The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Limerick City Boundary Alteration Order 2008 (referral to committee without debate), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on the national waste strategy (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of No.1 and adjourned not later than 1 p.m. if not previously concluded, 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.
Order of Business.
The Mahon tribunal was raised in this House yesterday. That tribunal is an institution that was established by the Oireachtas and when it comes under sustained attack from within and without, we should set aside time to discuss it in this House. Senator McDonald, who is from my constituency in County Wexford, attacked the tribunal regarding the leaking of information. Senator McDonald might not realise that this information is freely available to every person who comes before the tribunal and that anybody could leak that information. There is a serious need to discuss this if Members are not fully informed about how the tribunal works.
A former Minister for Education and Science made an incredibly serious accusation in the Dáil last night. She said that the lingering animosity of civil servants is what is blocking the provision of ABA to autistic children in our educational system. That is an incredibly serious charge to make against the Civil Service and the Leader should take it up with the Deputy in order that we can get a reply in this House as soon as possible. It is unbelievable that someone would say the civil servants are responsible for the lack of services to children in our educational system, and for this to be widely reported across the media.
We should also return to the debate on pharmacists, because this is starting to turn into something from a Monty Python film. Many members of the Government are acting as if they are disconnected from the decisions made at Cabinet level. There is a sub-committee in the Cabinet made up of the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Finance and one other Minister, who made the decision that is now being implemented by the HSE. The Leader of the House should get a clear answer from the Taoiseach on this matter and stop the games that are being played. The Taoiseach wants cheaper drugs to be available but he does not particularly care whether the patient can get access to them. That is what is happening, it has nothing to do with the way the debate on the issue has been structured so far.
All Members of the House should be aware that the provisions of the birds directive are coming into force and they directly affect Wexford town and the south Wexford coastline. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is implementing the directive rigidly and it will have a major impact on not only the Wexford coastline but a large number of other areas across the country, predominantly coastlines and riverways. If it is implemented as rigidly as it is in County Wexford, it will sterilise all future development in the coastal areas and will have a major impact on the social and environmental activities in those areas.
There is a serious need to debate this issue. The deadline in this respect for County Wexford is tomorrow and I am sure the impact of this measure in other parts of the country will be equally draconian. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House as soon as possible to discuss the impact of this directive before we make a hames of another EU directive. Given that a referendum on the EU reform treaty will be held in a few months' time, the accusation that Europe is bad for this country will continue to prevail. I heard an accusation made at a public meeting last Tuesday night to the effect that it was not the Fianna Fáil Minister who signed this directive into law in 1998 who was the cause of this problem, nor a former Minister who signed the initial directive in 1985, rather the fault lay with the European Union. We need to have a serious debate on this issue before the forthcoming referendum is lost on misinformation of this kind circulating among the public.
I draw the attention of the Leader to a matter I have raised on occasion previously, namely, what I call the paper trail. I refer to the volume of paper that lands on my desk and I am sure the desk of every other Member of this and the other House. At least 226 brown envelopes containing the Order Paper were circulated today — it is probably the only brown envelope most of us ever receive. Members receive much paper that is unnecessary. I raise this matter because my attention was drawn to the words of the chief executive of GS1, the organisation encouraging the use of technology. He said that more than 20% of the time of doctors and nurses in hospitals is taken up dealing with paperwork. An experiment in this respect being pioneered in St. James's Hospital needs to be extended.
The chief executive of GS1 also said that medical errors are a big part of the health care system that could be transformed by removing paper and switching to technology. We are aware of the volume of paper we receive and the waste resulting from that, but we also know that technology exists that would enable us to do without this volume of paper. I do not know to what extent we can step forward on this issue, but it would be beneficial if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, was invited to come into the House and we had an opportunity to convince him that rather than transpose everything onto paper, we have the ability to do things differently.
I wish to raise one other matter that is a cause of tension. I have a concern that sometimes we try to solve problems around the world without full knowledge of what is taking place. I had the opportunity to visit China during the year and I am aware there are practices happening in China of which we do not approve. However, I believe the way we solve these matters is by convincing those in other parts of the world to change their attitude rather than boycotting them. I am concerned about Stephen Spielberg's action yesterday and his call for a boycott of the Olympic Games in China unless China behaves differently in terms of what it is doing in another part of the world.
Regardless of our view on this, I believe that the way we manage to change things in other parts of the world is by bringing people into the tent and convincing them of the wisdom of a change of attitude rather than by introducing boycotts. I urge us not to support the various calls for boycotts of events such as the Olympic Games in order to convince people of the need to change, even if we do not agree with what they are doing in other parts of the world. Let us make sure that we use the case of argument and debate to try to convince them to change their ways
Will the Leader arrange a debate on a decision made by the Minister for Education and Science earlier this week and communicated to the NCCA on changes she proposes to make in the Leader certificate reform programme which she is currently promoting? I am speaking in particular about the decision to delay the introduction of technology, technological methods and the teaching of leaving certificate subjects, including architectural technology, engineering technology and subjects in the arts syllabus.
We have had interesting debates in this House in recent months on the future of the economy. Most commentators would be in agreement that there will be reduced demand in all economies for unskilled labour and that the key objective for us must be to promote skills. It is a lamentable decision that at this stage of our development when we are examining what is the best way to develop our economy the Minister for Education and Science is slowing down or possibly even stopping the introduction of cutting edge technology in the teaching of these subjects. By contrast, in the UK the British Labour Government has launched a new programme of measures to facilitate, what Gordon Browne has called, "the unlocking of the potential of young people". That must be at the heart of our economic planning and future.
In public debates on what exactly governments can do in this regard, sometimes there is a question mark over their influence. It seems this is precisely the area where the Government, by progressive and enlightened thinking, can influence the future of this country and the future employment prospects of our young people. I strongly urge the Leader to arrange for a debate on these questions during which we could deal with a practical manifestation of policy to promote skills, the future of our economy and the future of our young people.
The Government launched its information booklet on the Lisbon treaty yesterday. Will the Leader clarify what role this House will play in educating and informing the public about the treaty? Most people are aware there is a deficit of information on it. Members of the public have said they do not know enough about it and repeated polls have shown that. The House should play an important role in debating all the various issues and we have the facility to do that. I ask the Leader to outline in what way he sees the House fulfilling that role.
Another issue I wish to raise, which I raised last week, is to ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Defence to address the House on the issue of the Irish troops who will be deployed in Chad next week. The Minister met General Nash yesterday in Paris and it appears that the deployment of our troops will take place. The first Irish troops will be deployed next Thursday, but the Minister has concerns. He stated that the rebel troops were much more prepared and much better armed and organised than had been anticipated, which raises concerns about the safety of our troops when they go there. They will be part of EUFOR, a humanitarian mission, but threats have been made by the rebel troops involved that the Irish troops will be regarded as a hostile force because, unfortunately, they are linked with French forces as part of the overall EU force. I ask that the Minister be invited to outline the up-to-date position on the deployment, particularly given that he spoke to General Nash yesterday.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the services provided for the homeless, particularly those who have severe drug and alcohol problems. I raise this issue because these people, who tend to be the most under-represented in political life, are the victims of a series of cutbacks being implemented by the HSE by stealth. In this regard I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, and the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, regarding one issue in Dublin city centre.
Members may be familiar with problems that have occurred on Dublin's boardwalks along the River Liffey over previous summers. The city council along with many different agencies have worked together to provide a comprehensive solution to this issue. The centrepiece of the solution was the provision of an expanded drop-in centre to ensure these people would have alternative places to go to, rather than on boardwalks, where they could be looked after and receive treatment. Dublin City Council has provided the premises and spent money upgrading it. A leading charity in this area has provided the staff to run it, yet the HSE has now suddenly announced it will pull out of the project because it does not have the money to pay the staff to do it. These premises are going to be vacant, unused, and the boardwalk, which should be a source of pride to people who live in the city, could again become a magnet for the very difficulties we are trying to deal with.
I ask the Leader to organise a general debate on how we look after our homeless, to ensure the services are in place for them. I also ask him to raise this particular issue with the Ministers concerned, so that we do not face another difficult summer in the centre of our capital.
I agree with Senator Feargal Quinn's comments on China and the Olympic Games. I have made the same point in the House during a debate. I do not believe a boycott is the correct way to approach this situation. There is a good deal of interaction and I believe we can influence what is happening in China by continuing that process. I have seen enormous progress being made.
On another matter, virtually every week there is a discussion in the House on the law and its implementation. Many questions are raised, particularly regarding high profile cases. It is generated by concerns expressed to Senators by members of the public. Unfortunately, very few answers are provided. In view of this I welcome the new approach of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who has promised openness and consultation. Anything that will help the public to understand how the law is implemented will only strengthen confidence in the system, and that is particularly important.
I was impressed by a very lengthy interview given by the DPP on radio. I hope we might perhaps invite him to address the House as part of the consultation process which he has now set in motion.
No, thank you.
I know the DPP cannot comment on individual cases, but one case study has engaged my attention as well as that of many others, including a very sympathetic media. It is the case of a man who served eight months in jail. His 98 year old mother had her life disturbed——
I am not going over that again. If a case is still before the courts I do not want it discussed.
I am not mentioning the name. That is why I am giving a case study.
It is common knowledge.
I should just like to make the point. It is only a case study that I am putting forward. All I am suggesting in this particular case——
If the case is still before the courts and I have refused others, I cannot allow the Senator to continue in this vein. To be fair to the House, if there is a case before the courts I do not want it mentioned in any shape or form.
I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling, but I pose the question, if I do not mention the name and given that various cases have been, and will continue to be, raised here on the Order of Business, does that mean we can no longer raise questions such as that in the House?
That is entirely different.
The Senator makes a very important point in asking the Leader if it might be possible, and that could, perhaps, be discussed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges later.
I believe I am entitled to an answer to the question that I have just put to the Cathaoirleach. Virtually every day on the Order of Business a legal issue is raised, based on a high profile case. Does that mean that in the future Senators may no longer mention a case, while not giving the name? I seek a ruling on that.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is independent, and I do not believe the House should get involved in discussing the role of the DPP.
I have still not received an answer to the question. Does it mean that in future on the Order of Business we can no longer raise a question where we do not mention the name, but merely wish to make a point regarding a high profile case, such as the kind that is discussed in this House virtually every week?
I would hope to judge each case as it is mentioned in the House but that particular case is relatively high profile. It has been mentioned quite recently in the House and is fairly common knowledge. I appreciate that the Senator has not named anyone.
I am raising it to support the point I make as regards inviting in the DPP.
That was a very good point, to be made to the Leader.
I was not allowed to develop my reasons for suggesting that.
As far as I am concerned, the Senator has made his point and the Leader will reply to that. Perhaps the Senator will have an opportunity, if the DPP wishes to come to the House, at a later date, to discuss these matters with him.
I must express my disappointment, because I believe what the Cathaoirleach is saying will impact on future debate on the Order of Business. I accept his ruling, but I do not agree with it because the point I make is still correct. If we cannot make a case here regarding a high profile issue where we do not mention names, then it means, in effect, that many of the matters which are, and will continue to be, raised here should be ruled out of order. I am disappointed to hear that.
I support something which has already been mentioned by the Opposition side, namely, the issue of autism, as raised in the other House. I cannot understand why some issues are discussed in the other House, but are not allowed to be discussed in the Seanad. I commend the Opposition for its motion on autism, debated last night in the Dáil. I have been asking the Leader for several months for a similar debate here.
I am also concerned at the tendency of Members of this House to discuss any titbit that comes from the tribunal at an early opportunity and to use it as some sort of political arena for attacking the Taoiseach. I understand that there is a temptation to do that, but I do not believe this is a suitable subject for debate in this House. The Taoiseach is not even a Member of the House.
Whereas in the other House, Members may have some reason, political or otherwise, for a kind of daily diet of political attack as a result of the tribunals, I believe that this should be left alone and removed from debate in this House. It is wrong that people should base and create political careers on attacks made on one man. I am no friend of Fianna Fáil, and I do not believe anyone has ever regarded me as such. However, if this House is going to become a type of daily retinue for people to attack the Taoiseach we will undermine the tribunal and also damage the Seanad. I ask the Leader, and the Cathaoirleach, to restrict discussion on that so that we might discuss more serious matters such as autism, as discussed in the other House.
I take the opportunity to congratulate the FAI on its appointment of its new manager, Mr. Trappatoni. I wish the manager, the FAI and the team every success in the years ahead. Hopefully we shall see a replication of the Charlton days, with Ireland making great strides in the sporting arena and——
What happens in the FAI or whom it appoints is not relevant to the Order of Business.
The Senator should wish them a happy St. Valentine's Day, while he is on the job——
The House will hear the Senator on the Order of Business, please.
——or sing "Amore" in his best Italian accent.
On a serious note, yesterday I tried to speak on the amendment to the Order of Business put down by the Fine Gael group. I wanted the record to show the high level of support and desire by this side of the House for community pharmacists. Good work is being undertaken by many people to find a resolution, such as the Joint Committee on Health and Children, which is working on a consensus basis to try to move matters forward. The Minister for Health and Children is meeting with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union today, and the health committee is meeting again, today. Community pharmacists meet on a regular basis and many other meetings are taking place to try to bring resolution to the issue. I simply want to have it recorded. The amendment to the Order of Business yesterday was less than helpful and in no way helped the process.
That issue was dealt with yesterday.
I tried to get in yesterday and you indicated to me that I would be called today.
I ran out of time yesterday.
There was a time warp.
A decision was taken yesterday. An amendment was put forward as people are entitled to do and a vote was taken on it. That is the end of the story.
I tried to get in on the issue. What I wanted to do was to put on the record what I have done. I continue to ask all members of the House to try to do what the Joint Committee on Health and Children has done so far on this issue, to work on a consensual basis, not to play politics with a very difficult issue——
What is the Senator doing now?
——and try to find a real solution to the issue.
What is the Senator doing now?
I am not dividing the House on it. The Senator should cop himself on.
The Taoiseach supports the Health Service Executive.
Playing politics is what was happening yesterday.
That is an unparliamentary remark. I ask the Senator to withdraw it.
I withdraw any remark that was unacceptable.
I accept that.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport to the House for a debate on national primary roads and national secondary roads. It is clear from all the local authorities throughout the country that national projects are being pushed back further for which various reasons are given. This is a significant problem because it will cost the economy money and jobs in the construction and road-making business. We are all aware that projects are being pushed further back the line.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for older people, Deputy Máire Hoctor, to come to the House for a debate on the issue of ageing, ageism and older people in Ireland. The front page of today's edition of theIrish Examiner contains an article on the rise in the incidence of suicide of older people in the country because of the closure of pubs. In the past rural life was based on agriculture. The cattle market is gone and cattle are brought directly to the factories. The milk is collected by tankers and taken directly to the creameries.
Senator White, without interruption. It is not fair to any Member who wants to speak that anyone should interrupt. If it continues, I will simply ask Members who interrupt to leave the Chamber and give those who want to make a contribution an opportunity to do so.
On Monday last I had the pleasure of attending the 20th anniversary of the Third Age Foundation in Summerhill, County Meath, which is being driven by a visionary, Ms Mary Nally, whose report was launched by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. This is a perfect example of a community that has reached out to older people in the area. Some 600 people from County Meath attended the launch. Its freefone senior helpline number is 1850 440 444. It is manned by voluntary older people who listen to the stories of people who are isolated, lonely and possibly subject to suicide.
In 2006, 409 people died by suicide and 366 died by motor car accidents. More people are dying by suicide every year. With help and people looking out for and caring for one another, many deaths can be prevented. I have learned from my work on this issue that many people can be prevented from dying by suicide. Given that the social infrastructure has changed dramatically in the countryside, it is up to the GAA, voluntary groups and county councillors to reach out and encourage older people to go to meetings. I have addressed many active retirement groups throughout the country and have told them to continue to go to meetings because they will live longer.
On a number of occasions I have raised in the House the issue of workers' rights, my concerns given the changing economy, and the issue of the minimum wage and the way in which it is exploited sometimes. I have raised the issue of Irish Ferries, the Irish Hotels Federation, the whole area of tourism and the case of various individuals who have been exploited, including the case of a Pakistani man last week who was working 60 hours for €50 per week. I am still concerned when I read that while there 196 detections for failure to pay the minimum wage in the past two years, there was only one prosecution. From a percentage basis that is extraordinary. That there has been only one prosecution during the past two years despite all the high profile cases is unbelievable. This raises concerns as to whether there are gaps in the legislation and, if so, they need to be filled.
We should name and shame those who denigrate the minimum wage. Those in receipt of it are some of the most vulnerable people in society. They work long hours. They work hard in some very low-paid jobs and they need to be respected. These people are needed to keep the economy going. It is important the Minister comes into the House for a debate during which we can see if there are gaps in the legislation and, if so, that those gaps are filled.
I would also like the Minister to speak on the role of FÁS, of which I have been a supporter down through the years. However, given the changing economy I am concerned that the throughput of FÁS has not changed in recent years. Only 14% of those who go to FÁS are placed. It may be that the methodologies used by FÁS need to be looked at.
I thoroughly disagree with my colleague, Senator Ross, on his statements on the tribunal. From the Labour Party's point of view we never raise titbits in regard to the tribunal. At times, we consider it is our right to criticise the Taoiseach where it is necessary. I found it extraordinary yesterday that a Senator said in the House that the tribunals were causing a crisis in democracy. That is unbelievable and it is crazy that a Senator would say that given that the tribunals were set up by the Seanad and the Dáil.
We do not want any more discussion on the tribunals.
I ask the Leader if he will initiate soon a debate on the Lisbon reform treaty. We must begin to progress this issue. It is the most important issue facing the people this year. The future of 500 million people depends on us voting "yes" in the referendum in May or June. The European Union should be very conscious of the fact that the delay in the payment of the REPS will damage the "yes" vote among the IFA and farmers. We all have a vested interest to ensure it is a "yes" vote. I am delighted the Green Party is supporting the referendum because it will make an impact.
Is it the back wheel or the front wheel?
An ongoing debate would be worthwhile and it should start as soon as possible.
I support the call by Senator Ross for a debate on autism. I also raise the issue of stray dogs and our desperate disregard for dogs. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come into the House to discuss this topic. In County Westmeath last year we destroyed more than 600 dogs while in the whole of Scotland last year that number was not destroyed. It is all about awareness and lack of funding. There were two dog wardens in County Westmeath last year and now there is one. There is one dog pound. The ISPCA is being asked to take up the slack. We need to educate people and our children especially on how to care for animals. The number of stray dogs put down annually is a sad reflection on our country. It is a relevant and worthwhile debate.
During the last Seanad and since, I have raised the question of poaching in our rivers, canals and lakes. This is particularly pertinent in the midlands, certainly in County Westmeath, and at least one local newspaper has headlined it on a couple of occasions. A situation exists whereby two people, one each side of a canal or river, use a net to take out all the fish — not even fingerlings are put back. The situation has been aggravated recently. Galmoylestown Lake outside Mullingar was one of the few lakes in Ireland where carp would breed but the stocks there have been completely depleted. I ask the Minister to come to the House to outline his proposals to have this practice stopped as it has been ongoing for some time. This is the sixth or seventh time I have raised the matter in the House and I would like something done aboutit.
Yesterday I raised the matter of a 13 year old girl who was raped by a 16 year old, which was reported in a national evening newspaper. Money had been paid by the 16 year old's family to the family of the girl. If I am to believe what I read, it would appear that in so far as the girl's family is concerned, this is the end of the matter. Rape is a serious crime in this country. Anybody who comes to our country, whether as an asylum seeker, to work or to visit, is welcome but they will have to obey the rules, regulations and laws. I will continue to raise this matter until I receive a suitable reply.
I want action taken with regard to the rape of that 13 year old girl. Every Member of the House, irrespective of political belief or otherwise, would have to agree it is a dastardly crime that cannot go unpunished. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to debate the matter. I realise it is a matter of implementing the law but the Garda Síochána seems to have some problem. As far as I am concerned, if a 13 year old girl or a 130 year old woman has been raped, it is a criminal act and something should be done about it.
I am glad colleagues have raised the issue of autism and have called for a debate in the House. I am very troubled by the comments of the former Leader of the House that there is a lingering animosity towards the full-blooded provision of applied behavioural analysis. It is depressing that at a time of prosperity, notwithstanding the blips we are talking about at present, hardly a day goes by but we have news of some section of our society that is being badly neglected, whether it is people with cystic fibrosis for whom necessary facilities are not available or the provision of applied behavioural analysis to those who need it. It would be shameful and an indictment of our society if there are bureaucratic or fiscal reasons people who need this important method of education are not in a position to avail of it.
On the subject of people with special needs in our society, the Cathaoirleach will have received a letter, as have my colleagues, from Inclusion Ireland and Special Olympics Ireland. This matter, which will go before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, concerns a request that there be a debate in the Seanad involving 60 people with intellectual disability on a motion affirming the right of every person with an intellectual disability to full and equal citizenship of Ireland. It is a request we should look on favourably and it could be an imaginative and influential event.
I note with regret that the other House refused to have such a debate within its precincts on the basis that it might set a precedent, notwithstanding that last November the young people's parliament met in the Dáil Chamber. We should set a positive precedent, although just because we set such a precedent which underscores our deep respect for the contribution of people with intellectual disabilities does not mean we will have every small organisation seeking to use this Chamber for debate.
It is a matter for the CPP. If we wish to bring people in, it can be brought before the committee and discussed.
I raise this in the hope of raising the awareness of colleagues. We will have a little focal leat fhéin.
The point has been well made. We are on the Order of Business.
I wish to raise one final issue that needs to be debated. People are aware that Dublin Bus operates an exact fare, no change policy under which one hands over, say, €2 and instead of change a little chit is given that can be redeemed at a later stage. It appears Dublin Bus has retained €10 million in unclaimed ticket refunds, less than one fifth of which is dispersed under its community support scheme. We need a debate in the House on how public and private organisations use such moneys that come into their possession but to which they have no entitlement. It was laughable to hear Dublin Bus's excuse for not at least dispersing the amount——
If the Leader agrees to a debate, we can discuss the finer points the Senator is making.
In gratitude for the Cathaoirleach's indulgence, I conclude by noting we need to discuss why it can be acceptable to give the excuse that Dublin Bus is unable to disperse more under the community support scheme because the refund tickets are valid forever and it has to provide for the eventuality of customers demanding repayment.
That is a matter for the debate. We are on the Order of Business.
That laughable proposition should set the basis for our debate.
Members are aware of the debate in the House last week on transport and the serious situation prevailing with regard to defective vehicles. Has the Leader heard from either the Garda authorities or anybody else with regard to the queries raised? They were raised in all sincerity to prove to the public that there is a need for action to be taken to deal with this situation.
Is it possible to ascertain whether we can get accountability from the HSE? Across the House, Members find the HSE responds ad lib to every query we raise with it as public representatives.
That is the Government's fault.
Deputy Healy Eames — I am sorry, I mean Senator Healy Eames. No more than myself, she failed the last day out.
If we are not getting responses from the HSE as elected public representatives, there is a need for something to be done, even if it means amending legislation. The HSE can make reports to us in the audiovisual room here in Leinster House but it seems to forget about us as soon as that is finished. I appeal to the Cathaoirleach to ascertain if something can be done on this front. It must be done or democracy will break down as far as the health service is concerned.
I agree with and support Senator Twomey's call to the Leader to arrange a debate to allow the Minister for Education and Science to deal with the issue of the education of children, particularly children with special needs and autism. A very serious charge has been made. It would be serious if there is lingering animosity on the part of civil servants in that Department. We do not know if that is the case but the Leader's immediate predecessor knows something of the matter and is a former Minister for Education. The current holder of that office should be allowed to comment and we could have a useful debate. The matter needs to be cleared up.
The Leader might now have more information on a matter I tried to raise previously, namely, local electoral area boundaries. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has in place electoral area committees. Submissions must be with the committees by 14 March and they are to report finally by June. One of their terms of reference lays out that they must have regard to and respect for Dáil constituency boundaries. New boundaries are proposed for Dáil elections but the electoral Bill to give effect to this is not yet published, as the Leader is aware. I understand it is the Government's intention to publish it but it may not be enacted prior to the end date of 20 June.
My question is simple. To which Dáil constituencies will the committees dealing with local electoral area boundaries have regard? Will it be those fought in the last general election or some others? I would like to hear the Leader's response.
I would like the Cathaoirleach to notice how well behaved this side of the House is compared to the other side. We have submissively accepted the Cathaoirleach's ruling with great grace and not challenged it. Perhaps that is because love is in the air on this, St. Valentine's Day. The last rose of summer is blooming in Glasnevin.
And snowdrops and daffodils.
We are on the Order of Business.
I mentioned positive news yesterday but I omitted to mention a significant issue, which is the removal of that nasty, right-wing government in Australia and its replacement by a government headed by Mr. Rudd, who yesterday apologised to the aboriginal people. That was a great and marvellous thing to do.
I raised the question of China yesterday and I noted the comments of Senator Quinn. One hopes there will be open dialogue and the Olympic Games, which in some ways is a rather squalid event politically, will be used to highlight the situation in China. Far from what Senator Ó Murchú, with whom I rarely disagree, said, the situation in China is getting steadily worse. China has made an extraordinary jump from a bogus communism to a rampant and uncontrolled consumerist capitalism. I draw the House's attention to an issue in Tibet, which is the case of the Panchen Lama who was kidnapped at six years of age and who has not been seen since and the bogus Panchen Lama installed by the atheist Chinese government who is to be made one of its officials. Let us keep raising this issue.
On the question of autism, Deputy O'Rourke is a remarkable and courageous woman in the issues she raises. Importantly, one of the two professional authors of the report on autism openly disagreed with the Minister for Education and Science's interpretation of that report and that is a matter to be discussed.
Last night in the Dáil the Government voted against the appropriate education of children with autism. I am saddened by this outcome and I support the call for a debate on this. If the Minister for Education and Science is serious about the appropriate education of children with autism, she will conduct research into both the eclectic method of teaching, which she favours for financial reasons, and the ABA method, which changes children's lives. If I had a child with autism, I would have grave difficulty sending him or her to an autistic unit in a primary school where the pupil-teacher ratio is 6:1. The teachers cannot handle this and they say they need the ratio reduced to 4:1. In Claddagh national school in Galway city, 24 children with autism receive no speech therapy. They have severe communication difficulties and their families must pay €642 per day for private occupational therapy.
If the debate is granted, these issues can be raised.
I need to say my piece. The Government is wronging children with autism. They do not receive an appropriate education and if the Minister is to do them due service, she must take time before she rules out centres providing ABA tuition and she must merge ABA central to the autistic units.
The Senator has made her point well and it is up the Leader to schedule a debate.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Science back to the House to resume the debate, which is not over? This is a valid House, which needs to convey its views on education for autistic children.
Last week I raised the issue of 25 young mothers in education in Galway city who are at high risk of falling out of the system because the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Sean Haughey, is refusing calls to provide the €50,000 in funding he allocated last year. Newstalk is trying to get answers about why he will not provide the money but he refuses to answer. Will the Leader ask him whether he will provide the funding to keep 60 young mothers in education in Galway city and, in particular, the 25 who are at high risk of falling out of the system next month? Project workers have been placed on protective notice and an answer is required to this urgent question.
I have asked twice for a debate on the Lisbon treaty. Last week, I raised the issue of the date for the referendum on the treaty. The debate is important because the treaty is important to the country. We must rule out the scare tactics, personalised attacks and accusations of misinformation that have been to the fore to date. By having a debate in the House, we could put our stamp on the issue because if we move away from the personalised attacks and examine the key issues such as democratic deficit, neutrality and sovereignty on a correct information basis, all those arguments can be won, as they were during the previous referendum campaigns. It is important that the debate takes place.
I refute categorically what Senator Ross said. It does not do him any credit to try to frustrate and block debate. Corruption in Irish politics is of fundamental importance and corruption at the top is of even more importance. Where Ministers and the Taoiseach have sought to undermine a tribunal of inquiry set up by the Oireachtas, it is incumbent on us, and it is our obligation, to uphold the integrity and independence of that tribunal. I tabled a motion on this issue in early October 2007 because of the attempts made to undermine the tribunal. If the issue is not debated in both Houses, the Oireachtas will not fulfil its function.
I have asked the Leader on a number of occasions to facilitate a debate on the needs of people with intellectual disabilities in order that we can add our voices to ensuring they have the opportunities to avail of equal citizenship in our county. Senator Mullen brought the House's attention to the request of their representative groups to use the Chamber to facilitate a debate in which they would set out their dreams and aspirations for equal citizenship. Perhaps it is unorthodox to request the use of the Chamber but if we could facilitate them in any way, we would give enormous credibility and validity to the fact that they have something to contribute to society. Sometimes in our anxiety to do right by people with disabilities, we focus on what they cannot do as opposed to what they can do. We have an opportunity to provide a forum for people to advocate for themselves. Last summer, the Dáil Chamber was used to facilitate Dáil na nÓg. If people with intellectual disabilities were afforded a similar opportunity during recess, that would be worth more that our words in the Chamber.
There is much debate about what is best for people with autism. Autism is a broad spectrum of disorders and the focus needs to be maintained on ensuring early assessment. If a child aged 18 months or two years is noted by his or her parents to be struggling, he or she should be assessed immediately and diagnosed and, as a result, have access to the approach that best suits him or her. The ABA method will not suit everyone. It is unfair, following the establishment of a special task force by the Minister, which recommended the eclectic approach, to say she will not go with the ABA method because of money. A group of experts told her the eclectic approach is the way to go.
I have come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children where the Government members voted against an Opposition motion calling for the appointment of an independent arbitrator in the pharmacy dispute. The motion stated no changes should be made to the contract before independent arbitration takes place. I raise this issue because Fianna Fáil Members are supporting those calls at meetings throughout the country despite voting against the motion this morning.
As my colleagues have noted, Deputy O'Rourke has spoken about the Department of Education and Science's lingering animosity to applied behavioural analysis. Who is responsible for running the country? If the Department has a lingering animosity, what is the Government doing to change its attitude? Last week, when I raised the issue of costs for the Ó Cuanacháin family, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food stated the only reason the Department of Education and Science takes these cases to the High Court is because they disagree with Government policy. Who is developing the policy and who is governing?
Similar questions arise in respect of the Health Service Executive and that is why I repeat the demand I made yesterday for the Minister for Health and Science to come to the House to outline Government policy on the pharmacy dispute. I also ask the Minister for Education and Science to outline for the House the Government's policy on ABA rather than blame her Department.
I welcome Kate Egan of "Oireachtas Report" to the Press Gallery. It is lovely to see a member of the press attend the proceedings of the House.
Senators Twomey, Mullen, Ross, Coghlan, Healy Eames, Ellis, Corrigan and Fitzgerald expressed their views on holding a debate with the Minister for Education and Science. The Minister will attend the House on Thursday, 21 February for a wide ranging debate on special needs. I am sure that will exercise the minds of Senators to have their contributions prepared regarding the serious concerns we all have about special needs.
In regard to the Health Service Executive, I gave my word yesterday that I will request a meeting with the Minister for Health and Children. Senator Callely noted that she will meet the HSE and pharmacists' representatives today. It would be opportune once these meetings are concluded to have the Minister attend the Seanad. I will update the House on the matter next Tuesday.
Senators Twomey and McDonald spoke about the people of coastal areas of County Wexford and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, will attend the House in the next two weeks. I understand he is ill today and therefore unable to attend for statements on the national waste strategy. However, he has expressed interest in returning for the conclusion of these statements and I will try to arrange time to discuss the issue raised by the Senators.
Senator Quinn criticised the unnecessary use of what we know as the paper trail. I see no reason Members cannot be given the option of avoiding a paper trail through technology.
Senators Quinn, Ó Murchú and Norris expressed their views on current activities in China, which is a rapidly changing country. The Olympics are a highlight for those of us who were involved in athletics. The greatest gift one can give one's body is fitness. As someone who participated quite successfully in the community games, of which Senator McFadden will be aware, I look forward to the Olympics.
She was watching from the sidelines.
Senator Alex White raised serious concerns pertaining to teaching subjects. In one of this morning's best contributions, the Senator asked how we can use the key objectives of promoting skills and cutting-edge technology to upskill 60% of the workforce by 2020. Some €4.3 billion has been allocated to this area, which is a serious challenge to FÁS. I hope to invite the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, to hear the views of Senators with extensive experience as well as those of the 25 new Senators who were elected this year. The country will have to meet this challenge if it is to survive and thrive into the next generation.
Senators de Búrca, Leyden, Regan and others called for a debate on the Lisbon treaty. I am endeavouring to invite the President of the European Parliament to the House. I hoped to have him attend next week but that does not facilitate his diary. I should have a date for the House by Tuesday morning. The debate will take place before the Easter recess and, I hope, within the next three to four weeks. Following that, I hope to arrange an all-day debate with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, at which every Member of the House can discuss the Lisbon treaty.
Senator de Búrca wished the Irish troops well in their deployment to Chad but expressed her concerns about the difficulties they may face. I will pass on the Senator's views to the Minister for Defence.
Senator O'Donoghue called for a debate on the homeless, and those with alcohol related problems in particular, in the context of the HSE's desire to discontinue its involvement with drop-in centres. I have first-hand experience of the buses which visit various locations in the city of Dublin nightly to take people from the streets to comfortable shelter accommodation. These people are to be congratulated for the great work they do. I will pass on the Senator's concerns to the Minister for Health and Children and I have no difficulty in having a debate on the issue at the earliest possible opportunity.
Fine Gael has Private Members' time next week so Senators should discuss with their leader how they want to prioritise issues. Five weeks remain in this term, followed by a 17-week term to the summer recess.
Senator Ó Murchú requested a debate on the law and the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Senator can make his request to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which I am sure will give serious consideration to his proposal to invite the DPP to the House for a debate on his functions.
Senators Ross and McFadden called for a debate on autism. As I have noted earlier, a debate on special needs will take place next week. The father of the House, Senator Ross, has pursued this issue for a considerable period.
Several Senators expressed their views regarding attacks on Deputies and Taoisigh of all political parties. Members have made their views known to the Chair and have received a forthright response. It is a privilege to be a Member of the Seanad or the Dáil and we must abide by the Standing Orders of the Chair, which we devised. If anything is to be changed, it will have to be done through the Committees on Procedure and Privileges. I am obliged to respect Standing Orders and the guidelines the Cathaoirleach employs when ruling on matters of this nature. If Senators so desire, they may bring their views to CPP which, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach, will consider them.
Senator Callely offered his congratulations to Giovanni Trapattoni. The latter's appointment created a great deal of excitement and I echo the Senator's comments.
Senator Callely also indicated his support for community pharmacists. All political parties want to see a successful resolution being reached in respect of the pharmacy issue. In addition, we want as much agreement, on an all-party basis, as it is possible to obtain. Making political points about this issue is not particularly helpful. I have my own private views regarding people's sincerity and genuineness in respect of this matter. I suppose, however, politics is politics.
What is at issue here is value for money. It was stated at the Joint Committee on Health and Children that certain drugs are 132% cheaper in Spain than in Ireland. On the other hand, however, pharmacists must be able to make a decent and honest living. Everyone supports them in that regard. We all know, particularly those of us who were reared on the margins——
One cannot have it both ways.
——that when one did not have a medical card and when one could not afford to go to one's doctor and pay for advice, it was the friendly pharmacist who recommended the medication one needed to take. I know that from experience. Anyone who was born with a silver spoon in his or her mouth might not understand what I am saying. The important point to remember is that the Constitution clearly states that everyone must be treated equally.
Senator Burke requested that the Minister for Transport come before the House. The Minister is visiting Athlone, which is halfway between here and the Senator's home, at midday tomorrow in order to make the announcement on funding allocations in respect of national roads. Perhaps the Senator and I might discuss the matter in order to see how progress might be made. I have no difficulty allocating time for a debate in respect of it.
Senator Mary White requested that the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Hoctor, come before the House to engage in a debate on older people. Lifestyles in rural areas are changing, particularly with the creameries and cattle marts closing down. The opportunities for elderly people to meet and have a chat have dwindled. The greatest challenge people face in their lives is coming to terms with loneliness. Those who live alone often cannot sleep at night. As the Senator stated, last year more people lost their lives as a result of suicide than died as a result of the horrific car crashes and terrible tragedies that occurred on our roads. We should do everything possible to help the Minister of State and her Department in respect of this matter and I have no difficulty making time available for a debate on it.
Senator Kelly called for a debate on workers' rights. Such a debate could take place in tandem with that which Senator Alex White requested in respect of FÁS and the challenges relating to retraining, etc. Provision is not made under the national minimum wage for people who are in training or pursuing apprenticeships. I fully support the concept of a decent wage for a decent day's work.
I will communicate the comments made by Senator McFadden on stray dogs to the relevant Minister. The Senator stated that a total of 600 dogs had to be put down in County Westmeath in the past 12 months.
Senator Glynn requested a debate on the decline of fish stocks in our rivers and lakes and on the activity of poaching. I have no difficulty making time available for such a debate.
Yesterday, Senator Glynn requested that time be made available for a debate on the abuse of children and the horrific incident he outlined to the House. Following the Order of Business yesterday, I made a request that the Minister come before the House to discuss that matter. I will inform the Senator of the up-to-date position as soon as I receive a reply.
Senator Mullen called for a debate on particular organisations, their use of money and the way they redistribute the excess of funds. I have no difficulty making time available for such a debate.
Senator Ellis, former Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport, requested a debate on defective vehicles. The Senator may raise that issue when the Minister for Transport comes before the House.
Senator Coghlan has a strong personal interest in local electoral boundaries, the closing date in respect of which is 14 March. The Senator inquired as to whether the relevant legislation will come before the Houses before 20 June. There are a total of 17 sitting weeks between now and the summer recess. I expect, therefore, that the Bill will be introduced before 20 June in order that final deliberations can be concluded before the publication of the local election boundaries. We all received copies of the guidelines relating to this matter. In light of what is happening in population terms, particularly on the east coast and in our larger towns and cities, there is no doubt that there will be changes. This matter is in the hands of the commission, which is an independent body. The Senator knows as much as I do about this matter, particularly as the commission's deliberations are confidential. I look forward to it using its common sense and taking into account the needs of communities.
Senator Healy Eames highlighted the plight of 60 people in Galway. I will raise the matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, following the Order of Business.
Senator Corrigan requested a debate on people with intellectual disabilities. I previously agreed to make time available for such a debate and I hope it will take place before the Easter recess.