Wednesday, 6 February 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 [Dáil] - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 2.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Data Sharing and Governance Bill 2018 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn at 4.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, statements on the fourth interim report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each, time may be shared and the Minister to be given not less than ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, statements on community and rural support schemes, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to adjourn at 7.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes each; and No. 5, Hallmarking (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 7.30 p.m.
I welcome two transition year students, Jamie Cunningham and Niamh Sargent, to the Visitors Gallery.
I rise to my feet today to express my anger and disappointment at the runaway costs of the national children's hospital. Yesterday, we learned that the Minister for Health learned about the cost overrun in August 2018 but only shared that information with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance in December 2018. They are now looking to hide behind a consultant's report to seek some kind of shelter from the political ramifications of this matter. I do not agree with the timeline. I am on record as supporting this hospital. However, I draw the attention of the House to a day nearly two years ago when I sought to amend the Order of Business in order to call the Minister to the House. We were successful and a Minister came to the House. The reason we sought to divide the House that day was so that the Minister could explain comments made by the then director general of the HSE, Mr. Tony O'Brien, who questioned the viability of the project's cost at that time. That was two years ago. I forced a vote that day despite the efforts of the Leader and other Senators to prevent one.
Notwithstanding that vote, which I called on foot of serious questions raised by Mr. Tony O'Brien about the finances and funding of the hospital at that time, the Minister did not attend the House but instead sent his Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to reaffirm the Government's commitment to the project. What is absurd and what has struck a chord with me is that after the former director general's misgivings about the funding of the hospital, neither the Minister nor his Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, made an effort at that time to control the extraordinary spending when they were quite clearly aware of it. In fact, this House divided on the matter at that time, and it is rare for this House to divide, especially when it comes to the Order of Business.However, on that day, the Minister did not attend the House and he called on his Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to attend in his stead. To remind those who were not present, I will read what the Minister of State said in order that we are all aware of the Government's position on the children's hospital on 8 February 2017, almost two years ago to the day. She said:
We are not on a runaway train. We are at a critical point with the national children's hospital. The Minister has pointed out that the cost increase is 5% of the overall projected cost. It is important to keep that in mind. Every last cent should be extracted. The people who will pay for the national children's hospital are the taxpayers. Therefore, we do not have the right to exceed limits. There must be limits and we have to adhere to those that are in place.
That is what the Minister of State said at the time. It is clear not only that alarm bells rang for the Minister in August 2018, but also that he sent the Minister of State to this House to address issues on which we divided. It is scandalous that at the time he did not make efforts to ensure this project was kept on budget. It is disgraceful. I ask that the Minister be called to the House today to explain what actions he took after he sent the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to this House in February 2017, not 2018. I move an amendment to the Order of Business.
While I do not disagree with anything Senator Ardagh said, I am conscious that the Minister for Health is before the Joint Committee on Health this morning and, to be fair to him, he is answering the questions asked of him. I went in to listen for a while earlier. All parties are represented on the committee, both from Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann. Good, constructive work is going on in the committee and that is important.
I support the nurses in their ongoing dispute and we will have doctors outside the Houses of the Oireachtas today. We have the ongoing scandal of the national children's hospital. There comes a point when politicians have to stop bellyaching and do something about it. This Administration is propped up by Fianna Fáil and the Independent Alliance. Either we have an election or we do not. What is it that politicians on all sides in both Houses fear about going before the people in a general election?
I fully appreciate everything Senator Ardagh said and I do not disagree with her. However, there comes a point where politicians have to step up to the plate. One cannot continue to prop up an Administration that one does not believe in. It is one thing to go on "Prime Time" and various political programmes and say one has a problem with an issue but members of the public are asking what is going on in Leinster House. This Administration is doing a lot of good things and has a programme for Government, which we have concerns about from time to time. It is incumbent on all who support and prop up this Administration to take a deep look inside themselves and their political organisations and if they are not happy, they should either put up and shut up or pull the plug and have a general election.
I echo the phrase "put up or shut up". The blatant incompetence, unaccountability and recklessness exposed by the national children's hospital debacle merely displays the inability of the Government, carried by Fianna Fáil, to provide the necessary governance and oversight to deliver infrastructure projects such as this one. Now we have the familiar cover-up and defending of the indefensible. Once again, people are being asked to turn a blind eye. There is nothing to see here, it is all par for the course. We are expected to believe that from the time concerns were raised about the €61 million costs overrun at meetings of the steering group held between August 2017 and April 2018 until the meeting in August 2018 of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board which discussed a €200 million overrun, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, was not informed. The Minister says he was first told on 27 August 2018. Thereafter, there was no rush or urgency and the Ministers for Health and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Harris and Donohoe, respectively, then became aware of the €1.4 billion construction figure in November 2018. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform says he became aware on 9 November. There is all that time between August and November and despite this being the biggest health project we have ever had, nobody saw fit to discuss this matter or to bring it anywhere. That was while detailed budget discussions were taking place between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Did nobody in those parties ever inquire as to the financial status of the largest health project in history? Fianna Fáil is now crying crocodile tears after the horse has bolted. It had such blind confidence in its bedfellows. One can only be astonished at its complete trust and unwavering loyalty that it did not even question the figures.
Yesterday, I asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, if he would re-examine the procurement model that has failed us time and again. In spite of having nine different internal and external reports carried out on corporate governance or internal financial controls in the past two years, it is obvious that nothing has been learned. In recent times, we have had the national broadband plan debacle and the Carillion debacle as a result of which dozens of small and medium businesses lost millions because proper due diligence was not carried out before the contract was awarded. Again, there was blind loyalty to KPMG and its ruling on Carillion.
My colleague, Deputy Brady, raised again yesterday an issue we have been raising for two years concerning the JobPath scheme, namely, the payment of €149 million of taxpayers' money with very little return to private companies to provide a service already provided by State-funded organisations. I include all citizens in this because everybody pays tax in this country. How long can we go on wasting money? How long will this Government and Fianna Fáil continue to write blank cheques for selected projects while, at the same time, we have to beg for hospital beds so critically ill patients can get vital chemotherapy and other treatment? This is happening while elderly and disabled people are told they are not worth a full hour of home care and they have to make do with half hour or take their place on the list. In addition, young children wait every day for vital drugs such as Translarna and Spinraza to enable them to function and Valproate victims are ignored.
Once again, we can just pull half a million euro out of the hat for PwC to examine where it all went wrong. How does the Government think such people feel when they witness such scandalous waste? I can tell the Leader they are enraged beyond words. Will he arrange for both Ministers to come into the House to answer questions on this matter?
It is very clear that when the Labour Party is not around to hold Fine Gael's hand the reputation it has tried to develop for fiscal responsibility is entirely bogus. We can see that very clearly in the way the Government has managed, if one can call it that, in regard to the crisis concerning funding for the national children's hospital.
Just eight days after the Taoiseach was made aware of the phenomenal cost overrun in the development of the national children's hospital, he took to the stage at Fine Gael's well choreographed Ard-Fheis and told the public that they could expect to have €3 billion in tax cuts over the next few years. What kind of fiscal responsibility is that? Moreover, what kind of social responsibility is that?
Last week, I giggled when I saw a Fine Gael Deputy progressing his ticket touting legislation by engaging the services of an actor to play the role of Del Boy. The reality is that the Minister for Health and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform are playing the role of Del Boy in terms of how flaithiúlach they are with the public finances. They are spending people's money like it is going out of fashion on an out-of-control public hospital. That is a fact. I echo what some of my colleagues have said, namely, that if Fianna Fáil has a problem with this, it knows what to do. Fianna Fáil is as responsible for the issue as the Fine Gael Party. It is propping up the Fine Gael-Independent Alliance Government.
Fianna Fáil has a responsibility in this matter, whether it likes it or not. We all know about Fianna Fáil's historic mismanagement of the public finances, to put it diplomatically, and where that got the people of this country.
I am extremely concerned to learn from residents in north Louth of plans from an agency operating on behalf of the UK Government to develop a site for nuclear waste in the Mourne Mountains.My understanding of international law as it applies to environmental or nuclear matters is that the Irish Government must be informed, notified and consulted in respect of a project of this nature. The Northern Ireland Executive is not meeting at the moment and the UK is using that as an opportunity to create a dumping ground for nuclear waste in south Down and south Armagh, both of which border my constituency of Louth. I appeal to the Government to take this matter seriously and to inform this House as to whether it has been notified and consulted about it. I also call on the Government to oppose this project with might and main. We all understand the environmental, waste management and health consequences of an issue such this but given the volatile situation in Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit and the possible threat from dissident republicans, we also need to be cognisant of the security issues at play here. We must make it very clear that this House opposes any moves to introduce a nuclear waste disposal facility on the island of Ireland.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Ardagh.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Registration of Wills Bill 2016, which was introduced in the Seanad two years ago, to be debated during Fianna Fáil's Private Member's time on Wednesday, 6 March next. I remind the House that the Bill in question has taken some time to progress. There is a great deal of merit in the legislation and I have sent copies of it to all of the group leaders. It would be a mark of real progress for this Bill to be debated and forwarded to Dáil for further assessment and approval. I will not be proposing any amendments to the Bill because it was vetted by the late, great former Deputy Brian Lenihan, as well as other senior counsel and lawyers. It was first proposed in 2005. It was approved in 2006 in the Seanad but then the Dáil collapsed. Every time the Bill gets as far as the Dáil, that House collapses. I accept that the latter may not be a very good indicator.
I hope that it becomes a reality on 6 March. The Bill was co-signed by Senators Ardagh and Clifford-Lee, both of whom are very prominent and qualified legal practitioners. It has been given tremendous support in the Seanad over the years from all parties and from independent Senators. I ask that the Bill be passed eventually, bearing in mind that so many wills are mislaid, lost and never found and people are deprived of their rights.
Members will be aware that it was announced yesterday that the referendum on the right to vote in presidential election for citizens living abroad has been postponed until later in the year. While I am a little disappointed by that, I am not surprised in light of what has happened regarding Brexit, the overriding issue of the day. That said, I want to ensure that we have all-party support for this referendum and that it will not be kicked to touch. Reference was made to holding the referendum in October and I ask the Leader to give a commitment to that effect because this is a very important issue for all citizens who live abroad.
Health is an issue we cannot get away from. Why should we? The health system is a shambles and always has been but it is more than that now. It is an embarrassment. Yesterday, the Leader accused many of the Members who spoke about the national children's hospital of being hysterical.
This is the Order of Business. The GPs will be standing outside Leinster House this afternoon. The nurses are on strike and the members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA, will be joining them next week. We have the longest waiting lists in Europe.
We have a Minister who does not know what he is doing while Fianna Fáil members are sitting around like gillies. I do not know if Senators understand the term but it is a Dublin way of referring to patsies. The Fianna Fáil Party has maintained the confidence and supply agreement but did not ask about or was not made aware of the situation. Are its members not feeling stung by the fact that they were not informed? Did they fall asleep at the wheel? The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection appeared on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" earlier and stated that Fine Gael is known for being prudent with the public finances and for being boring. I put it to Fianna Fáil that it was so bored while negotiating the confidence and supply agreement that it fell asleep and never asked-----
Yes, I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his assistance. That is the point I was going to make. This matter has been ongoing for seven and a half years and during almost all of that time I have been raising it issue consistently in the House. It is a very long time but the Minister has just announced the appointment of Judge Gerard Haughton to conduct a scoping exercise into matters surrounding this case. The O'Farrell family is extremely unhappy about this because the matter has been ongoing for seven and a half years. The family has been consistently pushing and pushing and at last, seemed to be getting somewhere. The Dáil passed a resolution which is the same as the resolution on today's Order Paper, which is in my name. It gives the full details of the case and calls for an independent inquiry. I ask the Leader to provide time for a discussion on this situation-----
No, not today. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach again for his assistance. I will be pushing the matter tomorrow if I do not get a positive response today. Fianna Fáil proposed this in the Lower House. I have had some discussions with the Fianna Fáil Senators and am hoping they will support me in pushing this through and making sure that we have an independent inquiry. In the statement issued by the Government, it lists all of the different inquiries that have taken place. It is a long list. The statement goes on to say that the Government expects Judge Haughton to provide the Government with an interim report within eight weeks of commencement. That sounds to me very much like long-fingering. This has gone on for seven and a half years, during which time justice has been denied to the grieving family of Shane O'Farrell. This matter was first raised by me in the House almost seven and a half years ago. We must have this matter discussed and must pass a resolution calling for an independent inquiry
I want to talk about the Revenue Commissioners and the new system for PAYE workers, namely, real time reporting, RTR, which was introduced at the beginning of this year. This is the most significant change to the PAYE system since its introduction in the 1960s but already an issue has arisen regarding teachers. Last month, an end date was incorrectly applied by the Department of Education and Skills payroll software to files submitted to Revenue. This led to teachers being treated as new employees and their pay being subjected to emergency tax. This software problem has affected substitute staff paid on 3, 10 and 17 January. So far, this represents 8% of the payees on the payroll in January 2019. To make matters worse, the Minister was unable to commit to a date by which the issue would be resolved. This new system might streamline a few things but it is not beneficial if it means that workers lose out.Under this new system, employees who leave a job to start a new one will no longer receive a P45. When employees start a new job, Revenue has put the onus on them to look after their own tax affairs, including moving tax credits from one employment to another. If they do not know this, they end up paying much more tax than is necessary. Revenue is encouraging employees to set up an online record with it called myAccount. Quite a level of computer skills is required to do this and many employees are complaining about this. They have complained to their employers and banks but they have also contacted me and other politicians because they believe they were not told about this in the proper way. Revenue has not been forthcoming with this information.
I call on the Minister to launch a large and active awareness campaign about this new system. Consideration should be have been to those who do not have access to broadband and those who do not have the required level of computer skills. It is a major issue. It is one of the biggest issues that has faced PAYE workers and we need to address it. The Minister is aware of it but a proper campaign to heighten awareness about this new system needs to be introduced.
We will support the doctors who are out in protest today. I listened to what my Sinn Féin colleagues said and I had to let it go over my head. We in Fianna Fail always look after the working people-----
I wish to voice my concern about the lack of supports for women in crisis pregnancies, in particular women on low income who need to attend hospital appointments in Dublin and have to travel from Mayo or other places along the western seaboard to attend the national maternity hospital. Some are in financial difficulties and cannot afford to do so. Based on a case that was brought to my attention, it appears they can approach the Department of Employment and Social Protection and they may or may not get help. There does not seem to be any system within the Department of Health to help them.
The case I wish to highlight is that of a young pregnant woman whose baby, sadly, has been diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality. She has had to give up work. She needs to travel to Dublin but has not found any support to do so from the Departments of Employment and Social Protection or Health. This reality must be faced up to when we are providing healthcare for women who are pregnant. This young woman is going to have her baby but she needs help and support to be able to attend her appointments. We spent a lot of time talking about supporting women in crisis pregnancies but if they cannot afford to pay the cost of four or five-hour journey to travel to Dublin and support themselves - some of these women may have other children - then all the conversations we had are a nonsense.
On this issue of serious concern to the women affected, I ask the Leader to approach both the Ministers for Employment and Social Protection and Health to ascertain who is taking responsibility for this area. Perhaps they could come into the House and enlighten us as to what provision and protocols will be put in place to help women so that they will not have to go around begging for money to travel to Dublin for a basic service.
I also want to raise a heath issue. In response to a Commencement matter I tabled this morning, I received confirmation from the Minister of State at the Department of Health that the Government is in breach of an agreement. Payments are due to 7,000 health workers but the Government will not even tell them when the money will be paid. These are support workers, healthcare assistants, porters, theatre assistants, etc. They have gone through the industrial relations process but they have not gone out on strike. The Department refused to meet their union, SIPTU, and the Government has no comment to make on when those moneys will be paid, even though they are due under the agreement. Is it any wonder that the nurses - quite rightly - have taken the decision to strike. I have no doubt SIPTU will take a similar decision because we cannot trust this Government. Even when people go through the process and it is acknowledged money is due to them the Government will not pay them what they are owed.
I call for a debate on this issue but it time for the confidence and supply party to make up its mind. It is no good coming in here to tell us what the Minister has done wrong when Senator Murnane O'Connor continues to support him and when her party endorsed this Government and extended the confidence and supply agreement.
I was amused by the Senator's comments about how her party always looks after the working people. I still remember when the minimum wage was cut by Fianna Fáil. The lowest paid workers in the State were caught and stabbed in the back by Fianna Fáil.
I call for a debate in this regard. I support the call for both Ministers to come into the House but it is time for the confidence and supply party to stop talking and act up in the interests of this nation, and bring down this awful Government.
I wish to raise the issue of policing and anti-social behaviour on the north side of Dublin. I am getting increasing exasperated with the failure to get any answers in this Chamber. I tabled a Commencement matter on anti-social behaviour issues, muggings and the escalation of violence in the Dublin 9 area and the Minister who replied to the matter told me that the Minister had no direct responsibility for the area and that it was an issue for the Garda Commissioner. I then raised in another debate the potential for the opening of a Garda station in the expanding Clongriffin-Balmayne area, which will have 50,000 residents in a number of years, and again I was told it was an issue for the Garda Commissioner. Now I have asked this week for a debate after a pipe bomb incident in Edenmore last Sunday, following a gun attack in a pizza parlour in Edenmore on New Year's eve, only to be told by the Leas-Chathaoirleach that I cannot have it because the Minister has no official responsibility in the matter. I am getting sick and tired of this kind of response. We all hear from a Minister in government in Stepaside who tells every resident that can hear him that it was his intervention that opened up a Garda station in that plush affluent suburb-----
-----against the express advice of an assistant Garda commissioner. Yet when we have had a pipe bomb incident and an attempted murder in a pizza parlour in Edenmore, I am told by the Leas-Chathaoirleach's office that the Garda Commissioner is the person responsible and the Minister for Justice and Equality has no responsibility for it.
I want to touch on the issue of the children's hospital, what has been said here and the fact that the cost overruns are escalating to in the region of €2 billion.The famous Austrian-born but American business and management consultant, Peter Drucker, once said that management by objectives works but it only works where the objectives are correct. Clearly, the objectives relating to the children's hospital were not correct. The scope of the project, we now know, was all over the place and was not clear. While the Minister is far removed from the day-to-day management operations of the project, nonetheless, the buck stops with him.
We can criticise the children's hospital all we want but this is going to happen again and again. We saw it with the Luas and the port tunnel. The public sector in general, irrespective of which Government is in control, is unable to manage a budget allocation. The financial scrutiny and financial framework need to be in place right at the beginning of a project, and that includes the site selection, which was all over the place for this project so that, ultimately, a political decision selected the site. We now know that it is, in fact, the wrong site, and any cursory glance at the financials shows that the project is involved in all sorts of operations that are nothing to do with a children's hospital.
Accountability must begin somewhere. Officials within the Department of Health and the HSE must be held accountable. This is another glaring example of the lack of accountability within the HSE. We have the resignation of one chief executive, who is replaced by another. The Minister for Health is before the health committee today but all he will do is defend the increase in spending and provide a rationale for it. There is a bigger issue, which is the national planning framework, a massive injection of capital spending over the next 20 years. We now see that the State does not have the capacity, the financial framework or the financial oversight capability to implement that.
It is regrettable that Dáil Éireann voted against an amendment, which was accepted in this House and which proposed that we would have a vote on the national planning framework. That is not happening because Deputies voted it down, which, in my view, was disgraceful and short-sighted.
I wish to raise an issue in regard to health. I spoke in the Commencement debate earlier on the issue of GPs marching today, FEMPI cuts and the provision of an adequate contract for GPs. I was contacted this morning by the parents of a child with spinal muscular atrophy, about which I and many Senators have spoken in the House. They are still awaiting a date for final approval of the drug, Spinraza, and they are worried the date will be deferred due to the children's hospital overspend. In fairness, we should not keep these people waiting indefinitely, given they and their children are currently in their 17th month waiting for a decision.
This should not be difficult. There are 25 children in the country with this condition. It presents them with a number of burdens. For example, they are wheelchair-bound, they suffer muscular recession, they are in considerable pain on a day-to-day basis and exercise is virtually impossible. We have met many of their family members and all they want is to give their kids the best life they can. We have the means to help them. The means and the treatment is the drug, Spinraza. Given they are now in their 17th month waiting for the announcement, the Government needs to announce the provision of this drug as a priority so the families can put their minds at rest.
I would like to speak about Revenue offices, in particular the reception areas in these offices. I dealt with an elderly lady who had a pension from Germany and she needed to get documentation to fill out the form she gets yearly from Germany. When she rang up the Revenue office, she found it would take five weeks to get an appointment so I decided to bring her to the Revenue office in Navan to get the form filled out. When we arrived at the office, the reception area was closed, the doors were shut and there were big signs on the doors basically saying "Ring this number". However, it takes five weeks to get an appointment.
This is very unfair to people who might have pensions in other countries and who get forms to fill out every year. There is often a time limit in such countries so these pensions could be stopped. In addition, if people want to get on the housing waiting list and need forms signed to get HAP or they are homeless, they have to wait at least five weeks before they can get into the tax office to speak to somebody. Thankfully, we got in that day and when we got in, we were looked after. However, we had to wait for somebody else to come out of the office after a meeting.
It is scandalous to think the reception areas in Revenue offices are closed and this is the new policy all over the country. The personal touch is gone from Revenue. While some people might be happy that the front door of the Revenue office is closed, if the organisation is providing a service, this is a disgrace. We should ask the Minister to come to the House and reverse this decision. We want the doors open and we want people to go in and out of Revenue reception areas and get the service they used to get.
I agree with the Senator that the Minister is a disgrace.
I compliment the Leader and his office on the work they have done to facilitate the dementia group in regard to meeting the Minister for Health next week. I want to express my appreciation to him and his staff. They acted honourably at all times.
The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government was in the Chamber yesterday. What is becoming apparent, particularly in Dublin, is that the Part V aspect of social housing is not being delivered on in the communities where it is meant to be. To give some background, similar to Cork, Dublin comprises a number of villages, such as Clontarf, Marino, Ringsend, Sandymount, Ranelagh, Rathmines and so on. Part V is not going to be delivered anywhere in the south docklands and is going to be pushed out to the suburbs. The local authority has been reported in The Irish Times on three occasions stating there will be no affordable housing in areas like Ranelagh, Rathmines and Sandymount, and if anyone is expecting it, they are not living in reality. We are talking about people on substantial salaries of between €60,000 and €75,000 being told they will no longer be able to live in the community they grew up in. That now seems to be Government policy.
The other problem which is coming, including to Cork, Limerick and Galway, is build-to-rent. I will outline what is happening in the Dublin area. Last year some 2,000 apartments were built for the market - for people to get an opportunity to get a foot in the property market and buy their first home. Of the 2,000 apartments that were built, 1,500 were sold to the build-to-rent market, denying young people the opportunity to purchase their first home. This is now moving out of control yet it is facilitated by a preferential tax break for the funds involved. We need to have a conversation before this gets out of hand. It is another issue, like the Airbnb scandal, that is going to impact on property markets right across the country, facilitated by Fine Gael.
At this morning's meeting of the Joint Committee on Health, the Secretary General of the Department of Health said five tenders were submitted in respect of the national children's hospital. There was a tender for €637 million from BAM, another tender for €768 million, another for €785 million and another for €814 million, which was the highest bid. It beggars belief that nobody in the Department of Health raised an eyebrow at the fact that there was a difference of 20% between the lowest and highest bids or about the prospect that BAM might have done this previously or that this might have been part of that company's strategy. Why were there no red flags or alarm bells? How is the Minister not come across this? There is still much to discuss. We eagerly await the PwC report, which is due on the day that Brexit is scheduled to occur. It is a matter of burying it in the papers. The Fine Gael spin machine is in overdrive.
I thank the 17 Members who made contributions to the Order of Business.
Eight Members referred to the national children's hospital. We are in Oscar season - people are queueing up for awards but there is no presenter. I assure the academy and Hollywood that there are plenty of actors here who would do a great job presenting because of the level of hyped-up commentary and ill-informed facts doing the rounds this morning.
Through the Chair, let me be quite clear about this. I am happy to have the Minister come before the House.
Regarding Senator Ardagh's amendment, the difficulty I have is that the Minister is currently attending the meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and will be in the Dáil later this afternoon. As a result, I cannot give her a commitment to have him before the House this evening-----
-----but I can talk to her after the Order of Business if she likes and give her a commitment to have the Minister before the House at the earliest possible opportunity. I thank the Senator.
As stated yesterday, we are all disappointed by and find it unacceptable to see the overruns relating to the national children's hospital. I did not hear Senator Ardagh or any of the other members of Fianna Fáil talk about the €40 million that was incurred because of Bertie Ahern's delay in respect of the Mater Hospital site. I did not-----
No one is hiding. The Minister has been before the committee. The Minister for Finance has been before the committee. This does not stop people from questioning him. He has been before the Committee of Public Accounts as well. I answered yesterday's questions about the children's hospital and I make the point again now that when it is built, there will be Members of this House at the official opening with their chests out, proudly thumping the table.
The Members opposite have been given an alternative to what was to be done. Some of them want to stop the hospital project completely, more of them want to go off and build a new one and the remainder are talking nonsense. If it was a runaway train, we would not be here today at all. The train would be continuing out the gap. That is another ill-informed comment. What we have now is a PwC report in progress, which will come back to us. All of us-----
I will have the Minister come before the House.
Senators Boyhan and Swanick raised the issue of today's NAGP protest and the issues raised by the doctors. It is important we have progress made on the contracts for GPs. The delay is inordinate. Progress needs to happen rapidly. I fully concur that there is now an obligation on the HSE to drive this new contract on.
Senator Nash referred to the proposed nuclear waste site. I had not heard of this proposal until he raised it just now, but it is a matter of grave concern. I hope the Government will outline the views he has articulated this morning in that regard.
I thank Senator Leyden for his correspondence regarding the Bill he has put forward on the registration of wills. I will give consideration to the matter.
I commend Senator Lawless on the work he has been doing with the Irish across North America. I am glad the referendum has been postponed because it will allow for an informed debate on what is proposed. That is an important decision the Government has made.
Senator Norris raised the very tragic case of Shane O'Farrell. As the Senator rightly stated, there is a grieving family who require answers. The Minister for Justice and Equality, on the completion of the GSOC report, has asked Judge Gerard Haughton to engage in a scoping exercise. I am informed by the Minister's office that Judge Haughton will meet the O'Farrell family. The report is to come back in eight weeks. I will give consideration to Senator Norris's request because he was the person who pushed the matter at the beginning. It might be a little premature to have the debate before the finalisation of the report, but I will talk to the Senator again about that.
That is the Senator's prerogative.
Senators Murnane O'Connor and Butler raised different matters concerning Revenue. Both matters would perhaps be better suited to the Commencement. The Senators would get more expeditious replies.
Senator Mulherin raised the very important issue of supports for women in vulnerable positions travelling from Dublin to the western seaboard. I will ask the Minister to come before the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Gavan referred to his Commencement debate this morning. The Minister's speech, which I have in front of me, does not tally with the Senator's interpretation. However, it is the Senator's prerogative to interpret the reply as he sees fit.
Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to anti-social behaviour on Dublin's northside. To be fair, despite my differences with Senator Ó Ríordáin, there is a need to get clarity as to who is responsible for particular matters. We have written to many different agencies and Ministers only to be told that they do not have responsibility in this area. I sit on a policing forum in Cork. Perhaps Senator Ó Ríordáin-----
I appreciate that. To be fair to Senator Ó Ríordáin, this is an important issue. It is a matter of protecting people in communities. It is about ensuring that the operations of An Garda Síochána within the community - I will not name names - are carried out properly, that a thorough analysis of them is carried out and that there is a debate between public representatives and An Garda Síochána. To assist the Senator, this might be a matter to raise at a joint policing committee.
As part of our role as public representatives, we have an obligation to raise matters pertaining to local communities with officialdom. There is a shield emerging, and it has emerged through its creation by the party opposite, around health in particular such that the Minister is not responsible for the HSE and that in the case of An Garda Síochána, it is an operational matter. It may well be an operational matter, but we need to be able to ask questions about operational matters and receive answers, and I will try to assist the Senator in this regard.
Yes, I endeavour to do so. To be fair, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is probably one of the few Ministers who is open to talking about issues and engaging on them. As a general rule, however, we need the opportunity to question officialdom on issues that affect the communities we represent. I agree with the Senator on that.
Senators Swanick and Conway-Walsh referred to Spinraza. The HSE is carrying out an assessment. I appreciate the difficulty and the sensitivity surrounding this matter. I do not have the answer they are seeking, but it is a matter of extreme importance and one that needs to be resolved more quickly.
To respond to Senator Humphreys, we had the Minister was here to discuss housing. Again, to be helpful, the points the Senator made would be more suited to a Commencement matter. I thank him for his remarks.I appreciate his patience regarding the dementia and Alzheimer's care issue, which is important. I am glad we have had a resolution to the issue he raised and I thank him for his remarks. I ask Senator Ardagh not to divide the House. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House tomorrow or early next week.
Senator Ardagh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the statement made to the Seanad on his behalf in 2017 concerning funding for the national children's hospital project be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?