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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Vol. 223 No. 2

Order of Business (Resumed)

I support Senator Byrne in calling for a debate on the broken promise on free GP care for all citizens of the State.

There has been a litany of broken promises on this matter. When these promises were made two years ago, those who put them forward were well aware of and well briefed on the financial situation. The promises in question were ones with those responsible for making them could not keep.

Is the Senator seconding the amendment?

I am seconding the amendment. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, signed a pledge to the effect that he would not increase school fees. When all is said and done, he will have increased them three times. It is bad enough to break a promise once but to do so on three occasions is quite an achievement. We were also promised the creation of 40,000 jobs per year. If we have a debate on the broken promise in respect of free GP care, perhaps in its aftermath we might engage in a debate on the famous five-point plan. If my colleague opposite from County Kerry can name the five points contained therein, I will give him a prize.

Does the Senator have a question?

I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the five-point plan and on those promises which it would never have been possible to honour-----

It is a pity I am not speaking after the Senator.

We are not discussing political manifestos on the Order of Business.

Those now in government promised people that they would get free GP care. This was despite the fact that it would never have been possible to deliver it.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am seeking a debate on the Defence Forces. Yesterday, a Bill relating to those who deserted the Defence Forces and went absent without leave, AWOL, during the Second World War was passed by the Dáil. Earlier today, at a ceremony in Arbour Hill attended by the President and the Taoiseach, the Army was virtually excluded from its own church. The church at Arbour Hill is the church of the Defence Forces. For all the years that there has been a commemoration at Arbour Hill, the Army has been involved. However, specific orders were issued by the Minister for Defence that the Army is no longer to be involved in any way, shape or form in the commemoration ceremony-----

The Senator does not have his facts right yet again.

Senator Daly is way over time.

-----relating to the 1916 Rising and the leaders thereof who were executed. Why does the Minister for Defence, Deputy Shatter, dislike our Defence Forces so much?

Deputy Shatter is the Minister for Justice and Equality.

This is the man who described Irish neutrality during the Second World War as being morally bankrupt

The Senator is way over time.

The Defence Forces are charged with defending our country.

Not only is Senator Daly way over time, he is also way out of order.

The policy of neutrality during the Second World War was supported by the Minister's party at the time. Not only is he taking on members of the Garda, he is also taking on the Defence Forces and excluding them from their own church at Arbour Hill.

I remind the Opposition that the Government is just over two years into its term of office. We intend to serve our full term and there should be no doubt that our commitments in respect of health care will be honoured. On broken promises, I welcome the commitment - made at the launch of the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, rent index earlier today - by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to introduce the Government's deposit protection scheme in this House. When it comes to broken promises, those in opposition should remain silent until they see what the Government actually succeeds in doing.

In the context of the rent index, will the Leader make time available for a debate with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, on rent supplement? A number of concerns arise in the context of the rent index. While this index is a positive development, the difficulty is that it only provides details for those properties which are registered within the State. Unfortunately, a recent sweep by Dublin City Council of the "flatland" area between the two canals showed that fewer than 40% of the properties surveyed are registered with the PRTB. I am concerned that there are many properties at the lower end of the rental market which are not registered with the PRTB. The tenants who occupy these properties are paying under-the-counter top-up rents for them. The rents listed in the index do not, therefore, reflect the real rents being paid. In the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown area in which I live, according to the citizens information centres, CICs, not one property has been advertised at the relevant rent levels. This indicates that no one in the area is living in a property in respect of which rent supplement is payable. In reality, this is far from the truth. There is evidence to suggest that 50% of tenants are paying top-up rents. This has a real impact on the level of rent supplement being paid. This matter is important in the context of the discussions relating to the budget, which is due to be introduced in October, and I ask the Leader to prioritise it.

I second Senator Feargal Quinn's important Bill. In recent days we heard about a young person who died of a heart attack while on the field of play. Anything which can be done to prevent such occurrences would be extremely welcome.

I wish to mention the case of a woman who many Senators will have seen outside the gates of the Houses. She is an Irish citizen who contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion when she was in a maternity hospital. She is not in receipt of disability allowance in this country and she receives no money in respect of the treatment which saves her life and which involves the use of interferon. She is obliged to travel to France, where she is in receipt of disability benefit and interferon treatment free of charge. It is a reproach to us, as citizens of Europe, that our own people can obtain better treatment from a foreign government. Will the Leader raise this matter with the Minister for Health, who, I presume, is the relevant individual?

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade is meeting as we speak. There must be Senators present at that meeting because otherwise the bells would ring to inform us that it is not quorate. Our commitment should be to this House rather than to the committees. The Leader has made this point clearly and there are individuals who are not taking that fact into account.

I commend Senator Moloney and her Labour Party colleagues on their motion concerning domestic violence. I take this opportunity to ask the Sinn Féin Senators not to press their amendment to the motion. I usually stand with Sinn Féin in respect of its amendments but on this occasion I certainly will not do so. I am of the view that the amendment is foolish, particularly as Sinn Féin is agreeing wholeheartedly with the Government. All the amendment does is add in extra points which would be more properly made during the debate. If one is seriously interested in the issue of violence, particularly that against women, one supports a motion of this nature in order that it can be passed unanimously and thereby carry greater force. Causing a division, which is clearly not going to succeed and which will probably lead to a situation where the number of people who will stand in support of the amendment will be insufficient, will prove divisive. To some, it might appear to be grand-standing. I suggest that Sinn Féin Senators raise the valuable suggestions contained in the amendment in the debate on the motion rather than calling for a division in respect of it.

Senator Norris is way over time.

Yesterday, I made a contribution in respect of the position regarding abortion. After having listed everything I said - although he did not name me - my colleague and friend, Senator Ó Murchú, stated: "I would not like to think that any of us who wish in the future to make a contribution in this House might decline to do so because we fear being misrepresented in an extreme way." I take this opportunity to ask colleagues to read what I said. I am of the view that they will come to the conclusion that I did not misrepresent anything in an extreme way.

I wish to refer to the issue of enslavement. It was very difficult not to be moved by the television images which emanated from Cleveland yesterday. It must be remembered that some members of the Traveller community were sentenced to many years in jail yesterday in respect of the enslavement of men. I raise this issue in the context of the enslavement of women, however. Certain sources supplied me with figures which indicate that up to 800 women in this State are enslaved and that most of them are working in the sex industry. In view of the fact that it is 2013 and that nothing is being done about this matter, we should all feel ashamed. I was shocked when I learned that 800 women are enslaved in this country. I would like the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House so that we might engage in a debate on this matter with him. I am connected to Ruhama and I am aware, from the briefings it has given, that there is a change in the law which could be applied in this instance. That change would involve implementing the Swedish model, which, in effect, reverses the criminality relating to this matter from the selling of to the purchasing of sex. In other words, the purchaser rather than the seller would be criminalised. This model has worked very successfully in Sweden. There has been no coverage of the fact that 800 young women are enslaved in Ireland. That fact is both shameful and shocking. If possible, will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House so that we might probe the figures and investigate the matter further? It would be a major boost for the Seanad if legislation relating to reversing the position with regard to criminality in the sex industry could be introduced here.

Will the Leader indicate if it would be possible to arrange a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the matter of inadvertent roaming charges?

The reason I bring up this issue is that it has been raised in the Northern Ireland Assembly of late and there is a campaign around it. It impacts on consumers and residents on both sides of the Border, especially those along the Border regions. Deregulation is taking place at the moment in respect of roaming charges. It gives until 30 June to notify the regulatory authority to monitor and bring in penalties for service providers which are not advising consumers in respect of inadvertent roaming charges.

Yesterday there was a debate on EU scrutiny and the work programme. I went away to think about how we could discuss roaming charges in terms of the Single Market and current roaming regulations are something we could discuss as well. This is why I am requesting that we bring in the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte. Of the four service provider organisations in the South, three are in the North as well. They are part of the same group of companies, they are sister companies and they all report to the same parent company. We should discuss roaming charges because it is important in terms of development along the Border regions. It affects businesses, ordinary people, families and it is something we should discuss in the House.

It is with some degree of disappointment and dismay that I raise the issue this afternoon once again of narcolepsy sufferers and their families in this country. On the advice of the Cathaoirleach - which was very good advice and which I took - I raised the matter on the Adjournment on 27 September last year. At that stage the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, indicated that the State was taking its responsibilities to these families seriously and was putting in place a package of long-term supports for the families and the young people who have been struck down by this distressing and debilitating condition as a result of the swine flu vaccine pandemrix.

There are only 54 diagnosed young people in the county with the condition. It would not be an undue or heavy burden on the State or the Department to honour its commitments. I imagine the Cathaoirleach would agree, as would the Leader, that we need to ask the Minister for Health to come before the House at the earliest juncture and indicate why to date the Department of Health has abdicated its responsibilities to these young people, who live with an appalling affliction through no fault of their own. It is a lifelong condition that affects their career prospects, sitting examinations and long-term employment. There is a difficulty if we cannot have confidence in the replies afforded to us in the House by Ministers. I took the reply from the Department of Health at face value and as an accurate and honest response. However, nine months on, today, the families of the support group came to Leinster House and told us that none of what was promised or committed to then has been adhered to or fulfilled. I thank the Cathaoirleach for bearing with me. I believe the Department of Health and the Minister should step up and support these families and young people. It would be absurd and immoral not to do so.

I support the amendment put forward by our leader. It is yet another instance of the haphazard, headless-chicken, sleepwalking approach of the Minister for Health when we see the fears that have been expressed by many of us in the House many times. There are 105,000 people on waiting lists throughout the country. One wonders what the special delivery units are achieving. They were announced to much fanfare. Every time one or two people are taken off a list a press release is wheeled out for all of us to see, but the figures do not lie: there are 105,000 public patients throughout the country waiting up to or more than four years. It is unacceptable.

Moreover, in the context of the north west of the country, where the main hospitals are in Sligo and Letterkenny, posts for a consultant dermatologist, a consultant geriatrician, a consultant neurologist, a podiatrist, epilepsy clinical specialists and several other specialties were all announced to much fanfare by the Government, but none of these are in place in line with the clinical programmes and no money is available to pay them. What will that do for the waiting lists in that area?

Recently, one dermatologist broke ranks and spoke to the media, which is unusual for consultants. He said that the waiting list he presides over was borderline unsafe. He has told general practitioners to stop referring patients because he cannot guarantee a service and there is no dermatologist in place, although the position was to have been filled some time ago. It takes two years to see that person. Further, as Senator Byrne has rightly pointed out, there has been mismanagement with the announcement that free GP care for all will not materialise. The IMO predicted this and stated that it could not happen for at least five years. Yet at lunch time today the Minister of State, Deputy White, was in complete denial stating that it would be in place by the summer.

A question for the Leader, Senator.

While I want the Minister to come to the House and attempt yet again to explain himself, I ask those in the Labour Party what action it will take. When will they acknowledge the level of incompetence? When will they say that they will no longer put up with such mediocrity?

A question for the Leader, Senator.

We want someone in this job who the public can have genuine confidence in, not someone who is running from Billy to Jack in a mismanaged haphazard fashion. The reality is the people know that the cover is there.

It is a witch-hunt.

I call Senator Burke. Senator MacSharry, you are way over time.

They are entitled to know that someone is at the helm who knows the direction in which we are going.

I remind the other side that in 2003 the Hanly report clearly set out that-----

On the order of Business-----

I am simply reminding the Senator of it. I will come to the Order of Business. The report clearly set out that by 2012 there would be 3,600 consultants in the country, up from 1,700. At the moment there are 2,500, which is 1,100 short. That is the first point. The second point is that since we have come into power we have provided an additional 251,000 medical cards. By the end of 2013 some 48% of the population will be on medical cards or GP-only cards. That is a fact and it was not a promise in the election. We delivered it.

Is there a question for the Leader?

The question for the Leader relates to the debate earlier today with the Commissioner. She referred to Horizon 2020. I raised the issue of medical research. Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister present on the Horizon 2020 programme and how we, as a country, can get the maximum benefit from the research funding available under that programme? Following the comments of the Commissioner it would be useful to have a debate about the need for more joined-up thinking and co-ordination between all the people involved in this research area and on connecting the business community as well.

I welcome the Labour Party motion on domestic abuse this afternoon and I look forward to contributing to it. In particular, I am keen to know the Government's view of or attitude to a campaign that is under way, which seems to be justified. I am referring to a register of domestic abuse offenders. This is a project or aspiration of the Do or Die Foundation, headed up by a person from my area. I am keen to hear from the Government on this and it is one of the issues I will be raising.

It is difficult at the moment to raise the plight of schools and of those not well served in terms of provision for their particular needs. Whereas all children are special, there is something disturbing about children with special needs being left in sub-standard conditions. I imagine this is happening throughout the country but I learned recently of a school in Cootehill, the Holy Family School, which has not been included in the Government's five year schools building programme, despite being a priority for years.

I mention it because there are children with special needs in that area being educated in classroom space that includes an adapted storage room, the end of a corridor and part of a home economics room. There are students with varying degrees of physical and intellectual disabilities being taught in classrooms well below the recommended 70 sq. m. In fact, some of the classrooms are as small as 15 sq. m or between 15 sq. m and 28 sq. m. I mention this because children with special needs must be given special treatment. I would welcome an opportunity to hear from the Minister for Education and Skills on the next occasion he is here.

He could sketch out for us to what extent the particular issues of special needs are being prioritised when it is being decided where to allocate resources and whether the existence of a significant number of children with special needs is taken into account in those prioritisations. It is very upsetting for many parents, in particular when their children move through the system and towards leaving school, to discover they may have missed out on facilities long promised.

I have some points of clarification. I agree with Senator Reilly about roaming charges on the Border. I encounter the problem every week travelling to and from Dublin. I refer in particular to data roaming. Anyone who has switched it on while travelling through Northern Ireland would have paid the cost of a flight to California by the time he or she got home. It is totally ridiculous. Whatever about cross-Border charges on telephone calls and text message, data roaming charges should not be so high. They are a mystery to me. I do not know who works out the rates but everyone has had a bad experience with them. I agree wholeheartedly with the call to bring the Minister to the House to discuss the issue.

My second point concerns perceived broken promises. When any Government takes office it promises to look after the country and its sovereignty.

Do you have a question for the Leader? We are on the Order of Business.

The broken promise of the previous Government was the most costly in the history of the world, not just this State.

That would be a useful contribution to your parliamentary party.

Senator, do you have a question for the Leader?

That is a broken promise. The promises to which the Senator referred are small beer compared to the broken promise when the previous Government was given a country to look after. It did not look after it; it broke that promise.

Senator Harte, do you have a question for the Leader?


People were promised free GP care time and time again.

Senator Harte, without interruption.

I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House to discuss the personal insolvency legislation, especially personal insolvency practitioners who are obliged to pay VAT on fees. That is not acceptable. People should not have to pay VAT on the situation in which they find themselves.

Senator, you are way over time.

I want to pay tribute to Alex Ferguson.

That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

We could bring him into the House to sort out a few------

I would like to move an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that No. 18 be taken before No. 2.

I refer to social welfare payments. Senator Hayden referred to the rent supplement scheme. Just over €500 million is spent on rent supplement. There has never been a better time to get some people into longer-term accommodation. NAMA has hundreds of thousands of properties up and down the country which could be purchased at a very cheap rate. It is a great time for local authorities to purchase houses. We need to look at the overall spend in social welfare and whether it is fit for purpose today. Simple maths and common sense would tell one that when people are in receipt of social welfare payments, they are unable to obtain employment because they cannot work a five-day working week as their payments will be cut off. The current system in the Department of Social Protection has created astronomical waiting lists, in particular for those in receipt of carer's allowance and disability or other benefits. The current average waiting time for disability allowance is 60 weeks, but we all know of people who are waiting much longer.

Over the weekend I met somebody who has been waiting four years for a disability payment application to be processed. I met the family of another person who was waiting for a payment, who died last week. There is something wrong with a system like that which is not working. The Minister needs to come to the House and we need to have a rational, commonsense debate on this issue. The social welfare budget is approaching €2 billion per month. It is our largest item of expenditure, yet it is not fit for purpose. We all know of people who are receiving payments while others, who are physically worse off, are not and are being continuously refused them. Let us see if we can bring some of what we have learned to the Minister in order that she can make changes.

I join with Senator Reilly in calling for a debate on roaming charges. It is an issue for this island and is something the EU could try to regulate to a greater degree.

I want to mention cash for gold shops and query whether the legislation is close to coming before us. The current situation is like the wild west where thieves can present different items taken from people's houses. They do not need to have any ID. They are given cash, but if they were given cheques there might be some traceability. One or two gardaí to whom I have spoken are convinced that the cash for gold craze has led to a huge increase in the number of burglaries.

Today is the first world ovarian cancer day. It is designed to raise awareness of the disease worldwide. In an Irish context, between 1994 and 2010 an average of 376 new cases of ovarian cancer were presented in Ireland each year. It is very important to raise awareness because it has the lowest survival rate of all gynaecological cancers. Nearly 250,000 women globally are diagnosed annually with the disease and it is responsible for 140,000 deaths each year. Ireland fares quite well, ranking fourth highest in 30 countries surveyed, and has the highest mortality rate in Europe. There is much that can be done. The first step is awareness.

Are you looking for a debate on the matter?

I am not necessarily looking for a debate on this issue. I wanted to raise it.

I join with Senator Noone in calling for the legislation to regulate cash for gold outlets to be enacted as soon as possible. Self-regulation is not working and I agree there is evidence they are causing a lot of burglaries, in particular in rural areas.

Yesterday the Government approved the preparation of a new planning and development Bill which will establish a new planning regulator. The appointment of such a regulator was one of the most significant recommendations regarding planning made by the Mahon tribunal. I welcome that the legislation will come into existence.

Yesterday, in formulating the proposal, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, said she engaged with a wide variety of stakeholders and believed that the new planning regulator will improve the quality of planning in Ireland, increase transparency and accountability and, most important, increase public trust in our planning system. I very much hope the Bill does what she said.

Will the Leader invite the Minister of State to the House so we can ask her with whom she consulted on the preparation of the Bill? If reports we see in newspapers today and in national media yesterday are anything to go by, we need to ask how independent the regulator will be if the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has the final say on any recommendation such a regulator may make.

I support Senator Whelan in his call for some real action on narcolepsy. He has raised the issue over the past year, but despite promises we have seen no real action. It is time that those affected by it got results and a response from Government.

I ask the Leader to provide the necessary clarity for the Opposition on GP medical cards. It is quite clear the Government has set out its stall on the matter. It was clarified on the 1 p.m. news but, unfortunately, the Opposition Members either failed to grasp the situation or are attempting to waste the time of the House by calling for an amendment to the Order of Business and a debate.

The Leader might take this opportunity to explain in detail why the Government has decided to pursue the matter of the provision of GP-only cards in respect of everyone instead of just a limited number. A commitment that this work will be done before the end of the Government's term has been given. I look forward to it. No naysaying by the Opposition will deflect us from this necessary work.

Last weekend, newspapers carried an article on charity shops that were having difficulty with marauding gangs stealing clothes from charity clothes banks. To address this spiralling disease, representatives of the shops called for sections of the Charities Act to be implemented and for new legislation to be introduced. Any Senator who saw the recent "Prime Time" programme could not have been anything but astonished at the scale of the thefts. People are being hurt, as the money collected by charity shops from the sale of used clothes and other products goes towards helping the most vulnerable in society. It is time that the thugs were taken out of the game. The best way to do so is by introducing and enforcing legislation. I would be grateful if the Leader passed on my comments. Perhaps he will respond.

I wish to bring to the Leader's attention a bizarre situation that developed in the national media yesterday. It was like a feeding frenzy. I believed that April fool's day had passed, but it appears to have an anniversary. Starting yesterday morning on national radio and in the national printed media and continuing until the news at 9 p.m. and "Prime Time", a subject with which Senators are familiar was featured, that of Irish soldiers who fought for the Allies in the Second World War. This subject was presented as a new story that had suddenly appeared, aided and abetted by the Minister. I do not blame him if a microphone and camera are put in front of him but, as all Senators know, the legislation was a Seanad Bill. It was introduced and extensively debated in this Chamber - as the Leader would testify, it was not an in-and-out Bill - last February.

And it was debated-----

The media suddenly woke up yesterday. Will the Leader ensure that Ministers and Departments, particularly the latter's press offices, give some acknowledgement to the work carried out in the nation's interests by this House? Of the journalists and editorial staff of the electronic media and the reporters in the printed media that carried the story two and a half months late, Mr. Michael O'Regan of The Irish Times was an honourable exception, as he acknowledged the fact that the Bill had been passed by the Seanad in February. This might seem like a trivial matter and I am not standing on my dignity, but if the public is to have any empathy with and respect for the House-----

The Senator has gone over time.

I appreciate that, but I had hoped that the Cathaoirleach would give me some slight latitude. In so far as it is possible, will the Leader please ensure that the work of the Seanad is at least reported accurately? He can only do his best.

I welcome today's announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to the effect that he has sanctioned a Leader partnership to approve funding of €200,000 to Mr. Tony McGuinness to construct a willow drying and processing facility at his farm in Richardstown, Ardee. Under contract, it will dry willow crops produced in County Louth.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes. The facility will also process these crops-----

The Senator wants to thank Senator O'Neill.

Senator Brennan, without interruption.

-----for use as fuel in commercial, industrial and domestic boilers. It is a great announcement for mid-Louth. The facility will increase the county's number of jobs.

One week or ten days ago, many colleagues heard me make a plea regarding the application of carbon tax to fire logs manufactured by Standard Brands in Kilsaran, Castlebellingham. I am pleased that the Revenue Commissioners and the Minister have changed their minds and carbon tax will not be applied. This decision will secure nine or ten jobs at the Kilsaran premises. It is good news for County Louth and shows that, on occasion, Ministers listen to Senators.

The Irish Times has indicated today that a Bill on the abolition of the Seanad will be before the Cabinet in the coming two to three weeks. According to the media, the question presented to the people will be on abolition. There will be no option to reform. The axe is being well sharpened. Last week, I invoked Grattan and Flood. I re-invoke them in addressing my comments to the Senators opposite, who are concerned for democracy in this country and have no wish to see the bicameral system ended. They should be vigilant. This side of the House will oppose the Bill strenuously, but we will need some help from the Government side if this invidious Bill is to be defeated.

I support Senator Michael D'Arcy's comments on the enslavement of women. The horrible Cleveland story reminds us of similar stories from Austria and Belgium. Ireland has many cold cases, as the Garda calls them, of missing persons. Some cases date back 20 years. Most involve teenage girls. It must be stressful for their parents to imagine for even a moment that their daughters might be in situations similar to that in Cleveland. The chances are that they are. A prominent retired Garda detective is of the opinion that quite a number of people are incarcerated and being abused and slave raped as we speak. Will the Leader inquire into whether the Minister for Justice and Equality will provide the Garda with additional funding to reactivate its cold case unit? An unsolved case is never taken off the books. The Cleveland police seem to have slipped up with the information provided to them. Vigilant neighbours could probably provide similar information in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or rural areas. There is probably always evidence. It just needs to be found.

At this morning's meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, made an enthusiastic presentation on the importance of sport. He referred to its morale boost, its health benefits for young people and the positive image of Ireland it portrayed abroad.

My representation is not necessarily on behalf of the people seeking medical cards. Rather, it is intended for those who are preventing them from seeking medical cards. Last year, I made a representation on behalf of TriAthy, which is a triathlon in Athy. One week before the two-day event, the Garda handed its organisers an invoice for policing to the tune of €5,600. They were disgusted, particularly given the fact that they only received the invoice a number of days before the event. The amount did not include the €1,120 required to provide refreshments for gardaí.

Having received a representation on the matter, I understand that organisers are trying to halve Garda costs this year by holding a one-day event. However, they have been charged 112% more, some €11,911. Of the 150 such events that take place in Ireland annually, some are charged and others are not. We are in difficult economic circumstances and Garda stations are closing throughout the country, but will the Garda or the Minister provide clarity on the policy for charging such events for policing?

I second Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment to the Order of Business that No. 18 be taken before No. 2. I refer to the commemoration at Arbour Hill this morning, particularly the fact that the Defence Forces were denied the opportunity to participate in the mass. This is the first year it has happened. I am reminded to raise this because on Easter Sunday there is always a commemoration in New Ross, which commences with mass in our parish church, and the colour party from the local Civil Defence is always in attendance. This year for the first time they were denied permission to attend and I understand that came from the Department or the headquarters of the Defence Forces.

I would like to get the Minister in here to discuss this because while it might seem a minor issue, it is part of a more comprehensive, aggressive secular agenda which we have talked about in the past. As somebody who supports a pluralist position in society, it is important we do not allow bigotry into this area. It is also demeaning to those people who gave their lives during 1916 and the War of Independence so that we would enjoy the freedom we do today and that we have the freedom to be Members of this House and articulate views and policies on behalf of the Irish people. That is something that should never be denigrated and, unfortunately, this is a step back from that. I ask the Leader to arrange that debate in the House.

The history of how our State has treated women down through the years has been less than commendable and we should never forget that. For this reason I am happy to support Senator Michael D'Arcy's words this afternoon that with so many women enslaved in the Irish sex industry we should be moving on the legislation that will punish the purchasers of sex in this country. We have had good debates on this. It is equally offensive that at the future Oireachtas hearings on abortion, testimonies will not be taken from Irish women who have had abortions. A very clear message is going out that these women do not count. We should be very careful.

There is a great irony that we are prepared to listen to the medics, psychiatrists and legal people who, to be fair, are working at arm's length from this issue and that we are not prepared to listen to the women who are prepared to give their stories in camera. If we are ever to learn about the real reasons women are seeking abortions in this country, they are the people we should listen to. I ask the Leader to convey my deep concerns to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health on this issue, and I ask the Leader to ask him to find a way to reconsider yesterday's decision by the Oireachtas health committee on this issue. We have an opportunity to get evidence that is missing to date and that will definitely complement the full picture.

I support calls by Senators Landy and Whelan on narcolepsy. Like both of them, this morning I met the families that are suffering from narcolepsy, and it is clear that not enough is being done for these people and that they are being frustrated in their efforts to achieve what they need to achieve. Although narcolepsy is accepted by the Department as a long-term illness, it is not listed for the purposes of qualifying for a long-term illnesses book. Only 54 people are diagnosed with this disease.

Senator Whelan had an Adjournment debate matter on this issue last September and in response to his question it appeared the Department was doing the devil and all to satisfy the needs of these people. However, nine months on, they are being stonewalled by the Department. Although it is an accepted long-term illness, it appears that if they apply for a domiciliary care allowance or disability allowance they are being refused, sent down the road of 12 months of an appeal process and then perhaps refused again. It is outrageous.

I was disappointed to see again that the promise of giving medical cards to people with long-term illnesses is being withdrawn. I do not see the logic in it. The new plan is to roll out medical cards to everybody. We are talking about a select number of people who have long-term illnesses, not the whole nation, and yet we are deciding to roll out medical cards to the whole nation before we deal with these people. It is time we had a debate on this and it would be no harm if the Minister would come in and answer questions on this issue, in particular about people who have narcolepsy.

Senator Kelly could support our motion.

Senators Byrne, MacSharry and others spoke on free GP care and the promises that were made. I assure the Members on the other side of the House that they have a flawed line of attack because the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for primary care, Deputy White, has said there is no change to the plan to deliver GP care in the lifetime of this Government. He also said he would deliver a phased plan before this summer on how to achieve this. I am very sorry to disappoint the Senators. That is the clarity the Minister has provided, and that is the situation.

The Government will honour the commitment given. That will disappoint those on that side of the House and throw a spanner into the works of their amendment to the Order of Business, but they are the facts as enunciated by the Minister of State, Deputy White, no later than today.

The promises have been broken.

I am very sorry to disappoint the Senators on that.

Senator Bacik asked for a debate on domestic violence and we will have a debate on that issue during Private Members' business in approximately 20 minutes' time. She also raised, along with Senator Noone, the question of ovarian cancer and the need to highlight and raise awareness of this issue. It is a very important issue about which awareness needs to be created. I applaud both Senators for raising that matter on the Order of Business.

I will accede to Senator Quinn's request for an amendment to the Order of Business to allow him to print his Bill and have it published. I note his points on the timing of school holidays and perhaps we can discuss that when we have the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, in the House, hopefully soon.

Senator Paul Coghlan raised the worrying issue of the drifting of deposits from the country. He also mentioned the fact that some banks are handing in their licences. I will endeavour to have the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, in the House to discuss that matter soon. We have had a number of debates on the whole issue of banking and perhaps we can have further ones in the future. We all note Senator Paul Coghlan's points on the whitetailed sea eagles in Killarney and his invitation for anyone who wishes to go down there.

Senators Daly and Walsh raised the Army presence at Arbour Hill. There was no diminution of the Army presence at Arbour Hill.

The Army, as usual, carried out its duties in an exemplary manner in Arbour Hill, for those who were there at the ceremony. After last year's ceremony a review was undertaken by the Department of Defence as to how it could improve the ceremony. We had a ceremony with a guard of honour from the Army going up in Arbour Hill this morning, and it was done in a very dignified manner as we would always expect of our Defence Forces. There was also a significant number of Defence Forces personnel in the church and most of the celebrants of the mass were Army clerics so I cannot accept those ludicrous suggestions that have been made about the diminution of the Defence Forces in the celebrations this morning.

Hear, hear. Well said, Leader.

One would not have said that in New Ross after Easter Sunday. There is a change in policy, despite what the Leader says.

The Leader, without interruption.

Senator Hayden raised the announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, about the deposit protection scheme and the issue of the rent supplement and properties not being registered by landlords with the PRTB. Dublin City Council found that 40% of landlords were not registered with the board, and I hope they will be prosecuted and fined. It is against the law to not register, and they should be brought to justice. People are living in appalling conditions in flats in Dublin and elsewhere, some of which are not registered with the board. The PRTB was set up in order that accommodation would be registered and properly maintained. Landlords need to be brought to justice if they are not registered.

If I can get details of the case mentioned by Senator Norris, I will bring it to the attention of the relevant Minister. Perhaps he could table an Adjournment matter on the case.

I thank the Leader. Unfortunately, I did not get her name. She was outside but I will see if I can contact her.

Senators D'Arcy, O'Sullivan and Healy Eames raised the issue of the enslavement of women. Senator D'Arcy mentioned the dreadful situation we witnessed in Cleveland. More than 800 women are enslaved in this State. The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking)(Amendment) Bill will come to the House on 23 May. We also debated a Private Members' motion tabled by Senator Zappone on the matter a number of months ago. It will be dealt with and the Minister for Justice and Equality has asked the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to prepare a report on this issue. I understand the committee will report in the next few weeks.

Senators Reilly, Harte and Noone referred to data roaming charges, which affect communities on both sides of the Border. I will inquire of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources whether anything can be done to address it.

Senators Whelan, Landy and Kelly raised the issue of narcolepsy and the need to assist meaningfully the 54 families affected by this disease. I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Senators, and I will seek clarification from the Minister for Health. These people should be looked after now rather than face further delays. I will find out the position from the Minister.

Senator MacSharry referred to hospital waiting lists. The number of people on the lists has significantly reduced from the number we inherited. When Fine Gael took up office, we set up a special delivery unit in the Department of Health, which has yielded wonderful results in many parts of the country. As Fianna Fáil would say, there is a lot done and a lot more to do. I heard that slogan used by its members on another occasion. Senator Burke pointed out that when we took office, there were 1,700 hospital consultants but that number has increased to 2,500. It is a significant result to have increased that number by 800 and our aim is to increase the number to 3,500. I assure Opposition Members, much to their disappointment, that this will be done during our term in office. Senator Burke also indicated that 48% of the people are on medical cards, an increase of more than 250,000.

The Leader should be appointed Minister for Health. His delivery is much clearer than the incumbent.

At least the Leader will explain what is happening. The Minister goes hiding.

That equates to the number of people who lost their jobs in the private sector in the three years prior to us going into government, which is significant.

Senator Mullen raised the issue of a register for domestic abuse offenders. That can be raised in the debate on the Private Members' motion later. He also referred to a school in Cootehill. The Government has undertaken a significant school s building programme and perhaps he can raise this issue as an Adjournment matter and elicit the information about the special needs provision in the school.

Senator Harte sought clarification on the personal insolvency legislation. We had a significant debate in the House on it and if there is need for further clarification, I will chase up an answer for him if he passes on a question.

Senator Ó Domhnaill proposed an amendment to the Order of Business about printing a Bill, which I accept. He referred to the overall expenditure on social welfare. We can discuss that in our pre-budget deliberations, but the Government is spending €1 billion a month more than it is taking in, which is a major problem. I agree with the Senator that it is disgraceful that someone should be on a waiting list for four years for the disability allowance. There must be a blockage in the system and I am sure he can find that out, but I do not know why anybody would be on a waiting list for this allowance. Has the case gone to appeal? If so, is it being held up in the appeals office? Why is it being held up? Those questions will have to be answered and, as an Oireachtas Member, the Senator should be able to elicit a response from the Department of Social Protection. I agree that a system that stands over a four-year waiting list is not acceptable.

The system is wrong.

Senators Noone and Wilson called for legislation to deal with cash for gold outlets. I will ascertain the status of legislation in this regard.

Senator Wilson referred to the planning system and the appointment of a planning regulator. Perhaps I can invite the Minister for State at the Department of the Environment to the House to clarify what is happening.

That is a diversion.

Senator Landy clarified the GP cards issues.

Senator Mooney raised the issue of charity shops and the theft of clothes from clothing banks throughout the State. He asked whether we needed to improve legislation. I will take that matter up with the Minister for Justice and Equality to see whether legislation needs to be tightened to prevent this happening.

Senator Brennan had a query about Louth Leader programme funding. Significant announcements relating to Leader funding has been made and that will benefit communities not only in County Louth but also throughout the country. I note his comments about the fire log factory. He asked that carbon tax would not be applied to the factory and his request has been heeded. I am glad several jobs have been saved in a local factory as a result of his intervention in that regard.

Senator O'Sullivan had a question about the Seanad referendum. I understand that the latest is that the Bill will be before the House by the end of the month and a referendum will take place in late September or early October. I note his comments about the cold case units and the need for greater funding in this regard. I will bring that matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan raised the issue of sport in Ireland and the recent joint committee debate. I note his points about the triathlon in Athy and the cost of policing such events. I acknowledge that such bills are prohibitive for sporting organisations and charities.

Perhaps he can get that information from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport through the Minister for Justice and Equality to ascertain the position in that regard.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames asked about the Joint Committee on Health and Children. I have no intention of interfering in the work of that committee. The matter the Senator raises is one that can be dealt with by the chairman and the committee.

Senator Thomas Byrne has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate on free GP care for those with long-term illnesses and the population at large be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?

Yes. The Government is breaking its promises.

The Senator has spoken on the issue already.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 31.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Harte, Jimmy.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator Quinn has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 17 be taken before motion 38(10)." The Leader indicated that he wishes to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Senator Ó Domhnaill has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 18 be taken before motion 38(10)." The Leader also indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Question, "That the Order of Business, as amended, be agreed to", put and declared carried.