Tuesday, 5 February 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on housing by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, which is in reply to the debate that did not conclude last week, for the information of Members who were here, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5.15 p.m.; No. 2, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 7.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.
I wish to discuss today the outrageous and spiralling cost of the new children's hospital. I have been in north County Dublin for the last number of days knocking on doors and talking to people and this was the only matter they wished to talk about. It is on everybody's lips. It is outrageous that we are still not getting the full story and the Government's credibility has been shattered by this. It is clear that its timelines are not adding up and we need to immediately know what happened. It is not good enough for the current Minister for Finance or the Minister for Health to tell us what is going on, this concerns successive Ministers. There are clearly some serious issues involved where costs were not tied down, the contract was not properly costed at the start, and there are clear governance issues at play here. The stories are not adding up and people are getting very angry out there. We need to know what is going on and we need to stop taking people for fools.They want to know what is going on. Nobody questions the need for this hospital. We all know it needs to happen as soon as possible but we need to take control of the costs. It is clear Fine Gael has mismanaged the largest capital project in the country but it has a history of mismanaging large capital projects, such as the fiasco with Irish Water and broadband roll out. There is now more mismanagement of the public purse and people are sick of it. They want to see their hard-earned taxes going to projects and not being wasted. We are now spending half a million on a review of something that should not have happened in the first place. We will apparently have this PwC report in March but we need to see the terms of reference of this report immediately and to get cross-House and cross-party agreement on them. Fianna Fáil wants the terms of reference to include identification of areas where savings can be made. The project is ongoing and nobody is calling for it to be stopped but we need to identify areas within the project as it stands on which costs can be saved.
The Taoiseach and Minister for Finance need to publish where they will cut the capital expenditure in health over the coming years to finance the spiralling costs of the children's hospital. Projects throughout the country will have to be cut back or cancelled. Fine Gael is able to announce health projects but we want to see immediate announcements of what projects it will cancel because it could not manage the public purse. Fine Gael likes to say that it has great prudence and can be trusted with the public purse. Significant mismanagement has happened under Fine Gael in recent years and the public is outraged by it. I want a proper and sincere debate in this House about the outrageous situation with the national children's hospital.
-----out in the cold and the rain. It is scandalous that these nurses have to be out there rather than doing what they are trained to do. I look forward to joining them in the next couple of days. I also wish to speak about the national children's hospital and the overrun there. It is not just about the national children's hospital. People are so angry because we have had it all before. This is like Fianna Fáil's personnel, payroll and related systems, PPARS, but much worse. Other projects such as the national broadband plan, the Carillion debacle and the JobPath debacle have seen millions wasted by vested interests and because the proper procurement procedures are not in place. It is time for the Minister to say exactly what he will do differently, because the buck stops with him, and how the procurement model will be changed. We can no longer afford to continue with the same procurement model that has been used.
I have raised the serious issues relating to JobPath since I entered the House, the money that is paid to companies involved and the impact on existing local schemes. This is all connected to what is happening with the children's hospital. Tonight, my party colleague, Deputy Brady, will table a motion in the Dáil to immediately stop the referrals to this scheme. Private companies have been made extremely wealthy by the multiple referrals they are given. We have never seen the contracts that have been given to those private companies to see what deal was made. Did people do their jobs properly? Did the Minister properly oversee those contracts? This scheme will cost almost €100 million, if not more. At the same time, the publicly funded local employment services could not buy a box of paperclips. More than 11,000 unemployed, vulnerable people were forced back on to it.They do the first round of JobPath and the private companies get paid for it. They are then told to come back after a few months and are put through the rigours again. There are further payments for that.
This has to stop. There are 1,900 vacancies in the community employment sector. Such vacancies which could offer jobseekers opportunities to take up locally-based and suitable employment that contributes to the community. Figures from November show that out of 190,000 people referred at that stage, just 9% of those who went to these private companies had secured employment which was sustained for one year. The cost to the taxpayer - the citizens of this country - is €3,718 per person. Providers also receive double payments where the same individuals are referred twice.
I want a full debate on JobPath. I want the cover-up to stop. A cover-up has been going on for years in respect of JobPath and there has been an absolute waste of money. The money in question could be given to our nurses, who are out in the rain today picketing.
I want to raise the issue of the report published last Tuesday by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, of which I am a member. It is the product of a major body of work with academics, sexual health experts, teachers organisations, bodies representing students and school boards of management. We have made a number of wide-ranging recommendations on curriculum reform that will now be delivered to the Minister for Education and Skills and fed into the review being carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA. Our recommendations have at all times been guided by best practice and domestic and international evidence, and motivated by wanting to see our young people happy, empowered and informed as they explore relationships and sexuality for the first time. It has been over 20 years since the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum was last reviewed and we want to make sure our proposed reforms reflect the huge social and political changes in Ireland during that time, particularly the recent referendums on same-sex marriage and repeal of the eighth amendment.
The report and its recommendations are detailed and comprehensive. I would like to draw attention of the House to some key changes we have proposed. We want relationships and sexuality education, RSE, and SPHE classes to start at a younger age in primary school and in a developmentally appropriate manner. The use of outside providers is the most common way RSE is delivered to students at the moment and we want such providers regulated by the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills. We want teachers to be able to be specialised in RSE and we want RSE reform to be taught as part of a whole-school approach, with extra resources given to school principals and boards to support this. In terms of the curriculum, we have recommended that LGBTQI education, consent, reproductive healthcare and pornography form part of any new curriculum. We have also called for the amendment of the Education Act 1998 to remove ethos as a barrier to delivering objective and factual sex education. This is a progressive report, proposing some big changes that will benefit students and young people. I would like the Leader to organise a debate in the Seanad on the report in the near future.
On a related note, I ask the Government for an update on the plans to fully commence the Data Protection Act 2018, including the provisions on the micro-targeting of children, which Senator Higgins and I worked to include in the legislation.
Like others, I want to raise the issue of the nurses strike and to express support and solidarity with the 30,000 members of the INMO who are striking for the first time in 20 years. I join with others in calling on the Government to engage urgently with the INMO to address, in particular, the very valid concerns it has raised around recruitment and retention of nurses and around patient safety in hospitals because of under-staffing as a result of the difficulties with recruitment and retention. As Deputies Howlin, Kelly and others have stated in the Dáil, this engagement can be carried out within the framework of the public service stability agreement, PSSA, particularly in the context of the issues relating to recruitment and retention. It is worth noting the Opposition has been calling for a general review of changes in work practices and of additional duties now being taken on by nurses, and that such a review should consider, therefore, the issues the INMO has been raising around the increased professionalisation of nursing. I should add I have been contacted - as I am sure Senators Norris and Ruane have - by Trinity nursing graduates who point out to us the huge transformation that has occurred in recent years within the nursing profession, with the increased professionalisation of nursing and the awarding of degrees.Furthermore, the huge expansion in postgraduate nursing studies has resulted in some incredible research coming out of third level institutions which has really changed the nature of the nursing profession. The Government has been strangely detached on this matter and needs to engage with the INMO, otherwise we will just see more and more hardship for patients whose procedures will be delayed.
I also wish to raise concern about the children's hospital and the levels of awareness, in particular within the Government, of the cost overruns. We need urgent clarification from the Government on this issue. It raises the question down the road about the cost and the implementation of Sláintecare, which is a real elephant in the room. We see the issue of the children's hospital and the difficulty bringing it forward in a responsible manner and in accordance with projected costs and then we look at the enormous cost potential of Sláintecare, yet there is a very significant political buy-in to Sláintecare and its proposals. We ask the Leader for clarification from Government and the Minister for Health on this issue.
I also ask colleagues for support on the parental leave legislation, which we will bring forward in the Labour Party's Private Members' time tomorrow. I thank all those colleagues who have assisted us in this regard. My Labour Party colleagues and I, and Senator Norris in our Seanad Technical Group, are putting forward this Bill on Committee Stage. We will table amendments and we hope colleagues will support the amendments, which are mostly technical, simply to ensure that the Bill will be straightforward and effective in implementation. We hope the Government will not oppose the Bill on Committee Stage.
We have had a lot of lobbying, and everyone will have received emails from parents. We have had good engagement with the Government and with Deputy Shortall, who initiated the Bill in the Dáil. We really want to see the Bill pass Committee Stage tomorrow, so I appeal to the Leader and his colleagues to ensure that-----
Love will break out all over if the Government does not oppose parental leave. It will genuinely make a real difference to the many families who have contacted us and who are so anxious to see the Bill pass for the sake of their quality of life and that of their children.
Lastly, I wish everyone a happy Markievicz Day. Countess Markievicz was born 151 years ago today. This is the last week of the exhibition about her life in the National Gallery, and I urge colleagues to go to see it if they have not already done so.
-----in order that people can get into their heads the year of magical thinking in which we are all involved from a monetary point of view. I ask the Leader for an explanation of this, or perhaps the relevant Minister might come in and tell us about PwC. I would like to have outlined to me what its expertise is, since the first thing it did was to telephone England and find some other organisation that might be able to research what has happened here for €450,000. I just question its expertise. Why must it bring in someone from outside this island? There is nothing wrong with doing so, but we could have done that ourselves. That is the first thing. I want an explanation.
The second matter I wish to raise concerns the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan. A very interesting thing happened on a certain road in Ireland recently. Two semi-detached houses were up for sale at reasonable prices. Families with two, three and four children came to view the houses and queued, but the houses were bought by Chinese people who were able not only to match the price but nearly to double it and pay in cash. In this country Chinese businessmen are given residency and the possibility of national passports - there is nothing wrong with that - for investments, be they in research, property or other fields. I would like some explanations about this. There is nothing wrong with people buying houses if they have a legal right to do so, but I think this activity is pushing up prices here for all the wrong reasons. I know of two or three instances of students living in the houses, which could be best bought by the Irish and be home to a family of five or six. I just want an explanation on this, what is happening about it and how many properties have been bought this way.I am talking about residential properties. I am not talking about investments, research or high finance but about ordinary family houses. How many of these have been bought by non-nationals and how many people have been priced out of the market?
Yes, in this instance, under a particular scheme. I think other businessmen could avail of it too. I want to know what the story is in that regard. I ask the Leader to provide an update on the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, in particular sections 3 and 8, which I do not want to see, as I know the Leader does not either, remain on a top shelf. I would like a response from the Leader on the PwC review, the sale of our houses to non-nationals who are making investments and the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. I would like that information, otherwise I do not know what we are doing here, all on our telephones. Nobody is listening to anybody anyway.
I ask the Leader to invite my fellow Ulster man, whom I am very happy to congratulate on his appointment, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to the House to discuss the CAO applications process. As everyone knows, the CAO is the mechanism by which we assess and allocate college places, based on a points system related to performances across academic subjects. I want to make a specific proposal and I would like the Minister to come to the House to address it. I am proposing that 80 points - that figure is open to negotiation - of the now 630 points are taken away, with 50 of them committed to involvement in social work and social action and the remaining 30 committed to sport and cultural activities, to be monitored and assessed by a subgroup of teachers in the pastoral care sector of the school and to be part of the assessment of the child. This would create a social awareness in our young people. It would create an interest in social action and social concern, which is a crucial in young people. The cultural-sporting dimension would reward children for participation in school musicals, the county minor teams and so on so that their sporting and cultural lives would develop. The question might be in some people's minds that this would compromise academia and reduce academic performance but the contrary is the case as it would bring social concern, social awareness and social commitment, plus sporting and cultural development, into academia. Students would do a much better job and better understand their academic studies. Whether studying the humanities, the social sciences or science in general, they would do so with a consciousness that is very important. We need to have young people who understand their society and how it works. I am effectively asking the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to begin the debate in this House - it should be in this House - on how the points system functions, what it assesses in young people, what type of young people it prioritises into courses and what we could do complement what is there. I appeal to the Leader, who is an educationalist, to give this urgent priority.
I support the comments made by Senator Clifford-Lee, the deputy leader of the Fianna Fáil group in the Seanad, on the children's hospital which is being built at the St. James's Hospital site in Dublin. It is extraordinary that €1.7 billion is the proposed-----
I agree with the Senator's assessment. I worked with a firm of architects in Roscommon on the design-supervision of the building of schools and churches. We always knew the cost. Additional costs arise, but nothing like in this case. There are quantity surveyors, architects and engineers involved in this project. It is amazing how inept Ministers are in this Government. They are incapable of running Departments.The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government probably never built a house in his life.
-----there should be a health bond like we had for the hospitals' sweepstake. We could raise money from the public on a 20-year loan and build and complete the hospital because, as the Taoiseach has said, unless a meteorite hits us, and it might be a meteorite that hit the site at St. James's, then this building is going to go ahead.
On the national children's hospital, while we all await the full explanation of how the overrun occurred and what is involved, to which the Minister for Health has given a commitment, it is sad to see the scaremongering about other projects that has happened in the last few days. For example, at University Hospital Limerick we await 60 modular beds. Two members of the Labour Party were quoted in the Limerick Leaderyesterday saying that the project has not been signed off and is not going to happen, which is untrue because the capital plan has not been finally approved. The Minister for Health yesterday and again today has given an assurance about the 60 modular beds because there has been a lot of scaremongering.
We cannot have scaremongering because it alarms people. The 60 modular beds are going ahead; I believe that they are.
In terms of the overrun at the national children's hospital, we are all talking about the price and the whole lot but the fact of the matter is that we need the hospital. As many as 450 children will be facilitated at the hospital. There is an overrun and, yes, we need to see the facts, but the message needs to be conveyed that the project is at long last going ahead, particularly as it has been spoken about since the 1960s.
I, too, want to mention the nurses' dispute but from a particular angle, if I may. The mantra from the Minister is that we cannot breach the public service stability agreement. I do not accept that to deal with the nurses would do that by the way and, indeed, a cursory look at page 10 of the agreement-----
-----clearly shows that to be the case. May I point out to the Leader of the Opposition that the Minister, himself, is in breach of the PSSA, specifically phases 1 and 2 of the support staff evaluation process as agreed under the terms of the PSSA, which was completed on 4 October of last year? Within the terms of this process any award made is meant to be implemented within six weeks.Despite correspondence from SIPTU, the HSE refused to engage in respect of a series of pay awards made via the job evaluation process. Specifically, 5,200 health care assistants are entitled, under this agreement, to a 5% to 7% increase in pay and 600 central sterile services department, CSSD, operations lab aids and theatre porters are due a 7% increase. What did the Minister do? He ignored the job evaluation process from the PSSA study and his Department refused to meet the union. The Department of Finance also refused to meet the union and the Estimates were drawn up without including these awards, which were made under the PSSA. We have a Minister insisting that there be no breach of the PSSA and who is in breach of it. He has ignored calls by SIPTU to address this issue. What a bloody cheek. It is about time we had action.
Unfortunately, in the context of industrial relations, Fine Gael is a bit like Theresa May when it comes Brexit - it does not have the first clue what it is doing. It is time to stop prevaricating and enter negotiations with the INMO.
I am very impressed by the presentations that have been made here in respect of the children's hospital by people who do not know what they are talking about. This project began in 2007 but the wrong site was identified because politics was played with it. The Mater Hospital site was chosen but An Bord Pleanála refused to grant planning permission.
The former leader of Fianna Fáil, Bertie Ahern, appeared on a radio programme on Sunday last and Conor Lenihan, a former Deputy, was also in the public domain claiming that this Government changed the location of the hospital. That is not correct. An Bord Pleanála set out the reasons that the hospital could not be built on the Mater site. Let us get that clear.
Planning permission was refused in February 2012. Planning permission for the new hospital was granted in April 2016. In that period, the plans were drawn up and the bill of quantities was sent out to the builders to enable them to quote. However, the minute detail was not set out because it would have taken 12 months to facilitate this.
I wish to give Senators an idea of the scale of this hospital. There will be 6,151 rooms. The hospital will be the length of Grafton Street.
I refer to Shane O'Farrell, a wonderful young man who was knocked off his bicycle and killed by an eastern European drug addict. I have discussed the matter with the Leader, who indicated he may be prepared to give time to its discussion. In view of the dearth of legislation to deal with this area, I ask the Leader for an indication of when that debate might be facilitated.
I thank the Leader.
I also wish to raise the case of an architect of Filipino origin who is now an Irish citizen. While he lived in the Philippines he was employed in an architectural practice ranked 63rd in the world. He was the major design architect for several international projects and has degrees in architecture coming out his ears. He graduated third out of 900 people in his postgraduate degree. However, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland is refusing to enroll him. It will not let him in. He is better qualified than most of its members.
I understand that under the Building Control Act 2007 the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has the right to put a person on the register of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. I will provide the Leader with the information I have regarding this case. I ask him to raise with the Minister the possibility of placing the man on the register.
I wish to acknowledge and congratulate the teachers and students in secondary schools throughout counties Cavan and Monaghan who recently completed the Irish Heart Foundation CPR 4 Schools programme. All the secondary schools in County Cavan have completed the programme, with 27 teachers across the county now qualified to teach CPR. The schools in County Monaghan are not far behind, with 83 secondary schools currently engaged on the programme. The Irish Heart Foundation, which I congratulate on its initiative, hopes to roll out the CPR 4 Schools programme to all secondary schools in the country. It is a very ambitious plan to save lives. Schools in counties Monaghan and Cavan are leading the way and I compliment them for that.
It should be noted that there are 5,000 cardiac arrests each year in this country. A person qualified in CPR being close by when a person suffers a heart attack could be the difference between life and death. In any given year, there are approximately 365,000 students in our secondary schools and there is the potential for all of those students to become competent in CPR, which could save lives.
While I commend the teachers and students for their passion and initiative, the programme shines a light on the Department of Education and Skills which is not doing its job in regard to CPR and first aid in general. That was one of the main reasons that I introduced the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Existing Teachers) Bill 2018 and the First Aid and Mental Health in Schools (Initial Teacher Training) Bill 2018 a couple of weeks ago which, thankfully, received the unanimous support of all Senators. I thank them for that support. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, needs to take the lead and ensure that our students and teachers are fully qualified in first aid. They can be taught nothing more important than how to save a life.
I raise an issue very relevant to the Order of Business and in regard to which I call for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to appear before the House.In The Times, Ireland edition, Ellen Coyne reports today that a number of anti-abortion activists have taken to writing to general practitioners, GPs, offering free ultrasounds conducted by a fake agency. It is made even more deceptive by a letter suggesting doctors could face legal action for "assaulting" women unless that GP had recorded evidence that the woman consented to a termination of pregnancy. This cohort of activists uses such names as The Women's Centre, Good Counsel Network Ireland and Ultrasound Services WCN for the purposes of sounding legitimate. The bogus clinic previously came to our attention when an undercover video was posted of a woman receiving untruthful, unscientific advice, which was used to prevent her getting an abortion, such as suggesting an abortion could cause cancer or that women who have abortions are vulnerable to committing child abuse.
Let us be under no illusions. Those who wish to deceive doctors and shame vulnerable women are not justified in what they are doing. We have had national conversations about this and have had referenda on the subject. The public has given its answer as to whether abortion services should be available to women. We have had enough stories of shame and stigma and those who wish to return to that by protesting, offering GP services or posting confidential doctor and patient information online should reconsider their actions. Given that legislation has now been passed, I ask the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to come to this House to discuss how we can best protect women in vulnerable situations.
I acknowledge the efforts of the Leader to get the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to come to the House on the question of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. I appreciate the work he and his office have done on this issue but unfortunately, at this stage the Minister still has not indicated when he will attend the House. I have been patient on the issue but I feel I have no alternative to moving an amendment to the Order of Business tomorrow to call for the Minister for Health to attend to discuss the HSE plan for 2019 and the issue of not providing additional supports and services to families with members suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's. I do this reluctantly and I hope the Leader will be able to contact me in the morning to indicate when the Minister will attend. If he does so, I will give a commitment not to try to amend the Order of Business.
I support my colleagues who have spoken on the costs of the national children's hospital. It has been a talking point all weekend. A lot has been left untold and we are getting leaks of information here and there. There is no accountability.
Nobody wants to take responsibility. There are capital projects in my own area, such as the Holy Angels school for children with disabilities, which has been waiting for 40 years for funding to move its children out of prefabs. Will it get the funding this year or will it be one of the projects that will be left again for another 20 years without being done?
For three years there has been no overnight respite in Carlow. While we are told that the preparations for it are nearly finished, there are problems as to whether there will be bus services, how many nights it will be open or what will happen in the long term. What will be the effect of this? It is unacceptable that the Taoiseach and Ministers launch and relaunch projects all the time but we do not know what will happen to these projects. I am calling on the Minister and the Taoiseach to come here to explain to us exactly what is going to happen with our capital projects going forward.
-----that we have been listening in recent days to the outrageous, gobsmacking cost of the national children's hospital.
I was out with the nurses at St. James’s Hospital this morning. As Senators will know, they are out in protest. This is the first of two days that nurses will be on strike this week and next week they will be joined by the Psychiatric Nurses Association for three days on strike. Almost 50,000 nurses are protesting on the picket lines. It did not dawn on us initially this morning but as we looked around, we saw hundreds of nurses protesting on one side, while on the other side, we saw a massive crater in the ground where our national children’s hospital is to be built. The irony of this juxtaposition of these two sights was not lost on us.
Nurses are demanding €250 million to achieve pay parity. Every year, €120 million is spent on agency nurses alone. Someone has not done the maths on those figures and they have certainly not done the maths on the national children’s hospital, the cost of which could run to €2 billion. The public cannot get to grips with that. Where were the checks in the procurement process? Who was looking after the public purse when it was being robbed and dipped into? The irony of that is not lost on nurses or members of the public. I support my colleague, even though the confidence and supply agreement needs an injection. What other capital projects will we lose because of this massive cost overrun? I advise Senator Colm Burke that no amount of spin about how beautiful this hospital will be will create a soft landing for people given that the cost will run to €2 billion?
I will follow up on some of the comments made by my colleague, Senator Ruane. Today is Safer Internet Day, among many other days. Almost one year ago, Senator Ruane and I successfully introduced an amendment to the Data Protection Bill, now the Data Protection Act, to prohibit the profiling of children under the age of 18 and the use of such profiles for commercial purposes. I ask the Leader for an update on when the Minister plans to commence that aspect of the legislation. It is no longer a proposed amendment. I understand Deputy O’Callaghan put forward a variation of the proposal in the Dáil. Will the Minister commence that aspect of the legislation which protects children under the age of 18 from commercial targeting, fast-track the alternative version put forward by Deputy O’Callaghan or take action of his own volition? It is not satisfactory that almost a year after the legislation was passed, we have not taken steps to protect younger people, which is vital, and ensure they are not targeted in a shocking way based on their vulnerabilities or insecurities. We hear much rhetoric-----
-----about that but this concrete legislation is on the Statute Book. Let us make it happen.
I note that Internet safety is not simply about children. There is more to be done in terms of online regulation in that regard, including the safety of those who engage with public services. We achieved a fine with respect to public services. I am concerned by what appear to be data leaks about persons accessing services in hospitals. In that regard, I commend nurses on their work for patient safety.
I support Senator Clifford-Lee, my party's deputy leader in the Seanad, in her comments on the national children's hospital and the overrun. Statements on housing are listed on the Order of Business and it is appropriate that we should raise the housing of sick children and the building in which they will be housed. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell tabled a Private Members' motion in the previous Seanad, the aim of which was to try to prevent the Government from selling the national lottery licence. We were told at that stage that the cost of the hospital would be €450 million and that the sale of the national lottery licence would go more than half way towards providing funding for this much-needed facility.
The amount involved became €930 million and has now risen to €1.7 billion. Following what was stated at a committee meeting last week, it appears that the final figure could be more than €2 billion. Senator Colm Burke pointed out the various stages of planning the hospital went through. The reality is that the decision of An Bord Pleanála regarding the Mater Hospital site could have been appealed but it was not and that was as a result of political reasons.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for indulging me. In the context of housing, I also want to discuss the housing of members of the Defence Forces. This is an issue I have raised in the House on many occasions, including last week. A purpose-built, state-of-the-art Army barracks is lying idle in Cavan town at a time when the Department of Defence is looking at warehouses to put soldiers into.
In terms of the national children's hospital, we are all disappointed and find the overrun unacceptable. The point that perhaps my learned colleague and friend does not agree with it is that we have entered into the realm of hysteria and populism.
-----but I want to make a few things quite clear. Irrespective of one's views on PwC, it has been asked to do a piece of work on which it will report back to Government, and the Senator might be cynical, throw her eyes to Heaven and do all that; that is fine. The comments by some people inside and outside this House lend themselves to scaremongering and hysteria. We had that in the House earlier in terms of projects in other parts of the country. Third, Senator Colm Burke gave a very good overview of where we are now and how we got to the point of development of the project. I chaired the Joint Committee on Health and we were on the site on a number of occasions. When I hear members of the opposition, in particular Fianna Fáil, talking about the national children's hospital I have to cast my mind back to when Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach. He wanted to have it located in his constituency but An Bord Pleanála overruled that. I say to Senator Wilson that the only place one can go after that is to the Supreme Court.
I hear people speak about leaking of information. The Joint Committee on Health, the Committee of Public Accounts, the finance committee today, the Dáil and this House have spent a countless number of hours discussing the national children's hospital. There has been no leaking or drip feeding of information.
I understand that. To be fair to the Cathaoirleach and to all of us in this House, we are rightly disappointed and find the overrun unacceptable but when I hear members of the Opposition talking about prudence in financial management I have to cast my mind back to personnel, payroll and related systems, PPARS, the sale of Telecom, which delayed the broadband process, and the area of the economic collapse, which occurred on their watch.
We are living in "Jurassic Park".Let us get real here. The Government had three choices to make: to pause the project; to retender; or to agree to proceed and continue with probity, which is what we have done. We all accept on this side that the cost is too high and unacceptable. Then again, as Senator Colm Burke rightly said, let us paint a picture that is true regarding the new national children's hospital. As the Minister said last night on television, there will be politicians queueing up to go to the official opening with their chests out, saying they were supporting it.
Five Senators raised today the issue of the nursing dispute. I will make the same point I made last week and the whole time. All of us value, respect and admire the work being done in our hospitals and healthcare system by our nurses. Not one person I know of wants to see any person, be it a nurse, teacher, porter or bus driver, on strike. Today there is a pathway to reopen the talks between all sides. I hope those concerned can re-engage and have meaningful dialogue. Despite the one-dimensional view of Senator Gavan on the public sector pay agreement, we cannot have a free-for-all around public sector pay.
Correct. The Government, as the Taoiseach and Minister for Health have outlined, is open to meeting. I invite and encourage all concerned to sit around the table and engage.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of JobPath. It is worth noting that there are 41,000 people employed full time and 5,000 part time. The level of complaint concerning JobPath is around 0.41%. If the acknowledged costs are what the Senator says they are, work needs to be done on it. If what she is saying is correct, it beggars belief. I am not sure it is correct.
I join Senators Ruane and Higgins in referring to Internet Safety Day and the report last week on sex education. I commend all involved in the Oireachtas education committee. It is important that our curriculum be reformed regarding the development of sex education for young people. I hope we can continue the ongoing work. To be fair, it was initiated by Mr. Ruairí Quinn, and continued by the former Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the current Minister, Deputy McHugh. I hope the development can happen.
With regard to the Data Protection Act, I do not have a commencement date for Senators Higgins and Ruane but I am sure we can liaise with the Department on that issue.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill. It is before the House tomorrow and it is best to leave it until tomorrow.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of housing. We had the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in the House last week for a housing debate. He will be in today to conclude his remarks. My advice to the Senator on the point she raised on housing is to put a Commencement matter before the House.
On the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill, my information is that the heads were approved on 3 October. The Senator raised the issue last week and I share her views. There was pre-legislative scrutiny on 19 December and 17 January and it is continuing. Work is being done on this Bill that is not as easy as it first appeared. That is the information I have but I will endeavour to obtain more for the Senator.
With regard to Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act, the work is still ongoing. It will be commenced as soon as possible. All of us share the views expressed by the Senator regarding both matters.Senator O'Reilly made one of the best contributions to the Order of Business today when he spoke about reform of the Central Applications Office, CAO, process. There is complete merit in what he suggested in this regard. Having spent 20 years myself in the classroom, I saw the benefit of a non-traditional leaving certificate pathway for young people to college. I know of some young people who have done the leaving certificate applied and gone to college through it. Senator O'Reilly's idea about the allocation of points for social work and social action, as well as sporting and cultural participation, is done in other jurisdictions and has its merits. It deserves to be heard and debated. I commend Senator O'Reilly on that.
We will endeavour to find time for a debate on the Shane O'Farrell case. On his point about an architect, again I suggest he requests this is taken as a Commencement matter to give it a public airing.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of CPR in secondary schools in Cavan and Monaghan. It is an important issue, which needs to be addressed urgently. We have seen defibrillators put in place in rural and urban settings. We need to set up a process whereby we can train more people, especially young people, in CPR. I commend all involved.
Senator Warfield raised the issue in The Times, Ireland edition, about anti-abortion protests. It is important we have a respectful implementation of the new law of the land. That requires respect for different viewpoints. It is disappointing that the types of activity referred to are being carried out. I know there is a debate during the week in the Oireachtas on these types of protest. I do not believe anybody should be allowed to protest at a maternity hospital or a doctor’s surgery. The dignity and privacy of citizens going about their business, for whatever reason, should be respected. Women who might be in a difficult or vulnerable position should not have to endure such barrages of protest. I will try to have the Minister to come to the House on that matter.
As I said last week, I thank Senator Humphreys for his patience concerning his requests for the Minister for Health to attend the House on the question of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. I also apologise to him. He has been exceptionally fair about this matter. We have endeavoured to have a debate on the matter in question. I hope the Minister met with the Senator. I will endeavour to have a date for such a debate tomorrow. If I do not, then the Senator would be quite right to put down an amendment to the Order of Business on this matter.
Senator Wilson raised a matter concerning the Defence Forces. We will have that debate in due course.