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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Nov 2006

Vol. 185 No. 8

Order of Business.

The Order of Business is No. 1, Prisons Bill 2006 — Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business until 6 p.m.; and No. 2, Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006 — Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage.

I welcome comments made yesterday by the Minister of State with special responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan. He suggested rightly that it is time to review the suitability of the Government's decision to locate the new national children's hospital at the Mater Hospital.

Hear, hear.

He showed extraordinary courage in demurring from what the Cabinet has said. The report of Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin and the ongoing reservations expressed by the National Children's Hospital in Tallaght mean that we need an independent international review of the decision if we are to ensure we get matters right.

Too much is riding on this. This serious issue concerns not just Dublin. It concerns putting in place a national children's hospital for the next 50 years, the expenditure in respect of which will be €500 million. We must make the decision in the right way and it must be supported by the other hospitals. As long as Ministers and many other members in our community continue to question the suitability of the existing decision, a decision will not be made this side of the next general election. It is crucial that the Government organise an independent international review of its decision sooner rather than later. Will the Minister of State attend the House this week to elucidate on his comments?

There is little point in proceeding to elections in Northern Ireland on 7 March 2007 if the people of the region are not sure whether the Assembly members they elect will be present to carry out their functions during the next five years. I welcome the remarks made yesterday by the leader of the DUP, Dr. Ian Paisley. He gave a clear commitment that he is prepared to enter into a power-sharing government with Sinn Féin. While such clarity at this stage is crucial, it is equally important that Sinn Féin decides to call its Ard-Fheis and commits itself clearly to supporting the new policing dispensation in Northern Ireland. I ask Sinn Féin to do so in January, which is well in advance of the Northern Ireland elections. Last Friday's events at Stormont remind us that dangerous individuals still exist, on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, who are committed to wrecking the process. We must work to ensure their voice is excluded so that devolved Government, based on power sharing, is restored to Northern Ireland as soon as possible and that the majority moderate community is given the right to express its views through that Government. I welcome Dr. Paisley's comments and hope it leads to Sinn Féin making an early decision on policing.

Le déanaí anseo, bhí an-chonspóid agus argóint againn mar gheall ar logainm ar leith i gCorca Dhuibhne, agus ba é an moladh a bhí agamsa ag an uair sin ná gur chóir go mbeadh logainmneacha dátheangach tríd an tír. Inniu tá agóid lasmuigh d'oifigí an Aire Iompair, an Teachta Cullen, agus an Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta, an Teachta Ó Cuív, i nGaillimh. Is é an rud atá á iarraidh ag daoine ná go mbeadh na comharthaí tráchta dátheangach. Aontaím go mór le daoine sa mhéid sin. Ba chóir go ndéanfaí é sin. Sin an sórt ruda réasúnta ar chóir a dhéanamh ar son na Gaoluinne tríd an tír. Mar shampla, agus duine ag taisteal tríd an Mhór-Roinn, sa Chatalóin sa Spáinn agus Tír na mBascach sa Spáinn agus sa Fhrainc, feiceann sé go mbíonn na comharthaí bóithre ag tús gach baile dátheangach go rialta. Ba chóir dó a bheith mar sin sa tír seo chomh maith. I am committed to the idea of bilingual signage to reflect our culture and we should offer our support to those seeking to deliver that in Ireland today. It is not much to ask.

Cím chomh maith go bhfuil an OPW inniu ag iarraidh iarracht nua a dhéanamh ar An mBlascaod Mór a cheannach don Stát. Sa Tigh seo, b'fhéidir 15 bliain ó shin, nuair a thángamar ar ais tar éis na n-oibreacha ar an tsíleáil, b'é an chéad rud a phléamar sa Seanad ná the establishment of the Blasket national park. B'é an deacracht a tharla idir an dá linn ina dhiaidh sin ná nach raibh an Stát in ann teacht ar na hoileáin mar bhí deacrachtaí ar leith ag baint le ownership of various parts of the Blaskets at the time. Ba mhaith liom go bhféadfaimis gach tacaíocht a thabhairt d'Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí agus í ag iarraidh An Blascaod Mór a cheannach don Stát. Tá foinse agus tobar chultúr litríochta na tíre thar a bheith tábhachtach.

Today in north Clare another event of cultural importance is taking place. Michael Cusack, who has been largely forgotten in Irish history, is being commemorated by the opening of a new museum in his honour. We should value such referencing of Irish cultural activity. The museum deserves the necessary funding and I congratulate Clare County Council in that regard.

Tá sé maith dúinn é a fhágáil faoi mhuintir na Gaeltachta conas mar a theastaíonn uathu ainmneacha a oireann dóibh a chur ar chomharthaí bóithre. Bhí feachtas mór gníomhach éifeachtach 25 bliain ó shin le nach mbeadh comharthaí bóithre sna Gaeltachtaí ach amháin i dteanga an phobail.

It would be grossly offensive to give English names to certain townlands in the Gaeltacht. Such names have never been used by the people in those areas or anybody else and could only be transliterations. I know a townland in west Kerry called An Ghráig, which some have attempted to translate as Graigue but nobody, in either the Galltacht or Gaeltacht, would know where people meant by that name. Those who do not feel comfortable with the position in the Gaeltachtaí should confine themselves to their own places. B'fhéidir gur chóir do dhaoine éisteacht le heagraíocht nua dár teideal Todhchaí na Gaeltachta atá spreagtha as an chinneadh a rinne pobal An Daingin go dlíthiúil agus go daonlathach. Tá sé spreagtha chomh maith as rudaí eile a bhaineann leis na Gaeltachtaí, agus ba chóir dúinn na ceisteanna seo a fhágáil dóibh in ionad Béarla a bhrú ar dhaoine sna Gaeltachtaí a bhí thar a bheith sásta nuair a athraíodh na comharthaí bóithre 25 bliain ó shin. Ní gá iad a athrú.

Perhaps in the new year we could debate something that turns up every time a praiseach is made of something in the public sector, that is, what is called a systems failure. A systems failure usually means somebody did not anticipate something might happen. I am a reasonably inadequate engineer but I teach young people who, I hope, become far better engineers than me. These young people are only a month in the place when we teach them that for everything they do and every decision they make as an engineer, their first task is to examine the consequences it will have elsewhere. Otherwise, one is not worth one's salt as an engineer.

I have heard that a systems failure caused Dublin's traffic to grind to a halt for seven and a half hours, a systems failure cost the State €2 billion and a systems failure resulted in the appalling situation in Leas Cross. Whatever problem arises, it is due to a systems failure. I am sick of systems failures. A person is paid to manage each of those systems and his or her first job is to ensure the system works. If that person does not do that, he or she is not fit to do the job. Instead of hearing the perpetual whinge about ordinary working people in the public service, such as nurses, doctors, teachers and so forth, could we debate how the performance of managers in the public sector is managed?

These managers are very keen on performance appraisals for their subordinates. They are full of rigmarole and spend a large amount of taxpayers' money, hopefully usefully. However, nobody can tell me how the performance of a senior manager in the Department of Finance or that of a county manager is appraised, even though they all get bonuses for doing a great job. Can we have a debate, after the holidays, on how managers in the public sector are appraised? I do not know how their appraisal is carried out but I am sick of hearing the excuse of systems failure. It is only a way of avoiding the fact that each incident represents a management failure.

The telephones in the House are not working today.

A number of Senators have indicated that they wish to speak. I ask them to be brief.

Will the Leader allocate time during the next two weeks for a debate on the annual report of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board? There has been some controversy about the board recently but it must be acknowledged that, working with the current and previous Ministers, it is making a major contribution to the reduction in the cost of insurance. It was Government policy to reduce the cost of insurance and it has succeeded in that.

Do not tell the Progressive Democrats that.

I do not blame the leader of the Progressive Democrats for having large advertisements located on the N52——

That is very unfair to the Deputy's colleagues.

We like to share in the success of the Government. We are generous enough to allow——

Does Senator Leyden have a question for the Leader?

——the smaller group in the Government to take a share in that credit.

The tail is wagging again.

It is a grand tail.

Vested interests in the legal profession have spoken out strongly against the PIAB; they have been quite scurrilous. The Fine Gael spokesperson in the Lower House——

It was a Fine Gael idea to set it up.

——who is also a solicitor has condemned the PIAB simply because it has pushed aside the legal profession.

The Senator can raise those issues in the debate.

A total of 40% of all costs consisted of legal fees. They are now gone and the cost of insurance has been reduced by 50%. I do not know who to blame but this Government——

If the Senator does not know who to blame, he should say nothing.

It is a credit. I ask the Leader to organise a debate before the Christmas recess on the proposal to increase the cost of electricity by 19%. The increase has been approved by the regulator but he is reviewing that decision at present. I expect that it will decrease by 10% to a maximum of 10% because——

There will be a new regulator.

Could Senator Leyden do any better?

——the cost of oil has decreased——

The price of gas should also be reduced.

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

I would appreciate it if I could make my contribution without this type of interruption.

Senator Leyden without interruption.

I appreciate the Leas-Chathaoirleach's interjection.

Has Senator Leyden a question for the Leader?

When the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources was in charge of price increases, at least someone could be identified who could accept blame or responsibility. That is not the case with regard to the new regulator. Ground rent in my village of Castlecoote is €159 per year.

It is overvalued.

It is €65 in the town but €101 in the Walk, from whence I come. Despite these variations in rates, which are subject to 13.5% VAT, the regulator has not called in the ESB to regulate the charges. I urge the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the management of the ESB.

Is the Senator not a Government Member?

We have to make allowances for the Opposition's ineffectiveness.

On several occasions over recent months, I have asked the Minister for Education and Science to intervene, as a matter of urgency, in what was described in The Irish Times today by a former principal of Newpark comprehensive school as enclaves of segregation in Dublin schools. The failure of the Minister to intervene to ensure equity within the education system at secondary level will return to haunt her because people with special needs are being excluded from certain schools. Her failure to intervene is compounding the problem by allowing it to continue. In the 1990s, approximately 1% of the students in mainstream second level education had special needs, whereas this year in Newpark alone, the proportion stands at 10% of the school’s intake of 790 students. These problems exist throughout the country, although they are greatest in Dublin.

The Senator should raise these issues in a debate.

Since last August, sections of the media have established mock league tables but the many schools which offer equality in education are being overlooked in the media's focus on feeder schools for third level institutions. That is unfair and the Minister must intervene to reintroduce equality to education.

Amárach beidh na rialacháin nua maidir le reachtaíocht i leith na Gaeilge á phlé sa choiste, agus beidh comharthaí bóithre mar chuid den díospóireacht sin. Chabhródh sé go mór soiléiriú a dhéanamh cá bhfuil na rialacháin i láthair na huaire agus cad é todhchaí na Gaeilge. Bheadh an-díomá orm dá mbeadh aon chúlú maidir leis na cearta sibhialta a bhain muintir na Gaeltachta amach breis agus 25 bliain ó shin. Bhí na comharthaí bóithre i lár na ceiste sin ag an am freisin. Chomh maith leis sin, ceapaim tríd is tríd, tar éis na rialacháin a léamh, go bhfuil siad réasúnta go leor má táimid dáiríre maidir le Gaelú na timpeallachta. Amárach beidh seans againn iad sin ar fad a phlé.

Many people in Ireland must, like me, have been pleasantly surprised not only at the conciliatory tone taken yesterday by Dr. Paisley but also at the vision he expressed for the entire country. This is to be welcomed, and I predict that republicans and Nationalists will respond to what Dr. Paisley said yesterday. It is quite evident that he faces difficulties in his party, but that is understandable because it is a sea-change. If we all make a positive contribution to the debate, I am quite confident that the peace process will be brought to an inevitable positive conclusion next year. I do not suggest that we have a debate in the immediate future but propose that we do so when matters are clearer.

One good thing to emerge from the challenges faced by the peace process is the unanimity shown by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. It has been exceptionally encouraging to see that because in many ways it creates the correct environment for the radical changes that will take place. We should seize every opportunity, large or small, that comes our way as a result, all displaying the same focus.

I endorse the remarks made by Senator Brian Hayes and congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on his decision to review the location of the planned children's hospital. It is especially courageous of the Minister in question because the location proposed is the Mater Hospital, which is in the Taoiseach's constituency, and it is not easy to challenge the Taoiseach in his own territory. Normally that is left to Members of the Opposition. It is a serious point and the Taoiseach has stated that it will go to his constituency. Some reports suggested that it was predestined to do so, which is quite alarming for others involved in the controversy.

The most telling argument is that, given the current situation in Dublin with the traffic and the lack of infrastructure, it will be impossible for some vehicles carrying children to the Mater Hospital to reach it in time for them to receive the necessary medical treatment. It is as simple as that. As those who were caught in Dublin traffic last week will know, it is indefensible in any modern terms. However, when it comes to getting people to hospital in an emergency, the Mater is a non-starter.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Will the Leader consider asking the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to attend the House to expand on his very enlightened remarks and suggest a new system involving, at the very least, a hub, which could be the Mater if political imperatives so demand, with spokes around the city at other hospitals accessible to children through the traffic? This problem must be removed from the territorial political arena for which it is far too serious. For a hospital to be located in accordance with political convenience is completely unacceptable.

In the context of children's interests, I am sure the House, like me, will have been both surprised and concerned at today's report of increased levels of smoking among those aged between 14 and 17, despite the best efforts of the Government which all sides will acknowledge has been very proactive in the area. There is also the question of the advertising and other regulations that have been introduced. Notwithstanding that, it seems that young people aged between 14 and 17 still find smoking cigarettes cool. I too smoked at that age, and no one is less tolerant than a reformed smoker, but I can remember and understand very well. Does the Leader agree it might be worthwhile to call for a review of the smoking ban, most likely in the new year, in light of the report's findings? A ban on all point-of-sale marketing of tobacco products could be effected by regulation rather than primary legislation. Such a ban would mean that cigarettes, which are a potentially fatal and addictive drug, must be sold under the counter. Point-of-sale advertising seems to be replacing the former television and billboard marketing of tobacco products. As the report indicates, point-of-sale advertising is often located next to sweets and chocolates which are aimed particularly at young people. As a former Minister for Education, the Leader has experience of legislation in regard to the welfare of young people and may have a view on this.

I propose a review of the state of play in respect of the smoking ban now that it has been in operation for some 18 months.

Hear, hear.

Such a review might allow us to devise a positive approach to arresting the alarming increase in the rate of smoking among 14 to 17 year olds. One is reminded of the Jesuit observation that having the care of a child until seven years of age will make that child one's own for life. Unfortunately, if the tobacco companies succeed in taking hold of a child between the ages of 14 and 17 years, they are likely to hold that child for life.

Will the Leader arrange a debate on drugs, which might encompass cigarettes and alcohol as well as hard drugs, at the earliest opportunity? On my journey to the Chamber, I heard a radio discussion involving two inmates of Wheatfield Prison. My first observation was that they were able to engage in this conversation using mobile telephones even though, as I understand it, such items are not permitted among inmates. What was startling about their exchange with Joe Duffy, however, was the insight it gave into the use of drugs in prisons. We are constantly told there is an enormous problem in this regard but it was startling to hear these two young men describe the reality.

Drug abuse is doing enormous damage to communities and wreaking devastation on many people's lives. This damage is evident even among young children in classrooms. I was amazed when a teacher told me recently that one child in her class must avail of the services of a classroom assistant because she suffers from a disability. The disability in question is foetal alcohol syndrome. In other words, this child is suffering as a result of the drug abuse perpetrated by her mother when the child was in the womb. This is frightening.

Does Senator Terry seek a debate on this issue?

Yes. We have not had such a debate for some time even though the level of drug abuse in communities is increasing. Such abuse is the source of a significant proportion of crime and we are not coming to grips with it.

I, too, welcome the remarks of Dr. Paisley. I hesitate to praise him too much, however, in case that might handicap him in the work he must do.

That is wise counsel.

He was extremely statesmanlike and helpful yesterday. I call for a debate that would enable us to discuss wider aspects of the Northern Ireland issue rather than just the political situation.

I add my voice to the request for a debate on drugs, which should include a discussion on enforcement policy. The Garda has been tremendously successful in terms of drugs seizures, but everybody knows it succeeds in intercepting only some 10% of the drugs in circulation. As a medical practitioner observed last week, the time has come to go after some of the users. I read a newspaper article some weeks ago in which a young female journalist said she did not know anybody who does not use drugs. There would be no pushers if there were no market for their products.

If we are to have a debate on efficiency, at some stage I hope we have the opportunity to discuss a report from the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I read a report at the weekend about printing costs in the Houses which seem to me a proper object for outsourcing. I hope we have an opportunity to debate the efficiency with which the Houses are run.

I join my colleagues in seeking a debate on the siting of the new children's hospital. I raised this matter some time ago on the Order of Business, well in advance of the Government's decision on the matter. What I asked for then is what is now being sought, an international review of the siting. Quite a number of consultants from the different hospitals are seeking such a review. While the Mater Hospital is my neighbour, and I do not wish to be unneighbourly, the site may in the long term be too small with inadequate car-parking, access problems and no maternity facility. We should examine this choice of site again. I was assured such a review would take less than six weeks. The six weeks have elapsed and I regret that, perhaps as has been suggested, this course of action was not taken for political reasons.

I call for a debate on human rights in China. Senator O'Toole and I, over a considerable period, have raised the matter of organ harvesting in China. Last week this was raised at the committee on foreign affairs with a presentation from Mr. David Kilgour, a senior Canadian politician and former Secretary of State for Asian affairs who speaks with some authority. His report was worrying. Telephone traffic has been monitored in which orders were placed for livers and kidneys by people in Japan and elsewhere. It was like a butcher's shop with spare parts for purchase. While this has always been denied, various reports in today's newspapers quote a senior Chinese official accepting organ harvesting occurred but that it was only from executed prisoners. We take a view of the execution of people and the harvesting of organs. It is claimed it is voluntary but it is very difficult to be involuntary when one has a bullet in the back of one's neck.

Is the Senator looking for a debate?

Yes. This statement highlights a clear discrepancy. If the Chinese authorities only harvested the organs of every single person executed, almost 1,600, then how can they explain the discrepancy of many thousands of organs being harvested? It is believed that members of Falun Gong are kept alive — almost as if in cold storage — awaiting an organ order and then callously murdered. It is a revolting and disgusting practice.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to give some guidelines on the new provisions introduced by the EU on what one can and cannot take on board an aircraft? Yesterday afternoon on an internal flight to Cork, I lost a quarter of a tube of toothpaste. On the return journey, I lost a canister with less than a quarter of an inch of——

Shaving cream?

——mouth wash. I was told that even though it was less than 100 ml, it was the container that was the danger. Yet one can buy a large bottle of water to carry on board. What was the problem with the container? Did they think I would go into the cabin and squirt the toothpaste in the pilot's eye, take over the plane and land it on the White House? It is absurd.

Will the Leader ask the Taoiseach, whom we all respect, to at last declare war on terrorism and diplomatically isolate the two principal terrorists on the planet, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair? It is only when their activities are contained and the situation in the Middle East is resolved that we will not have to take these absurd travel precautions.

On Sunday last, I had the honour of giving the oration at the commemoration of the Kilmichael ambush, which happened 86 years ago on 28 November 1920.


Hear, hear.

I spent a month preparing my oration, working in the archives.

That is well for some.

The Senator spent a month preparing for the ambush.

It was a broad-ranging oration.


Of course.

One of the key areas in my oration was that the corporation tax in Northern Ireland is 30% and our corporation tax is 12.5%. The North is losing out significantly on foreign direct investment because of this punitive 30% tax rate. Gordon Brown and the Treasury in London are responsible for financial matters in the North. All he needs is the political will and fire in his belly to reduce the corporation tax in the North. This is one issue that has cross-party support in the North. Business leaders, led by Sir George Quigley, who nominated me for the Seanad——

Hear, hear. Good old Sir George.

The Senator should keep going.

Can we get some protection for Sir George?

He is one of the boys of Kilmichael.

Up the boys of Kilmichael.

Up the trees.

All the political leaders and parties in the North support this issue. I would like an urgent debate in the House, ideally led by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who has conducted a cross-Border study with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, which was launched last month. This would be the first time we would consider how to create a joined-up economy, North and South, rather than having separate ones for the Six Counties and the Twenty-six Counties. An investor in the United States or another country——

The Senator should give us the oration again.

Does the Senator see how much I have improved since being elected to the House? I used to be very nervous speaking in this Chamber.

A foreign investor should be able to consider the whole island of Ireland and decide where to make a direct investment. Neither we nor our Taoiseach will be afraid of the competition from the North. It is for the good of the people, North and South.

Did Senator White make a promise?

I put the heat on Gordon Brown.

That is all right as long as the heat is not on us.

We know that the Nice Treaty referendum failed the first time and if the European Union is to make silly rules about travelling such as Senator Norris outlines, people will vote against the European Union in any other referendum. This is true in particular of farmers who have received their manuals on the nitrates directive. The manual is apparently very detailed and complex and is not user-friendly. This is exactly what gives the European Union a bad name. We should invite the Minister for Agriculture and Food to the House to tell Members whether she is aware of the complexity of the task facing farmers in the coming months and years. It is turning people off and they do not need it. It is time we got real and became more user-friendly.

I repeat my earlier call for the reduction of VAT on fuel bills. This is a major issue. Here the VAT is 13.5%, whereas in the North and Britain it is 5%. This is an area in which we can make an impact on people's lives. The Government took in €223 million in VAT on fuel bills last year. The figure in recent years is almost double what it was previously. It would be possible to reduce the VAT without affecting the budget. It is in effect a stealth tax and should be reconsidered.

That is why people go across the Border to buy fuel.

Oil prices are beyond our control but we can control VAT charged on gas and ESB bills.

I agree with Senator Ryan about roadworks. I listened to Joe Duffy's show on radio last Thursday when there were young people with babies stuck in their cars for three or four hours, and diabetics without the proper medicine. It was scandalous that traffic came to a halt for three or four hours and in some cases seven hours. There should be a system whereby if roadworks take place, somebody takes charge to keep the traffic moving at all times.

I would like a debate on health. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know what the real picture is. We are bombarded with daily bulletins about the state of the accident and emergency units and if we were foolish enough to believe them, we would think the problem had been solved.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on health?

A leading consultant yesterday raised serious questions about the use of so-called beds in accident and emergency units which apparently are not beds.

Is the Senator asking for a debate on health?

Concern is also being expressed about patients being transferred from accident and emergency units into day wards, which is massaging the figures. We need the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to update Members on exactly what is happening in accident and emergency units. People are raising questions and I do not have confidence in the Health Service Executive.

Does the Leader agree that it is inaccurate and unfair to say that the Minister for Education and Science is ignoring inadequate special needs facilities in feeder second level schools, where such inadequacy exists? The situation is the reverse. The Minister stated publicly in recent times that, following visits to a number of schools, she is concerned that the enrolment policies in some schools appear to be insidious. Arising from her concern she has set up an audit of the enrolment policies of these feeder schools. I suggest to the Leader that when the audit is completed and the findings are available to the Minister it would be appropriate to request her to come to the House to debate the issue. We are all concerned about evidence of this nature. I am aware of such evidence in my area. By all means we should have a debate on this matter but we should wait until the audit is complete and the findings are available to the Minister.

I support the suggestion that we have a debate on the National Children's Hospital. It is a national hospital not a constituency hospital.

Hear, hear.

I congratulate Senator Brian Hayes on having discovered there was no scoring of the various tenders that were put forward for the hospital.

Since becoming a Member of the House I have asked five times about the situation regarding children born with spina bifida and anencephaly. For genetic reasons we have the highest incidence of these conditions in the world. The only possible way of dealing with this problem is by fortifying flour with folic acid. The Minister for Health and Children eventually agreed to this following numerous reports and studies by the Department. Many other countries which have a much lower incidence than is the case in Ireland have already fortified flour. Approximately 70 to 100 children with this condition are born here each year. Other women who find out in a scan that their babies have such a condition go to England for abortions. Children born with anencephaly do not survive after delivery.

To my horror I discovered that although the Minister for Health and Children has agreed that flour should be fortified she has set up a group to implement the idea and it is estimated that the implementation process will take a year. That means another year will go by when 70 to 100 children will be born with this serious or fatal condition. In excess of 1,000 such children have been born since I became a Member of this House. Is there any sense of urgency about such serious issues here?

I urge the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to deal with this issue that affects children. It is deplorable that people can be treated in such an inhumane manner and that nothing has been done about a matter that could be rectified. The rate could be brought down to almost zero — as is the case elsewhere — yet we with the highest incidence do nothing. I do not intend tabling another Adjournment matter on this subject because I am sick, sore and tired of just getting the same rubbish in reply.

We regularly have debates on competition and ensuring the consumer gets a good deal. Many Members would have been appalled to see reports in recent days about the significant increases proposed by car rental companies for the Christmas period, especially at airports. I have heard reports that the costs are to be increased by up to 200%. One report even suggested a possible increase of 325%. I refer to international companies that operate in various jurisdictions, not only in the EU but throughout the world. It appears the proposed exorbitant increases are exclusive to Ireland. We should have a debate on competition and related issues. I find it difficult to square the logic of having price controls — which we had — in difficult economic times in the 1970s and 1980s when consumers had little discretionary spending power, and not having such controls in place when profiteering is clearly taking place in many sectors. We should examine whether there is merit in having price controls and pricing orders in the present scenario.

I support the call by Senator Mooney for a debate on the recent report on smoking for underage persons, those in the 12 to 17 age group, which shows that one in six are smoking and 92% have said they are able to purchase cigarettes from regular outlets, even though underage. There is a significant breach of the law in this regard. Given that over 6,000 people die annually as a consequence of smoking, such a debate would be welcome.

More than 12 months ago I raised the question of the delay in issuing Garda age cards. Garda age cards are used by persons of 18 years of age and upwards who wish to enter night clubs and other venues. It takes four to six months, and sometimes longer, to issue such cards. I have been approached by a number of these people again recently who asked the reason for the delay in issuing the cards. Many night clubs will not allow young people to enter without such cards or passports. Many passports are lost or go missing at these venues. Third level educational facilities can issue identity cards in approximately one or two days. Young people must make application to their local Garda station for such cards. The application is sent to Dublin and then the cards are sent back. There is a delay of four to six months in issuing these cards. I was assured that the delay in issuing cards would be rectified but it has not, if anything the delays are longer than 12 to 18 months. It is not a problem any of us will have but many young people are angry that age cards are not being issued within a reasonable timescale. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform what can be done to rectify the problem.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come into the House, even at this late stage, for an urgent debate on the electoral register.

The Senator is obsessed with it.

It is in a shambles in every county.


Hear, hear.

Given that in most counties 10% more than the adult population is on the register indicates that something is wrong in the Department. It is a resigning matter for the Minister.

Hear, hear.

There is no one left in the Cabinet.

Given that every person is issued with a PPS number it is easy to know who is over the age of 18. There are several thousands of inaccuracies in the electoral register and it is an issue that needs to be addressed even at this late stage. We welcome the extension of the deadline by a fortnight but it is too little too late.

The Senator has a quota already. He has only to register once.

All citizens should be added to the register automatically on reaching the age of 18. This is not happening.

On another issue I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to come before the House and tell us the reason he wants to close down our rural post office network. Under the watchful eye of the Government, a quarter of all post offices have closed during the past six years. This is shameful and disgraceful.

We have got the disgraceful——

The Department of Agriculture and Food advises people to draw their social welfare payments and agricultural grants through the banks and building societies and ignores the post office network. The Government is closing the post office network by stealth. In the run up to the next election it has crocodile tears when it tells the people it is doing its best to keep rural Ireland alive. The Government is not keeping rural Ireland alive, it is closing the rural post office network and this should not be allowed.

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

We will tell the electorate the truth. They are being given a pack of untruths and that is happening at present throughout the country.

The Senator is a disgrace.

I saw the Leader in Longford once when she said the Government was doing its best to keep the post office network open.

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?

I am doing my best to keep the post office network open but the Government is not. Government Senators should not tell untruths during the election campaign. It wants to close the network and that is what it is doing.

I hope those applauding in the Visitors Gallery are all from Longford-Westmeath. Senator Brian Hayes spoke about what the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said. On reading the newspaper it is clear he said we should look at complaints that have come in. I would not rely on praise from the Opposition, nor would he, I should think. It was about the national children's hospital. I will come to the points made by other speakers later. The Senator welcomed Dr. Paisley's very recent remarks. Those remarks are amazing and welcome. Senator O'Toole suggested that the signage of place names should be bilingual.

This relates to Gaeltacht areas. My two friends obviously do not know what is going on in the Irish language.

He also pointed out that conditions on the Blasket Islands had now changed and the OPW should move to acquire the lands on the Blasket Islands and make them into a national park. He also referred to the Michael Cusack museum in Clare. He is often left out of the equation regarding the GAA. Archbishop Croke gets his——

He is in Ulysses.

Senator Ryan stated that the wishes of the people should be followed regarding the name of an area. The mangled kind of translation we sometimes see on signposts is not welcome. He spoke about a systems failure. He is sick of them and so are we. He could not receive incoming telephone calls today and he could not access his messages. Mine are blinking away and I am sure I have hundreds of messages from constituents——

Of course.

——that I want to access.

They are all from Longford, complaining about Senator Bannon.

Senator Leyden asked for a debate on the PIAB and the ESB prices. He will have the opportunity to discuss the matter during the debate on the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill this evening. I was glad to hear the report suggesting that Senator Ulick Burke will get a Dáil seat in the next general election, which would be very good. He spoke about the enclaves of segregation in schools. The principal of Newpark Comprehensive gave a very good account in one of today's newspapers of what his school has done to open it to students with special needs. I will take up what Senator Fitzgerald rightly said.

Senator Ó Murchú stated that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport and Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs will discuss the Irish language tomorrow. Anybody who wishes to do so can attend to get clarification. He also welcomed Dr. Paisley's remarks. Senator Ross congratulated the Minister of State with responsibility for children. The decision was taken on an independent person who proposed the Mater. Opposition Members have said it was a political decision. Professor Drum has also said it was not a political decision.

Was it just a coincidence that it ended up in the Taoiseach's constituency?

It was one of the hospitals in contention.


How did he announce it before it was announced?

Senator Mooney spoke about the increase in smoking among 14 to 17 year-olds and wants a debate on the smoking ban 18 months after its introduction. Senator Terry called for a debate on drugs — we had one two weeks ago. She spoke about alcohol and the two inmates in Wheatfield Prison. What about the barrister who brought in the drugs? That is what we should be debating. I am glad it was discovered.

As he is not here, we should not say too much.

Do we have one here?

No, I do not think so. Perhaps we have one in the Visitors Gallery.

They all go to the Dáil.

Senator Terry also spoke about the child with foetal alcohol syndrome. I have read about such cases which relate to too much alcohol having been imbibed during pregnancy.

Senator Maurice Hayes welcomed the remarks of Dr. Paisley and called for a debate on drugs and enforcement policy. Some time before Christmas we will discuss a Houses of the Oireachtas Commission Bill, which will give an opportunity to consider what is happening in that regard.

Senator Norris referred to the location of the new children's hospital. Regardless of where it is built, certain people will not want it to be on a particular site and will prefer it to be located elsewhere.

It is unusual, however, to have such a varied and significant chorus of objections.

Senator Ross suggested that it might be possible to create a hub, with spokes relating to various specialties radiating therefrom. I thought that was an interesting concept.

The hub is always at the centre.

Senator Norris also referred to human rights in China and the organ harvesting.

The Senator, who lost his mouth wash and toothpaste before boarding a flight yesterday, proceeded to ask if the Minister for Transport would provide guidelines in respect of the new provisions introduced by the EU regarding what one can and cannot take on board on aircraft. He also suggested that we declare war on terrorists.

I congratulate Senator White on the very extensive speech she appears to have given at Kilmichael.

Hear, hear. Brilliant.

The Senator referred to corporation tax in the North. If changes were made by Chancellor Brown, they would apply in both the UK and Northern Ireland.

Senator Browne referred to the nitrates directive. Many farmers welcomed the changes brought about and the exemptions provided in respect of Ireland.

They were hoodwinked by the Government.

It appears the language is difficult, but we and the farmers are extremely pleased.

Has the Leader seen the manuals?

Yes. If one obtains exemptions, they must be worked through.

Senator Browne also referred to the reduction of VAT on fuel bills and requested a debate on health. I welcome the fact that each day we are provided with, for want of a better expression, a "trolley count". The Senator may not wish to believe the information provided but I do. The statistics are compiled in a professional manner. Lo and behold, there is no longer a debate regarding people on trolleys.

Why did a leading consultant query the information provided?

The Senator should not interrupt, I am addressing my remarks through the Chair.

The Leader of the House, without interruption.

The Senator may not believe the statistics but I do. It is wonderful that we are aware of the number of people per hospital who are awaiting admission to wards. We did not have that information in the past and, in my view, it is a good idea that it be provided.

I agree with Senator Fitzgerald. The Minister stated that she is conducting an audit in respect of entry to second level schools. When that audit is completed, she will come before the House to discuss the matter. That should, perhaps, bring an end to spurious comments in respect of the matter.

Senator Henry sought a debate on the children's hospital. She also referred to the use of folic acid to fortify all breads and flours. Women who take this supplement during pregnancy lessen the chance of their babies being born with spina bifida or anencephaly, which are both terrible. The Senator inquired why it will take a year for the findings of the group investigating this matter to emerge.

Senator Jim Walsh referred to car rental companies and requested debates on competition and smoking among 14 to 17 year olds.

Senator Cummins referred to age identity cards for young people.

Senator Bannon sought an urgent debate on the electoral register. There will be an opportunity to discuss that matter on Thursday when the House debates the Electoral (Amendment) Bill. The Bill is returning from the Dáil, which made some amendments to it. The Senator may make known his views on the matter at that point. The Senator stated that there are 10% more names on the register than there are people. I would prefer if people's names were left on the register. I was alarmed to discover that if people move house, their names are removed from the register and might not be added to it at the new addresses to which they move. A person can vote only once, but his or her name can appear ten times on the register.

The use of PPS numbers is the solution.

Members are all full of bright ideas.

The Minister refuted the claim that PPS numbers offer a solution. The Minister explained the position.

People are continually moving house.

The Senator should read the Minister's statement.

The Leader of the House, without interruption.

It is far better that there should be an excess of numbers on the register in order that people will have an opportunity to vote. If a person moves house and his or her name is not added to the register in respect of his or her new address, there is no cross-reference. By law, it is the duty of a county or town council to prepare the register. It appears that, for a long period, the councils have not being doing so.

They did not bother to do it.

They are under-resourced.

They are not under-resourced. It is good that Senator Bannon is anxious about the electorate. That is very noble of him. I share his nobility in that regard.

The Senator also requested the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to come before the House. The Minister is abroad on business at present. However, when he returns, we will invite him to come to the House.

Order of Business agreed to.