The Order of Business is No. 1, Social Welfare Bill 2007 — Second Stage to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and on which Senators may share time.
Order of Business.
I was delighted to attend a reception yesterday at which our colleague, Senator Norris, handed over his personal archive of papers to the National Library. These document his campaign for equality and gay rights in Ireland. I echo the words of the former President, Mary Robinson, who at the reception commended his courage in illustrating the discrimination felt by gay people at a time when it was difficult to speak out about gay rights. Senator Norris said he intended to continue to contribute to the archives. It is not the end of the story as the campaign for gay rights is an unfinished one. As the Taoiseach said, sexual orientation cannot and must not be the basis of a second-class citizenship. It is appropriate to pay tribute to Senator Norris on this occasion.
Since the session began, I and many other Senators have raised the issue of mental health services. We had a debate on the issue and plan to have another. In view of the tragic circumstances in which a young man lost his life over the weekend, I wish to raise the issue of our approach to funding mental health services and the implementation of plans in A Vision for Change. It is getting to the point that we cannot believe words from Ministers. There appears to be a complete discrepancy between what is promised and what is delivered. The Leader and Deputy Leader must examine this issue seriously.
In this year's budget, funding promised for mental health services was reduced. It has been the Cinderella of the health services for a long time. As the base is poor, development slow and the move from institutional care to community care has been only recent, there is a moral obligation on us to pay more attention to this area in budgeting policy. One in four people will experience mental health problems. We must bring the services to the point at which those people have access to the community services they need, as well as inpatient services. Dr. Siobhán Barry said this sad and unfortunate incident was a crisis waiting to happen. She said the drastic reduction in the number of hospital beds for mentally ill patients had created major problems for those working in the front line. It would be appropriate in the new session to have another debate on mental health. Will the Leader talk to the Minister for Finance to discuss the budget for implementing A Vision for Change? The Government's blueprint was to ensure that the kinds of community care services needed would be in place.
This week we heard about a young man going to three outpatient clinics and community care services were not able to reach him. It is a sad and serious issue about which everyone in the House has spoken, yet there has been another reduction in funds for mental health services in the budget. If the Leader takes action on this he will reflect the views of Members on all sides of this House. According to the statistics available to me, children aged between 13 and 17 years were admitted to adult psychiatric beds in October and November of this year. This scandal must end.
There is a mobile telephone ringing and I thought they were banned from the House.
I thank Senator Frances Fitzgerald for her gracious words and confirm this will be a continuing archive. I quoted John Donne to the unfortunate librarian yesterday, "When thou has done, thou has not done for I have more" and there will be more. I will put down the domestic partnership civil registration Bill for Private Members' time early in the new year which I hope will give us an opportunity to discuss this aspect of the work with which we are concerned.
I also support Senator Frances Fitzgerald's words on the mental health services. Although we are enhanced by the presence of Senator Bacik, we are diminished by the absence of Senator Henry who, gently but trenchantly, always mentioned mental health reports, the report of the inspectors of mental hospitals and so on. A young man attempted to get into three outpatient departments and Dr. Siobhán Barry said that because of lack of investment these records are almost invariably handwritten and are not transmitted between hospitals. One hospital, therefore, would not know the man had in desperation tried to get into a couple of others. Investment is essential in order that hospitals can perform their functions. The man concerned felt there was a difficulty, his wife had experienced difficulty and was being protected by the police, yet he was released to wander around. I should not comment too much on the case because I am not even sure that the man has been arrested. I understand the Garda detained him and he is receiving treatment for conditions that are "not physical". It was said on a radio programme that the Government has not lived up to its investment commitments and is at least €25 million behind what was promised in the programme for Government. This must be examined.
In the new session, could we have a discussion on adult literacy? Highly intelligent people are often abashed and ashamed, and must conceal from their children that they have difficulty reading and writing. While I do not wish to violate the rules of the House by seeking a vote of sympathy or whatever for the late Christie Hennessy, it would be remiss of me not to mention that remarkable gifted musician who gave so much pleasure. He was a gentleman, a great entertainer and left school illiterate at 11 years of age yet forged a wonderful career. We could have a debate on the subject of adult illiteracy as a tribute to the late Christie Hennessy early in the new session.
I would like to join Senator Fitzgerald in warmly congratulating Senator Norris on the handing over of his papers to the National Library yesterday as the occasion was a great tribute to him. Senator Norris has been associated with the fight for gay rights for many years but he is not a one trick pony and he has made a huge contribution to a range of debates in this House and outside. The presentation of his papers yesterday is a fine tribute to him and will allow the wider community understand the various issues in which he has been involved.
Both of the previous speakers raised the issue of mental health and the events of recent days. I have been involved in a number of debates in this House on the success story known as the Celtic tiger but I feel if a person were to visit this country today and see the newspaper headlines of the past 24 hours he or she would be astonished to be told the country is regarded as a success. How can a country be described as successful when a single truck overturning at 6 a.m. in the capital city can bring traffic in there, and 20 to 30 miles outside, to a standstill and cause mayhem? Can a country be described as successful when parents of primary school children, of whom I am one, who spend such a large part of the year raising funds to keep schools operating, are told they must face further increases in expenditure in the form of water charges?
I echo the sentiments expressed by Senators Norris and Fitzgerald on psychiatric services. Can a country be described as successful when not only Opposition politicians seeking to attack the Government but professionals in the field say that psychiatric services are being dismantled? It is not a question of services merely being under funded but rather actively dismantled. At St. Brendan's Hospital, ten of the 24 secure beds have been closed. Is this indicative of a successful country?
Can the Leader find a Minister to take some responsibility? In the case of water charges in schools perhaps the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, or the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, could take responsibility rather than blame Europe and local authorities. Can the Leader find a Minister or member of the Government to facilitate a debate in this House on how the so-called success of this country is measured? As it is the season of goodwill, when the Leader is responding I ask him to refrain from giving us the weekly lecture on young Senators on the other side of the House getting uppity. I ask him to address the real issue, which is finding a way to measure the so-called success of our economy. What should the true measure be? Surely the three aforementioned issues bring into question the application of the word "success" to Ireland today.
I also wish to compliment Senator Norris on the presentation of his papers to the National Library as they reflect the wide range of areas in which the Senator is involved. I wish him every success in handing over the next batch.
I agree with Senator Fitzgerald that a debate is needed on the issue of mental health early in the new year. Examples of mental health issues were given yesterday and they can lead to suicide. I agree with Senator Fitzgerald that psychiatric services are the Cinderella of the health service and we must examine how best to improve services in community care. We must also endeavour to create policies that reflect the society of today. Mental health problems will not simply disappear and they seem to be increasing, for whatever reason. I am concerned that this issue is being ignored and I would like it debated in the House. Adult literacy is a serious issue that must be taken into account in programmes for lifelong learning and schemes such as the vocational training opportunities scheme. I support the calls for a debate on this issue in the new year.
I join Senator Fitzgerald in asking the Leader for an urgent debate on the mental health sector. The strategy document, A Vision for Change, was launched amid much fanfare but we have seen no matching commitment by the Government to implement change.
We have had debates in this House on health and education. On both occasions, the relevant Ministers were, to say the least, making it up as they went along. I bring Members' attention to the situation in Cork where the chest pain clinic has been closed. The Minister informed the House there would be no cutbacks in health service but they are there to be seen. The Minister informed Senators there is plenty of money for the health service. We are told on the one hand of a €9 million underspend while, on the other, this is contradicted by a Health Service Executive official. We must have a debate on budgeting in the health service.
I understand the Joint Committee on House Services is meeting this afternoon to discuss matters relating to the water framework directive. There must be an urgent debate on the provision of capitation grants to schools and on the issue of whether schools should have to pay for their water supply. The current situation is incredible. I received an e-mail recently from a school principal which stated:
Capitation does not cover heating, lighting, insurance, cleaning and maintenance. The capitation grant does not arrive in schools until January and most principals are seriously embarrassed by the level of debt and are continuously dealing with calls from creditors.
The Government, as led by the Leader's party, is putting school principals to the pin of their collar. The last debate we had on education took place before the budget. Another debate must take place given that the picture has changed entirely since then.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in the new year on local radio? A new phenomenon is arising whereby one radio station seems determined to take over all other local radio stations throughout the State.
Newstalk would do fine. I congratulate Senator Norris on handing over his papers to the National Library of Ireland. Thank God he did not hand in his notice.
There is no chance of that.
The ethos of local radio is being attacked. No single local radio station should be allowed to control other local stations. One group controlling three or four stations is not in the interest of local radio, nor is it in the best interests of communities which depend on local radio to air local grievances and issues. I note that programming is being changed by the new owners, especially in the case of my local station. I call for a debate on this issue as early as possible in the new year.
I draw the attention of the House to two decisions in the European court this morning in cases relating to the Schengen Agreement. Ireland and the United Kingdom opted out of that agreement with the exception of certain provisions, but both have applied to partake in two aspects of the agreement. One relates to the EU agency, Frontex, which is concerned with co-operation on external borders. The other is standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents. These are two areas of activity of the Union that are important in fighting crime. The European court has ruled that at this stage, neither Ireland nor the United Kingdom can participate in these areas of activity.
There is a price, therefore, for opting out of treaty provisions of the EU. We are doing the same in respect of some elements of the Lisbon treaty. The reality is that we are now handicapped in two important areas of crime-fighting. I ask that we in the House review our participation in the Schengen Agreement in the new year. Such a review is called for in light of these judgments.
I ask for a debate on drug driving and request the Leader to address it to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan. We have provisions in the Road Traffic Acts for drug testing but I notice that this week, a former drugs officer in Sligo referred to the difficulty of detecting drug driving. We all know that given the prevalence of the use of drugs, this is a serious danger to safety on the roads.
Specific legislation, the Road Traffic Act 1994, has provisions that allow for testing, although most gardaí simply do a breath test. If a garda finds an individual is over the limit on alcohol, he or she is prosecuted for the offence. Very few go the next step and take samples for drugs. There is also an infirmity in the legislation in that there is no analysis of the extent to which an individual may have consumed drugs, which creates a problem in the courts for proving that the extent of drugs taken renders the person incapable of driving.
I will not go into the details of this because they are for the debate. I ask, given the cases which have arisen and that we are now more aware of the extent of the use of drugs, and cocaine in particular, that the Minister address the legislative infirmity and the necessary testing and sampling facilities in the country to combat drug driving.
Some weeks ago I called for a debate on car insurance as there is evidence to suggest the authenticity of some of the insurance discs is very questionable. This has been noticed because some cars with such discs have been involved in accidents. If that is the number we know about, how many do we not know about? I will not discuss it now but I ask for an early debate on the matter.
The murder of a young man from Offaly by a person who is clearly mentally ill is very worrying, bringing into focus the fact that some people in our community suffer from psychiatric illness and need to be treated in a secure environment, sometimes involuntarily. Senator Norris and others were involved in an Independent motion which discussed inappropriate bed occupancy in psychiatric hospitals, which is another feature we should touch on in debate.
In many cases, people are using psychiatric hospitals, geriatric hospitals or even accident and emergency departments as hostels, which is clearly an abuse of facilities. I have scant details on the people who interviewed this man. If the individual is as ill as it seems, questions must be asked. Was he interviewed by a consultant or an non-consultant hospital doctor? I am sure all the details will come out in the fullness of time, when the debate takes place.
I join with other colleagues in congratulating Senator Norris on the launch of his archive. I attended the event yesterday, which was a great occasion.
I wish to raise two issues on which we have held debates before and which I hope may be debated this week. The first is a motion seeking the release of Íngrid Betancourt, which I believe has all-party agreement in the House. If it could be laid before the House this week we could agree it before Christmas. Íngrid Betancourt has been detained by FARC guerrillas in Colombia for some years and is facing into another long time in detention unless strenuous international efforts are made to secure her release. It is vital for us to play our part in that by putting this motion together and resolving it before Christmas.
I deeply regret that the Climate Protection Bill I introduced in Private Members' time on 3 October has not been given time for debate this week. I have had communications with the Deputy Leader and the Leader of the House about the matter. It is very disappointing especially for groups such as Friends of the Earth and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition which have been campaigning so hard for legislation on the issue. It is most disappointing, especially in the wake of the Bali talks, that the Bill cannot be given Government time this week as we were promised. When will we get Government time to debate that Bill? Colleagues will remember that 20,000 e-mails supporting the Bill were sent to us by individual members of non-governmental organisations.
There were 20,001.
Senator Kelly may have got some more. I do not want to precipitate such a flood of e-mails again. However, there will be real concern among the groups supporting the Bill. We can blame the Leader and not me if that is the case.
I call for an urgent debate on our return in January on the issue of future policy on child care. This issue has been mentioned a few times in the past two months. The new community child care subvention scheme proposed by the Minister of State, Deputy Smith, is intended to ensure reduced fees are charged to disadvantaged parents.
Is there a U-turn coming?
Allow Senator Mary White to speak without interruption.
We all know the Minister of State asked the community child care groups for their views on the proposed scheme, which is intended to help disadvantaged parents. Some 90% of the groups returned their data. I said last week to Senator Bacik — níl sí ag éisteacht liom anois — that the Minister of State would resolve the matter quickly. He has announced that he has increased the subvention for social welfare parents from €80 to €100 per week and for family income support parents from €30 to €70. He has also introduced a new band C covering parents not in receipt of social welfare or family income support, who will get €45 per week. The Minister of State, like a good politician, did not carve his original policy intentions in stone.
He heard the voice of the women of Ireland.
I am pleased I raised the matter in the Seanad and in the meeting of the parliamentary party.
It is a U-turn of gargantuan proportions.
There will be a minimum grant of €20,000 per year which will be of particular benefit to small community child care providers, especially those in rural areas and the islands.
Will it be in the Finance Bill?
I raised the matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Smith, and the Taoiseach. The Minister of State is a good politician. As I have said before there is no point in simply introducing policies. They need to be revised if more relevant information becomes available. He was right to adjudicate on this policy because it was initially intended to benefit disadvantaged parents. It is my pleasure to inform those who are interested, including Senators Fitzgerald and Bacik——
There is nothing extra in the budget for a new scheme.
The real Minister for child care.
I am the Seanad spokesperson on children and older people.
The Senator is the Fianna Fáil spokesperson and not the Seanad spokesperson.
The day I was given that brief I said the Senators need not worry because I would look after the people where those issues are concerned.
It is a pity the Government does not do that. It is not in the budget.
I join other Senators in passing my good wishes and congratulations to Senator Norris on donating his archive to the National Archives of Ireland. I am pleased to hear that additions will be made and that it is not complete yet.
I wish to develop the points raised by our leader, Senator Fitzgerald. I appeal to the Leader of the House to arrange an early debate yet again on the mental health services and to convey our concerns to the relevant Minister. This recent incident is a horrendous Christmas tragedy for the family of a fine young man from County Offaly who was engaged to be married and was building his new home. Our hearts go out to his family, as does the sympathy of the House.
It is shocking that the man involved had on three occasions sought admission to psychiatric care. I agree with Senator Glynn that there is a need for an immediate rigorous examination of the procedures to ascertain who he approached for help, why he was released and why he was not admitted. It was disturbing to hear the chief executive officer of the Mental Health Association of Ireland saying on national radio this morning that there is not sufficient funding for the implementation of A Vision for Change and that there is 50% less than the amount required.
Mental health remains the Cinderella of the health services. This should not be the case in a civilised society——
The Senator should keep those points for the debate.
I am coming to my point. It should also not be the case in a Celtic tiger Ireland.
I ask the Leader to raise the following issues with the Minister and to have a debate on a number of specific points. There has been too dramatic a move from institutionalisation to community care and there is still a need for a sufficient core number of institutional places. The move has been too dramatic and without sufficient back-up community care.
I ask the Leader to have a debate on the question of isolation and loneliness. Many people suffer from loneliness and isolation and are in great need. I ask the Leader to find out why there are not enough hospital places available for young people with anorexia nervosa; there are only three available places in the entire country. That is not enough.
I ask the Leader to establish what steps are being taken to ensure the mental health services are in sufficient shape to absorb the tragic consequences of substance abuse which is all too prevalent. I also ask him to treat this request as an urgent priority and to ask for an instant reaction from the Minister in terms of a response to the House by tomorrow.
In answer to Senator Bacik's request for debates this week, the Leader of the House will respond to the status of the motion relating to Íngrid Betancourt and I will take responsibility for responding to Senator Bacik's Private Members' Bill on targets for climate change. Contrary to what is being said elsewhere, in particular by Friends of the Earth in current e-mails, it was not a promise made by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government but rather a promise made by me as Deputy Leader in this House. It was a question of awaiting the results of the Bali conference which, while encouraging, have not been what many of us had hoped for. There was still a hope we could address the issue this week. I made this promise not fully realising the legislative pressure that would be made on the House this week. The Leader has said there is a slim possibility of having statements on the Bali conference but it is more likely the House will need to address this issue at the first opportunity in the new year. I have explained to the Senator the technical difficulty in that Standing Orders do not allow anyone to speak more than once on Second Stage.
What happens when it goes to Committee Stage?
The Senator has made a second contribution and any additional Government time will be to allow her to finish her contribution and no one else will be allowed make a contribution. A decision must be made on whether the Bill can proceed to Committee Stage and the Cabinet has not made that decision. I am happy to put the record straight.
I refer to the call for a debate on the provision of child care services and the comments made by Senator Mary White about what makes a good politician and good policy. It is a pity she is not present in the House to hear me. The benchmark for good policy-making in this area is not the introduction of a catastrophically destructive policy for that sector and then having a change of mind on it.
The benchmark for good policy in this area is not introducing it in the first place.
The common theme that emerges in this debate, which echoes the discussions we have had on mental health care, is that the policy is in place but the money is not available to implement it. Other speakers have made this point in previous debates on child care. The budget did not provide an increase in funding for child care. Regarding Senator Mary White's announcements, we have to know where is the money coming from to make this happen, to ensure that another cloth is not being thrown over the eyes of the people who are trying to deliver good child care who will find that later in the year they do not have the money to deliver it.
I call for a debate on the delivery of public services. This issue has been touched on previously in terms of mental health, suicide and other issues. The Government has made many attempts in the past to compile reports on how we can better fund the delivery of public services. Under a programme called the expenditure review initiative, an attempt was made in 2002 to examine how money could be freed up to deliver better public services. That collapsed with only one in five reviews in the programme completed.
The successor to that initiative was announced in 2006, namely, the value for money review. A total of 66 reports were due for publication in December. Some 40 have not been published and not a single report can identify how additional funding or savings can be made to free up more funding for the delivery of front-line services. We heard many times in the past, and we heard again in the recent budget, about the Government's commitment to spend taxpayers' money better. Given that the last two attempts to do this have completely failed, why should we believe the third attempt will be any different?
I call Senator Walsh. Time is moving on and I ask Senators to be brief. A number of Senators are offering.
For a change I support Senator Regan in his call for a debate on the Schengen Agreement. The reason we have not fully embraced this is because of the common travel area and the adverse effects it could have on travel between the North and the South. I agree with him that it is time to examine this matter.
My second point relates to water charges. It is popular for Members in this House and local authority members to jump on the bandwagon and say there should be a derogation for schools. I do not believe that should happen. It may well be the case that resources would be made available to schools by the Department of Education and Science but it is a fact that there is a lot of waste. There is a disparity between the manner in which schools manage their water supplies. In some cases of which I am aware, leaks in schools have been allowed to continue during the summer when nobody was there. A significant wastage of water can occur. There is no way any of us, including the local authorities, should tolerate this. It is totally against everything we stand for on conservation. I am not in favour of that.
Who is going to inspect the schools?
Senator Buttimer, please.
Schools should not be blamed for the Government's inadequacy.
Senator Buttimer should please allow Senator Walsh to speak without interruption.
The schools should not be blamed for the Government's mess.
I advise Senator Buttimer that perhaps if he listened occasionally he might learn something. I urge him to do that.
That is correct.
The Senator should not blame the schools.
If I have to name Senator Buttimer, I will arrange to do so.
I also refer to the point made by Senator Alex White, which is a good one.
It is another stealth tax and Senator Walsh knows it.
Senator Buttimer is out of order.
Senator Buttimer should respect the rules of the House and of the Chair.
There was considerable traffic chaos yesterday morning because of one accident. I agree with what Senator Alex White said, that contingency plans need to be ready to be put in place to avoid that type of chaos. I do not know whether it is the responsibility of the Dublin Transport Authority or whoever else but we should ensure some mechanism is in place to deal with these situations rather than face what happened yesterday.
Senator Alex White inquired how we should measure economic success. There are those who say that perhaps it should be by means of GDP. Others disagree and say that GNP is a better mechanism. Others would argue that our unemployment rate of 4.6%, which is half that of France and of Germany, is another good measure. Could I proffer to Senator White another one, the significant inflation in legal fees which, I presume, is a reflection of the economic success of those who are willing to pay them?
A cheap shot.
I wish to raise the issue of the worsening health service in the midlands and ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, would return to the House to debate the health services for the midlands and the provision of a centre of excellence, a new primary care unit, which has been promised for ten years for Athlone, and on the desperate news of the closure of the 16-bed ward in Portiuncula Hospital.
I join with the other Senators in support of the call for a debate on psychiatric services. I, too, am appalled at the terrible situation of that poor man being mowed down in the prime of his life. I ask that the psychiatric services would not be treated in such a dismal manner, that funding would not be cut to such an extent and that we would recognise the dignity of people suffering with psychiatric illness and treat them accordingly. If one takes on the closing down of services and institutions, one should provide community care facilities to help these poor unfortunate people who are suffering from depression. One in four people will suffer from some form of psychiatric illness in their lifetime, and it is a live issue. The cut in funding for prevention of suicide seems to have gone unnoticed in the budget. It is a serious issue.
I support the call for a debate on the new monopoly which is creeping in to local radio because this runs counter to the rationale which underpinned the setting up of these stations originally. The idea was to give an independent opportunity to local communities to reflect their talents, ethos and aspirations. Prior to the advent of these stations, RTE sent an outside broadcasting unit throughout the country, gave communities in each area one week, and provided resources and the training in order to test the waters. What is happening now is a reversal of what RTE set in train at that time in a positive and constructive manner.
The same trend is happening with local newspapers. In my area alone several newspapers have now been acquired by Scottish Radio Holdings. I believe the same is happening throughout the country.
If that is happening — no doubt it is happening by stealth — it runs counter to the debate in this House seven or eight years ago when we were trying to get away from that monopoly. The House could serve a purpose by putting down a marker and perhaps asking the appropriate Minister to look at the legality of the matter. If there are legislative constraints required, they should be brought in at this stage.
I welcome the comments by numerous Senators today on mental health. I will not dwell on or repeat them, except in one area. I was in agreement with Senator Glynn on the issue of the way in which mental health services are being used by people who should probably be using other forms of treatment, for example those who are suffering in some cases from drug abuse. In areas where I suppose the figures are not as high, and particularly in rural areas, often there is a mix-up of services. I have seen this directly in a tragic scenario, similar to the one reported today and yesterday, in my constituency in recent months where a person was wrongly sent to a mental health institution. Tragedy ensued.
Detoxification is also an issue. Sometimes people who are sent to drug treatment clinics must be nine days detoxified before they are admitted to programmes. There is a question to be asked with regard to the time they must wait before they get treatment. These people are so vulnerable that it is questionable whether they can stay away from drugs for that length of time. The crossover between drug treatment and mental health is an area that needs to be addressed urgently because in many cases people are being sent to the wrong place for help.
I welcome the fact that RTE returned to its high standard of production with its programme on fuel smuggling. Some contributors to the programme stated one of the reasons authorities may turn a blind eye towards this smuggling is because it does not involve a loss to taxpayers in the Republic, although it did some years ago. It was also suggested the reason for turning a blind eye was to facilitate discourse relating to the peace process. Turning a blind eye is a concern. Despite the fact there is not a loss to the Exchequer, it is worrying that fuel smuggling continues and is not addressed as it should be.
Can the Leader give us any update with regard to a debate on tourism, particularly with regard to structures? We talk about the public service, but we have multiple tourism organisations with multiple HR and IT departments. I would welcome debate on this in the near future.
Will the Leader provide an update on the debate on gender equality, which I requested at the beginning of this session? Today's report from the Equality Authority, which demonstrates we have not advanced in the gender equality field, makes worrying reading. Senator Buttimer said the women of Ireland had spoken out on the issue of child care. That comment proves the need for debate on the issue of gender equality because child care is not a women's issue, but a children's or parental issue. We should include issues such as child care, parental and paternity leave and domestic violence in our debate, because until we address these issues women will not return to the workforce, nor will they play a political role.
We should invite Deputy Ring in to listen to the debate. Given his recent comments on Brussels sprouts and his statement that women are the only people able to cook——
The Senator should speak to the Order of Business.
Is this relevant?
He should listen to our debate. Perhaps I should warn him to stay away from the Brussels sprouts pot over the Christmas season in case they jump up and bite him on behalf of the Irish men who help women cook them.
The Senator is an optimist.
Senators are not allowed to refer to Members of the other House.
The pot is bubbling.
I call on the Leader to organise, as a matter of urgency, for the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House early in the new year for a focused debate on mental health. The debate should focus on the implementation of A Vision for Change. In its briefing last week, the HSE informed us that it hoped to have a draft implementation plan by the end of December. It is unacceptable that it is talking about a draft implementation plan two years on from the adoption of A Vision for Change.
Can we have some clarification on what happened to the moneys allocated for mental health services in budget 2007? Comments made this morning by people involved in the area mentioned that moneys allocated to mental health ended up elsewhere. It is urgent to ensure that moneys allocated in a budget for a specific project are spent on that project. There is agreement in the House that mental health is a priority issue. Any moneys allocated to the area should be spent on it. It is urgent that there should be some accountability to the Seanad and to the Minister for Finance with regard to where the moneys allocated for mental health services in budget 2007 went.
Before I respond I wish to take the opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, on the completion of the national BreastCheck programme. The new units in Galway and Cork, which will cater for more than 140,000 women, were opened yesterday.
Not before time.
On many occasions during this session, Senators called for the facilities in the west and south to be opened. As a result of the important expansion of this worthwhile service, initial screening will be made available to women so that breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage. I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Harney, even if this development is long overdue. When she came to the House on two occasions earlier in this session, Members argued forcefully for the expansion of the service.
Many Senators, including Senators Fitzgerald, Alex White, Ormonde and Buttimer, paid tribute to Senator Norris, who has donated 40 boxes of archival material to the National Library. The Senator has made a huge contribution over the years. I would like to look through some of the boxes to learn more about how difficult the Senator has found it to get elected to the Seanad, particularly on the Trinity College panel. I do not mean to trivialise the donation Senator Norris has made, as I have great admiration for him. I thank him for his great gesture, which will be appreciated by everyone in the country.
Senators Fitzgerald, Norris, Alex White, Ormonde, Glynn, O'Reilly, McFadden, Kelly and Corrigan expressed their shock and horror at the death of a young man in Dublin at the weekend. As Leader of the House, I wish to send the condolences of the Seanad to the family of the man in question. He was a near neighbour of the Cathaoirleach, who knew him well. This dreadful and terrible tragedy should not have happened, and we all wish it had not happened. Action has to be taken to ensure things like this do not happen again.
I served on the former Midland Health Board with the Cathaoirleach for over 18 and a half years. Senator Glynn was a member of the board for much longer than that. During that time, huge changes were made to the health care system in the midlands. There was a change in the attitude to people suffering from mental illness, for example. We all took part in that process. I was on the tenders committee for County Westmeath for 18 years. We acquired many comfortable residences in counties Longford, Westmeath, Laois and Offaly and used them to care for patients in the community, as citizens of the community, with respect. That system has been an outstanding success 90% of the time.
I agree with the comments of my near neighbour from County Cavan, Senator O'Reilly, about the core care that is needed in the mental health area. The development of such care in the midlands has been an incredible success story. As Senators Glynn and Corrigan have worked in the mental health profession, they know these problems at first hand. I respect the views they have expressed to the House today. We can set time aside for a debate on the matter. The annual health budget, which is currently €16 billion, is four times greater than it was ten years ago. When unfortunate tragedies of this nature occur, we have to do whatever we can to assist those working in this field. When we have an opportunity to discuss this issue in the House, we will need to give the Minister advice. I assure the House that I will set time aside for such a debate in the early days of the next session.
Senator Norris passed on his condolences to the family of the late Christie Hennessy, whom I knew well. I had the honour and privilege of paying tribute to Christie Hennessy on the airwaves. To say he was a genius would be an understatement. He came up the hard way before making an immense contribution to the music and entertainment industries. His biggest hits were "Don't Forget Your Shovel" and "All the Lies That You Told Me", which gave Frances Black her first number 1 hit single. However, the song I most remember from Christie Hennessy's shows was "I Am a Star", for which he received a standing ovation and an encore every time he sang it. The title of that song sums up the man — he was a star and he will continue to be a star. It is sad that he died at the young age of 62. I want to be associated with the tributes which Senator Norris led here today.
Senator Buttimer expressed his views about the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. While the Senator is a good colleague and friend, I do not agree with him on this occasion. He is following in the footsteps of a lifelong friend of most of those of us who have been in the Seanad for a long time, the former Senator Dino Cregan. He has a very high standard to live up to. He has the ingredients to do it, but whether he has the——
What is Senator Cassidy trying to imply?
I will leave it to the other Senators to decide. It is a question of discipline rather than anything else.
However, in the spirit of goodwill at Christmas, I must remind all fair-minded Senators that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, came to the House on two occasions and made outstanding contributions. She did not need anything written down for her. She had it all at the tips of her fingers and had a hands-on approach. I have seen politicians on all sides, not just from one political party, whose images are completely different from their personalities when they are at their desks and doing their jobs, whether Minister or Taoiseach. I have every confidence in Deputy Harney in her portfolio and I wish her well. Her two outstanding contributions in this House within weeks of each other and under very difficult circumstances were admired by Senators on all sides of the House.
Senators Buttimer and Walsh spoke about school capitation grants and water charges. I will set aside time for a debate on education in the next session. Senators Ellis and Ó Murchú called for an urgent debate on local radio and the abuses that are occurring at present. Those of us who fought so long and hard in this House for the legalisation of local radio are extremely disappointed that agencies outside the State will now control the local airwaves. That was never intended when the Oireachtas enabled the establishment of local radio. We set it up to provide local content to communities. The danger is that it will drift even further. The big advantage of local radio is that it serves local communities. I will arrange to have this debate in the first or second week after the Christmas recess.
Senators Regan and Walsh expressed their views on Ireland and the UK finding themselves outside certain European agreements, and the effect of this in terms of fighting crime. I will see what the Minister has to say about this and I hope to contact the Senators directly with this information. Senator Regan also mentioned the portfolio of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the matter of drug use by people driving motor vehicles, whether private or commercial. There is a difficulty with detection, as we found in our investigation of the insurance industry during the last session. We may be able to adopt best practice from New Zealand or America, where this difficulty has been overcome. Perhaps the Senator has some knowledge in this regard. I have no difficulty in allowing a debate on this issue and I will pass on the views of Senators to the Minister.
Thirteen Senators met in my office last week to discuss an all-party motion on drug abuse and particularly the serious abuse of cocaine that is going on at present. This could be highlighted in the contributions of Senators on the motion. We will allow all Senators to make a contribution on this serious challenge for the Government and for society. Senators are pushing an open door in this regard. We will do anything we can to assist in dealing with the challenge of drug abuse.
Senator Glynn called for a debate on car insurance. I will set aside time for this. There are many abuses occurring in this area. Senator Bacik asked for an update on the situation regarding Íngrid Betancourt. There will be a motion on this matter on the Order Paper before Thursday.
I thank Senator Cassidy.
The suggested wording was very long and we are trying to make it more concise.
On the other matter mentioned by Senator Bacik, which was dealt with by the Deputy Leader, this is a legislative week in the House and always has been. Legislation must come first. Senators Mary White, Donohoe, Walsh and McDonald expressed their views on the development of child care policy. Senator Mary White was strong in her vote of congratulations to the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brendan Smith. I have no difficulty in setting aside time to discuss this. We will probably have many such discussions in the lifetime of the Seanad.
Senator Donohoe spoke on the radio yesterday about the delivery of public services and value for money. Everyone can fully support him in this and agree with the thrust of his argument, which is that we need a better return on taxpayers' money in this regard. This will be debated at the earliest opportunity in the House.
Senator McFadden called for the Minister for Health and Children to come to the House to discuss health services in the Midlands. I have no difficulty with this. I know the Senator will want me to welcome last week's allocation of the dormant account funds from RAPID. A total of €5 million was allocated. The Department of Education and Science has announced that St. Joseph's College in Summerhill, in the Senator's home town of Athlone, is to receive a significant allocation to upgrade its existing facilities. I know she will welcome this announcement in this evening's local papers, as I do.
What about the health service?
Senator Kelly called for a debate on tourism. I have already made a commitment to have time set aside for this debate, which will take place within a month of our return next year.
Senator McDonald called for a debate on gender balance. Everyone would agree that we would love to see more ladies in public life.
Our Christmas party at Westmeath County Council yesterday was a sad occasion as two of our three lady councillors had resigned their seats. One, Senator McFadden, had gone on to become a Member of the Seanad, while another, Councillor Murray, retired for family reasons. It goes to show that this is not an easy occupation. It may not be that attractive when the sleeves must be rolled up and a lot of hard work done. However, I congratulate all ladies who are involved in public life and I hope that many more will join.