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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 29 Mar 2007

Vol. 186 No. 18

Health Bill 2006: Report and Final Stages.

Before we commence, I remind Senators that they may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 5 are related and will be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 16, to delete lines 17 to 24.

I have said enough on this issue on other occasions. It is outrageous that Oireachtas Members are lumped in with convicted persons and bankrupt people, etc. There is no need to include this exclusion in the Bill. If any other group of people was excluded, people would be outraged and rightly so. I do not suggest Oireachtas Members should be on the boards, but that every case should be judged individually. Although Senator O'Toole is on the Personal Injuries Advisory Board, that will not get him elected in the next Seanad election. It is great to see people with his experience coming into the House. The Acting Chairman too has a wealth of experience in the medical world to bring to bear in debates on health issues.

The exclusion is unnecessary, breaches equality legislation and is discriminatory. I would like to see it being challenged in court. An Oireachtas Member can stand for re-election and if he or she fails to be elected, he or she can qualify to sit on these boards. However, an elected Member with a mandate from the people cannot. This seems to fly in the face of democracy. We are doing our best to encourage people to become involved in politics, which is not easy, but this provision is another disincentive to that involvement. It should be deleted from the section and from section 85.

I second the amendment. I agree with Senator Browne that the exclusion of Oireachtas Members from the board is an attack on democracy. This has become commonplace as evidenced in other Bills over recent years. I disagree with the practice creeping in whereby Members are debarred from becoming members of these boards.

My view on this matter is well known. Perhaps in his response on these two amendments, the Minister of State will outline the reason elected Members are precluded from membership of the board. If we pursue the objective of electing the best qualified person to a board, the fact the person is a Member of the Oireachtas or a local authority is not reason enough to preclude him or her. I would like to hear the reason for the preclusion.

I would like a full review of the issue of representation on boards in general by elected Members. It is unfair but it is in the Bill. It has been in other Bills under other regimes. The issue needs to be brought centre stage and examined by a committee or commission because I am not happy about it. Three months from now I will have been a public representative for 28 years. I and most, if not all, in these Houses and in local authorities have never been convicted of any offence. People who fall foul of the law are the exceptions. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response to this amendment. I would like an inquiry to examine on what bodies it is appropriate for Members of these Houses and local authorities to sit. Some people seem to think it is not appropriate for us to serve on certain bodies and I want to know why.

This may not be a question for this Minister of State but he might pass it to the Government and return with an explanation. Why is the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, exempted from this prohibition? That legislation was passed by this Government and is one of its positive achievements to try to reduce the large cost of litigation and the large amount of unnecessary litigation for personal injuries. A Member of the Oireachtas is vice chairman of that board. Senator O'Toole is a most competent able individual and an appropriate choice. Somebody decided that appointment was all right but that it is not all right to appoint public representatives to other bodies.

This emanates from sections of the political sphere who view politicians as an interference with what they regard as efficient governance because we have a habit of asking awkward questions, which are usually more than justified, and of believing that business should be conducted in an open and transparent fashion. We are all well able to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions because we act in public. If there are manifest issues of conflict of interest, let them be stated. Otherwise let us get rid of blanket prohibitions.

I am grateful to Senator Browne for tabling this amendment and giving us an opportunity to discuss this issue. Since Committee Stage of the Bill, my colleagues and I raised this matter at the meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on Tuesday. I spoke about it to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children, and the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power. It has been passed by the Dáil but this debate can bring to the attention of the Government the deep concerns of Members of this House about the exclusion of members of the local authorities from membership of boards and committees.

It was purposely stated that Members of the Oireachtas or possibly of the European Parliament could become members of the PIAB which is an important board. It is time to review the rights of members of local authorities to be appointed to boards.

The same is true for Members of these Houses.

Yes, it should apply to all elected representatives. I was a member of the former western health board and when a home in my county came under serious pressure to be closed. I resisted that to the best of my ability but I was in a difficult situation as a member of the board whose executive was introducing enforcement orders against this well-run home. The building was not great but the home was good. At times it may be invidious for a member of a local authority or of the Oireachtas to be a member of the Health Information Quality Authority when a compromise arises, for example, a repeat of the Leas Cross case.

The Parliamentary Counsel appears to have inserted these provisions irregularly. I feel so strongly about this that if it goes to a vote——

I hope the Senator will support the amendment.

This is an important issue and several other Senators are offering.

I accept that this is the most important part of the Bill but we must be pragmatic about the provision and bear in mind the rationale behind it. I look forward to the Minister of State's response to Members of this House. Would a barrister, teacher or member of any other profession be excluded? The only other exclusion applies to somebody in prison. I regret that local authority members are excluded from this authority. This is the difficulty of coalition Government, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach may find out if he is in one soon.

The Senator is surely not blaming the Progressive Democrats for this as well.

Not at all. We are in a coalition Government. Let us call a spade a spade and I am not able to persuade the Minister for Health and Children to change her view on this issue.

The Senator can vote for the amendment and show the colour of his money.

The Minister of State is a member of Fianna Fáil.

I spoke on Committee Stage about the fact that a member of a local authority cannot be on the authority. People talk about the politicisation of these boards but there is political control over them already. When they are set up, the Minister does not let them go on as they wish. She can remove all the board members from office if she thinks they are not performing their functions in an effective manner. There is already political accountability within the system and the Minister can appoint an independent person to conduct a review of any matter that is causing concern. Given that political control, I do not see why members of local authorities are not allowed to be on this board.

I support the call by my fellow-spokesperson on health and children, Senator Glynn, for the setting up of a committee of inquiry. He and I met the Minister for Health and Children the night before last when she was as accommodating as possible on the issue. She suggested she would consider setting up a group, including her officials, to examine it.

All Senators feel very strongly that local authority members should not be excluded from bodies established statutorily by the Oireachtas. Senators have all stated this in various debates, be they on transport, justice or health. I do not recognise the merit in excluding local authority members from boards in legislation.

I spoke at a parliamentary party meeting some nights ago about the good education I got as a lay member of the Medical Council and An Bord Altranais, and the value I derived therefrom. I have said in the House that my feelings on Oireachtas Members sitting on such boards are different from those on local authority members doing so.

What is the difference?

I feel from experience that I was put in positions that involved a conflict of interest. I would like to hear further debate on this before we apply a measure across the board. I support Senator Glynn's call for a group to be established to examine the matter.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Seán Power. I agree with Senator Browne that the lines in question should be deleted. It is nonsense to include subsections (3)(a), (3)(b) and (3)(c) in the Bill and I do not know what they are about. It is inferred that a board member would not be ethical and that there would be a conflict of interest. I was appointed to the board of the Higher Education Authority by former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, to the board of the National Museum of Ireland by the Taoiseach and to the boards of Bord Bia and the National College of Art and Design by former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. Owing to my experience in business, I was appointed a second time to the board of An Bord Bia. When I became a Senator I had to resign and was amazed. I had to withdraw after having offered four years of service in spite of my having had considerable experience of small and medium-sized business in Ireland.

There is an inference that Oireachtas Members and local authority members do not know how to behave themselves. Why is the provision included in the legislation at all? Is it because certain individuals feel they are holier than thou, better than everybody else, squeaky clean and do not want those who are not squeaky clean? I do not understand it.

If a potential conflict of interest arises in any part of life, the culture and format ordain that one should resign. If Senator Feeney felt there could have been a conflict of interest regarding some of the positions to which she was so honoured to have been appointed, she could have withdrawn from the discussions in question. We are either behind the concept of withdrawal or we are not. One should be entitled to be a member of a board if one is an Oireachtas Member or local authority member.

Local authority members have been excluded from the HSE. I pushed in all the discussions for their having a very responsible role in the fora but this did not come to anything. The legislation is outdated and archaic and infers elected representatives would not be able to handle themselves, would become involved in conflicts of interest and do something immoral. I do not understand it. We need individuals with experience who are close to the communities and constituents. The Members of the Oireachtas and local authority members have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening in this country and that is why they should be on boards.

I would love to hear why Senator Feeney feels I had to resign from a board when I became a Senator. I started a business out of nothing with Connie Doody, I was the first small business person to be appointed to the board of Bord Bia and was able to change its direction during my time as a member. There is no question about this because many of the marketing grants were being given to companies that would spend money on marketing in any case. I kept tackling this until I achieved redress. Certain companies of a certain size did not need the money to market themselves.

All of us in this Chamber, if we are good politicians, have our fingers on the pulse of society. A motion that local authority members should be allowed to participate on boards has been passed at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party that involved Ministers. I do not understand the provision in the legislation and have difficulty with it. Is there something wrong with me that I would not be able to handle a conflict of interest? I resent the implication. I am passionate on this issue as I was forced to resign from the board of Bord Bia. I was taken aback when I had to do so after having put myself under severe pressure to serve as a board member. As a board member, I had to take time out from my business to attend meetings and study all the board papers. Those appointed to a board are not given glamorous positions. As Senator Feeney knows, much homework must be done.

I do not know what the situation will be when we are voting on this legislation. We should have a free vote. Roll on the day when it will be possible to have one. If I am re-elected to the Seanad I will advocate immediately that the ballot paper not be presented alphabetically from A to Z. There should be a draw at every election. The system is so undemocratic as most people read from the first candidate to the last and do not understand proportional representation. I did a degree in economics and politics and it took me a long time to understand it myself. The public has never been educated on the proportional representation system——

We are straying away from the content of the amendments before us.

The Senator is not stuck in the middle like the Minister of State, Deputy Power; that would be worse.

The Minister of State is doing a tremendous job for the older people of this country. He is a very measured politician——

We are moving away from the amendments before us.

——and a tremendous statesman and I became very impressed with him as I got to know him. He was a great footballer and originally I knew him only from his footballing reputation. As a politician and Minister of State, he is equally impressive.

I will be seeking a means of changing ballot papers such that the candidates' names will be listed on the basis of a draw and not listed alphabetically. I am placed at the bottom. When one looks at the end of a ballot paper, one notes it is dark and gloomy.

It is not doing the Senator any harm; she is still getting elected.

Yes, but it is harder. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his patience.

There will not even be a vote.

I, too, was very disappointed when I read the broad statement that only those who have the expertise and can make a substantial contribution to a board will be appointed. The categories of persons who cannot be appointed are listed and it is stated that no Oireachtas Members or local authority members can be appointed. I, as an Oireachtas Member, would have difficulty being appointed to a board because I would not have sufficient time to devote to it. This is my personal position and I am not speaking for all Members. I am a teacher, educationalist and psychologist by profession.

The Senator would be good on the board of the Higher Education Authority.

I cannot understand why a local authority member is barred from board membership although he or she might have expertise and could make a contribution. I therefore have great difficulty accepting the section under discussion but I accept it is the Minister's prerogative to include it. I would like her to revisit it in some way. I do not intend to create trouble but Iam concerned that this measure is most unfair——

Senator Ormonde can vote against it.

——for many local authority members who——

Senator Ormonde should do it.

Let me have my say.

Senator Ormonde should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Senator Ormonde should do it.

Senator Browne could be barred also. He should not worry, he will have enough time to say what he wants. Fine local authority members are serving throughout the country. Many of them may not wish to serve on these boards but others may and would be very good at it. The section should be removed. People with relevant expertise should be allowed to make a contribution. If a member of a local authority has the necessary expertise, he or she should be allowed to serve on a board.

Hear, hear.

This section should be removed.

It is crazy. The whole section should be deleted.

I urge the Minister to revisit this matter. I understand the Minister's position. She is afraid of conflicts of interest developing. We are all sufficiently experienced to know what would constitute a conflict of interest.

Acting Chairman

Other Members are indicating.

I know that.

Acting Chairman

The debate is due to end at 12 noon.

I feel very strongly about this issue. It is not fair that one should be excluded because one is a public representative. Such people have made significant commitments to their localities and they know these areas well, yet they are barred from making a contribution. We are all bright enough to know our place. I would certainly not abuse my position, no matter where I am. It is only fair we would all be given the opportunity to serve on these boards.

I hope the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, is listening to this debate. The way it is going, I do not believe the legislation will be passed. I thank my colleague, Senator Browne, for tabling this amendment. I tabled a similar amendment to a Bill last year. I have long advocated this type of section should not be included in legislation. Why should any person be precluded from being on a board because he or she is a Members of the Oireachtas or a local authority member? Whether one likes it or not, such people come from all sections of society and they would bring great experience to any board. I fail to understand why the section before us should be allowed to exclude people from membership of a board.

I compliment Senator Browne on tabling this amendment. The Minister should revisit the Bill and delete this section that precludes local authority members, Members of the Oireachtas and members of the European Parliament from being members of these boards, as they would bring a vast amount of experience from all sections of society to any board. To preclude them would make bad law. It is up to the Minister to do this. There is no obligation to select them. I support Senator Browne on this issue.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this issue and I appreciate the time constraints. I am not sure the following has been put on record but it is important it should be. I think I am correct in saying the opposition to this section is Fianna Fáil policy. However, we are members of Government and it is an extremely difficult position for those of us who are members of the Fianna Fáil Seanad group.

If it is Fianna Fáil policy, that party is controlling the Government.

I do not say policy, but a decision was taken at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting on foot of a motion from the members of the Fianna Fáil Seanad group, not specifically on this section or this Bill but about the overall attitude that has been adopted over a period where an ad hoc approach has been taken by individual Ministers. This applies to all Governments. I have been in this House long enough to have served on the other side of the House as well as on this side. I have gone through this argument, not once or twice but several times. It became apparent from the debate we had at our parliamentary party meeting that this was an ad hoc arrangement and was not a policy-based decision that was taken by a Cabinet on the basis of collective responsibility.

Senator Mooney can vote against it.

This is a deliberate attempt to filibuster.

Senator Mooney should be allowed to speak without interruption.

With all due respect, I hate interrupting people and I find it most irritating.

This is an attempt to avoid voting on the amendment.

Those on the Government side did not interrupt speakers on the Opposition.

Senator Mooney should be allowed to speak without interruption.

It is clear the Government side is filibustering.

Senator Browne had his chance. We are not filibustering.

The Government side is.

Senator Mooney should be allowed to speak without interruption.

I wish to put this on record. I also wish to put on record the genuine opposition of those of us on this side of the House towards the general approach that is taken whenever local authority members are involved. This section again debars local authority members from being considered for membership of the boards. This is not about councillors being appointed; it is about stopping them from being considered for appointment. That is unacceptable because it introduces political apartheid. It goes further, in that it puts in——

The Government side is filibustering. It is deliberately blocking a vote on the amendment.

Senator Mooney should be allowed to speak without interruption.

If one is nominated to Seanad Éireann, one will have to cease membership of the board. Senator Feeney was a member of the Medical Council while serving as a member of this House. If this provision were in place at that time, Senator Feeney would have had to resign from the Medical Council. The expertise she had acquired and the knowledge she made available as a member of the board would have been lost to the collective wisdom of that board. This proposed legislation is wrong. It is deeply flawed and it sends out a message, not only to local authority members but to the wider population who might be considering politics and public service as a career, that if one becomes a member of a local authority, there one will stay because the Minister will ensure he or she will not have any acknowledgement of his or her expertise when it comes to the appointment of State boards. That is the nub of this problem. It is not about anything else other than the attitude that has been adopted at the highest level towards local authority members. That is why I am against the provision.

I am a proud member of this Government. I am an equally proud member of Fianna Fáil. That is why I signed up to it and I will support Government policy.

I have said enough, it is time now to put the amendment.

I was warned early this morning the Seanad was a dangerous place to be. However, I am pleased to be here.

The Minister of State could be here permanently.

There is no such thing as permanency in either House. I thank Members for sharing their views. Senator Glynn has discussed this matter with me in some detail and Senator Leyden raised the issue with me last week, as did other Senators. I appreciate the depth of feeling on the matter.

The purpose of these amendments is to delete the provisions that state, members of the European Parliament, Members of the Oireachtas or local authority members are not eligible to be appointed to the board of the authority. Local authority members are not being singled out, the provision also applies to members of the European Parliament and to Members of the Oireachtas.

The provision is a standard one in legislation of this nature. Most legislation establishing regulatory or development bodies exclude elected public representatives from membership of boards. It is found in the legislation establishing other bodies such as the Health Service Executive, the National Sports Campus Development Authority, the Private Residential Tenancies Board, the Commission for Communications Regulation, Science Foundation Ireland, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the Railway Procurement Agency and various other bodies involved with the Ombudsman for Children and the Defence Forces. The most recent of these bodies to be created was the National Sports Campus Development Authority. That legislation was enacted in the House last year.

We opposed that too.

Before I deal with the amendment, I wish to respond to some of the comments made on Committee Stage that legislation of this type places elected representatives in the same category as criminals and bankrupts. I do not accept this proposition. Legislation by its nature has to be specific and these provisions, which as I said are standard in legislation of this type, deal quite separately with the issue of allowing elected public representatives on the board and the matter of unacceptable behaviour of a board member which leads to the member being dismissed from the board. For the sake of clarity the two concepts are dealt with in different sections. The issue of elected representatives is dealt with in sections 13 and 85 and the unacceptable behaviour of a board member in section 15. I reject the proposition that on reading the legislation anybody could reasonably equate or confuse the two issues.

In respect of the board of the authority, it should be noted that because the authority and the Office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services will perform such highly specialised functions, the legislation specifically provides, under section 13(2), that the Minister must appoint people with the appropriate qualifications and experience to the board. Given the specialised nature of the authority, all the members of the board of the interim authority have qualifications or backgrounds relevant to its functions. The membership includes people with a strong management background, medical consultants, including the medical director of the national pharmacoeconomics unit at St. James's Hospital, the chief executive of the Health Research Board, a speech and language therapy service manager as well as the chairperson of the National Cancer Registry. Senators will agree that the board of an organisation of this nature must have its members——

As it is now 12 o'clock, I must put the following question: "That amendment No. 1 is negatived, that the Bill is received for final consideration and that the Bill do now pass."

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 16.

  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brennan, Michael.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lydon, Donal J.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mansergh, Martin.
  • Minihan, John.
  • Mooney, Paschal C.
  • Moylan, Pat.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Phelan, Kieran.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, Fergal.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Terry, Sheila.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Minihan and Moylan; Níl, Senators Browne and Cummins.
Question declared carried.