Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2004: Committee and Remaining Stages.

NEW SECTIONS.

Amendment No. 1 in the names of Deputies McManus and Gormley is out of order as it involves a potential charge on Revenue.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, before section 1, to insert the following new section:

1.—This Act shall cease to have effect on 1 March 2005.

First, I seek a clarification on an invalid document. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Seán Power, said the former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, was not in attendance at the meeting. May we have a statement on that with regard to the letter circulated this morning? It is surprising it had to be corrected so quickly.

With regard to the amendments being ruled out of order, I am disappointed the new section——

I prefer to deal with the amendmentsseriatim.

We will not have time. They are very much linked. Section 1 is linked to——

The one we are dealing with now is in order.

On a point of order, I have been misquoted. I did not say the former Minister was not in attendance. I said he was not in attendance when that issue was being discussed.

It was on the agenda. That is rubbish.

That does not arise on this amendment. Deputy Perry to continue on amendment No. 2.

I would like to have the matter clarified.

I am disappointed with regard to the language in this Bill. There is no additional cost associated with the two amendments I put down. I suggest that within three months of the passing of the Act, the Minister for Health and Children should lay a report before the Dáil with regard to a database of patients. I am astonished that the Tánaiste would not incorporate that. It should not be outside the scope of the Bill. The provision for the contract with the next of kin should also be included. Can she give a commitment that these two critical amendments will be accepted? In State health institutions there is no database of any patient account and next of kin is not identified. There is mayhem in the system.

The language of the Bill is intemperate. In section 1 it would be easy to insert the words "shall not be" with regard to the charge. It would mean no ambiguity. However, as we speak , there is no database of patient accounts. There should be an account in every patient's name where debits and credits could be clearly identified as well as the reason for deductions.

I am not sure to what amendment the Deputy is speaking. We are dealing with amendment No. 2.

These amendments are related. I would like the Tánaiste to comment on the intemperate language and on page 3, line 18, after "charge" to insert "shall not be". This is critically important. Equally important — I am speaking when I get the opportunity — is a patient database and my amendment on the next of kin.

The Deputy is on amendment No. 3. We are still on amendment No. 2.

This amendment has been tabled to try to put a short life on this Bill. There is much unease and concern about how this Bill is being processed through the House without proper scrutiny. That is probably what prompted this amendment.

While I have the opportunity, I object strenuously to the fact that amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order on the basis it would likely result in a charge to the State. However, if this amendment is not adopted, I suspect there will be a much bigger charge to the State because many lawyers will get fat as a result of this Bill and many hours will be spent in the courts challenging aspects of it.

Reference was made to another issue and Deputy Seán Power has raised a new one. We have received the minutes of a significant meeting where this issue was debated and discussed by all the key players in the health service, Ministers, Department officials and CEOs. They were all there in one room. The senior Minister may have been out of the room at the time but the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, was there. This is new and crucial information because it clearly signifies that the matter was discussed and that the Department and the Minister had knowledge at that time. I am happy to accept that the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, is giving us a message. I have no quibble with him.

I would prefer if the Deputy did not develop that line. A passing reference is in order as the Minister referred to it. We are debating amendment No. 2.

I accept that.

A number of Members are offering.

I accept that but I have one last point to make which——

They are entitled to have an opportunity to speak on the amendment.

——I think is of concern to the Ceann Comhairle as well.

The Chair is concerned that we stay within Standing Orders.

I would have finished by now if I had been allowed to finish my last point.

Under Standing Orders we are debating amendment No. 2.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, who was previously Minister for Health and Children should make a full statement to the House. We do not want messengers coming here.

That does not arise on this amendment.

It does arise and it is important that it is dealt with. To protect the interests of this House and its Members, will the Ceann Comhairle ensure——

The Chair has no role in getting involved in a political debate. He has to stay out of it.

——that the Minister, Deputy Martin, who is clearly central to the issue, is asked to make a full statement to the House so we can get to the bottom of it?

The Deputy is taking up the time of other Members who wish to speak on the amendment before the House.

I support the amendment, which can be regarded as a sunset clause. We want this hastily conceived legislation to cease next year. This makes sense as the way in which it has been rushed through is very bad for the reputation of the House and makes for bad legislation. We are simply trying to patch up mistakes that have been made in the past.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children was not here for my contribution on Second Stage. It appears that, despite her earlier denials, the introduction of medical cards for over-70s was certainly a catalyst for this debacle. She may well claim that it dates back to 1976. Professor Niamh Brennan who came before the Joint Committee on Health and Children, in addition to economists whom the Tánaiste would admire greatly, including Seán Barrett, said this was an ill-conceived step, that it would be ill-advised to go ahead with it and that it really amounted to a vote-catching exercise.

We should examine the legislation in greater detail. Repercussions will arise from the legislation, which I hope will not be as bad as I think it could be. The Minister is riding roughshod over the old and vulnerable. They are being given a pat on the head and €2,000. The Minister is wishing them a happy Christmas and telling them to be on their way, which is no way to do things.

More than that, the legislation is conceiving a new way of dealing with long-stay patients. It is not just dealing with the past, it is setting up a new way of dealing with the matter in future. I find this approach reprehensible, but it is in keeping with the right wing philosophy of this Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Administration. It is saying to the elderly that they have served the country but now they must pay for the treatment they deserve and have earned.

I will not delay the House too much in the short time we have. The Fine Gael Party has tabled a total of 12 of the 14 amendments that have to be taken in 15 minutes. In response to the intervention of the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, who said the Minister left a meeting and there was no Minister——

I have already ruled Deputy McManus out of order.

I will not have time to speak again on the matter.

I understand that but the Chair is obliged to insist the Deputy speaks on the amendment.

It was said that the Minister left the meeting and he was unaware of what was on the agenda. He left the meeting, came back to it and did not get the minutes of it.

That does not arise. I call Deputy Ó Caoláin.

In pleading ignorance of what happened, he is trying to fool us further.

The Deputy has made his point. That does not arise.

We do not believe it. It is a matter of ministerial incompetence that the Minister sat on a major issue for almost 12 months.

The Deputy should not labour the point, in fairness to Deputies who wish to speak on this amendment. We are debating amendment No. 2 in the name of Deputy Twomey.

I will finish on this point. It reminds me of the former Minister, now Senator O'Rourke, telling us that she was in the bath when something else happened. The former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, was possibly washing his hands or was in the toilet when this matter was discussed.

We are long past Second Stage.

We all hear a great many fairy tales at Christmas time but this is one we do not believe. This was gross incompetence and the Minister, Deputy Martin, should make a statement to the House.

Deputy Allen should allow Deputy Ó Caoláin to speak.

I support the amendment, which has been described as a sunset clause. The purpose of the amendment is that the Act would cease to have effect as of 1 March 2005. There would be some merit in considering the amendment as it would allow an opportunity to properly explore and review all the elements that are swirling around the core issue at the heart of the Bill. Without question, there are serious matters to be addressed.

Clearly, the legislation as presented is not a definitive response. It is flawed in many respects. The Minister did not respond to questions posed in the course of Second Stage. By adopting amendment No. 2, the Minister would afford not only an opportunity to herself but to the Department and the health boards, which without question will face a vista of legal challenge. Adopting the amendment would allow for time to properly explore and prepare alternative legislation to deal with the matter in a substantive and caring way.

As I stated on Second Stage, we have a responsibility, and the Government in particular has a responsibility, to ensure that the vulnerable are always treated fairly and always have their rights upheld. The legislation seeks to take away a fundamental right of legal recourse where illegal charges have been applied to a significant number of citizens heretofore, some of whom will pass on in the near future.

We posed several questions in the course of Second Stage to which there has been no response. We have not been given the necessary clarification to inform a broad debate on this matter. I urge the Minister to accept that this proposition is fundamentally flawed. Amendment No. 2 offers a way to overcome the immediate difficulty and places responsibility on the Minister and her Department to come back with all the information and properly drafted legislation.

I support the amendment. The Minister has the numbers to push the legislation through but she must accept it is rushed and there should be a mechanism to completely review the situation. I do not wish to repeat what I said on Second Stage about my concerns in regard to the area of treatment of the elderly which could be evaluated, examined and legislated for in the context of what is happening here. The amendment would allow for comprehensive legislation to be drawn up following a proper debate.

It is strange that the Minister did not read the minutes of that meeting 12 months ago.

As it is now 3.30 p.m., in accordance with the Order of the House today, I must put the following question: "That in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to in Committee, the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee, the Bill is, accordingly, reported to the House without amendment, that Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 65; Níl, 53.

  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghail, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Ned.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Padraic.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairi.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Kehoe and Stagg.
Question declared carried.