I was to begin by discussing something different but given that the Minister of State referred to oil and gas exploration, I must refer to a conversation I had with Mr. Eddie Hobbs on the telephone this morning about his book "Own Our Oil". He seems quite convinced about what he is saying. He does not believe successive Governments have done a good job on this issue. Time will tell whether he or the Government is correct. In the past half-hour, I wrote to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources asking that the authors of the book be allowed to discuss this issue at an upcoming meeting. People can talk about conspiracy theories and whatever they want but I hope that the Minister of State would want the best deal for Ireland; I imagine that he does. Therefore, the best way to achieve this is to talk to everyone with a legitimate opinion on the matter. When we meet people on the doorsteps, we realise this is a topic that causes frustration. The Government always tells us the matter is not as simple as might be assumed and that we have not found anything yet. Although it says we are not losing hundreds of millions of euro, we need to nail the debate once and for all. Will the Minister of State ask that the people who wrote the book, including approximately 14 authors in addition to Eddie Hobbs, be invited to the committee to have the issue debated? If we can address it in a better way, it will be good for us all.
Many speakers have said the Government had cheek to close the doors for a week and a half in order to do a lap of honour. I would say it was very brave to come into the House to try to defend what it has done over the past three years. Bar cochlear implants, I cannot really think of anything positive.
In the area of health, midwifery really stands out as a problem. Midwives in some hospitals must work twice as hard as their international counterparts. The international average is 29.5 deliveries per midwife but our average in some hospitals is 55. No matter what anyone says to try to defend that, it will not come up to the mark.
When I heard the current Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, state years ago he was thinking of getting involved in politics, I was very hopeful. Given that he had a medical background and knew what he was on about, I believed we might see some positive changes. However, the fact is that it is now too late to be blaming Fianna Fáil. The current Government has been in power for three years. How can the health service be as safe as it should be if midwives have to work twice as hard as the international standard would suggest?
In advance of the election, Deputy Frank Feighan, Senator John Kelly and I participated in a radio interview. I said I agreed with quite a few of Fine Gael's policies and that my only concern was that it did not believe in them itself. As it turned out, that is true. With regard to Roscommon Hospital's accident and emergency unit, I agreed with Fine Gael's policy. Deputy Kenny, now the Taoiseach, stood up on a soapbox in the square in Roscommon town and told us he would keep our unit open. Subsequently, when the cock had barely crowed, he had it closed. His argument was that he was sorry for the confusion and perhaps did not explain himself well enough. He explained himself well enough all right. Mr. Martin Kenny from Sinn Féin would be a Deputy now if the Taoiseach had told people in Roscommon town on the day on which he made his promise what he is saying to us now. I am not saying Mr. Martin Kenny's election would have been a good or bad thing. The Taoiseach, hiding behind supposed confusion, actually said HIQA recommended the closure.
This was not true; HIQA recommended no such thing. Then the Minister, Deputy Reilly, said it was due to the dire coronary care problems there and the higher mortality rates of people who went there with cardiac problems. He completely manipulated the statistics on that and was not comparing like with like. He was not allowing for the fact that there is an older population and older people going into Roscommon hospital. No; he hid behind it. How can people in Roscommon be happy with the performance of this Government?
There was another person who convinced me, so perhaps I am a little gullible. In their first few months as Members of the House the Technical Group tabled a Private Members' motion. To be honest, I did not know what a Private Members' motion was until I discovered I was going to be helping to put it together. Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Donnelly and I said our piece in the House. We made the point that we would not make a political football of mental health because it was too important for that. We said we would leave it to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, give her a year, or perhaps two, and see what would happen.
I will outline what has happened. We now have a situation - these are not my words and let nobody accuse me of being irresponsible for telling the truth - where clinicians describe the psychiatric unit in Galway as "Dickensian" and what is happening there as "bedlam". These are the words of clinicians who work there. I hate having to say this because people will have to use that service and one does not wish to scare them away. However, one must deal with the facts. Three years into this Government's term of office there were patients lying in wet beds because water was leaking through the roof. Patients are shivering in corridors waiting to use one of the three showers. There are three showers for 31 people.
Last week, Deputy Frank Feighan suggested in the Dáil that I go and look at the hospitals and see the great work that is taking place. In fairness, he was referring to Roscommon hospital. I made an attempt to see the psychiatric hospital in Galway, along with Deputies Naughten and Keaveney and Senator Michael Mullins, but we were not allowed in. We were told it was because of patient confidentiality. That would have been legitimate if there had been anybody in the ward, but there was nobody in it. On the one hand we were told, to shut us up, to go in and see the great work that is being done, but when we went to try and see it, we were not let in. If we go back to the public and say we are not allowed to see if the conditions are as they were described by the clinicians, what will happen? People will not trust the service.
We were told, on being refused entry, that we were wrong and that there were actually five showers. It is similar to the way some people might treat a child when giving him or her money, telling the child it is more money than it really is. We are not stupid. We do not believe what we are being told because we are not allowed to see it. We were also told that the leak was only a minor one. In fact, there is the equivalent of a duck pond on the roof of that unit. The roof is held up by RSJs which are covered up with some type of material to hide them. We were told that is not the case, but it is. It is a fact. As somebody who suffered from mental health problems in the past, as many people have - and no doubt in the future the black dog will be back to visit - it terrifies me that this would be one's only option if one got sick. My biggest fear of mental illness in the past was that I would have to use the services. That fear has not been alleviated in the slightest.
There was a brilliant system in Ballinasloe. There were 22 beds in St. Brigid's Hospital and it was working well. It was a model for how A Vision for Change should work, but the Government dismantled it. When the local community tried to stop it from being dismantled, gardaí were called. Clients of that service and their parents were literally fighting with their hands to try to hold onto that service, but the answer was "No". There was a vote in the Seanad on it and Senator Lorraine Higgins, who is supposed to represent people in Ballinasloe, betrayed them and voted to close it. When I hit her about it on Twitter her comeback was to mention that I never got the swimming pool in Castlerea opened all year round. We are talking about people sleeping in wet beds and shivering in corridors, and the best response we can get from the Senator, who should not have that job anyway, is, "Nah, nah, neh, nah, nah, you didn't get your swimming pool". We are dealing with people who are talking about killing themselves and all we get is a lame political comeback. That is a complete and utter failure on the part of the Government. When it comes to health, it has been a miserable failure.
I am sure Members at this stage are sick of the phrase, "Labour's way or Frankfurt's way," but it must be said again when discussing our banking debt. In fact, it is not our banking debt but the banks' debt that we took on our shoulders. As a result of the Government's cowardice and inability to even ask, we have a debt of €70 billion for the future. It affects the future of my children and their children as it is leaching money out of their and their friends' prospects. Amazingly, I heard Mr. Jim Higgins, MEP, say on a local radio station, Shannonside FM, last week that there is good news on the way and that before the next general election there will be retrospective recapitalisation of the banks and we will get the money back. I thought I had missed something so I checked it out. Nobody else appeared to have this information or to be saying this. On the one hand we have a Government which claims it has a victory and that we are doing all right, but on the other hand there is an MEP who is trying to get re-elected and says on the radio that we need not worry because this money is coming back to us. The way the Government is going about it, it will never come back to us.
All we are seeking is fairness. We joined the European Union when it was a community. A community is supposed to look after its members. Regardless of people saying it will cut off our money supply and will do this or that to us if we demand a debt write-down, the core issue here is the principle of community. Does a community do that to somebody when he or she falls on hard times? Does it threaten to kick one when one is down? It should not, but it did. Whatever about the detail regarding the money, the facts are clear. It is no longer a community, it is a bully-boy club run by France and Germany under the guise that they will go to war if they do not have this community. It is not our fault that they went to war and we should not have to pay the price for it now.
The Government understands the concept of a write-down. If one has a bugle or a company such as Independent News & Media, INM, one gets a write-down of tens of millions of euro. We own 99.9% of AIB and we had to make a decision on whether to give the money to INM and the Denis O'Briens of the world or to give debt write-downs on mortgages for people who are struggling to live and being tortured by the banks. We decided to give it to the multimillionaire, and then we thank him for paying the Republic of Ireland soccer manager's salary. Actually, we are giving that man ten times more out of one of our banks alone than he is paying a manager who could not even win last night.
With regard to farming and the Common Agricultural Policy, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, did the rich farmers, as well as his own family members and many of the Government's families' members, proud. These are the farmers on single farm payments ranging from €40,000 to €80,000. The Common Agricultural Policy does not exist to pay back the loans undertaken by rich farmers for the houses they bought in Bulgaria and Spain during the boom. That money is there to keep small farms going, to keep families on farms, to create employment in farming and, most importantly, to guarantee food security for Europe. All it is guaranteeing now is rich farmers' houses in Bulgaria and Spain.
George Lee spoke about this at one stage but he has gone very quiet on it. I wonder why. I would love to hear him speak up on it again. Billions leaving the country which should stay in our local communities is, to use an overused word, a disgrace. The small farmer, no more than the rich farmer, only needs to sleep in one bed, only eats one dinner and only needs one pair of socks a day, but the poor farmer spends all of this money locally while the rich farmer spreads its around the world by the look of things. This money should have gone to local communities.
The IFA will defend this. It is time members of the IFA woke up and realised whose side the organisation is on. The next time they go to a mart they should refuse to pay the bloody levy because they are paying a levy to fund an organisation which is screwing them more than Alan Shatter would have some of the whistleblowers if he had his way. It is not on. The money was for farming communities but it is going to ranchers and the Larry Goodmans of the world and this is completely and utterly wrong.
Another policy of the incoming Government with which I agreed was that it would stand by turf cutters. Deputy John O'Mahony stated at a public meeting on 15 February 2011 in Mayo that under Fine Gael turf cutting would be allowed in 2011. Guess what happened? I went out and cut my turf, as did Michael Fitzmaurice and many other turf cutters, and we were attacked. We were accused of being bad citizens for doing what the incoming Government stated it would be all right with us doing. It changed its mind afterwards. It stated it never realised how difficult it was going to be to deal with Europe over turf cutting. It did not understand the hospital situation or how complicated the debt situation would be either. I suppose come the next general election when members of the Government put together their policies and make promises, we will only be able to conclude that, God love them, they do not understand what they are saying so we had better not vote for them.
At this stage turf cutters are being dragged through the courts and we are listening to rubbish from the Minister telling us the problem is solved. This morning it was quite clear from his contribution the problem is not solved. One does not solve the problem by dealing with 15% of the people and excluding the rest, and then pretending to the media, who are only delighted to gobble it up, the problem is solved. The problem is not solved and it will only be solved when the Government listens to the stakeholders and takes on board what they say. At present it is listening to them and then ignoring them. This problem will not go away until the Government starts working with the people.
We had a plan which was voted on here. Everyone agreed with it and I was carried out of the Dáil shoulder high. What a great day. All that was going through my head was how do I tell these people the Government will shaft them in a couple of months time. I tried to, but they kept cheering because they thought the problem was solved. It is not solved. We even had a situation where the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, in a phone call to the head of the turf cutters described him as a true patriot. He has gone from being a true patriot to being a criminal. It all depends on the audience; he is a true patriot if the Taoiseach is speaking to him but he is a criminal if the Taoiseach is speaking to another audience. There is a big distance between these two explanations of this human being. I agree with the first analysis of the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, that Michael Fitzmaurice is a true patriot, because who else would have travelled the country night after night paying for his own diesel and chips along the way and looking for funding from no one? He visited every bog necessary and put together a plan which we presented. All that has happened is betrayal, twisting the truth and trying to spin things to make them sound good, but the public knows the truth.
There is not much I can do about the Government closing our accident and emergency department as I cannot kick in the door and pretend I am a doctor and run it, and other than protest and disagree there is not a lot I can do in opposition about it closing down our local schools and post offices. The great thing about the turf issue is if the Government tries to close my bog, if it takes me going in there with my bare hands to pull it out, the Government will not be able to stop me and it will not be able to stop the thousands of others who will do so. This is why the issue is one which will nail the Government in the end.
We heard a lot about local government reform before the Government came into office, and documents were thrown around the place with loads of information about this and that. Yesterday I contacted the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and had an hour long chat with someone about how the system will work. I had a good understanding of how it will work as I debated the topic here, but I wanted to hear what would happen if someone contacted the Department and asked how it will work. As things stand the number of councillors in Roscommon has reduced from 26 to 18. Other than this change all that has happened is the three areas are being called municipalities.
I asked the Department what legal requirement there is to hold any meetings and whether there is an onus on the chairman to call these meetings. I was told strictly speaking if no meetings were held nothing could be done. It is a bit similar to when I was on the corporate policy group on Roscommon County Council and the mayor was looking for favours so only one meeting was held during the year. Guess what? There was nothing we could do about it. Are we facing a situation where local government reform will be a bit like Windscale changing its name to Sellafield; local area meetings and road meetings will be called municipality meetings and then we will all meet anyway in the main council meeting where we will have less influence than we used to because it has become more local? What has changed? We were told about a structure of three regions taking in various counties and this system would feed into it. This has not been readied or prepared so in reality we have not had local government reform.
There is an idea the Government is bringing local government closer to people. How is local government being brought closer to the people of Boyle when its town council has been closed? I know it did not have much power, and there was not much it could do with the minimal power it had, but the answer was not to get rid of it but to reform it and make it better. In response to the suggestion the meetings held in Roscommon are bringing local government closer, I suggest the Government watches the episode of "Sesame Street" where Grover explains to people what "near" and "far" mean. One will notice that when people are far away they are a little bit smaller and when they are closer they are bigger. I seriously think the Minister does not understand the difference between near and far if he can close down local councils and call it bringing local government closer.
The benefits of reforming local government and giving councillors real power is important, particularly when it comes to business and rates. Under the new system there will be nothing councillors can seriously do to reduce rates without cutting services. These will be the options presented to councillors. The job of rooting out where money is being wasted will not happen because councillors who do this gets punished, as I and several other members of Roscommon County Council, including Sinn Féin Councillor Michael Mulligan, did. One cannot be the person who watches the pennies and also the person who wants to get stuff done in the area. Until we reform this system to put the elected representative in the driving seat we will not see rates reduced without a reduction in services. When I was mayor, as I have stated in the House previously but it is definitely worth repeating, I was told by the director of finance that if I sought any more detail on the budget he would leave the room. Under the new system being introduced he will still be able to leave the room and there will be nothing one can do about it and rates will not be reduced.
Consequently, it is a shame the Government, which claims to care about creating jobs, did not change that because if it did care, it would have done something about it.
The major issue that is hitting the Government at present, and deservedly so, is that of the manner in which both Garda whistleblowers, Sergeant McCabe and former Garda Wilson, have been treated. In Mullingar at 6.30 p.m. today, the public will have an opportunity to come out and support these brave people who are trying to do a tough job but which is being made more difficult by the Minister and by their boss, Mr. Callinan, who described them as disgusting. This evening, at 6.30 p.m., people will have an opportunity to show how these people are in fact the opposite. They are wonderful and brave people but unfortunately, in this country when one blows the whistle, the authorities do not look up. Instead, they look for a way to ram it down one's throat and if it does not choke one, they pray it will poison one when it reaches one's stomach. This is precisely what we are dealing with. Moreover, this is not the only cover-up that is going on and so many cases are being presented to me and to my colleagues, Deputies Joan Collins, Wallace and Clare Daly, that we are under massive pressure in trying to deal with them. New and astonishing stories emerge every day that, when one looks into them, actually turn out to be true. In one of these cases, that is, the death of Shane Tuohey, his father contacted me today to tell me they had received a response from the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to the effect that nothing could be done for them. Anyone who would read the details of Shane Tuohey's death need not be Inspector Clouseau, Colombo or Jessica Fletcher to solve this one but the Minister still cannot see anything wrong. It is a case of "nothing to see here". When he was in opposition, the Minister was all gung-ho about doing something in this regard, particularly in the case of Fr. Niall Molloy. However, he has gone cold on it at this stage as it simply does not suit him any more and, consequently, these people must continue to suffer. I have a message for the Minister, Deputy Shatter. My colleagues and I will not give up and we will keep at this until finally we break through. The fact that this issue has been covered and dealt with in recent weeks gives us a glimmer of hope and we will keep at it until we win because otherwise, the children of this country will be obliged to work with a Garda Síochána that unfortunately they will be unable to trust, which would be really sad.
One issue I have brought up repeatedly in the Chamber over the past 18 months or so is that of Coillte and how people have approached me about alleged fraud against that company. When I brought it up initially, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, replied that he had not heard about it heretofore. He would have done, had he followed the question I had asked of the Minister, Deputy Shatter. However, when he did hear about it, his officials met the company that had approached me about the problem in the first place. The Minister himself could not meet us, as he was too busy. We met them again and again and they conducted what they called an investigation into the matter. We were not given a copy of or allowed to see the results of that investigation. Moreover, the Department could not get access to the information it sought from Coillte, because it was commercially sensitive. The Minister is Coillte's boss and if he wishes to carry out an investigation, through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, into alleged fraud against a company the public owns, how can he hide behind the excuse that it is commercially sensitive? He could have got that information and then judged what was happening on the basis of that information. However, he refused to so do. The Government was correct to remind everyone numerous times about the money that was wasted on the e-voting machines, that is, of the €50 million or €60 million or whatever figure came to mind. The figure I am talking about in respect of the alleged fraud against Coillte, which is in public ownership, is in the region of €85 million. I will pretend to be Deputy Martin for a second and perhaps the media might listen. A total of €85 million is being robbed from us and nothing is being done. It is making the forestry industry less competitive and is in danger of putting many saw-millers on their knees and out of work. The Government should do something about it. It should try to do something right.