The Order of Business is No. 1, Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3.45 p.m.
Order of Business
On a number of occasions I have raised the issue of the drug Fampyra which greatly assists a number of multiple sclerosis sufferers by allowing them to get their mobility back and, effectively, enjoy an independent life. People whom I know and others who are involved in the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland have advised me that the drug has a positive effect on a significant number of people with multiple sclerosis because it allows them to remain independent and to continue working.
I know that the Leader has already raised this matter with the Minister for Health, as Senator Michael D'Arcy and I have also. This drug costs a mere €270 per month but from July it will be gone from the GMS scheme. A number of people will not be able to afford it so they will end up in hospital and unable to work, at a further cost to the State. This should not be about cost, however.
Since my dealings with a number of people on Fampyra, I have learned that there is another MS drug called Lemtrada. A number of people have reacted very well to the latter drug which has assisted many people in continuing and improving their quality of life. I have also learned that within the next three weeks Lemtrada will not be funded by the HSE.
I have written to the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and the HSE on numerous occasions but I have received only a bog-standard response. Within three weeks, many of these people will not be able to access these life-changing drugs. This is something that should concern all Members of this House.
Multiple Sclerosis Ireland has a specific concern about these two drugs that relates to its own members. Does the HSE and the Department of Health have a specific view on multiple sclerosis? I would have thought that such medical advances, including the provision of these drugs, would be crucially important. I thought the Minister would get personally involved in the matter, but he has not done so up to now.
I know that, like myself, the Minister for Health will attend the House later for the debate on the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Bill 2014. However, it is not necessarily appropriate for me to ask him about these drugs, nor does he have to answer such questions, when he attends this House to deal with a specific Bill.
We should have a debate not just on MS treatment but other drugs, as well as the process of how a drug gets into the GMS and the drugs payment scheme. We should also debate the impact of withdrawing drugs from those schemes. I appreciate the Leader's assistance on this issue up to now. I ask him again, in the strongest possible terms, to request the Minister to intervene with the HSE on this matter.
I will move a motion in the House next week seeking cross-party support from the Seanad on this point. It will be a non-political motion requesting that both the aforementioned drugs should remain in the drugs payment scheme. The Seanad should stand up for people who need our help but who cannot obtain answers from the Department of Health or the HSE.
I am sure that others will wish to join with me in paying tribute to Gerry Conlon whose death occurred last Saturday, 21 June. He was one of the Guildford Four, released from imprisonment in Britain in 1989, and spent the rest of his life campaigning for other victims of miscarriages of justice. Many of us were impressed by his work over the years. I wish to express my sympathy to his family on his untimely death at the age of 60.
I ask the Leader for a debate on yesterday's report by the Inspectorate of Mental Health Services. Such a debate could examine the numbers of people in some form of institutional care under the auspices of the mental health services. The report describes those services as a series of mini hostels around the State. The report also expresses concern about standards in some of the hostels, including an inconsistency of standards and a lack of available data. An estimated 1,500 people are in this sort of care following the closure of larger psychiatric units. There are still concerns about standards in some of the smaller units.
It would be worth having a debate here on detention in psychiatric institutions generally. The spotlight on the mother and baby homes in Tuam and elsewhere has told us a lot about detention and confinement, but there remains a great deal to be said about psychiatric institutions.
My colleague, Dr. Damien Brennan of the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College, has conducted a ground-breaking study on the numbers of people incarcerated in psychiatric institutions in Ireland throughout most of the 20th century. These were all State-run institutions. This does not raise the same issues in terms of religious orders, but we should certainly examine the matter in this House. Therefore, I would like to have a debate on that at some point.
I very much welcome the announcement of the release of Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy in Sudan. I am delighted she is being released. There was an international campaign for her release but I am very saddened to see that prison sentences have been pronounced on ten al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt. We, in Seanad Éireann, have been asked by the National Union of Journalists in Ireland to raise the issue of these arrests and sentences in the House today. I would like to join with the NUJ in urging the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to condemn the abuse of human rights in Egypt and to work with governments in the EU to oppose the criminalisation and imprisonment of journalists. These al-Jazeera journalists were doing their job but some really long prison sentences have been handed down, some of them in absentia. However, immediate custodial sentences have been handed down to at least two journalists in Egypt and we should all condemn that.
The Central Statistics Office will issue the national accounts for the first quarter of 2014 in the coming weeks and we hope and expect to see a rise in the estimated GDP levels. This will be very positive news for the Government but I hope also for the thousands of Irish families who have been struggling to make ends meet and who face daily hardship, poverty and even homelessness due to successive austerity budgets which have hit the poorest hardest. As the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, said last Friday in his response to Thomas Piketty's key note address at the Tasc conference, those at the bottom have been pushed into very negative positions.
However, what I want to do today is to alert this House to the fact that some of the expected increase in GDP will be due to changes in the rules in how GDP is measured. The guesstimates reported by the media put this increase at more than 1%. The new rules set out by ESA 2010 aim to unify the procedures of calculating GDP in different EU member states as this is used in the calculation of member states' contribution to the EU budget. The major difference to the previous regulations used include recognition of research and development and illegal activities, such as prostitution, in the measurement of GDP.
I understand we need to measure the economy as accurately as possible but when we are calculating a measurement which will have a profound impact on budgetary matters and policy decisions, my concern is that including activities which we may wish to remove from our economy - it was one of the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality approximately a year ago - into a measurement of economic output is counterproductive. By including underground industries, such as the illegal drug trade and prostitution, are we in any way condoning or even normalising these sectors of our society? How will prostitution earnings or productivity be measured?
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality produced a report reviewing legislation on prostitution and we noted that research evidence estimates the indoor prostitution industry to be worth at least €180 million. How will the CSO measure it? The report also found that, on average, 1,000 people are offered for sex daily in Ireland, some 97% of them are migrant women and some are children, and between 2009 and 2011 up to 34 minors were trafficked into the State for sexual exploitation.
Will the Leader contact the Minister for Finance to request he investigate the issues I have raised and to come back to the House to present how the prostitution industry will be measured for GDP in Ireland and state whether he thinks this is acceptable?
I welcome the fact the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan, was in Leitrim on Friday. He announced a €150,000 grant towards a car park at Seán MacDermott's cottage, something about which I have spoken on many occasions. Along with the reopening of Lissadell House, this will help to create many jobs in Sligo and north Leitrim, in particular. Many tourists will visit those centres in the future. The money was badly needed as it was impossible to get access to Seán MacDermott's cottage. I thank the Office of Public Works for the great job it has done in restoring the thatched roof on the cottage. We look forward to seeing many visitors in the area as a result of this announcement.
In the past hour in Belfast City Hall, Queen Elizabeth II praised those who turn the impossible into the possible. She pointed out that societies are based on trust, respect, justice and interdependence. In turning the impossible into the possible, it is remarkable that one of her visits this morning was to the Crumlin Road Jail.
The Queen was accompanied by the First Minister, who spent some time as an inmate of the jail for opposing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and Deputy First Minister, who spent some time in the jail for alleged membership of the IRA. The visits by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Belfast today and Enniskillen two years ago and their generous hosting in April of the visit of President Higgins to the United Kingdom set an example to all of us on reconciling the two traditions on this island. I hope today's visit bodes well for the imminent marching season.
I am concerned about a report by Niall O'Connor published last evening in The Herald , which indicates that of 4,653 units the National Asset Management Agency offered local authorities for housing, only 518 or 11% were transferred. As Senator Hayden and others have pointed out, we have a housing crisis. Such a high rejection rate is unacceptable in such circumstances. This news comes shortly after the House, including the Leader, expressed concern about the slow rate of turnover in tenancies in local authority housing. Houses are sometimes blocked up for months on end. Local authorities must show a greater sense of urgency in this regard, as we have the means to deal with the housing problem.
I pay tribute to and congratulate Customs and Excise and the Garda Síochána on the massive seizure of illegal tobacco products in Drogheda Bay. This is the largest such seizure in Europe this year and the largest ever in the State. It is great that the authorities are cracking down on criminality.
Since last March, I have been requesting a debate on the findings of a report on neurology produced by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland. The issue of access to the drug, Fampyra, which Senator Darragh O'Brien raised, could also be discussed in any such debate. I ask the Leader to request again that the Minister for Health come before the House to discuss both the report and access to the drug to which Senator O'Brien referred.
Some years ago, the sexually transmitted infection, STI, clinic in County Kerry was transferred to Cork. I appreciate that access to experts on sexually transmitted infections and a centre of excellence is beneficial when a rape occurs or a person becomes infected with a sexually transmitted disease. However, there is a six-week wait for an appointment at the STI clinic which visits Tralee Regional Hospital every fortnight. Greater access is required, especially as the town has a third level institution. I ask that the Minister spend some time discussing the issue of STI clinics when he comes to the House for a debate.
I extend my heartfelt sympathy to the family of the late Gerry Conlon. They suffered more than any family could be asked to suffer. Mr. Conlon was an innocent victim of a notorious miscarriage of justice. Lord Denning could not even contemplate the possibility that the Guildford Four case was a miscarriage of justice, stating that if such were the case, it would represent "an appalling vista". It was an appalling vista and Gerry Conlon spent 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, during which time he suffered torture, deprivation and misrepresentation.
Following his release from prison, Gerry Conlon spent the rest of his life working for human rights. The greatest tribute we could pay to his memory and the memory of others who suffered miscarriages of justice is to be always on the alert in respect of human rights issues. We must accept that miscarriages of justice can occur anywhere in the world. I hope the Seanad will have another opportunity to discuss human rights.
The more we read the newspapers, listen to the radio and watch television programmes, the more stories we see emerging throughout the world, the basis of which we do not always understand. These stories tell us that there are thousands of innocent people suffering every hour and every day of the week. I am not claiming a huge voice for us in the world, but it is important that we use whatever voice we have. One never knows when it might create a ripple such that those who are suffering will realise there are people, particularly legislators, thinking of and working for them. It is in this context that I mention Gerry Conlon. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasail.
I raise the perennial issue of alcohol abuse in Ireland in the context of the publication yesterday of a report by the Health Research Board. Following the multiplicity of reports and findings on this issue, one might have assumed we were beyond being shocked by new findings. However, the numbers in this report are astounding. It shows, for example, that 75% of all alcohol consumption occurs in the context of binge drinking sessions, with one fifth of us engaging in binge drinking at least once a week. I have no doubt that many people would not consider three drinks to be a binge drinking session, but that threshold has been scientifically proven by the European Commission. Whether we like it or not, as a general populace we have a particular mindset in regard to alcohol consumption and it is a problem that needs to be addressed. A figure that is perhaps under-reported in regard to alcohol consumption is the number of people who regularly drink at home as opposed to in pubs. It is a case of out of sight, out of mind. We spend in excess of €50 million per week on alcohol and more than 175,000 people are dependent drinkers.
Some of us were fortunate last week to attend a presentation on alcohol abuse by, among others, the former Leinster and Ireland rugby winger, Denis Hickie, who gave a very strong speech on the link between sport and alcohol, with particular reference to drinks industry sponsorship. It is far beyond time that we came to grips with the industry propaganda in regard to alcohol sponsorship. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health to the House to update us on plans for regulating the drinks industry and the various schemes to prevent alcohol abuse generally?
I rarely reference things I hear on the radio but today there was a discussion between Dr. Ciara Kelly, a GP in Greystones, Professor Michael O'Keeffe, a consultant eye surgeon at the Mater and Temple Street hospitals-----
I ask the Senator to refrain from naming individuals on the record of the House who are not here to defend themselves.
This discussion took place on the radio and the contributors were named.
That does not matter. They are not here to defend themselves.
They do not need to defend themselves. They were discussing their concerns as to what is going on in the Health Service Executive and the health service in general. Dr. Chris Luke, an emergency department consultant, also participated in the debate. Am I allowed to mention Dr. Luke?
I have asked the Senator to refrain from mentioning names on the record of the House.
I assume it is acceptable to say that several persons of note from various medical fields, including GP and consultancy practice, took part in a radio discussion this morning. What they said would leave the hair standing on the back of one's head. They spoke about newly qualified doctors, consultant doctors, and the Government's obligation to taxpayers and how it is not standing up on quality as opposed to economy. We have had this problem before of putting economy before quality. The speakers referred to Irish consultants not being able to come home or, where they do return, being unable to work in private practice. They might as well be taxi drivers after 5 p.m. The contributors spoke about newly qualified Irish doctors fleeing this country in droves for Australia, Canada and elsewhere because they cannot get proper work here or become established on a career trajectory. They referred to people applying for consultancy jobs in this country who would not get on an interview list under normal circumstances and those posts being left vacant.
I am not saying anything new in referring to this radio discussion. My colleague, Senator Colm Burke, has been raising these issues for months, as has the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to answer some of our questions? We saw what happened in education when the views of teachers in classrooms were ignored. Some 53% of them told the Minister for Education and Skills that his proposals for junior certificate reform, particularly the teacher evaluation aspect, would not work, but he did not listen. The Minister for Health must listen to what people are saying to him or we will see the same debacle in the health service, including the potential for industrial action, that is happening in education. He must answer questions such as why we, as taxpayers, are paying thousands to train excellent doctors.
What are they doing? They are waiting for the airplane to leave the country.
I echo the sentiments of my colleague, Senator Bacik, and Senator Ó Murchú, who have highlighted that in this country we have had more than our share of miscarriages of justice. In the week that we mourn the passing of Gerry Conlon, one such victim, it is appropriate that we bring to the notice of the House, the Tánaiste and the Government that we should not have any truck with the Government of Egypt, which has just incarcerated al-Jazeera journalists after a show trial. I support the NUJ calls for these journalists to be freed immediately. Any country that does not recognise a free press is not a free country. It is an affront to democracy and an affront to people who uphold such standards. The Government should not remain quiet on the issue.
The primary issue I would like to address and expose is a sly PR stunt pulled off yesterday by EirGrid, trying to suggest that it will underground high-voltage power cables in Mayo. I can tell the House that will never happen because I spent six days at an An Bord Pleanála hearing earlier this year in Portlaoise where 23 EirGrid executives refused to consider undergrounding 1.5 km of power lines in the scenic area of Ratheniska in County Laois. I ask the Leader to establish for me by asking either the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources or the Taoiseach whether the planning laws are different in Mayo than they are in Meath and Laois.
They are both from Mayo, are they not?
Why are the people of Laois not being afforded the same opportunity to have high-voltage power cables placed underground?
It is because the Senator has no Taoiseach in Laois.
I will tell the House why. This EirGrid expansion is being built for the benefit of big wind-farm developers who want to destroy the countryside with industrial wind farms within 500 m of people's homes.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I do. I want the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House and explain why the planning laws are different in two different parts of the country. Why do we have the biggest conflict of interest in this country between the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, EirGrid and the wind-energy developers who want to impose these giant industrial wind farms on top of people's homes? I am now warning-----
The Senator can make those points during the debate. I call Senator Cullinane.
I want to alert the Leader and the Government that the public's patience is wearing thin and people will not have these wind farms imposed on top of their farms, families and houses.
As I am sure the Leader is aware, a group of consultant psychiatrists in the Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary mental health services have withdrawn confidence in the clinical management of the service which they claim is unsafe. In a letter which was put in the public domain by RTE's "This Week" programme, nine doctors wrote to the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to express their serious concerns about local services in light of nine fatalities. In the letter dated June 2013, the doctors repeatedly questioned the safety of governance in the service and stated that they felt devalued and ignored in their attempts to raise their concerns with the Health Service Executive.
We have had similar problems in Waterford where there is still no consultant in the dermatology area leading to major problems. That has been raised by Senator Crown several times. The south east has very high levels of cancer, as we know, and yet we do not have proper dermatology services, again because of staffing problems and pressures within the hospital.
On this issue, their concerns focus on nine fatalities in the 14 months from August 2011 to January 2013. These include three suicides of inpatients by the same means, four suicides in home-based settings and a further suicide in a crisis house. This was a cry for help from nine doctors who have written to the HSE management and raised it directly with the Minister of State, and obviously their concerns have not been addressed. It is a very serious issue. We have debated the issue of suicide with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, several times in this House.
Given the seriousness of this situation, I ask the Leader to arrange a further debate so that we can discuss with her the concerns of not just the psychiatrists in the Carlow-Kilkenny-south Tipperary area, but the many psychiatrists across the State who are very concerned about mental health services in the State. I request a debate on the issue as soon as possible.
I know that the issue of obesity has been in the news. My colleague, Senator Noone, referred to it yesterday when she called for the allocation of 30 minutes each day for physical education in schools. There is more attention in the media and in the public domain on obesity, overweight and physical literacy but nobody seems to know how to do it nor if there is the political will to change the situation.
Since I introduced my initiative, Points for Life - Developing Physical Literacy in Children, in this House almost three years ago, the amount of time devoted to physical activity in schools has not changed. The primary school curriculum is already over-stretched. Believe me, it has been most difficult and frustrating trying to effect change. I have persevered and will continue to do so. The Points for Life initiative, which has been piloted in a number of schools, is about improving physical literacy. This is defined as the foundation of characteristics, attributes, behaviour, skills, awareness and knowledge and understanding related to healthy active living and the promotion of physical recreation opportunities and positive healthy choices. The project, which has been managed by the professional development services for teachers, seeks to increase the frequency of opportunities for children to engage in physical activity and by targeting this critical stage of childhood development, where the seeds of life-long practice are laid, the goal is to promote physical fitness, good health and healthy lifestyle practices across the lifespan. The mid-term report produced by PEPAYS, the Physical Education Physical Activity and Youth Sports, team headed up by Dr. Ann McPhail from the University of Limerick, was quite alarming. It underlines what we already know, the fundamental movement skills, gross motor skills and physical fitness among children are alarming. Some 45% of the children tested in descriptive rating are poor,-----
Is the Senator seeking a debate on the issue?
Some 39% of the children tested are extremely poor and a further 7.5% tested are well below average and 7% of the children did not rate in the group.
There is significant potential-----
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
-----for the programme to be included in mainstream physical education.
You are not in the Dáil, Eamonn.
Equality in the House.
Is Senator Coghlan seeking a debate on the issue?
I ask the Minister for Education and Skills to make this a priority in the current NCCA updating of the primary schools' curriculum-----
If the Senator has not had it done in the past three years, it will not be done now.
Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue?
-----and if he would recommend that a link be formed with the training colleges.
There will be no time for anybody else.
I request that the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister for Health on the ongoing maternity services issue. I first raised this issue in February when I exposed the report. The CEO of the west north-west hospitals group has announced today that the hospital group intends to abandon that report into maternity services and the reference will be subsumed into the national process.
As Members may know, the chairman of that particular organisation had to resign in this regard. Many questions remain as to the preparation of this report, who endorsed it, what terms of reference were prescribed for it and if the was chairman acting unilaterally. I posed these questions to the Minister on a motion on the Adjournment in February and we have had a Private Members' motion on this issue, but those questions have not been answered.
The women of Ireland are entitled to know that it appears the terms of reference of the report that has now been abandoned were underpinned by a policy to dismantle the existing 19 obstetrician-led maternity services throughout the country. Is it Government policy to reduce them? Did the terms of reference say that we have 19 obstetrician-led services but we now want to aim to have six obstetrician-led maternity services?
We are anxious to know precisely what is happening in this regard. We have discredited the report and the process that was informing it in the north west, so what is happening nationally? The people are entitled to answers.
Senator O'Donnell mentioned, and Senator Colm Burke often mentions, the crisis with the number of non-consultant hospital doctors, doctors and consultants in this country. That is a serious problem. Given the fact of our responsibilities under the working time directive and the fact the consultants' contract, while it appears to be a large amount of money to me, is not sufficient to keep our medical graduates in this country or attract a sufficient number from abroad, there are serious staffing challenges for the future. The people are entitled to know that the Government's top priority is to ensure we are breeding enough intellectual property at home, training enough obstetricians and other consultants and paying them enough to ensure they will stay here. There is a staffing crisis and I do not wish to have a situation, although it appears to be the case, where the Government is taking the easy option by trying to wind down and reduce the number of services throughout the country, rather than ensuring there are an adequate number of staff in place to run them.
I support everything my colleague, Senator Whelan, said about the wind energy sector and the conflicts of interest that pertain to it and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. Both of us have mentioned this in the House on numerous occasions. However, I cautiously welcome the recent announcement by EirGrid about Grid West. Like Senator Whelan, I hope it is not a stunt. One would have to be a little sceptical that it is a public relations stunt because what is likely to come of this re-evaluation is that we will be told it will be four times more expensive to put cabling underground. EirGrid will then go to the Minister and he or she will say that he or she will not impose four times extra cost on bill payers. Grid West is one of many projects throughout the country and, as time passes and if this project proceeds over ground, many communities will be delighted when the Minister says there will be no increase in electricity bills to pay four times extra in cost, but they will then sadly realise that their community will be affected by it. It is wrong that the evaluation of the cost of the underground option is being carried out by EirGrid. I believe it should be done independently of EirGrid to have any credibility.
I support Senators Bacik and Ó Murchú in regretting the passing of Gerry Conlon. It was a very tragic life in tragic circumstances for a man who was innocent.
I support my colleague, Senator Whelan, regarding the al-Jazeera journalists who are jailed in Egypt. It is an extraordinary visual experience to watch the journalists in the BBC protesting with a minute of silence, with their mouths taped over and the white cross on the cameras. The future of the three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt looks bleaker following the refusal of a pardon by the Egyptian President, Abdel el-Sisi, ignoring pleas from President Barack Obama, among others, to release them and other prisoners. I raise this in support of Senator Whelan and other journalists. It is a violation of the right to freedom of expression and must be condemned. The Australian, Peter Greste, the Canadian-Egyptian, Mohamed Fahmy, and the Egyptian, Baher Mohamed, along with four students and activists, were jailed yesterday for between seven and ten years for endangering Egypt's national security. Two British al-Jazeera journalists and a Dutch freelance journalist were sentenced in absentia to a decade in jail, despite the prosecution failing to produce a single shred of solid evidence, according to trial observers Amnesty International. I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to condemn the abuse of human rights in Egypt and to work with the governments of EU member states to oppose the criminalisation of journalists.
I have been a consistent critic of our mental health services in a low key manner over recent years. I am highly conscious of the fact that it is not in anybody's interests to be shouting or scoring political points on this. However, there is a serious problem in the mental health services, and we can cite the situation Senator Bacik raised.
Senator Darragh O'Brien talks constantly about lack of resources and chaotic mental health service delivery in north Dublin. We see what is happening in Galway. Senator Cullinane is quite right to highlight the problem of 14 consultants who have expressed no confidence in the mental health services in the Carlow-Kilkenny area. A total of 90 children were admitted to adult psychiatric wards last year, which is a scandal. I recently heard of a 13 year old boy suffering from an acute disorder. His family approached me to help and I was told it would be eight months before he could be assessed.
This is not a resource problem. We can put as many resources as we want into trying to address this problem but we will not do it. We have more or less closed the large psychiatric institutions and moved treatment into the community, but we have not moved our attitude to the delivery of mental health services in the community. Would it be possible, after we resume in the autumn session, to have a comprehensive debate on mental health policy and how it is delivered? I ask for it to be held in the autumn to allow the House to equip itself fully with the facts of the situation as opposed to anecdotes which we can all quote.
I echo the concerns raised by colleagues about the treatment of journalists in Egypt. I welcome the release of Dr. Meriam Ibrahim by a Sudanese court. The EU mission in Sudan appears to have done good work. Her husband being an American citizen, it falls to the American authorities to ensure she and her child are safe when she leaves the country. That does not take away from the continuing questions about respect for freedom of religious and philosophical beliefs in many parts of our world. We must continue to be vigilant about this.
I commend an article by the Rev. Vincent Twomey who was mentioned in this Chamber last week when he wrote about the proposed inquiry into the mother and baby homes. It was a very learned article in The Irish Times last week in which he made two significant points. He asked why the inquiry would not be extended to include the treatment of people in county homes in general. He asked the pertinent question if it was because they were not run by religious organisations that they did not appear to command the same level of interest. Many children, who were the second or subsequent child of mothers who were there were left in those county homes. He also asked whether it would be good to have an independent voice involved in this report to provide a more neutral and calm assessment of the story. The Associated Press has accepted and acknowledged its misrepresentation of this story. It wrote: "The Associated Press was among the media organizations ... repeating incorrect Irish news reports-----
Is the Senator looking for a debate?
----- that suggested the babies who died had never been baptised and that Catholic Church teaching guided priests not to baptise the babies of unwed mothers or give to them Christian burials." It is good to see the media acknowledging its faults and mistakes. I hope that will be replicated by Irish media where they got it wrong.
Their souls are the most important thing.
I echo Senator Kelly’s welcome for the announcement in respect of Grid West-----
The Senator is way over time.
There has to be equality of orality.
-----that consideration is being given to putting cables underground, but we need to be very cautious and to be sure we are not being led into a trap-----
The Senator is ranting on.
-----as Senator Kelly rightly suggests.
I, too, concur fully with the remarks made by Senators Bacik, Ó Murchú and others regarding the late Gerry Conlon, who suffered so much during his life as a result of a miscarriage of justice and who, on his release, did so much to uphold and support human rights and to campaign against miscarriages of justice.
A month or more ago, when I referred to the rhododendron infestation in Killarney National Park I named mountain meitheal.
I should, of course, have referred to Killarney National Park mountain meitheal, which has done and is continuing to do so much good clearance work, etc. down there. Apparently, another group has registered the mountain meitheal name. I was unaware of that. Killarney National Park mountain meitheal was the only mountain meitheal I knew of.
The Senator needs a meitheal detector.
Having received e-mails from some concerned citizens regarding the matter, I want to correct the record and clarify that I was referring to Killarney National Park mountain meitheal.
We need a visual aid.
I have invited the Senator to Killarney.
I would like to query the appropriateness of a wording that is growing more commonplace in accommodation rental advertisements. We are familiar with the use of the wording "rent allowance not accepted", but I wish to focus on the wording "not for student rental". While we all know of horror stories regarding some student rentals, I suggest it is highly questionable to use this wording in an advertisement. I wonder whether it is discriminatory or fair. I would like the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to address the matter. I believe prospective landlords should agree to meet students before saying they will not rent to them. I am raising this issue because I have been contacted by a number of students who have been looking for accommodation in places like Maynooth and Dublin since early May. They have spent six or seven weeks looking for accommodation. They are being blocked off at advertisement level. Even when they phone up to point out that they are final year students or are doing theses, they are unable to get a meeting.
Is the Senator looking for a debate on this issue?
Yes. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to query whether this practice is fair or right. Surely there is another way of handling this. The deposit that students have to pay could be increased, if necessary, but they should not be cut off at first base. They should not have to hear that they cannot be accommodated at all. We have quite a problem with homelessness in this country. We need to give people fair play, at least. The same thing applies to the wording "rent allowance not accepted". We have work to do in this area.
I would like to join in the expressions of sympathy that have been extended to the family of the late Gerry Conlon. Along with his late father and the Maguire Seven, Gerry Conlon suffered enormously by being incarcerated for 15 years for a crime he did not commit. It is particularly despicable that people in the republican movement, who knew down through the years that the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven did not carry out the atrocities they were convicted of perpetrating, allowed them to carry the can for crimes they did not commit.
I welcome the release of Meriam Ibrahim, about whom many Senators have spoken in recent weeks. It proves that international campaigning and pressure can yield results. We welcome the fact that she has been released.
My colleague, Senator Naughton, raised the issue of a report that was published yesterday which showed that harmful drinking is the norm in Irish society. It found that 54% of Irish drinkers consume alcohol in a harmful manner. It is particularly worrying that 98% of the people in question - or 1.4 million of our population - consider themselves to be light or moderate drinkers. The prevalence of harmful drinking is highest, at 75%, among those between 18 and 24 years of age. It is alarming that 15% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 are alcoholics. The whole issue of alcohol use and abuse, and the associated issue of alcohol sponsorship, needs to be considered, particularly given that 3,230 work or study years were lost in the year prior to the conducting of the survey. Could the Minister of State who is responsible for the development of the alcohol strategy come to the House as soon as possible to discuss what we are going to do to address this major issue, which is creating so much ill-health in our country and is imposing such an enormous cost on the health service?
I too concur with the remarks made by Senator Gilroy on the need for a debate on mental health in September when we return after the summer break. I also add my sympathies to the family of the late Gerry Conlon and his fellow members of the Guildford Four. I agree that it is unfortunate that people knew who was responsible but never came forward and that those totally innocent men languished in prison while Giuseppe Conlon died in prison.
I welcome the news this morning that Revenue has seized €14 million worth of tobacco at Drogheda Port. It is the biggest find ever in Europe. Customs officers and gardaí recovered 32 million cigarettes and 4,000 kg of water pipe tobacco. I commend the customs officers and the gardaí on the excellent work they undertook to ensure the largest seizure in Europe was made. That is particularly welcome, as following a national survey by MS Intelligence between April and June of last year, Drogheda town has been found to have a high level of illegal cigarettes. My town of Dundalk was also found to have a much higher than average amount of illegal cigarettes. We all know the harm smoking legal cigarettes can do but we must consider that illegal cigarettes do not undergo the same product checks and are not bound by the same regulations as legal cigarettes. While they might be cheaper they also damage our local retailers. I welcome the statement by the retailers' association this morning that referred to the urgent need for the Revenue to get all the resources it needs-----
Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?
I am. This is very important.
There is a Bill on tobacco this afternoon.
We will see what can be done.
Senator Moran could raise many of those issues in the debate on the Bill this afternoon.
I hope we can do so.
I agree with Senator O’Donnell about the current problem we have with the medical profession. It was recently revealed at the Joint Committee on Health and Children that there are 253 vacant consultant posts. In one of the medical newspapers this weekend it was suggested that as many as 20% of all consultant posts might be vacant. That is a serious issue because we are losing senior medical personnel. I signalled three years ago that the problem would arise and it is time we started to deal with the issue. The MacCraith report and another report have already been produced. I read in a report over the weekend that certain targets had been set for each of the four quarters of 2014. I am not convinced any of the targets have been reached. If that is the case then questions must be asked because we are now facing into a changeover of junior doctors on 7 July and many of the posts will remain vacant.
Another issue that must be highlighted and on which there is a need for a debate is the cost of professional indemnity insurance for doctors and in particular those in the private health care sector, which is increasing by more than 100%. For instance, an orthopaedic consultant will now pay approximately €97,000 per annum for professional indemnity insurance. People might not be concerned because it is the private sector but 41% of all elective surgery is currently carried out in the private sector. If some of the private facilities close then the public sector will not be able to absorb it. Very good offers are being made to people who have experience from New Zealand, Australia and Canada and they are accepting them. The matter requires to be dealt with urgently. At the moment-----
Is the Senator supporting the call for a debate?
Currently, the State Claims Agency will cover anything after the first €1 million.
There is a need to reduce the cap to €500,000 where cover is provided by the insurance companies. That should be examined immediately.
I wholeheartedly support Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Colm Burke on their comments on doctors leaving the country. A girl I know is leaving today, and one of her mentors, for want of a better word, in the health service has told her not to come back for ten years because there is no point. It is my generation perhaps who is most affected by this. I personally know many people who are in Australia, Canada or America who do not intend to come back for a long time. Doctors always left the country but now they are leaving with the intention most likely of not coming back because they do not expect things will improve. It is a huge issue and one we need to debate in the House as soon as possible.
Talk to the Minister, Deputy James Reilly.
I would also like to support and commend Senator Eamonn Coghlan on his Point for Life initiative. The situation has not changed. I raised the issue of a ban on running in schools and that is when I got involved in speaking on this. It is a huge issue and a case of monkey see, monkey do. Leaders will have to get involved in this. It will not simply happen by accident that the problems related to diet and obesity will go away. I would make a novel request. Many of the leading experts in health say that the best thing one can do for one's health is to walk 10,000 steps a day. If one does that and does not go mad in the eating department, one will be healthy and maintain a healthy weight. We all - Ministers, Senators, Deputies, councillors and everybody else - should get on board and get more active in general, and children will naturally follow suit.
If the Cathaoirleach will briefly indulge me, I want to support Senators Naughton and Mullins on the issue of alcohol abuse and the report that was published. This is nothing new to me. I have been raising this issue, much to everyone's-----
The Senator is supporting Senator Naughton's call for a debate on the matter.
Well done, Dr. Noone.
Yes I am supporting that call but we need something real. We need the Ministers to come into the House to discuss the implementation of a plan to address the issues of alcohol pricing, marketing and sponsorship in the very near future. This is a serious issue and we need to do more than discuss it. We need to implement a plan to address it.
Senator Darragh O'Brien raised an issue of concern for multiple sclerosis sufferers with regard to the life-changing drugs that may be withdrawn from the medical card system in the next few weeks. I understand that, in accordance with the procedures of the National Centre for Pharmacoecnomics, it conducted an evaluation of fampridine and concluded that as the manufacturer was unable to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of the drug in the Irish health setting, it was unable to recommend the reimbursement of this product. The report is available on the NCPE's website. It is open to the manufacturer at any time to submit a new application to the HSE for the inclusion of fampridine on the community drugs schemes. I understand that the manufacturer has indicated to the HSE that it intends to submit a revised application for fampridine. The HSE will certainly reconsider the application on receipt in line with the agreed procedures and timescales for the assessment. It should be noted also that fampridine was never available to multiple sclerosis patients under the long-term illness scheme.
I know that but it was on a trial basis.
However, the manufacturer of Fampyra supplied the drug free of charge to some patients prescribed the drug by their clinician. The manufacturer has recently decided to stop supplying the drug free of charge and, as a consequence, these patients are now faced with financing the drug themselves if they wish to continue the drug treatment. That clarifies the point but I agree that the situation in regard to that drug and the other drug that the Deputy mentioned will have to be examined. I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister again.
Senators Bacik, Ó Murchú, Mullins, Whelan, Coghlan and several other Members spoke of the death of Gerry Conlon, praised him for his work in human rights and expressed all of our sympathies to his family.
Senator Bacik, as well as other Members, welcomed the release of Dr. Meriam Ibrahim. The BBC, however, has only just reported that she was re-arrested at Khartoum airport in Sudan with her family. We will have to watch that space and see what will happen in this regard.
Several Senators highlighted the plight of al-Jazeera journalists and their recent imprisonment in Egypt. I join with the Senators in condemning this. I am sure the Government and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will, as will many other European and world leaders, do everything possible to secure the release of these journalists who were only doing their job.
Senator Zappone raised the issue of the measurement of GDP, gross domestic product. I will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Finance. Senator Comiskey welcomed several tourism measures announced recently in Sligo. Senator Barrett praised Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Belfast. He also raised the question of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, providing social housing. To date, it has made 5,237 residential properties available for social housing. Of these, local authorities have confirmed a demand for 2,004 units, of which 695 have been contracted already. NAMA expects 1,100 properties will have been delivered for social housing through this process by the end of 2014. This does not include the potential for delivery arising from apartments recently identified in Tallaght which was discussed in the House on several occasions.
Senators Moloney and Moran highlighted the recent seizure of illegal cigarettes and tobacco products in Drogheda and praised the Customs and Excise and the Garda for this. All Members will join in complimenting those involved in this seizure. Senator Moloney also called for a debate on the report by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland on the national neuro-rehabilitation strategy, a matter which she raised previously. I believe the report has been debated at the health committee but I will see what can be done to have a debate on it in this House.
Senator Ó Murchú raised highlighting human rights issues in this House. They are debated regularly here and I agree they should continue to be. Senators Naughton, Mullins and Noone raised the issue of alcohol abuse and the fact that 1.3 million people are involved in harmful drinking. Having three drinks on a regular basis is classified as harmful binge drinking. This figure will shock many and make us look at our drinking habits.
Senators O’Donnell, Burke and others raised the filling of doctor positions in the health service. I heard much of that debate on the radio on my way up to Dublin this morning. It was brought home that a salary of €110,000, which seems a large amount, is not classified as attractive to members of the medical profession because the tax rate at 52% means most of it goes on tax. It will have to be looked at in the context of the tax system. This is a serious issue with doctors leaving the country and up to 20% of consultant vacancies not being filled.
This matter will have to be dealt with very seriously. It is causing major problems in many of our hospitals.
Senators Whelan and Kelly mentioned EirGrid. They welcomed the announcement yesterday by EirGrid re Grid West.
Senator Whelan asked whether planning laws differ in various areas of the country. If they are they should not and that is all I will say on the matter. The planning process should be the same in every county.
Senators Cullinane, Gilroy and others mentioned mental health services and concerns about psychiatric services. I will try to arrange for the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, to come to the House in September, as Senator Gilroy has requested.
Senators Eamonn Coghlan and Noone raised the question of obesity and the amount of time allocated to PE in primary schools, in particular. It has been noted that it has not increased over the past number of years. Again, there is a need for significant progress in that area.
Senator MacSharry mentioned the west north-west hospitals group's report on maternity services. I think it was pointed out by the Minister that it will not feed into the national review of maternity services and the report has been abandoned totally at this stage. I noted the points made by the Senator which have been raised by a number of other Senators regarding the staffing of the health service.
Senator Mullins mentioned an article in The Irish Times on mother and baby homes, and county homes.
Senator Paul Coghlan mentioned the Killarney National Park and the mountain meitheal. He corrected the record of the House regarding the matter.
Senator Healy Eames mentioned advertisements stating "not for student rental" which have been in many newspapers. She asked whether it was fair to add such a proviso. I honestly do not believe it is fair to state that in an advertisement. Many difficulties have been witnessed by many students and their parents when trying to gain student accommodation for their children in the Dublin area and in the greater Dublin area, in particular. I will raise the matter with the Minister.
Senator Moran mentioned tobacco products. We will have ample opportunity to debate the topic on Committee and Report Stages of the packaging of tobacco Bill which will be taken in the House this afternoon. She will be able to raise the points she mentioned at that time.
Senator Colm Burke raised points about consultants. He also raised the cost of professional indemnity insurance, a matter which he has raised in the House previously. I think he had an Adjournment motion on the same subject. If he did not, I suggest that he table a motion on that particular issue.
In conclusion, Senator Noone urged us all to get more active.