 15 years for this project to move forward. I welcome it but it was 15 years of a rural, coastal community looking for a service that was badly wanted and I am sure the Leader will also comment on it when he speaks but what they used to do was land the helicopters on a rugby pitch near the hospital and it was an absolutely bizarre sight. That is how my part of the community was served so it is significant and it is welcomed but why did it have to take 15 years to move forward?
I second Senator Leyden's proposal on this evening's adjournment.
It is important that we point that a significant time is scheduled next week for this Bill and, as Senator Bacik pointed out, people have schedules and in my time in the Seanad we have never sat past 5 p.m. on a Thursday. We may have done so but I do not remember it and it is certainly infrequent. Members have made other commitments and obligations and they have agreed to do things with people so to announce an extension today is unfortunate. It is not urgent-----
I apologise if I am wrong and would always do so because I am not infallible, but there is plenty of time scheduled for next week and it is not an emergency so I second Senator Leyden's proposal on the adjournment.
I was at a presentation this morning in the Sandyford business district with more than 200 people, including the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, about the future of work, how we work, smart working, remote working and various other issues. Much of the discussion centred around quality of life, not having to spend time commuting and being able to work from home or from a hatch lab as they have in Wexford. That is a service office near to one's home where he or she can work for their employer or a company.
All of this is contingent on having decent broadband in the areas people live. Many of us are lucky enough to live in areas that have good broadband but, equally, many Senators have spoken in this Chamber and I have spoken at regional assemblies as a councillor about how, geographically, half of the country does not have good broadband and people are driving miles to get their email by parking in the car parks or sitting in the lobbies of hotels to get free Wi-Fi, downloading emails, trying to run businesses so I call on the Leader to bring the new Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Bruton, to the House to discuss how broadband services will be rolled out.
I regard broadband as being like electricity or running water. It is essential in the 21st century and it would do a lot for the Minister's other portfolio of climate action because people would not be driving long distances to work in offices and incurring massive overheads for those companies when they would be much happier to get up and work at home. Much research has been done to show that many people are more productive at home because they feel that because they are at home they need to prove their output. It is not just about being present as outputs have to be measured. They can do their work efficiently but, at the same time, bring their children to school and collect them and so on. I ask the Leader to schedule the Minister to come in urgently and we can discuss the benefits we would have in terms of climate change by having remote working and allowing people to have a better quality of life.
I put on the record how sad I was to hear about Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin's death this morning. He was an extraordinary musician, a brilliant teacher and an outstanding composer, and he is a great loss to us because he was able to make Irish music like Mozart's music. It is a tremendous loss to the university, his postgraduate students and musical composition in Ireland. We sometimes forget when the great artists or musicians die. They do not fill the pages in the same way that politicians or others do. He is a great loss to all of his students, the arts community and music in Ireland generally. May he rest in peace.
What was said in the Lower House about hospitals and hospital staff by the powers that be was not good. It lacked perception from our leaders to speak like that and I concur with what Senator Devine said about this. People are sitting in here who have worked in the area of health.
I heard the former Senator, John Crown, on the radio and people at the coalface are talking about the fact that we do not have enough staff. It is all very well to ask people to come in at weekends and on evenings handling machines but there is not enough staff.
It is true and they will not fill the vacancies.
We can go through all of the policy areas on the future of work but if we do not have enough staff to run our hospitals and keep them open at weekends, I do not know what we are thinking about. We are obfuscating policy for practical application. It was the most unperceptive remark on people who are meant to be running this country. The queues for beds are enough reason to reflect on this. Are we not listening to the people who are waiting for all kinds of medical checks?
Health and education are the most important departments and if we cannot get them right, nothing else will be right, so I would like for the Minister for Health to come in and explain to me what is going on and how he will fix it. He should bring in staff and not have our doctors who are paid for by the taxpayer running out of the country, followed by our nurses who are not able to come back to the country because they are not paid properly and have nowhere to live. It is an outrage.
I second Senator McDowell's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
I join with others in commiserating with the family of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin who brought great joy to everybody in this land and I commiserate with those in California who are waking up to the news of the death of 12 people in a nightclub in another tragic shooting.
I also second the proposal of Senator Ruane that we have a debate in this House on the national drugs strategy but the main point I want to make today if the Leader could-----
I just want to formally support what Senator Ruane said.
I raise the matter of a secondary school in Kildare. It would be greatly appreciated if the Leader could pass on my comments to the Minister for Education and Skills because my capacity to raise this with him formally between now and next Tuesday is limited. A High Court case has been taken by a contractor regarding the tender process which means that whatever buildings that St. Paul's in Monasterevin is hoping to get built could be delayed and Councillor Mark Wall in Kildare is concerned about this.I know the Minister is extremely busy with the school building issue at the moment but it appears this school has been waiting for 15 years for rebuilding works. This issue is now in the High Court and, potentially, it is going to delay this much needed and anticipated building work. I ask the Leader to impress upon the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, the importance of this issue and to communicate with me in whatever way possible on St. Paul's secondary school in Monasterevin.
I want to be associated with the comments of Senator Norris on the Order of Business. I know the proposal has been formally seconded but I too had made plans for this evening, plans related to my role as spokesperson on transport, tourism and sport. It does not work well for us in terms of ordering our own business and schedules when the Order of Business is changed at short notice. I have followed this debate in detail. I do not claim my knowledge is extensive but I certainly have been educated during the debate. The level of questioning in the Seanad has been excellent. I also want to compliment the Minister. He has been accused of filibustering but I do not think he has been doing that. He has been trying to answer in detail the important issues raised in the House. I get a sense from the Minister - perhaps I am wrong - that he is not fully supportive of the proposal.
The in-depth investigation of and questioning on the proposed legislation is important, as is the question of the constitutionality of the proposals. I am concerned that grubby deals are being done in respect of this legislation. It is being closely monitored by an Independent Minister who might be far better off concentrating on the work in his own Ministry in terms of MetroLink, BusConnects and bus corridors, all of which relate to the capital city. There seems to be no leadership on them. I oppose the Leader's amendment to the Order of Business and I support Senator Norris's one. There is ample time next week to debate this fully and to allow Members to prepare in time for their work. Those of us who are interested had all prepared for this afternoon and we had looked at the time slots for next week. I am very much opposed to the Leader's proposal and I second Senator Norris's one.
I want to speak in a similar vein to Senators Leyden and Lawlor. A number of recent high profile court cases have been thrown out or have been seen as fraudulent. It is a concern for our society that so many such cases are presenting. We have many eminent solicitors and barristers here. I ask them to talk to their own organisations and take these people to task. The judges in some of these cases were evidently very aware that these were fraudulent cases. I ask my colleagues to talk to the Bar Council of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland and bring them to task in respect of such conduct. It is the least they could do. One particular case really stuck in my craw, and that of many people to whom I have spoken. I refer to the case where a lady was surfing on a tram, if it could be said it is possible to surf on a tram. She fell off and, as tends to happen falling off of a tram, she received an injury. I am sorry she was injured but to follow Transdev Luas trams-----
I wholeheartedly agree with what Senator Davitt said. This country is going to have to get into the real world when it comes to insurance and what is going on. Judges are going to have to get into the real world as well. That is not the reason I am speaking, however. There has been much talk recently about the drug epidemic and that thousands of people are using recreational drugs. Our colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, spoke about legalisation on soft drugs when he was a Minister. If we were to arrest everyone who was dabbling in soft drugs our courts would become completely unworkable. I propose that the committee which the Leas-Chathaoirleach chairs, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, do an exploratory exercise on the possibility of decriminalising the use of certain drugs in this society.
Most of the people on recreational drugs face a challenge in terms of their health. It is not a justice issue. As our society matures and evolves, we are going to have to have that difficult discussion and come up with a realistic plan to deal with the issue of drugs. I do not know what the processes are with the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. It is a very illustrious committee.
We hear frequently these days, unfortunately, of isolation and mental health issues in our society. That includes older people in urban and rural areas. Some communities, however, have come together to revitalise old traditions to combat loneliness and bring about a greater sense of community. I refer to the old tradition of making a céilí, as it was known in many parts of the country, or gathering at a céilí house. This was well known in many parts of the country for many years and indeed generations. People came together to check on a neighbour or friend and to see how they were.
With that in mind, I compliment Scotstown GAA club in County Monaghan. For the second year in succession, the community there has come together to try to reinvigorate or reinvent the old tradition of the céilí house. People are encouraged to go out into their communities and visit older people who may be living alone and to visit friends in the community. The help of three local national schools has also been enlisted. The children in those schools ask and encourage their families to visit old friends, relatives or neighbours who live alone and to check on them. It is a great success and has gone from strength to strength in that parish. It is an initiative for which the people of Scotstown GAA deserve the highest praise.The feedback I am getting from the community is that not alone do the people being visited find great comfort from it but the visitors themselves also get great comfort. The GAA club deserves great credit for it. We will never measure scientifically the benefit of such an initiative but I can say without hesitation or doubt that the people who are being visited will benefit as will those doing the visiting.
Déarfaidh mé cúpla focail mar gheall ar Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin ar dtús. Fear uasal ab ea é agus múinteoir agus ceoltóir iontach a bhí ann freisin.
I wish to address some issues relating to previous contributions on insurance. There is no doubt that we have a serious problem in this country. I have raised the issue on the floor of the House numerous times. It is inexplicable as to why-----
There we have it. Anyway, in respect of the current situation, action must be taken. There is no rationale for us having awards four to five times greater in this country than across the water in the UK. There is something seriously wrong with our system and we need to address it. We have a serious problem when there is no consequence for perjury and fraud. If we listen to the insurance alliance in respect of the number of cases that have been taken on this issue in recent years and the number of convictions – which is nil – then it is clear that we have a serious problem. Whether that is because we are not using all the law available to us in the way we should or whether we need new law, I do not profess to be the expert.
I know this much: people are being put out of business. Small and medium-sized businesses are struggling because of this and people are afraid to set up in business because of it. We need more certainty in these legal cases. Many people have endured the horror of insurance companies settling without consulting the person insured.
There have been many comments about the Taoiseach's comments, which are being misconstrued.
I fully respect my colleagues who work in medicine, and I want to put that on the record of the House. I have worked on Christmas day myself as recently as last Christmas. Their commitment and the commitment of their families to our system are to be admired and cherished.
I wish to join my colleagues, Senators Leyden, Lawlor, Davitt, Conway and Reilly, in calling for a debate on insurance fraud. I support the call by my colleague in the Lower House, Deputy Brendan Smith, for a designated unit of the Garda fraud squad to be set up to specifically investigate these cases.
Several proposals to amend the Order of Business have been tabled. As Whip of the Fianna Fáil Party, we will support these amendments. I do not believe that this is sufficiently important legislation for it to be rushed through this House. Senator Lawlor is not too long in this House, but if he, along with some of his other colleagues, had his way then, we would not have this House to debate anything.
I have sat through almost every hour of the debate so far whether on the floor or in the Chair. It is an excellent debate. I pay tribute to those who have participated in it, including Senators McDowell, Bacik and Norris as well as the Minister. It is an informative debate.
This is something that, in my opinion and in the opinion of my party, is not necessary because we have had an excellent mechanism, the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board, to propose to the Government people for appointment as judges. As has been pointed out by Senator Leyden, save in one instance, it has been almost 100% flawless so there is no need for this legislation.
Finally, when he is in the mode of concentrating on the portfolio he has been allocated by the Taoiseach, I would like to invite Senator Ross to the House.
I am sorry. I am referring to the former Senator and now Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. I wish to invite him to the House to debate the penalty points regime. Too many areas are covered by this penalty points system. It is making a mockery of what should be concentrated upon by An Garda Síochána and other units.
I thank the 21 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business.
I dtús báire ar mo shon féin, ar son mo pháirtí agus ar son an Tí, déanaim comhbhrón le clan Mhícheál Ó Súilleabháin a fuair bás maidin inniu. The death of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin is a tragic loss to our country. As many Members have said, he was a scholar, composer and musician. His legacy will be left for all time and for every people. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell spoke about Mozart. He certainly brought Irish music to that level, whether it was though his involvement with a variety of different musical programmes and arrangements, his academic work in University of Limerick or his partnership with Nóirín Ní Riain. For those in UL and the wider family of music and culture, his loss will be profound. I want to offer to his wife, Helen, and his family our deepest sympathies. We should all be sorry but we should also rejoice in what he has achieved in his life. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
In the two and a half years that we have come in here, I have always sought to bring people in everything I have tried to do as Leader of the House. We do not always find agreement. We do not always reach the end point of what we do, but we get there. It is important that the histrionics this morning around the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill are put in context. I apologise to Senator Bacik who has to make different arrangements.
We could start with Senator McDowell because he is fairly good. I will not say anymore, save to say that the Leas-Chathaoirleach is right. We have had 35 and a quarter hours of debate on Committee Stage since 2 July. Despite Senator Wilson's lavish praise of some of the contributions-----
I would not use the terms "flawless" or "enlightening" about some of the contributions, but we will leave that for another day.
I am going to put the proposal to the House. I respect the differing viewpoints of other Members. If the proposals or amendments-----
They came from me as Leader of the House. Despite what some Members have said, in keeping with what I try to do as Leader, I emailed the leaders and Whips of all parties and groups on Tuesdays morning. It was not an eleventh hour decision or one made this morning. To be fair, people were consulted. Some Members have come in talking about the A, B and C.
On the impending visit and address to the House by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, I will keep my remarks brief and to a number of key points.
On the issue of the HSE and staff operating in hospitals over the Christmas period, the Taoiseach is again being misrepresented-----
Unlike Senator Ó Ríordáin and others in the House - perhaps I should not say that - I have worked in hospitals on Christmas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. I have worked during holiday periods-----
I concur with the remarks made by Senator Reilly. Hospital and HSE front-line staff do Trojan work. I pay tribute to them and support them in the work they do. It ill-behoves Members to use them as a political football.
The point I want to make is that we have had enough reports and policies. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell is right in that respect. We need real reform. Senator Colm Burke is also correct that there are more people employed today in the health service - I believe there are 12,000 more - compared to the number in 2014. Members opposite come into the House to give out about everything. I put it to Senator Humphreys that I know that it is hard, but he was part of the Government that took decisions to build the country back up.
We have a very important guest coming to the House and I want to conclude. We will have that debate.
Members raised the issue of insurance. The Minister has been to the House to discuss it and a task force has been established. The Minister will come back to the House again. If Members will indulge me, I will deal with the other contributions made on the Order of Business later. I will speak to Senator Ó Ríordáin about the issue he raised later.
I congratulate our friend and colleague, Senator O' Sullivan, on his elevation and promotion, which is richly deserved. He will bring a tremendous wealth of knowledge, experience and insight to his new role.
Perhaps Members might allow me to reflect on their contributions which I will address again. I oppose the amendment proposed to the Order of Business.
Catherine Ardagh, Ivana Bacik, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Joan Freeman, Robbie Gallagher, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Terry Leyden, Ian Marshall, Michael McDowell, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Ned O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Catherine Noone, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, James Reilly, Fintan Warfield.