The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re appointments to Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re appointments to Committee of Selection, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, statements on social protection, to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 6.55 p.m.; and No. 4, statements on public procurement, to be taken at 7 p.m. and conclude not later than 8.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 8.25 p.m.
Order of Business
We will propose an amendment to the Order of Business with regard to the reports in The Sunday Business Post on emergency departments. An interesting fact has emerged to the effect that, following over 20 years of reports and consultants being asked to consider issues on behalf of different ministries in the United Kingdom, no report disagreed with the British Government's position.
It is an amazing statistic when one thinks about it. I am sure the statistic would not be much different in Ireland, but as Mark Twain pointed out, "Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable." The facts of the report from the trauma steering group which was set up by then Minister for Health, the current Minister for Social Protection and by all accounts the future leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Leo Varadkar, are that the nine emergency departments in Cavan, Naas, Portiuncula, Kilkenny, Mullingar, Clonmel, Cork Mercy and Portlaoise hospitals would be shut down and their patients moved, with any future patient, into an already overcrowded and chaotic emergency department system.
It must be borne in mind there is a lack of joined-up thinking. Currently, some of these hospitals are actually advertising for consultants for their emergency departments at the same time as a steering group is proposing that these very departments be shut down. Would a consultant, in all seriousness, take up a post when a death notice is being served on these departments and with 400 trolleys plus per day already in the system of emergency departments? That is why we are pushing for an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister come to the House today to discuss this issue and the state of the chaotic health system.
From start to finish, emergency departments and the emergency ambulance service around the State - the Leader will be aware of the position in counties Cork and Kerry - are hugely underfunded. People are not receiving the emergency treatment they require in time and, therefore, spend longer in hospital, spend more time in recovery and tie up more beds in the long term. The report, although shocking, is a great credit to The Sunday Business Post in highlighting the fact that a bad situation is being made chaotic. The chances of people taking up posts in the nine hospitals, the emergency departments of which have been earmarked for closure, will make the situation virtually impossible to rectify. The report will cause chaos in the emergency departments in the hospitals I have outlined.
I seek leave from the House to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow No. 18 to be introduced. It is the National Anthem Protection of Copyright and Related Rights (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill to allow for-----
On a point of procedure, I understand only one amendment can be proposed. The Senator cannot propose two amendments to the Order of Business.
I will let my colleagues propose the amendment concerning the national anthem. I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business in order to have the Minister for Health come to the House to discuss the report of the steering group on the closure of nine emergency departments.
I invite Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell to contribute.
I take it the Senator is the leader of the group?
My apologies, unused as I am to having this great leadership position.
Glory becomes you, Madame.
I thank the Senator.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to give Senators a heads up on Peter Cassells' report. I found the report somewhat fascinating. After two years, it is extraordinary that it could come up with only three elements of how third level education could be funded: either keep the current fee system and raise the fees, abolish the fees or have loans. Asking students to take out loans, given the way the banks have treated graduates and undergraduates in this country, is absolutely outrageous. One could not write it down. Banks are rocking up to university campuses, setting up stalls on students' days, asking students and their parents, in the safety of the university environment, to take out loans and then when the students qualify, the interest rate is raised on them. It is outrageous and will beggar the best of them for the next 25 years. I cannot understand why there has been no in-depth analysis of proper means testing at third level. Ability to pay and means testing in terms of what people are actually doing in universities have been ignored completely.
I would like some proof that the universities need all of this money.
There is a chorus to my left, which was not in my play.
I was always to the Senator's left.
Senator David Norris to continue, without interruption.
Senator David Norris to continue, without interruption. How very kind-----
At the same time I would like to know how much more funding they actually need. Could we have an in-depth analysis and proper means testing? How come a report such as this did not touch on it and how did we only come up with three solutions, two of which were already available?
Some 90 young doctors have just qualified from NUIG and they are all going to Australia. The taxpayer has spent €17,000 per year on medicine students, regardless of what they paid for secondary and primary education. I am not against this, but the young doctors concerned are going to go to Australia where they will do half the work for twice the pay. There is something radically wrong when that is happening and at the same time we are bringing in all sorts of people who were educated outside Ireland. How come we have no in-depth analysis in order that if one does not have the money, one will receive an education for free and that if one can pay, one will pay? What is wrong with us that we cannot carry out an in-depth analysis at third level on these grounds?
I want to raise concerns similar to Senator Mark Daly's about the as yet unpublished report by the trauma steering group and the suggestion that up to nine emergency departments may close their doors to patients, including in Cavan, Naas, Wexford, Portiuncula and Cork Mercy hospitals. Recent reports have highlighted the future of emergency medicine, with recommendations that increased centralisation of specialist emergency departments in larger hospitals does not work. The potential closure of nine emergency departments around the country is extremely worrying for service users. When will the report of the trauma steering group be presented to the Minister for Health and can the Leader request the Minister to update Members on any restructuring that is being proposed or coming down the tracks? It is not just about the advertising for consultants; it is also about nurses and ancillary staff. There is already an atmosphere of uncertainty and this will only add more fuel to the chaos in emergency departments countrywide. Both Houses need to be briefed in order that a constructive debate can ensue.
I also call for a debate on the Cassells report. Although only three options are laid out, we need to have a discussion. The future of education is one of the most significant issues we will discuss in the next few years. We need to talk about investing in our future, young people and lifelong learning. The narrative yesterday was heavily based on talk about income-contingent loans. I was saddened by this because when one looks at the figures attached to free education and loans, there is only a 0.2% difference in GDP over the course of around 15 years to fund either one; therefore, both come with a huge cost, yet people seem to be fearful of the idea of free education.
On free education, it was being said yesterday in different media outlets that it had failed, as there had been no influx of people from minority or working class backgrounds to third level education just because there had been free fees. However, it was not the idea of free fees that had failed, rather we had failed to address the years of oppression and inequality for minority groups that had acted as a barrier to them in even realising there were free fees or that college was an option for them. I fully back the idea of free education. I know what it has given me. If it had been necessary for me to take out an income-contingent loan or if I had had to pay for my education, I would not be in the position I am in. Education is much about more than just filling a skills gap or creating new technologies. It is about providing opportunity, choice, freedom and for our future. As a result of free education, my children will now go on to third level education. That changes the trend for the generations who come behind us.
Leading up to the general election, every party in this House, bar Fine Gael, spoke about its stance on fees.
Every party committed to not supporting an increase in fees. I would like to remind those who supported that policy that if we were ever to advocate for the third option, it would involve fees at a later date - there is no point trying to call it anything else. It is really important for us to have this debate before the summer recess.
College courses will resume in September and October. It is a shame that the report does not address their financial position. As somebody who has sat on the finance board of Trinity College Dublin for the past year, I know that the majority of colleges are working with a deficit, bar UCD which has generated significant income from postgraduate courses. Perhaps it is time for the university sector not to be afraid to acknowledge the deficits. They have not done so to date because their rankings are falling and they do not want to put off international students. They are afraid to say how bad things are in the sector. I ask the Leader to consider having a debate on the matter before the summer recess.
I also call on the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills in the House on the Cassells report. Like other speakers, I believe it is a very urgent and important issue, one which we should debate in the House, in particular because six Senators represent university constituencies.
Unlike Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, I think the report was helpful. It was not very surprising, in that Mr. Peter Cassells had more or less indicated what would be in it. The Royal Irish Academy did a good deal of work on the report. Senator Lynne Ruane and I spoke at a seminar in Trinity College Dublin some months ago which examined the different models under consideration. Like Senator Lynn Ruane who has put the case for the State-funded system very eloquently and which the Cassells report puts forward as option one, I also endorse that option. It is the way we should proceed and is the norm across other EU countries. It clearly provides for education as a right rather than a privilege. In the same way as Donogh O'Malley provided for free secondary education, a revolutionary move at the time, we should move back to that system and reject the proposal for a deferred payment loan system as proposed in the other options.
In response to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's point about the funding needs of universities, it is very clear if one looks at the evidence gathered by a range of different bodies, including the European University Association, that between 2008 and 2013, inclusive, Ireland saw an 18% increase in student numbers but a 29% decrease in public funding. Student numbers increased at a very significant rate, yet funding has fallen which of course has had an effect in terms of declines in international rankings and student-to-staff ratios. In 2016 it was 21:1, compared to the OECD average of 14:1.
We need to be very clear about the needs of third level, in particular when we consider demographic change. The Cassells report states €1 billion will be needed in the next 15 years by way of investment in third level to accommodate a growing population. We need to be clear about the urgency of introducing a new system for funding universities. We also need to be very clear about the disadvantages of a deferred payment loan scheme. The Cassells report puts the evidence fairly.
It is welcome that we will have a debate on Friday on the motion to establish a citizens' assembly. The first issue for debate by the assembly will be the eighth amendment. I am concerned to note that no timeframe has been set out for that aspect of the work of the assembly. The Leader and I were heavily involved in the Constitutional Convention, a model from which the Citizens' Assembly clearly borrows. In that model, there was a clear timeframe - I understand it was four months - for the first issues under consideration. It is unfortunate that the motion before us does not set a timeframe within the overall timeframe of one year for the work of the assembly. There is no tight timeframe for a decision or recommendation to be made on this very important issue. I know that we will have more time to debate the matter on Friday, but I wanted to mention it now.
I support the calls for a full debate on the Cassells report on education. It is important that the House debate the future of education and how we wish to provide for graduates, apprentices and others who will be needed in the workforce in the coming years.
The Construction Contracts Act 2013 which was passed by the previous Government will apply to certain construction contracts for subcontractors after 25 July this year. It is important to note that the Act originated in the Seanad and acknowledge the Trojan work of former Senator Fergal Quinn and the former Minister of State, Senator Gerald Nash, on the issue.
The legislation will provide new payment protections for subcontractors who might be vulnerable, regulate payments from main contractors to subcontractors and provide a payment dispute resolution system, with a code of practice for an adjudication panel.
It is in this and the wider context that I ask the Leader to provide a debate on the future of the construction sector. As we all know, it has suffered huge reputational damage. There was a serious loss of confidence in construction. If we are to meet the pressing needs in housing, foreign direct investment and economic growth, we have to have a vision and strategy for how we propose to provide for a sustainable construction sector. I have said here before and will continue to repeat that we need the skilled craftsmen, tradespeople, apprentices and graduates to meet the growth demands in the economy. We can make all the calls and table all the motions we like in this or the other House, but if we do not act quickly, have a strategy to deal with it, talk it through, debate it and make the resources available to deal with the issues and barriers, we will not meet that demand. That is fairly obvious for everyone to see. Will the Leader provide for a debate on the future of the construction sector and acknowledge the work of former Senator Feargal Quinn and the former Minister of State, now our colleague, Senator Ged Nash, on this important issue?
I share my colleagues' concerns about the leaked recommendations of the trauma steering group published in The Sunday Business Post. As of three hours ago, 419 patients were waiting on trolleys in emergency departments and this is the middle of the summer. The hit list of emergency services covers all parts of the country. As we know, overcrowding in emergency departments is a problem. All the data suggest it leads to increased mortality among patients who attend them. We used to bemoan the fact that some counties did not have an emergency department. If some of these cuts come into practice, we might have whole regions without one. While I understand why we need to centralise services - I welcome the BreastCheck and the prostate referral system - we cannot over-pressurise emergency departments that are already overcrowded. That would be my concern. Also, these types of leaked recommendations are not helpful to staff working in the hospitals and GPs who refer frequently to their local services. For example, Cavan trauma cases could be transferred to Beaumont Hospital or Connolly Memorial Hospital. Both hospitals have major capacity issues. Kilkenny, Mullingar and Wexford trauma cases could transfer to the Mater Hospital or St. Vincent's University Hospital. All of these hospitals are bursting at the seams. This is coupled with an ambulance service that is under-resourced. There is an ageing fleet. Often the roads from an accident or an emergency to the trauma centre have poor infrastructure. I ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss some of these issues.
There should be clarification from the Minister for Health on this issue at a very early date. Contrary to what has been said, I understand there is not yet a proposal before him and that he has not received the report. Therefore, until such time as he receive it, I do not think he can give us the answers we are looking for, but I believe that at the earliest possible date he should provide clarification on this matter.
There has been a lot of criticism of the health service. Some of it is justified, but we also need to understand the volume of patients going through the system. I have repeated this figure previously. There are 63,000 patients a week going through outpatients departments between all hospitals. Another 23,000 a week go through emergency departments. An impression is being given that nothing at all is being done. In addition, life expectancy has increased by more than two years in the past ten years.
There have been improvements in the health service. For example, there has been a huge increase in the number of day-case procedures being carried out. There have been many good developments. However, on this issue, the Minister needs to clarify the position at the earliest possible date because people are unduly concerned. A proposal was put forward to the effect that the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland consider this matter. The relevant report has obviously been leaked and it is now time to clarify matters. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Health come before us at the earliest possible opportunity in order that he might provide that clarification. Obviously, he must receive the report first. The sooner he does so, the sooner we can obtain clarification.
I support my colleagues on the Cassells report. In seeking a debate, however, we must take a much broader approach. Senator Paudie Coffey referred to the need to examine the position on apprenticeships. Until we have the two options of a vocational stream and an academic stream within the education system and until there is parity of esteem between both, we will not have a proper third level education system. Unless we restore to secondary schools the guidance councillors who were removed, we will continue to experience the considerable attrition rates at third level, particularly in first year. If we are to have a debate, we should begin by looking at education, particularly higher education, in the round rather than at the Cassells report per se. We also must look at the staffing of higher education because there are still staff who are on zero-hour contracts. Some academic lecturers are on contracts whereby they are paid between €10,000 and €15,000 per annum. If we are to have a debate on this matter, what needs to happen is that we set aside the Cassells report and consider instead what is wrong with the higher education system. The higher education system is in a state of crisis. All we are hearing about are the grand flowery things, we are not being told what is happening on the ground. Before we start to discuss how to fund the higher education system, let us start talking about what it should be delivering. As Senator Paudie Coffey said, we will pay a significant price in the coming years for failing to develop an apprenticeship scheme that provides for the needs of the economy. It is my belief too many people who would make great carpenters or plumbers are graduating with arts degrees.
I wish all those involved in Limerick in seeking to have it nominated European City of Culture well. The judging team is in Ireland at present. It is visiting Limerick where there has been a huge display of community spirit. O'Connell Street is closed off and everything from pastries to fish and chips are available to eat. Schools are also involved. There has been a great community effort and a major clean-up. I also wish those involved in sister cities, including Galway, the best of luck. However, given from where I come, I will obviously be supporting Limerick on Friday. Certainly, it is positive that the European Commission has sent a representative also. I merely want to highlight the community spirit that has been created. When the judges arrived last night, there was a gathering of people of different religious beliefs across all of the different communities and all the bells in the various churches rang out. There is an on-street party taking place today. I wish all those involved the very best of luck.
I, too, have concerns about the report which suggests trauma units may be closed. However, this is not a new phenomenon. While I take on board the concerns of certain colleagues about the number of sick and elderly patients on trolleys, it would serve us well to remember that in January 2010, under the stewardship of then Minister, Mary Harney, there were over 500 patients languishing on trolleys. That just goes to show that the path was wrong then, that it is still wrong and that we need to change our ways.
I wish to refer to what has happened in the North. I take a somewhat personal view on this matter, particularly in view of the fact that a couple of weeks ago we spoke a great deal about incitement to hatred.
We have seen towering bonfires, the burning of the Tricolour and images of politicians and displays of sectarianism and ethnic hatred. This cannot go unnoted. We must ask: where will it stop? It is incitement to hatred. I call on the Taoiseach, the leaders of the political parties and the new British Prime Minister to examine what is happening. What example does the burning of the flag of the Republic of Ireland and the incitement to hatred give to young people in the North?
In the wake of the High Court case taken by the County Tipperary farmer, I request that the Leader ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, to come before the House to tell us what action he will take to put right the injustice done to many farmers across the State. It is very clear that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has flouted its rules and procedures and that this has not been confined to County Tipperary. It is very clear also that any farmer who has had an inspection without the signing of a control report must now have his or her money, interest and costs reimbursed immediately. Furthermore, it is imperative that their entitlements be reinstated so as not to affect payments in the future. The Agriculture Appeals Office also has questions to answer. Instead of being an independent appeals office, it is endeavouring to justify the actions of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is very clear that the constitutional rights of farmers across the State were breached and it is unacceptable the Department has not yet commented on this development. We need the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to show leadership. It is appalling that farm families have had to go before the courts to establish their rights.
Let me advise Senators that group leaders have three minutes and that subsequent speakers have two. In going over time Members are depriving others of the opportunity to contribute. At least six or seven Members will not be able to contribute today.
I read with interest last week the proposals of the steering group on trauma care to scale back some emergency departments. I would very much welcome a debate on all aspects of this issue in the Chamber. I would prefer to bring all stakeholders, as well as politicians, around. Five years ago I saw the heat generated by such a proposal in Roscommon. Nobody wanted to listen to expert opinions or even the consultants. It got to such a stage that nobody wanted to listen. We need a very careful and rational debate. Before we run for the barricades, we need to look at Roscommon County Hospital. I am not saying what is happening around the country is right, but we do need to look at what has happened in Roscommon. The hospital is now much safer and busier. Dozens of lives have been saved. Five years later, I can see that had the situation been different, we could have worked together. I welcome the debate. It is absolutely right to raise this issue and I hope the report will be published soon.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh is absolutely right. I was horrified to see images of what was happening in the North last night, with not only the Irish Tricolour but election posters of members of Sinn Féin and Independents burning on bonfires. It would be wrong if this were to go unnoticed in this House. Some of those involved are in community groups that receuve funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and others. It is incitement to hatred. We need to bring the relevant Minister to the House, as I really think the matter should be raised. If it happened in any other country, any other part of the United Kingdom or elsewhere in Ireland, we would all be up in arms. I am not afraid to raise these very important issues. I agree absolutely with Senator Rose Conway-Walsh.
I want to discuss the proposal to move the Members of the Seanad to the National Museum of Ireland. I have been contacted by people who work in the museum who referred to the lack of communication on the future plans for this Chamber. They are aggrieved that requests for finance in previous years in order to upgrade the facilities in the National Museum of Ireland were put to one side. They believe the cultural heritage and arts communities have been affected disproportionately by the downturn in the economy and the decisions made by various Governments. Now they are aggrieved that investment in the museum is being made to benefit the Houses of the Oireachtas, not the museum.
There is a great deal of misinformation on whether this House will decamp to the National Museum of Ireland for one year, two years or three years and on what curtailment there will inevitably be of the exhibitions that can be held and outreach programmes undertaken by the museum. If this House is to move, as proposed, the communication lines need to be better. Perhaps the Leader might ask the Minister with responsibility for this area, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to come to the House for a debate on the issue which I am sure is of interest to most Senators. We do not want to be encroaching on another part of the wider campus, uninvited and unwelcome, without ensuring the transition is as smooth as possible and will not overly inhibit the facilities already in place. There is a wider discussion to be had about the stature of the arts, culture and heritage. This would be an opportune time for the Leader to invite the Minister to the Seanad for a debate on the future plans for sittings of this House.
I understand the report of the steering group on hospital trauma facilities has not yet been published. I also understand the Minister for Health has yet to read and respond to it. However, I join colleagues in asking the Leader to provide for an early debate on it with the Minister. I make no apologies for being parochial and saying I would be concerned if there were to be any diminution of services at Cavan General Hospital. I am concerned that it is on the list and that there might be a reduction in the services available to the people who use them, which is ultimately the issue. I appeal to the Leader to arrange that debate as a matter of urgency.
Last week I raised with the Leader the issue of how we could make greater use of home help hours and home care packages and, specifically, the carer's allowance to help reduce hospital waiting lists and delays, but when replying to me, he was interrupted by a point of order. I would be interested in hearing a response from him on that issue today and also, if possible, a commitment to have a debate on the issue. As I said last week, I know that the Leader, owing to his chairmanship of the previous Joint Committee on Health and Children, has an acute awareness of what I am talking about. I am convinced that there is more that could be done through the use of the home help scheme, home care packages and the carer's allowance to reduce hospital waiting lists. I make no apologies for defending the excellent services of Cavan General Hospital and seek an assurance that any threat in that regard will be discussed in the national parliament prior to being actualised.
I second Senator Mark Daly's proposed amendment to the Order of Business and would like to propose a further amendment, that No. 18 be taken before No. 1. No. 18 is the National Anthem (Protection of Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016 which I understand was discussed by a former Seanad but not passed at the time. I hope my amendment will be formally seconded and that the Leader will be agreeable to the change to the Order of Business.
It appears that the calls for the Minister of Health to come to the Seanad are premature because he has not yet received the report of the trauma steering group. The report has been selectively leaked, possibly to cause the greatest level of disturbance and unrest. Let us wait until it has been published and we have all had time to read and understand it in order that we can have an informed debate on it. There is nothing simple about the health service, as people know. There is a relationship between every part of it. It is not possible to sort out the problems of emergency departments without sorting out the issues of delayed discharges from hospitals and greater access to community facilities, not only rehabilitation services and nursing homes but also, as pointed out by Senator Joe O'Reilly, home help, home care, community teams and intravenous nursing teams to allow people to receive treatment at home.
That also includes early intervention and prevention. I do not intend to make a Second Stage speech but politicians have been far too quick to look to the nice, shiny new hospital wing and MRI scanner rather than focusing on serious community-based public health initiatives that save many lives, prevent much illness, as well as providing for early intervention and chronic illness care, as we do with diabetes and can do in many other areas. We also need to look at the way in which doctors, nurses and other health professionals work. Currently, we have consultants doing work that GPs could do, GPs doing work that nurses could do and nurses doing work that nurse assistants could do. There is a significant role for physiotherapists and many other allied health care professionals to play. We must work towards a situation where we will treat the patient at the lowest level of complexity which is safe, timely, efficient and as near to home as possible.
I decry the behaviour of those burning our flag and, particularly, posters of elected representatives and those who seek candidature. It is very wrong. However, we should not focus on the negative. We should commend those involved in the peace process in the North and be grateful that the PSNI had so few incidents of a serious nature to deal with last night.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 16, Electoral (Amendment) (Voting at 16) Bill 2016, kindly sponsored by Senators Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Lynn Ruane, be taken prior to No. 1.
As the youngest Oireachtas Member, I welcome the publication of the Cassells report on third level funding. I began my third level education in 2009 and, since that time, higher education institutes have faced cuts of up to €500 million. The funding of third level education is now at crisis point. All the options laid out in the Cassells report yesterday identified the immediate need for an injection of funding. Sinn Féin is committed to ensuring third level education is accessible, irrespective of class, ability to pay, disability, age or family circumstance. The introduction of a student loan would not address the immediate shortfall of funding as outlined by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as it would take several years to implement. Added to this, Ireland has the third highest rate of personal and household debt in the European Union, with a credit union survey stating 59% of parents have debt in excess of €5,000, as a result of private borrowing to support the cost of third level education. Student loans would not increase access to education and many students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds would not pursue third level education as a result. Publicly funded education is the only fair and equitable model proposed in the report. Sinn Féin requests the Minister for Education and Skills to outline to the House the reaction of his Department and his response to the report.
I join the three other Senators in condemning the burning of the flag of the Republic, election posters and a host of offensive material as part of the 11th night bonfires. I equally commend, however, the majority of people from both communities who allowed parades to pass off peacefully. I particularly commend the people of Rossnowlagh, County Donegal, who hosted their annual parade on Saturday, welcoming Orange lodges from across the Republic and further afield to their quiet seaside town. Despite being the grandson of an Orangeman, I very much consider myself to be a republican and patriotic Irishman. I am still very proud of my personal background and the insight it has given me into the wider traditions on the island, even when my jack-the-lad Tricolour shorts mysteriously vanished one morning before a visit to relations in Ballynahinch, County Down. I would love to see an Ireland of the future united peacefully in terms of commerce, sport, social inclusivity and mutual tolerance. However, I fear prioritising political unity, as has been suggested, without first focusing on reconciliation could be disastrous, alienating a population on the island, North and South, with which I for one share a deep sense of common identity and history. Put simply, I believe a united Ireland is currently not feasible while the economic and social costs are head-spinning. We do, however, need to start urgently discussing the future of North-South relations. Accordingly, will the Leader schedule a serious debate in the House on the post-Brexit future of North-South relations, involving the relevant Ministers, as well as inviting Northern political, business, church and community leaders from across the political divide?
Ultimately, far more unites us than divides us. We can hold these discussions in an open and sensitive manner without a rigid, preordained political goal. Let us at least start them and necessary bilateral engagements that will be so important as we chart our shared future in a post-Brexit world.
Like previous speakers, I welcome the publication of the Cassells report and the recommendations to address the funding crisis in the higher education system. The report makes it clear that there is a funding crisis across the third level education system and that more funds need to be invested in the sector to accommodate the young population. There has been a decrease in Exchequer support for third level funding since 2010 and capital investment has also slowed significantly. In addition, spending on research and development fell from €938 million in 2008 to €743 million in 2014. The option proposed in the Cassells report urgently needs to be addressed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills.
An important aspect of the issue of assessing third level education is people's ability to pay the fees associated with attending college. In order to address one part of the problem, we must look at the grant system. For example, the grant system is based on a PAYE worker's P60 which is based on his or her full gross pay. Also taken into account is the student's P60 and his or her gross income, which more often than not brings him or her over the limit and means that he or she does not receive the grant. It is a massive issue in third level education that there is a two-tier system and that many students are now not qualifying for the grant. I believe this needs to be addressed in order that every student who wants to attend third level college will be given the opportunity to do so. In Carlow we are lucky to have two excellent third level institutions, one of which is on course to obtain university status. We need to ensure these colleges receive the proper funding and that young people who want to attend third level education will not be left behind. It is critical that every student who needs to attend college be given that opportunity.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business to permit the introduction of the National Anthem (Protection of Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016.
I refer to the statement made yesterday by Transport Infrastructure Ireland on the projects in County Cork that had been put on the long finger. I believe we need to discuss this issue with the Minister in charge. Political pressure needs to be applied to ensure the budgets for projects in County Cork can continue. These are major projects, including the Dunkettle roundabout and N28 works and the Macroom bypass, huge economic drivers in County Cork. They will be put back by at least two years. We need to have the Minister in the Chamber to find out exactly what will happen to these projects and, in view of the summer economic statement, what he proposes to do with their budgets. The infrastructural deficiencies in County Cork, as the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House know, needs to be examined. Cork is the second city and the largest county. These infrastructural deficiencies need to be addressed if the region is to be developed. Such a delay will have a major impact. I have been contacted by many councillors in County Hall, with whom the Cathaoirleach is associated, who are deeply concerned. I hope we can have a decent debate on this issue with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, in order that we can have the access that is badly required.
The issue I wish to raise concerns the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2016 which I hope can be discussed before No. 2 today. Deputies can see it that it is No. 17 on the Order Paper.
I also wish to raise the issue of the increasing cost of motor insurance. Last night there was a public meeting in Donegal with a very large attendance from across the county of young, elderly and middle-aged people who raised the issue and told their stories. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Finance before the House to outline the work of the interdepartmental task force with responsibility for addressing this issue and making sure the insurance companies are held to account for fleecing so many citizens across the State.
On a procedural matter, Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said No. 17 should be taken before No. 2. I think he should have said No. 1.
Yes. I thank the Cathaoirleach.
I just wanted to clarify the position.
I also second Senator Fintan Warfield's proposed amendment.
I am seeking a debate on food waste in the light of the astounding scale of the problem, not just in our own country but worldwide. It is contributing to social and environmental problems, both here and internationally. We talk about world hunger and we examine food poverty, yet it is generally accepted that there is sufficient food in the world to feed the global population. Ireland has a growing population and is in a position to expand its food industry, including in the context of exports. We also import - under Harvest 2020 and Foodwise 2025 - many foods that cannot be grown here. Notwithstanding the fact that enough food to feed the world's population is being grown, it is ironic that 1.3 billion people are going hungry. At the same time, we are wasting 1.3 billion tonnes of food annually. This is happening because of waste throughout the food supply chain. When farmers grow produce on industrial farms, the food is dumped if it is not aesthetically pleasing, even though it might contain all the nutrients and flavour we require. That is just one aspect of it. Throughout the food supply chain it is calculated that approximately 35% of perishables are wasted. In Ireland 1 million tonnes of food are wasted every year between commercial and domestic consumers. Some 300,000 tonnes of this waste comes from households, although 60% of it is avoidable. We must consider what is happening in this regard. It is a crying shame that our systems are set up in this manner. The situation is unsustainable. In addition to world hunger and food poverty, we must also examine the relevant environmental issues. They include the cost of food production, transportation and disposal. This issue is at the heart of many problems with which we are trying to deal. A debate on food waste would be worthwhile and would give us cause to reflect on our lifestyles.
I call Senator David Norris. As I did not want to leave him until last, I am using my discretion to let him speak.
The Cathaoirleach is very kind and it is appreciated.
I have to laugh at Sinn Féin. Last week it was agonising about pensions paid from Great Britain, while this week it is talking about sectarianism. From a blatantly sectarian organisation, that is quite rich.
There is a problem about the supervision of bonfires. I do not give a damn about people's election literature being burned. Most of it is rubbish. However, the bonfires were not supervised properly and a row of terraced houses on fire was set on fire as a result. That is much more serious.
I support the calls for a debate on the Cassells report. Universities in Ireland are consistently dropping down the rankings. I think Trinity College Dublin is still in the top 100 in Europe, but there is a huge deficit. I am surprised and delighted to learn that UCD is still in credit, which is astonishing. I think that medical training is a really good investment, despite the fact that 17 doctors left for Australia. I do not know what one can do about this. One cannot very well imprison them here. I remember when an entire class of nurses left Galway. It is shocking that this happens, but I do not know what one can do about it. It is time, however, that we had a really good debate about it. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
I wish to raise two quick points. I join other Members in expressing concern about the leaked report that appeared in The Sunday Business Post on the potential closure of a number of emergency units throughout the country, one of which is in my constituency in County Cavan. Unfortunately, in Monaghan we have had experience of such reports and, ultimately, the end game is that the service is closed. I warn all Senators and people in those locations to be on their guard when reports such as this come to the fore. I understand the former Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, commissioned the report.
It is strange that, although the report has not yet been received by people who requested it, we can read all about it in The Sunday Business Post. This is not a criticism of the opposite side of the House. It is just an observation.
I refer to lone parents and the decision by the previous Government to impose cuts that affected that section of our community. The changes had a serious impact on the quality of life of lone parents and their families. At the time the cuts were made last year, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul warned that it would be a serious issue for lone parents and that it would act as a deterrent to those looking for employment, education or training. Unfortunately, that has proved to be the case. The latest figures show that 59% of one-parent households experience deprivation and that 22% are living in consistent poverty. As one-parent households deserve better, I ask the Minister to come to the House to address us on this issue.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn.
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the US military's use of Shannon Airport? When the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was here last week, I asked him a question about this issue. I raised specific items relating to the mid-air refuelling of aeroplanes and multiple take-offs and landings in June, which happened to coincide with a NATO exercise, and, frankly, the Minister did not answer the question. Perhaps we should just get used to Ministers coming to the House and not answering questions, but I do not think that is good enough. In the light of the Chilcot report in particular, we need a debate on the US military's use of Shannon Airport and to hear from all sides in the debate. We know that the Iraq war was illegal, that it was criminal and that 500,000 people died in it. Unfortunately, we also know that Fianna Fáil sanctioned the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. We know that the Labour Party had an excellent policy on challenging this, but, regrettably, it dropped it as soon as it entered government. We need to hear from all sides. In fairness, I know that there was a tradition in the past, represented by people such as Niall Andrews and Dan Breen, of standing up for military neutrality. We need to hear from all sides of the House on the issue. What is happening is a disgrace. As someone who lives in the area, I am deeply ashamed to see the US military dominating the civilian airport at Shannon and it is time it stopped. I, therefore, ask for a debate on the issue at the earliest convenience.
I thank the 26 Senators who contributed. In respect of the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Mark Daly, I have no problem bringing the Minister for Health to the House, but we would be setting a very dangerous precedent in bringing him to the House on foot of a newspaper report and an unfinished and unpublished report that he did not commission. Let us be clear: there are no plans to close any emergency department. That is the first item that should be put to bed. Second, it is not about emergency departments, as the Senator argued. It ill behoves any of us to play politics on the issue of emergency departments and with people's lives. At its annual general meeting the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland commissioned a piece of work on trauma care, trauma centres and how to achieve the best outcomes for patients with traumatic head injuries. It is about developing a national trauma policy, ensuring that at its core is the patient and examining how trauma centres can best deal with persons who sustain traumatic injuries. Everyone agrees that there is a need to have a national trauma system in place. I will be very happy to have that debate when the report is published. Rather than divide the House on the issue, I give a commitment that we will have it when the report is finished, but as of now there is no report. The Minister did not commission the report and it has not been presented to him; therefore, he cannot come to the House to update it on a report he has not seen and that has not been finished. Let us be clear: it is about ensuring there is co-ordination between the HSE, the Department of Health and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. I served as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children for five years. I also served as a member of the HSE southern regional health forum.
In Cork city, for example, no one can persuade me of the need, as reported in The Sunday Business Post at the weekend, to close the emergency department at Mercy University Hospital. It would make no sense to close it. As I said, rather than divide the House on the issue, I give a commitment to hold a debate on the report when the Minister receives it because as of now there is no report. I, therefore, ask Senator Mark Daly not to divide the House on the issue but to allow time for the Minister to receive it.
I am happy to accept the amendment proposed by Senator Mark Daly to take No. 18, but we will not have a debate on the Bill today. I am also happy to accept the proposals made by Senators Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Fintan Warfield, but, as in the case of Senator Mark Daly's proposal, we will not have debates on those Bills either today. I am happy to accede to their requests and engage in co-operation in that regard.
I thank all Senators for their comments on the Cassells report. We are all or should be committed to seeing more people attend third level education. That should be our purpose. I thank Mr. Peter Cassells for the work he did in the consultation process leading to publication of the report. Ireland's economy is growing. We need to marry what Senators Paudie Coffey and Gerard P. Craughwell spoke about with particular reference to apprentices and consider how we can make the third level education system fit for purpose for all sectors of society. I spent ten years of my career in education in the adult and continuing education sector which is critically important and the lifeblood of society. The three options put forward in the report make for interesting reading. We all agree that the funding and investment model for third level education needs to be addressed. In his response to the report the Minister for Education and Skills spoke about a ten-year consensus. That is the least there should be.
The Minister has referred the relevant Bill to the education committee, but, like all Senators, I hope the Upper House can play a role in the formulation of higher education policy. I give a commitment that we will have a debate on this matter in the autumn prior to the committee starting its work. We need to address not only participation but also attrition rates for those who take the wrong course and opt to leave early. We need to address the reasons that happens. On the funding mechanism, how can we fund a sustainable third level education model and ensure there is access from all sectors of society? As someone who did not receive a grant, I was lucky to be able to attend third level and very much treasure and cherish the memories of my time in college. I am very conscious that there are others who were not able to attend third level. Equally, there is the issue of participation. I heard the former president of the University of Limerick, Dr. Walsh, on radio yesterday speaking about participation rates in New Zealand and Australia which have different models. It is important that we have a debate on this matter. It is about providing better life opportunities and ensuring we have a skilled workforce, whether through postgraduate studies or via apprenticeships. There are deficits in the apprenticeship system. I concur with Senators Paudie Coffey and Gerard P. Craughwell in that regard. The Cathaoirleach and I are from Cork, a university city, where those involved in research and innovation play a pivotal role, both in Cork Institute of Technology and UCC, as they do across the country in other third level institutions. None of the options is easy, but let us have a mature debate to establish a consensus in the development of a ten-year strategy.
The other theme emerging on the Order of Business - the issue was raised by Senators Rose Conway-Walsh, Frank Feighan, James Reilly and Neale Richmond - was the activity engaged in yesterday and today of burning the Tricolour and political posters. We all want to see tolerant and respectful celebration of different traditions in the North, but none of us wants to go back to what happened in the old days as we all remember what happened in the past. It is important, therefore, that there be calm and peaceful celebration of different traditions. I join other Senators in condemning sectarianism in any form or a lack of tolerance. It is imperative that we build bridges and an Ireland in which we can all be equal and coexist, North and South, on an economic and cultural basis, building on the Good Friday Agreement. In the context of Brexit, it is important to have that debate and it is intended to hold it in the autumn.
Senator Ivana Bacik referred to the Citizens' Assembly. I agree with her that the model of the Constitutional Convention is one we should try to mirror. On occasion the timelines were not achieved in terms of replies, but the Minister is conscious of the need to make sure the assembly will be successful. I am sure that, when replying to the debate, he will give that commitment and outline what he has in mind.
Senator Paudie Coffey highlighted the work done on the Construction Contracts Act. I pay tribute to Senator Gerald Nash and former Senator Feargal Quinn in that regard. As Minister of State, Senator Gerald Nash played a key role in developing the strategy. It is important that we all work to protect the subcontractors who are at the mercy of outside forces. They were the big losers when the recession hit. I am willing to pursue the matter with the Senator.
Senator Keith Swanick referred to the number of patients on trolleys. We have seen a reduction in the number. Senator Colm Burke gave the figures for the numbers attending outpatients and emergency departments. It was interesting to note the number of days lost in respect of the number of patients who had failed to turn up for appointments at outpatients departments. It has a cost in the context of the health budget and also in terms of the work consultants, doctors and nurses do in the health system.
I join Senator Maria Byrne in wishing those involved in Limerick well in seeking to having it nominated as European City of Culture. I hope they will be successful. I will not get into a debate on the cities with which it is competing.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh referred the ruling on the single farm payment. I will see if the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine can come to the House to discuss it. The judge has given a ruling and it is one of which we should take note because it will have a profound impact on the agricultural community.
Senator Frank Feighan has always beaten a drum for Roscommon County Hospital. I congratulate him on the work he has done on the issue.
On the matter raised by Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, thankfully, the remit of the Leader of the Seanad does not extend to deciding where we in this Chamber should move. That is a matter for others to decide. The Senator referred to the policy on the arts and culture, in particular. I am willing to have the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs come to the House to discuss it.
Last week Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the issue of home helps and home care packages. As a consequence of the Senator and other Senators raising this important issue, the Minister for Social Protection will be in the House this evening to discuss it. Last week Senators Collete Kelleher and James Reilly spoke about the importance of home care packages and the work being done by home helps, family carers and carers in general. It is an issue we can discuss in the debate with the Minister.
I am willing to accept Senator Fintan Warfield's proposed amendment to the Order of Business, as well as the proposal made by Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. I have dealt with the Cassells report.
To be parochial for a moment, Senator Tim Lombard raised the important issue of infrastructural projects in County Cork. It is important that Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, address the issue because the infrastructural projects to which the Senator referred are pivotal in developing the region economically. They include the N28, Macroom bypass and Dunkettle roundabout projects. If they were to be delayed or not to go ahead, it would have a profoundly negative impact on the economic life of County Cork, not to mention other areas.
Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of motor insurance, a matter which was addressed in the House recently. The Minister for Finance has set up a working group to look at the issue and has committed to coming to the House to discuss it. I hope we will have that debate.
Senator David Norris referred to the supervision of bonfires and the Cassells report. It is important that this House play a role prior to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills beginning its work on the Cassells report.
Senator Robbie Gallagher referred lone parents. This important issue will form part of the debate today in which the Senator will have an opportunity to participate, but if we cannot get to it, I am sure the Minister for Social Protection will return to the House to debate it. As it will probably be the Minister's last time in the House before the summer recess and the legislation is brought to it, I felt it was important to hear statements on social protection in order that Members would have an input into the debate.
Senator Paul Gavan referred to Shannon Airport and the policy on the military use of airports. I will be happy to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to come to the House to speak about the matter.
I ask Senator Mark Daly to withdraw the amendment regarding the report on trauma facilities as the Minister for Health has not seen it. I spoke to him about it this morning and will be very happy to have a discussion on it when it can be put before the House. Rather than divide the House on the basis of a newspaper report which contains hearsay - it would set a bad precedent - I give a commitment to have a debate on the report after it has been published.
We could suspend the sitting to enable the Leader to seek clarification as to when the Minister would be able to come before the House.
I spoke to him prior to coming into the House. He has not seen the report as it has not been finished. The Senator is basing his comments on a leaked report which gives a sensational perspective.
It could not be more clear.
When the report is published, I commit to asking the Minister to come to the House to discuss its contents.
Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the report of the steering group on the closure of nine emergency departments be held today." Is the amendment being pressed?
The steering group was set up by the former Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar-----
It was not.
We cannot have a debate on the matter now.
We are not having a debate on it, but we have not received clarification. As we are approaching the recess, when will the Minister receive the report? If we were to suspend the sitting for ten minutes, we could seek clarification as to whether he will come before the House before the summer recess. The problem is that there are emergency departments which are crying out for staff and there is no chance-----
We cannot have a debate on the matter now.
May I assist Senator Mark Daly?
The Senators should, please, resume their seats. The position is clear. Senator Mark Daly will either push the amendment to a vote or he will not.
Will the Leader come to the House tomorrow morning and clarify when the Minister expects the House to see the report?
In order to help the Senator, I spoke to the Minister about the issue this morning.
The Minister has not yet received the report. The steering group has not yet reported and the Minister has not seen any output from it. Its recommendations are not expected until later in the year. I can provide clarification tomorrow.
I withdraw the amendment.
Senator Gerry Horkan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 18 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.
Senator Fintan Warfield has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 16 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.
Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 17 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.