Adjournment Debate. - Medical Practitioners Act, 1978.

I had intended to call Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív.

On a point of order, the Deputy is not here and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Shea, is here to take the first Adjournment matter. I am led to believe this is not the first time the Deputy has not turned up to raise this matter.

The Deputies and the Ministers involved in matters selected for the Adjournment — of which they get adequate notice from my office — ought to be present.

Ba mhaith liom leithscéal a ghabháil. Rinne me dearmad nach mbeadh vóta anocht. Tharla sé an uair dheireannach go raibh mé ar an athló nár tháinig an tAire ach tarlaíonn rudaí mar sin agus gabhaim leithsceál arís.

I thank the Minister for coming in to listen to the matter I wish to raise. In his Second Stage speech on the Employment Equality Bill, the Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Taylor, said:

It fulfils our commitment to introduce broad ranging legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment on the grounds of gender, marital and family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the travelling community.

It is extraordinary the Minister did not refer to need for the Minister for Health to amend the Medical Practitioners Act to ensure the discrimination against doctors who have long periods of temporary registration here will be ended.

For some time now I have raised the question of the implementation of section 27(2)(d) with the Minister for Health and also with the Minister for Equality and Law Reform and the way in which it is used by the Medical Council to discriminate against doctors, including those who have taken Irish citizenship. Under this section the Medical Council insists that doctors who have had temporary registration here for long periods re-sit basic medical examinations before getting permanent registration. For example, I have a case of a doctor who practiced in a speciality here for ten years and is being refused permanent registration on the basis that qualifications earned at that time from reputable universities are not recognised. In other words, a person who was recognised as being suitable to practice here is now deemed not to be suitably qualified. It is obvious that the purpose of this legislation is not to ensure standards but to inhibit the registration of foreign doctors here. In one case the doctor is an Irish citizen.

Most forms of discrimination are subtle and include putting clever barriers in the way of people. This would seem to be a classical example of same. A recent newspaper article stated that the Medical Council intended to introduce a written examination and a language test in English for all doctors seeking temporary registration in Ireland from this month onwards. Apparently this requirement will apply to all non-European graduates, including those coming from English speaking countries, such as the US, Canada and Australia. It is extraordinary that doctors coming from European countries where English is not the normal spoken language are not required to pass a language test while those coming from countries where English is a common language are required to pass this test.

The Medical Council should be asked to explain the reason this practice was introduced and on what grounds it can be based on language requirements. I have raised this question with both the Minister for Health and the Minister for Equality and Law Reform over a considerable period. The Minister for Equality and Law Reform dodged the issue of discrimination and passed it on to the Minister for Health. The Minister for Health has hidden behind the Medical Council. In a reply on 3 July 1996 — Official Report, vol. 468, col. 196 — the Minister said:

The Medical Council under the provisions of section 27 of the Medical Practitioners Act, 1978 has statutory responsibility for granting full registration in the General Register of Medical Practitioners if it is satisfied that the applicant meets the criteria for full registration.

The council has been given these responsibilities because it has the particular professional expertise required to carry out these functions.

I do not consider that it would be appropriate for me to interfere or try to interfere with the independence of the Council in the carrying out of these functions.

This is a total cop-out by the Minister as it is under an Act which he has not yet amended, that the Medical Council is acting in a discriminatory fashion. I hope the Minister will bring this discriminatory practice to an end by introducing amending legislation immediately to ensure everybody is treated equally.

A significant amount of preparatory work has been done on a comprehensive amendment of the Medical Practitioners Act, 1978. Among the issues to be addressed are the criteria for temporary registration and full registration. In framing these provisions we will take full account of case law in this area as well as adhering to the principles of natural justice.

One of the primary functions of the Medical Council is to protect the public from, among other things, inadequately educated or poorly trained doctors. The council must exercise vigilance in granting full registration to overseas doctors who thereby acquire the same rights and status as the graduates of Irish medical schools.

It should be understood that the category of "temporary" exists to facilitate overseas doctors who wish to pursue post-graduate training in Ireland. The extent of temporary registration is limited by statute to a total of five years. There is no automatic entitlement to progress from temporary registration to full registration. The Department of Health and the Medical Council have examined these issues in some depth in preparing amendments to the Act and are agreed that changes need to be made to allow the council greater discretion in granting full registration to doctors whose training experience would not qualify them for full registration under the present legislation.

Amendments to be made in this area will not be designed to discriminate intentionally against any particular group.