I have raised the matter of the competitiveness of Irish industry on numerous occasions in this House. Many Irish businesses are unable to compete abroad. It is scandalous that some Departments are not paying their bills on time. In many cases, invoices have to be reissued, which puts further pressure on companies that need cashflow. If a company does not have cashflow, which is the life blood of a company, it will go out of business. I have discussed this matter with the Taoiseach and tabled a motion at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. I am pleased to inform my colleagues that the Cabinet decided yesterday that all Departments will now be compelled to pay their bills within 15 days. That is good news.
Order of Business (Resumed).
Go raibh maith agaibh. However, I am afraid that I need to raise a further national scandal, namely, the attitude of the Health Service Executive to the treatment of children with psychiatric problems in adult hospitals. We have almost to become revolutionaries to change this diabolical behaviour. I am embarrassed by the HSE's treatment of young children. It is as if they do not exist or do not matter. Children suffer psychiatric problems and are suicidal but all we do is put them into adult psychiatric hospitals. The Minister for Health and Children must come to the House to tell us not that it is a matter of putting an extra 12 beds here or there but what the HSE is going to do and how it will prioritise the psychiatric assessment and treatment of children.
I spoke a week ago about Archbishop Martin's warning that we would hear about a scandal in the Roman Catholic Church that is nothing less than paedophilia. Paedophiles are monsters and must be dealt with. What are we going to do about them? The Protestant churches dealt with this issue a long time ago and we are only catching up. I will not be here tomorrow so I would prefer, if the Leader does not mind, that we postpone to next Tuesday the debate on this topic scheduled for tomorrow. I have an urgent appointment tomorrow.
We also need to discuss the treatment of autistic children. My sister is the principal of a school in Ballinteer which has an autistic unit. She and the parents are at pains every day to try to accommodate the children with autism who have no place to go. For God's sake let us get our act together. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, herself needs to come to the House. I have tremendous personal regard for her intellect and intelligence. She is the lead Minister in the Department of Health and Children and we need her in the House to spell out to Members how we can address the issue of psychiatric services for children.
It is heartwarming to hear Senators Mary White and Fitzgerald speak to defend the most vulnerable in our society. This is a cross-party matter because we all believe that children and young people have a fundamental human right to be protected. Yesterday we had a good strong debate about the relevance of this House but let us ask for political and ministerial accountability in respect of mental health services for children. The 1916 Proclomation states that we will cherish children so why are there 247 children in adult hospitals which are archaic, antiquated Victorian buildings where paint is peeling and there is mould on the walls? They are there with severely incapacitated, elderly, acute psychiatric patients. This is morally wrong. We have the fifth highest rate of suicide in the 15-25 age group in Europe. Our very poor service for young people is probably a contributory factor to this statistic.
The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, is doing a tour of these antiquated buildings, some of which he proposes to sell. Will the Leader invite him to the House to tell Members how he will ring-fence the money from the sale of these buildings to care for these 247 children and put them into a suitable caring environment in which they can recover?
That is right. Will the Government guarantee the money?
One person in four of our population suffers mental illness. It is just the same as any other illness and it is incumbent on us to prioritise it and look after these people. The matter I have raised on the Adjournment debate and which the Cathaoirleach has allowed is on the same topic, the most vulnerable in our society.
As a member of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution I have mixed feelings on the blasphemy issue. The Minister is unfortunately in a dilemma. He can either ignore it and leave the 1961 Act as it stands, seek a constitutional referendum which could be divisive and difficult, or legislate for it. I have sympathy for him. The issue was highlighted in Corwayv. Independent Newspapers in 1999 in which the Supreme Court unanimously said that the Oireachtas should legislate for this issue. I believe we should let sleeping dogs lie but the Minister is in a difficult situation whichever way he turns. We will have a chance to debate it in this House. Senators unfortunately cannot participate in this afternoon’s discussion at the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights because it is a select committee. Perhaps more light will emanate from the committee this evening or it will agree with the direction in which the Minister is moving.
The forthcoming report on hospitals in Munster, to which my colleague, Senator Buttimer, referred, is predicated on outdated practices and ideas. I have criticised the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children in regard to Bantry hospital which is close to my heart. Professor Higgins, an obstetrician at Cork University Hospital, who has visited west Cork and has an outreach clinic at Bantry hospital, is conducting a report which he recently told me will be concluded in ten to 12 weeks. The situation in Bantry hospital cannot be allowed to continue. It is to be hoped Professor Higgins's report will be valuable because he seems to have a good insight and it is extremely important that we deal with that matter.
Until such time as we have a constitutional referendum making the rights of the child separate as opposed to being within the family, as it is in the Constitution currently, and upgrading those rights in a separate amendment, we can talk until the cows come home but the rights of the child will not be properly protected under Irish law or within the Constitution.
I strongly support the comments of Senator Fitzgerald and others about the ongoing abuse of children in our society. I would like to have a debate soon on the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse which will bring up some scarifying issues that will reflect badly on how decisions were made in our society and specifically on the failure of those in authority in residential institutions, and those acting on the part of the State, to check, prevent and punish wrongdoing.
I commendin absentia our colleague, Senator Joe O’Reilly, for a fine press release in which he talks of the dignity of the human person being central. It is worth quoting because it is not often one hears philosophical but highly relevant statements such as this expressed in party political press releases:
[W]e regard the human being as the subject, not the object, of history. This brings us to respect human life in all its forms and at all stages, to respect human dignity in medical and genetic advancements.
I hope that speaks for the entire Fine Gael Party, for Government and other parties in this House. That can shine a light on the important debate we need to have on the way we treated the most vulnerable in our society in residential institutions in the past and on how we deal with people at present.
It is interesting to reflect on what appears to be a regrettable move from supporting the cross-Border facility for children with autism, which interestingly is located in Middletown on a site where the St. Louis Sisters operated a residential centre for children who had suffered as a result of the Troubles. That is the kind of issue that brings out the nuance in all of this. There was great generosity and great neglect, sometimes fite fuaite le chéile in a very unacceptable way.
Let me raise the issue of the blasphemy amendment very briefly. It seems those who talk about it being a distraction are the ones causing the distraction. There are arguments for and against the proposal. We need to have a debate very soon on the appropriateness of international bodies putting their welly in, so to speak, on issues in respect of which we are best placed to decide the precise nuance we want in our laws. This is becoming a bit oppressive of our national sovereignty regarding important issues.
The Senator's time is up.
It is time we made decisions for ourselves in this country.
The Senator is way over time. I call Senator Callely.
Last week I raised the issue of vulnerable people in society and it is with interest that I note the calls this morning for a debate in this regard. I will welcome a debate, whenever it can be accommodated, on the psychiatric services and vulnerable children and adults. In light of what Senator McFadden stated about Victorian dwellings and mould on walls, I congratulate and pay tribute to the staff who work in the services, who have done trojan work in very challenging and difficult circumstances. I refer in particular to the work of the staff of St. Michael's House in my constituency. They have taken people from inappropriate care settings into beautiful residential community care settings, operating on a family basis with all the supports necessary to integrate patients into the community. Thus, they can use facilities such as the local swimming pool and community centres. In this case it is necessary to balance what has been incorrectly put on record.
I congratulate Senator MacSharry on bringing to our attention a matter that should be clearly put on record, that is, the success of the Minister for Finance and his team in the Department in helping to turn the tide in respect of our financial position. I congratulate one and all in that regard.
Will the Leader put on the agenda for debate the progress we have made in integrating public transport services, providing real-time information and addressing the issue of the subvention of CIE services?
I join other Senators in expressing my disquiet about the announced binning of the proposal for a prison site at Thornton Hall. This raises questions about the whole evaluation system for our public private partnerships. It is not the first public private partnership to fall by the wayside. A bigger question concerns our prison policy. Irrespective of whether one liked the Thornton Hall site — I believed it was not the right site — it was central to the Government's prison policy and plans. Is there now a plan B? As we speak, prisoners in some prisons must double up in cells. In Mountjoy, there are prisoners sleeping in corridors. It is not clear that we have a way around this. What is the Minister's intention regarding prison policy now that the Thornton Hall proposal has been abandoned?
I raise the issue of energy, which I raised before. We all welcome the fact that the price of domestic energy has decreased somewhat, but no allowance is offered by energy suppliers to those in the commercial sector. The Leader spoke about this in the House regularly and raised it at meetings of the parliamentary party. In view of the fact that oil prices are increasing steadily, we must consider the alternative energy solutions available to us. The Spirit of Ireland group made a submission recently in this regard. I went to the trouble of inviting an all-party group to a presentation in the audiovisual room, to be held next Wednesday. This will be a great opportunity for the delegation to expand on what is a great idea. If taken on board, we can become energy independent over the next five to ten years. It is important that we play a major role in this regard. The meeting will present an opportunity to this House to make its mark in terms of putting Ireland on the map as an energy exporting country. I hope there will be full attendance at the presentation and that very good contributions will be made. The delegates are not asking for one penny from the State as their project can be funded from an alternative source of capital. This is a very important issue. It would lift us out of the depression in which we are at present to hear the proposal of a company that is prepared to do a job for the country.
I welcome the Government's decision to ensure all Departments make their approved payments within 15 days, as we have been advocating for some time. The Prompt Payment of Accounts Act is totally ignored and the average waiting period for payment by Departments is 69 days. In one Department, approved payments are outstanding for in excess of 90 days. This ties in with the need to have credit flowing again. If the suppliers affected cannot get their money into the banks, they will not be able to honour their other commitments. As stated, credit is the life-blood of our market economy. Its provision is suspended somewhat and we need to make it available again.
How much of the €3.5 billion to be provided for Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland by way of recapitalisation has been earmarked for small and medium-sized enterprises, mortgage holders and first-time house buyers? It is important that a proportion of that is directed towards them because we know there is no movement in this regard.
I support very strongly Senator O'Toole's call for a debate on NAMA. We urgently need to see a comprehensive blueprint that shows the agency will be capable of addressing the enormous difficulties we face. If that is not demonstrated to people we will not be able to reassure the public, which we need to do. I suggest to the Leader that if the Minister is not available, Dr. Bacon or Mr. McDonagh should be invited to the House. The Seanad could prove very useful by having one of these gentlemen before it to talk about the agency. I fear there is a turf war between the National Treasury Management Agency and the Department of Finance. If so, it is disgraceful. We must be able to demonstrate that we are dealing with and getting over our problems.
I welcome to the Visitors Gallery a former Member of this House and the Dáil, Mr. Martin J. O'Toole.
In one sense I welcome the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and in another I regret that it was necessary to have to produce such a report. We must deal with the reality of the issue. I ask the Leader to devote at least one day, if not two days, to the report as soon as possible. I and many Senators on all sides of the House will have much to say on it.
With regard to services for children and adolescents, I largely agree with some of the comments that have been made. In my town, Mullingar, there is an outpatient service for children and adolescents. When it is necessary to admit an adolescent, he or she is admittedpro tempore to the main hospital pending the allocation of a bed in a suitable location. Children are admitted to the paediatric ward of the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, until a suitable bed is found.
Since the publication of the document, The Psychiatric Services — Planning for the Future, by an official of the then Department of Health during the term of the Government led by Dr. Garret FitzGerald, and the subsequent publication of A Vision for Change, it is regrettable that under successive administrations the resources have not been given to the psychiatric services to ensure the devolution from hospital to community took place, although in the main it has been successful. In some cases, however, it left a lot to be desired.
How long has Fianna Fáil been in Government?
I ask the Senator not to make me remind her further of the failings of Fine Gael.
It is important to remember that significant strides have been made in psychiatry. In Mullingar we have one of the finest and most successful units for later-life psychiatry in the country. Having said that, we can refer people to the institutions we have. We must remember there are people who need ongoing care in psychiatric institutions, and if we close the ones we have we must replace them. They are not suitable for the purpose for which they were built, but now we need a change.
What about A Vision for Change? It is the Government's document.
I hope the Opposition will help.
I agree with all of what Senator Glynn said, but if the implementation of the document A Vision for Change was carried out to the fullest extent we would not have the problems he has outlined.
Yesterday I spoke about the distress of the many newly unemployed people who have joined the dole queues and the way they are being treated. Today I would like to sound a bit more positive. I ask the Leader to allow time for a debate on re-employment, by which I mean the retraining and skills improvement of the many thousands of people who have joined the dole queues over the last year or two. We saw the exciting initiative of the ESB whereby it is to employ 400 electrical apprentices who are mid-way through their apprenticeships. There are another 400 who will not be looked after in that regard. I call on the State agencies to step in and create employment for those apprentices. There are thousands of skilled construction workers — plasterers, blocklayers, carpenters and so on — who are unemployed and are in much distress as they have been used to working all their lives and now they cannot find work anywhere. I ask that State agencies such as FÁS and the VECs engage with the young apprentices and find new ways in which they can be employed.
There are thousands on the waiting lists for local authority housing but some houses are boarded up because the local authorities do not have the staff to refurbish these houses due to the recruitment embargo. Surely we can now start thinking outside the box and try to employ these young apprentices and construction workers to refurbish these houses. There are also deficits in community facilities. Classes are in prefabs in schools around the country. Now is the time to start thinking of new ways to create employment in all these areas in our communities. There are thousands of people who want to work. A debate in this House would be one good way to bring new ideas together to give these people new hope. As politicians we should lead the way in this regard. I ask the Leader to allow time for a debate on re-employment, with a specific focus on the thousands of constructions workers who find themselves in the dole queues.
The time allotted to the Order of Business is up, but there are two Members, Senators Feeney and Quinn, who wish to speak, and I will take them if they are brief.
I support Senator Rónán Mullen in his call for a debate on the impending report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse from Mr. Justice Seán Ryan. I have never heard of such a thing as a most senior clergyman, in the form of His Grace, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, warning us of what a terrible, appalling report this will be. I ask the Leader to set some time aside next week to discuss this, while the issue is still burning and people are still exercised about it.
I also support my colleague Senator Mary White in her call for a debate on paediatric and youth psychiatric services. Somebody mentioned that the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, is going around the psychiatric hospitals quietly and unannounced to investigate their facilities. The Minister of State and the Government are committed to implementing the blueprint in A Vision for Change. As late as yesterday morning I heard a leading European expert on RTE1 complimenting the Government on A Vision for Change. I look forward to that debate. I must point out that, as other Senators have said, the antiquated buildings are few and far between. We have moved on to a community model of psychiatric care for young and old.
Senator Coghlan mentioned that the Government yesterday pledged to pay all suppliers within 15 days. It is sometimes not known that successful businesses can fail not because they are not profitable but because they run short of cash. Therefore, this initiative is to be highly recommended. Anything the Government can do to ensure the cashflow of businesses will enable them to survive. There are 6 million shops in Europe with 30 million people working in them. This is the sort of step that can protect jobs and get the economy going again.
Another thing I would love to see the Government do is to recognise the short time in which people are told they must pay value added tax. It must be paid by the 15th of the month. It would not cost the Government anything other than cashflow to stretch that to 60 days, for example. It would protect cashflow in these business and enable them to survive at little cost to the State.
I join with the Cathaoirleach in welcoming the former Senator Martin J. O'Toole to the Visitors' Gallery. I had the great pleasure of spending 12 years in an office with him and I learned much of what I know from the wisdom of his experience. It is lovely to see him here all the way from Louisburgh in County Mayo. I do not know whether there is a connection but perhaps the present Senator O'Toole also learned quite a bit from him during his early days in the Seanad.
It is in the bloodline.
I presume he is no relation.
The western connection.
With regard to the Private Members' motion, it has been pointed out to me by the Clerk that it will be taken from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. with the permission of the House.
Senators Fitzgerald, O'Toole, Prendergast, Norris, Mary White, McFadden, O'Donovan, Mullen, Callely, Glynn and Feeney expressed their serious concerns about the forthcoming report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. As has been said in the House, we are talking about a fundamental human right. That is the challenge facing us as legislators. We must listen to the former chairman of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and an excellent lawyer in his own right, Senator Denis O'Donovan, who advised the House there will be no progress until we have a constitutional referendum on the rights of the child. We must listen to colleagues who are experienced in this field. I assure the House I will have an all-day debate on this report. I will endeavour, after the publication of the report, to have a date for this debate by the Order of Business tomorrow.
I am also endeavouring to have an all-day debate on NAMA, as has been requested by Senator O'Toole. My preference would be for this to take place next Tuesday, but the Finance Bill is in the Dáil on Tuesday and Wednesday and in the Seanad on Thursday. These two all-day debates will take place even if it means sitting an extra day on a Friday. It is in the interest of everyone concerned that these challenges facing us as Members of the Oireachtas are dealt with in the present, when they are still urgent, and not after weeks have passed.
As Senator Callely said, we appreciate everybody who has worked in the health services, particularly in the care of children. There are many good people who have looked after children through the years, and we distance ourselves from the difficulties highlighted in the report to which I referred and the totally unacceptable practices that went on. I acknowledge the hard work and dedication of staff in St. Peter's Centre in Castlepollard and St. Mary's of South Hill, who were members of the Midland Health Board, and appreciate what they have done for the unfortunate children who really needed the care and attention of these excellent hospitals.
Senators O'Toole and Prendergast mentioned the Middletown Centre for Autism in Armagh. The autism centre is unfortunately under pressure at present because of finance and the downturn in the global economy. This was a shining example of the working of the Good Friday Agreement and I hope something can be done to keep the centre going. It is of serious concern to Ministers meeting this morning. It will not be easy but, please God, in the long term this can be made possible.
Senators O'Toole and MacSharry asked about NAMA. It is a serious challenge but I was heartened when Senator Ross wholeheartedly congratulated the Minister for Finance for the work he is doing for us with our EU colleagues. The bond issue was fully subscribed, as Senator MacSharry pointed out. It is uplifting to know that in these challenging times, our Government and Ministers are world leaders in the global downturn and not afraid to meet the challenge. Our Minister and our policy——
What policy does he have? Where was he for the past ten years?
——are being followed by our EU colleagues and throughout the world.
Fianna Fáil Ministers presided over the banking crisis. The Leader should give the facts.
I am uplifted by Senator Ross's compliments, because he has more experience than most of us in these areas to be able to express wholehearted opinion, as he did yesterday.
Give the facts about the Minister's responsibility.
We speak too negatively when things are not successful but when things are good we should be open-minded and congratulate those making these achievements possible.
Senator Prendergast expressed her concerns for those unfortunate people who suffer from epilepsy. I fully agree with her sentiments and those of Senator Feeney about the hard work of the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, through A Vision for Change. We wish him well in that area. Senator Prendergast also highlighted her concerns and asked for the Minister for Health and Children to come into the House regarding the plight of those running Crumlin Hospital, particularly the proposed ward closures. I have given an undertaking to the House to have the Minister for Health and Children come here to discuss and debate this and I am waiting for a date in her diary to allow for this.
Senator O'Sullivan asked for an update from the Minister for Transport on the proposal for speed cameras. The company that has been successful in acquiring the contract will create 60 new jobs, which is more good news, particularly for his constituency of Kerry. I will make inquiries into this.
Senators Buttimer and O'Donovan expressed their serious concerns and called for a debate on the HSE and its proposals as they relate to Cork county and city, Cork University Hospital and Bantry Hospital. I have already asked the Minister to come here for the broad debate on HSE issues and the Minister has always been forthcoming in this area and has always taken questions at the end of her visits to the House. I look forward to that taking place at the earliest possible time.
Senator Leyden reminded the House of Fianna Fáil's announcement in its manifesto that planning fees where work has not commenced will be reduced by 50% over the next two years. This is to be welcomed. Also, if Fianna Fáil is returned, the Senator outlined to the House, anywhere it controls councils, it will be party policy that there will be no increase in rates for three years. We welcome the Senator's information.
Senators Norris, Alex White and O'Donovan all raised the blasphemy issue. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has been strongly advised by the Attorney General on this aspect of the 1961 Act. I heard the Minister on the radio this morning talking about this and we all know his intentions. I have no difficulty in asking him to come to the House when the legislation is ready. It is currently at an advanced stage.
Senator Ó Murchú asked about the Pearse Centre and the memory of those who gave their lives in the ultimate sacrifice — to give their lives for the cause of the freedom of our country which we have all enjoyed for the past 90 years or more. I certainly agree with his request that the Office of Public Works replaces the list that was there before the refurbishment works commenced. That is the least that can be done.
Senators Regan and Hannigan asked about Thornton Hall. We were all looking forward to progress taking place in this area.
Some of us are very happy about it.
We know about the massive overcrowding in Mountjoy Prison and the 400 new places in other prisons, as Senator MacSharry pointed out. We welcome that also. In the value for money area, the increase of 30% was because perhaps the specification had to be improved
The Government should have got it right the first time.
A 30% increase is substantial to say the least. The Government is looking for value for money; more for less is the motto. At the end of it all, there is no reason why this is not the opportune time to get better value for money and we will wait to see what progress takes place. I will ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to come to the House so colleagues can make statements and hear what the Minister has to say.
Senator MacSharry called for a debate on procurement and the awarding of contracts by the Government, and the need to ensure they are awarded to companies within the EU if at all possible because we must look after those who are looking after us in job creation. I fully agree and will set time aside to debate this.
Senator Callely called for a debate on public transport and Government policy on State funding going forward. I have no difficulty in having a debate on this matter in the near future.
Senator Mary White informed the House she had an important motion before the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party on cashflow and the Government playing its part.
It is the life blood of the economy. I congratulate Senator Mary White on her determination that the Government should pay its bills 15 days after they are due. That will be enormously helpful. Senator Quinn, the most successful person in this House by a mile, has outlined to the House the importance of extending VAT payments by 30 days. I fully support his request and agree with him. I welcome the Taoiseach, who played a leading role in making this happen, committing to the Government paying bills within 15 days. It will be very helpful to everyone, particularly to those in small and medium-sized and family businesses who are so hard-pressed.
It will be helpful if the Government lives up to the commitment.
Senator Butler asked about energy costs, particularly those of the ESB and Bord Gáis. They have not passed on the reduction to industry and those in the hotel or manufacturing sectors. This is regrettable because these areas employ huge numbers of people. Jobs are the priority we are told but where are the ESB or Bord Gáis playing their part in sustaining jobs? I have no difficulty in having time left aside for this.
I support Senator Butler's comments regarding the Spirit of Ireland group which will visit here next Wednesday and present its innovation and creation which could make Ireland energy independent within a few years.
Senator Mullen made a request concerning international bodies. I agree with the strong views he expressed on those matters.
Senator Coffey called for a debate on re-employment. This is a very good suggestion and I have no difficulty in making time available for such a debate. I compliment the ESB on the training it has offered to 400 apprentices. The State agencies are examining everything they can do to play their part in assisting in the upskilling of all those apprentices who are unemployed. This would give those people the opportunity to retain and upskill and thereby have something to do each day that would assist them in their future lives.
Senator O'Toole has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on the National Asset Management Agency be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
On the basis of the Leader's commitment to put this matter on the agenda for next week, I am prepared to take his word for that. I presume we will be told about it at the leaders' meeting next week.