The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the third programme of law reform, referral to committee without debate, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on realising equality and the Traveller community, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes and on which Senators may share time by agreement of the House, with the Minister to be given five minutes to conclude at 4.55 p.m.; and No. 13, motion 32 re Seanad reform, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2.
Order of Business.
I look forward to a very robust debate on Seanad reform. We look forward to the Minister's arrival in the House.
In respect of what has been said in the Lower House about cancer services and the motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health and Children, one of the comments the Minister made last night related to the Opposition parties working with the Government on cancer care services. I take this opportunity to inform the Minister that most of the Opposition parties agree fully with the cancer strategy and that all through 2006 and the beginning of 2007, when I was Fine Gael spokesperson on health, we fully supported her. What we were looking for was an implementation policy. I wish to put on the record of this House that the Opposition supports the Minister in respect of cancer services.
The Minister has received incredible support over recent years from the Opposition in respect of some major issues in the health service. I backed her in respect of getting a consultants' contract because this is the basis of all the problems we are seeing.
We still have not seen this new consultants' contract. I would like the Minister to know that she has received incredible support from the Opposition but for some reason, her ears are blocked to that support. Perhaps that is part of the problem.
Perhaps the leader of Senator Twomey's party should come out with that.
He is very consensus-orientated.
The leader of my party is very much aware of this issue.
He does not say it.
The leader of Senator Twomey's party should come out and deliver it.
This just shows that when we try to help the Government out of a mess, it cannot even take it upon itself to get the facts right.
We are the consensus party.
We fully support the Government in respect of sorting out things.
When the Government is in trouble, it will call us up.
It has been laid out for Fine Gael. It must support it.
The Government will call us up.
Perhaps we need another debate on cancer services to inform fully any Member of this House who seems to be misled by the spin he or she is getting from the Departments about what we are promoting and supporting.
Perhaps we need another debate on this issue because what this side of the House supports is obviously not getting through to people.
We need to revisit the issue of road safety after the terrible tragedies that recently took place. It was only four years ago that I came upon an accident where two young children died at the scene. It is the most stressful situation for medical workers to be involved in but nobody will ever comprehend the sadness and grief that families who see young children die will experience for the rest of their lives. It is horrifying and we need another debate on road safety to find out what is going on.
Concerns have been raised that the proposal to lower the blood-alcohol limits from 80 mg to 50 mg was included in the first draft report on road safety by the Road Safety Authority but was dropped from the final report. We all know that alcohol and drugs are a major cause of road accidents. We do not see the leadership we expected in reducing road deaths. That is not connected to this terrible tragedy but we must reduce the number of deaths on our roads. It will be a terrible year for so many families across the country and it is time we revisited the debate.
Another matter on which I ask the Leader to seek clarification is the crisis in Portlaoise. It is well known that Dr. Ann O'Doherty interviewed the doctor at the centre of the crisis at Portlaoise Hospital. Can the Minister confirm that Dr. O'Doherty raised concerns about the ability of the doctor to run the service in Portlaoise during the interview and that she was overruled by the HSE, which continued with the appointment? If true, it means the expert opinion of Dr. O'Doherty on the doctor's capability was ignored. The House must find out if that is true. Concerns have been raised about locums in Cork and we must examine what has gone wrong with medical manpower in the health services.
Last week and the week before I suggested a debate on legislation that established the HSE, the Health Act 2004. This would allow an informed debate on the different roles of people. It is crucifying to hear views in the public debate and the Dáil debate as if people never read or debated the legislation previously.
Perhaps it is the trade unionist in me but I tend to react strongly when I hear calls for people to be sacked. I examine matters such as due process and I regret that we cannot have another debate on it. I would not support a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. It does not achieve anything and brings us back to what has happened in the House for 20 years. This does not deal with accountability, responsibility and the difference between the two. I pleaded in the House for the past two weeks, anticipating the current position. People do not know who should be held responsible. It is like saying there is a teacher in the west abusing children so we should sack the Minister for Education and Science. That is the level of logic prevailing.
That is correct.
I believe in holding the Minister to account and disagree fundamentally with many of her views. I will continue to debate them. There must be proper due process and a clear understanding of accountability so that when there is a change of Government, the next Minister with responsibility for health, if he or she comes from this side of the House, will not have to put up with the same attitude from the Members who are then in Opposition. It happens all the time. There must be accountability and responsibility and the difference between the two should be understood.
If I could see the risk register for Portlaoise Hospital and the risk register at various levels of the health service I could find out who needs to be brought to book in 20 minutes. If the Minister has not set up structures it is her fault. If she has, and other people are not operating them correctly as seems to be the case, it is the fault of others. If it is not the person at the top, and it need not be, we must find out where are the problems and single this area out for action.
The worst thing would be for Professor Drumm to leave the HSE. I remember how hard it was to get someone to take up the job. We must keep that in mind. I seek a debate where people could put their finger on the issue. We know how the women have suffered and there is consensus on the matter. Let nobody say it again. We know the Minister oversaw the legislation. Did she apply the legislation correctly? If it did not work whose fault is it? This is not a political issue.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill and a number of other speakers raised the old chestnut of people with holiday homes in the west objecting to housing for people in the west. The situation is chaotic. The type of behaviour to which I refer to is happening everywhere. There should be some connection between objectors and the areas in which they are objecting to developments. We introduced legislation to stop councillors approving breaches of planning in places to which they are not connected. We should introduce a similar system in respect of ordinary objectors.
Before dealing with the matter I wish to raise, I must respectfully disagree with what the leader of the Independent group said regarding political accountability.
He is not the leader.
Someone very like him attends leaders' meetings. Perhaps he has a double.
Senator Alex White will learn eventually.
The question of political accountability does not extend to holding a Minister responsible for a failing that happens in a hospital. That would be nonsensical. The analogy given by Senator O'Toole is wrong. Where the system is not working — as the Senator stated, the Minister established that system — there must be political accountability. Is the Opposition supposed to just sit back and wait? Senator O'Toole stated that this is not a political issue at present. When will it become a political issue? Of course it is such an issue. There could not be a more political issue than the crisis in the health service.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance, when he deals with the matter with which he will be preoccupied next week, to come before the House to engage in a debate on public services and on any reforms he envisages, particularly in light of the interesting speech on public service reform he delivered at last week's Indecon conference? Will the Minister come to the House and indicate any proposals he may have in this area, particularly in light of the comments he made last week and in view of the less thoughtful and ill-considered remarks made by the Minister of State with responsibility for trade and commerce, Deputy McGuinness? The latter was the beneficiary of what must count as the most remarkable employment expansion scheme in the public service. I refer here to the Taoiseach's appointment of additional Ministers of State in recent months.
Does the Minister for Finance agree with the comments of the Minister of State, Deputy McGuinness, to the effect that the public service and its systems are a joke? If that is the level of debate we can expect from Ministers, what hope is there for this House to debate serious issues such as value for money and the important role the public service has to play in our society and its economy? The public service will lie at the heart of the economy's future and remarks such as those to which I refer will not help promote debate here or in the Lower House.
In light of the fact that there appear to have been positive developments in respect of pharmacists and that changes relating to the leaving certificate were announced earlier this week, will the Leader indicate the position regarding a matter to which I referred previously, namely, the animal welfare Bill? Would it be possible to arrange a debate on what will be the content of that legislation in order that we might deal with it before it becomes afait accompli.
I echo the sympathetic and empathic comments already made in respect of those who were involved in recent fatal road accidents. We already had a debate on the overall position regarding road safety. Would it be possible for the Leader to discover whether it is a matter for a Minister or the National Roads Authority to examine whether it would be possible for fluorescent strips or cats eyes to be placed on the cement bases of all traffic islands? When I raised this issue at council level, I was informed that it was the responsibility of the NRA, and when I raised it with the latter, those with whom I spoke indicated their belief that it was not proper to the authority.
Will the Leader indicate whether this matter is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or whether it is a devolved function of the NRA? Many of the roads affected would not fall under the remit of the NRA. Everyone who travels by car is aware that on many traffic islands, the lights either do not work or are dirty. The part of these islands that one cannot see is the large cement base. The inclusion of fluorescent strips at the bottom of these structures might help reduce the number of accidents. I do not refer in this regard to the most recent accidents that have occurred but to those what might happen in the future.
It would be an immensely retrograde step if, as proposals from the Minister for Transport seem to indicate, the two longest established coast guard stations in the country at Valentia and Malin were to lose their rescue co-ordination functions. Apart from the difficulties for the staff involved, this smacks of centralisation as opposed to what the Government has been preaching — we supported it in this regard — in respect of decentralisation. Fine buildings exist in these locations and presumably a staff guarantee is in place. However, the Minister is creating doubt about their future. Most importantly, a consultant's report in 2002 recommended that both of these locations be upgraded. They are more than suitably located for the purposes for which they exist and I do not understand this. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport to attend in the House or guide me as to how this matter should be approached? It is extremely serious.
I support the call made by Senator O'Toole with regard to the planning matter raised last week. It is ridiculous that people living a few hundred miles away and known in some parts of the country as "Julys" or "holiday home merchants" can object to a proposal for a principal private dwelling of a local resident. I would greatly welcome a debate on this.
I wish to respond briefly to comments made by the Opposition with regard to the health crisis. As a member of a Government party I welcome the Opposition's support for the cancer care strategy being implemented. Unfortunately, this is not always obvious in the behaviour or public utterances of the Opposition parties. The Minister's call for a bipartisan approach to reforming our health services was one of the most sensible I heard.
How about co-location?
Senator de Búrca will have to get her own troops lined up.
The Opposition parties should cease to be political on this——
Does Senator de Búrca now support co-location?
——and try to work on the reform of the health services which is in all of our interests.
Will the Leader invite to the House the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism to respond to the issues raised yesterday by the chief executive of Fáilte Ireland, Mr. Sean Quinn, at its annual conference? He expressed concern that the tourism industry may be attracting people to the island on false pretences as, while we market ourselves internationally as a tourism destination on the basis of a clean, green environment, increasingly this is under threat. Mr. Quinn called on the tourism industry to be far more pro-active, act in a more environmentally-friendly way and be an advocate and lobbying voice for greater environmental protection to preserve and protect the basis of the tourism industry. He mentioned that an environmental unit was established within Fáilte Ireland which will devise policies to do so. The Minister could address these issues and give us an idea how this new role for Fáilte Ireland could be developed and expanded.
I listened from the Dáil Gallery to the speech of Mary Harney last night and it was a remarkable performance. I do not use the word "performance" in a scathing manner and I do not wish to suggest there was anything theatrical about it. It was a speech of passionate conviction and I respect this. I have ideological differences with her and I have made them plain in this House. What horrified me was her statement that she was made aware of the ultrasound problem in Portlaoise only on Wednesday at a meeting with other people, spent 24 hours trying to get a satisfactory answer from the HSE and failed to do so.
It is astounding that the Minister for Health and Children cannot extract information from the bureaucracy. It confirms everything stated, not in a partisan way or on this side of the House, but by Members on the other side of the House and by Ministers. This worries me because clearly a real problem exists with regard to information flow.
This is not confined, however, to the Department of Health and Children. As I left the Chamber I encountered a Cabinet leak. As a result of this I was able to inform our distinguished Leader that a decision had been made to embark on Seanad reform, which will scrutinise the university seats in particular. It was a very interesting proposal and I welcome it but it is time we examined the rest of the seats. We should put an end to their method of election, although I am not casting aspersions on the people who managed to arrive here by a plainly corrupt system. If we are looking for rotten boroughs, they are all around this House but they are not in the six universities.
That issue can be debated tonight.
I was confirmed in my opinion by what I saw on Monday night of avariciousness and lack of integrity among councillors. I am amazed at the lickspittling of local authorities that continues because they are Senators' constituencies.
A debate will be held later this evening on the issue of Seanad reform. We do not want that debate now. The Senator is very experienced but he should refer to Ministers as "Minister" or "Deputy" rather than by name.
I accept the Cathaoirleach's direction. I acted with no disrespect and, in that regard, am astonished he did not rebuke a previous speaker who did precisely the same and who also referred to doctors by name. I should not have to remind the House of the tradition that people are not named when they are not here to defend themselves.
When reforms are introduced, we will want to ensure we do not create a completely unworkable constituency.
On the Order of Business.
It will comprise at least 250,000 electors and could be as many as 500,000. That would suit me and I will take on any little political squirt that the parties produce.
I have made up my mind. I certainly will run in the next election.
I do not want Senator Norris to give a lecture to anyone here. As an experienced Senator, I ask him to respect the Chair and his rulings.
I very much respect the Chair and I have made that clear.
I tried to raise on the Adjournment the case of a woman from Nigeria, whose name is made privy in the documents I supplied. In 2004 this woman arrived in the country at the age of 15 and she is now 19. She is being deported, even though she is half-way through a degree course and has her leaving certificate. She is unsupported and has no family, having been separated by the situation she experienced, yet we are throwing her back to Nigeria.
I tried to put a motion on the Order Paper requesting the Government to hold a referendum on removing the word "Christian" from the Constitution because of our signal failure to act in a Christian manner towards these people but I could not get a single person to sign my motion. It is utter hypocrisy. We bleat about the undocumented Irish in America but we are sending a girl back to a country where we know she will end up on the streets.
That is a matter for the Adjournment.
I ask in this case and in the case of the autistic boy who was sent back to Nigeria that the Irish embassy in Lagos be required to follow through and find out what happened to these people. It is not good enough that we throw them out of this country and land them on the streets. We may turn them to lives of prostitution but we do not give a damn once they have left this island.
The Senator made his point well.
I am delighted that Senator Norris is going to welcome others to the register of voters on the university panels.
I refer again to the debate I have sought with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government concerning constituency revision and the Constituency Commission's report. I note that we will have a debate this evening on the university panels for the Seanad. I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister to address the matter I have raised.
Few Members of either House are aware of the consequences of the Murphy judgment, which means that county boundaries will be halved and small segments will be transferred from one county to another. It is time we examined the identities we all possess in terms of our counties in order that no future boundary commission will be allowed to breach county boundaries, even if that means increasing the number of Members in these Houses. That has been suggested but it was wrongly rejected by the commission. I ask that an all-party committee be established by both Houses to examine the future with regard to boundary commissions and how Dáil constituencies are defined.
It is unfair of Senator Norris to tar all councillors with the same brush. As a former county councillor I know the vast majority of councillors would not dream of becoming involved in the antics referred to in the programme shown on television the other night to which the Senator referred. Using the Chamber to spread unsubstantiated allegations about the councillor body as a whole is wrong and I ask Senator Norris to be more considered in his contributions in future.
Many Senators, including the Leader and some Front Bench spokespersons, attended the meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body held in Oxfordshire in recent days. Lord Dubs led a particularly interesting debate about the Irish community in Britain. A paper he prepared on the issue showed a vast difference in the experience of those who emigrated to Britain in the past 20 years as compared to those who emigrated in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The more recent arrivals have tended to integrate better and have found it much easier to maintain links with Ireland owing to factors such as lower travel costs and improvements in communications, including access to the Internet. We need to address the issue of how we can support elderly emigrants in the United Kingdom. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come before the House to hold a debate on the elderly Irish in Britain and how Members can improve their lot?