The Order of Business is Private Members' business No. 21., motion 10, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours; No. 1, Criminal Justice (Suspended Sentences of Imprisonment) Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and completed not later than 3.30 p.m. if not previously completed; No. 2, Knowledge Development Box (Certification of Inventions) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and Private Members' business motion No. 21., motion 9, to be taken at 5 p.m. and, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, to conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contribution of all Senators not to exceed five minutes.
Order of Business
As the Leader is aware, Fianna Fáil has tabled a Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which was proposed by the Law Reform Commission. It is important legislation which is long overdue, made all the more relevant by issues involving University Hospital Limerick, where a whistleblower has highlighted the deaths of 30 people due to serious mismanagement in the hospital. She has made a protected disclosure.
Over recent years she has highlighted the issue to senior management in the hospital in Limerick and a report was made to HIQA. Eight deaths which occurred there in the first half of this year are attributed to the hospital's lack of proper infection control. Apparently superbugs are rampant there, and senior management is not doing its job. Tragically, people are dying as a result of this.
Despite making a protected disclosure and contacting the Minister for Health, he has refused to meet her. She is asking for an inquiry into the 29 people who died between 2012 and 2014 because of failings in senior management in University Hospital Limerick. Other hospitals are refusing to disclose information on deaths that have occurred which may be attributed to mismanagement and the fact proper protection of patients is not taking place and there are not proper protocols. The protocols which are in place are not followed with regard to infection control.
Will the Leader find out from the Minister for Health what is being done? His refusal to meet the whistleblower is unacceptable. She has put her career on the line and is now being victimised by senior management. She is no longer able to go to work because, unfortunately, the culture in this country is that instead of applauding people who come forward to highlight the fact people are dying as a result of senior management's failing, they end up being victimised.
We have seen that in the case of gardaí and now we are seeing it in the case of somebody who is trying to save other people's lives by ensuring that the procedures are followed, and if they are not good enough then better needs to be done.
If the Corporate Manslaughter Bill were in place and those senior managers were found to have failed in their duty, they could be liable to prison sentences. Instead of spending their time, effort and energy trying to victimise and silence a whistleblower for their own failings, they would have their minds focused on the fact because if they were unable or unwilling to do their jobs they could end up going to jail as a result.
I ask the Leader to find out what is happening in University Hospital Limerick. I ask him to use his good offices to arrange a meeting between the Minister for Health and the whistleblower so that more lives will not be lost instead in addition to the 30 who have already died as a result of suspected failings in senior management.
This House sends Members to a number of Oireachtas joint committees. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, as is Senator Leyden. That committee met on 25 October when we considered the then projections for greenhouse gas emissions and the extent to which the State was challenged or not challenged by meeting its national targets in this respect.
On that day the committee heard submissions from officials from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and from staff of the Environmental Protection Agency. Various projections and graphs were provided to the committee suggesting that, while things were not satisfactory and not totally on target, they were within manageable margins of achieving our requirements.
On 10 November the EPA then went public with totally different figures indicating that we were badly off target in respect of all of these matters. I want the Leader to use his offices to invite the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to come to the House to deal with these matters.
Based on the documentation furnished to the committee, the EPA and the Department were well aware that the figures the committee had received and were discussing were seriously dubious at the time the committee meeting took place. They must have been aware from drafts in their possession and from the research done for the publication on 10 November that Ireland was very badly missing its targets. The committee was given the impression that was not the case. I was there and I remember the general feeling among members of the committee was that this was a manageable situation, nothing was out of control and there was no need to panic. However, it has now emerged that the EPA and the Department, assuming that they communicate with each other and that they do their jobs well at all, must have been aware from preliminary figures that the material furnished to the committee was seriously misleading.
I ask the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Naughton, to come to the House to explain exactly what in the report which was prepared and issued in early November was unknown to the officials and to the EPA members who attended the committee meeting, and to explain to us why, given that we had set aside a meeting to consider these important issues, we were left in the dark and seriously misled as to the gravity of the situation and the implications for agriculture, industry, energy production, transport and economic growth in this country on which we were lulled into a false sense of security. I ask the Leader to ensure that the Minister comes to the House to explain this. There is no point in having joint committees if they are to be given the mushroom treatment, if I may use that phrase.
The Senator has made his point.
I also raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick. I commend Senator Mark Daly on his comments. I want to tell a brief story about a man with a van who works with the national ambulance service.
Did the Senator say a man with a van?
Yes. His job is to deliver charts around the various hospitals in Nenagh, Croom and the two in Limerick city. His van broke down and since then because the University Hospital Limerick and the national ambulance service cannot agree on who should pay for a new van, the taxpayer is spending €2,000 to €3,000 every week on taxis. Can that be credited? I give that as an example of the incompetence at the heart of HSE management and the failure of the Government to deal with it bearing in mind that Fine Gael has been in charge for six years at this stage. It would be laughable if it was not so serious. This week my SIPTU colleagues among the nursing and support staff are going on strike, not for extra money, but because of the chronic staff shortage in the hospital and because morale is at an all-time low.
At the same time as these chronic staff shortages and the embargo on recruitment, we are spending tens of millions of euro on agency staff - more than ever - to plug the gaps caused by not hiring the staff. It makes no sense from an accounting point of view. Morale is at an all-time low. I am new to this arena. I remember standing on a platform with Deputy Kelly and Eamon Gilmore as they pledged to save Nenagh hospital - we know how that went. I remember seeing Senator James Reilly - it can be viewed on YouTube - asking people if they would fight to save Monaghan Hospital. We know how that went.
The situation in Limerick is so dire that the vice president of the National Association of General Practitioners, Dr. Emmet Kerin, has described it as the worst accident and emergency unit in Ireland and he has correctly said that people will not send their loved ones there even with serious illnesses. I know that Fine Gael inherited a bad situation, but after six years it is just not good enough. There is a rising tide of anger.
I am raising the issue today because I have received a number of phone calls from staff and patients who are genuinely concerned over the safety and welfare of patients in Limerick city. The Minister for Finance comes from Limerick and we have had other senior Ministers from Limerick. There is a litany of failure and there is a rising tide of anger from people who are not prepared to put up with another winter of suffering due to the incompetence of the Government.
I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Health to the House as a matter of urgency. I know we do not have much time left this year and we are heading towards January. To put things in perspective, there were 68 people on trolleys on 8 November. There is a new policy that once it goes over 16 trolleys, the staff push the trolleys into the wards. That would mean 50 trolleys in wards, which is the equivalent of the entire capacity of Ennis hospital. The hospital has asked for an extra 96 beds. There is no word from the Minister on that. A report eight years ago asked for 100 beds. There is nothing new here. We all know what the problems are. We also know unfortunately of the chronic incapacity of the Government to deal with them. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Health to the House as a matter of urgency.
I was interested to hear Senator McDowell say he felt he was misled. I am very surprised that someone like him would feel misled. Given his many years of experience and professional capability to scrutinise I am shocked to hear that. However, I absolutely support his request for the Minister to come to the House to discuss our inability to curb Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions.
I wish to raise another issue related to energy - the Chernobyl accident in 1986. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has just spent €2.1 billion on a casing to put over the site of the Chernobyl accident. People might remember that the radioactive fallout from the site was the world's worst civil nuclear accident. It spread across three quarters of Europe and prompted a global rethink about safety of atomic fuel.
I urge the Government to look at renewable clean energies as our path to supplying energy for Ireland and Europe and to stay away from the nuclear industry because of the dangers that are still being felt today as a result of the radioactive fallout from Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986.
I renew my call for a debate on Syria and the appalling bombardment of civilians in Aleppo. We are seeing really horrific scenes from Aleppo this week. Indeed, the French foreign Minister has described what we are seeing as potentially the biggest massacre of civilians since World War II. I know the UN Security Council is convening an emergency meeting. I had the privilege yesterday of hearing first-hand accounts from Syria at a Scholars at Risk in Trinity College attended by President Michael D. Higgins at which the provost of Trinity College was also present. One of the speakers at a panel I chaired was a Syrian archaeologist from Aleppo who spoke movingly of the fear and trauma suffered by civilians under siege in that unfortunate city. I ask the Leader for a debate on that issue. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence will hear from a number of different delegates from Syria and some journalists who have reported on the conflict tomorrow but I ask that we have an early debate here.
I also ask for a debate on transport policy. I was pleased to see that this week, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport published a list of priorities for the Department on his departmental website only six months into the new Government. At least, we see some priorities. Unfortunately, there is very little that is new on that list, most of which relates to projects that were already ongoing before the Minister took office. It is disappointing that there is no sign of any major new initiative. I ask the Leader for a debate on transport policy, particularly the need for a really enlightened policy on the resourcing of cycling and cycling infrastructure. We have seen some really good initiatives, particularly the roll-out of Dublin Bikes, which was originally an initiative of Andrew Montague, a Labour Party councillor in Dublin City Council. We need to hear some new initiatives and dynamic thinking from the Minister of the sort that perhaps he exhibited previously when he called for an end to road tolls when he was merely a journalist. That would be worth hearing.
I welcome the announcement that an agreement has been reached at Cabinet about judicial appointments. I look forward to the debate on this House on the judicial appointments Bill. Apparently, a general scheme will be published in the next ten days. It is good to hear that at last, we will get some movement on judicial appointments in the meantime given the comments of the President of the Circuit Court, Judge Raymond Groarke, a number of days ago when he spoke of the difficulty in ensuring that people would get their cases heard given the shortage of judges. I wish colleagues on the Oireachtas committee on water charges well under the chairpersonship of Senator Ó Céidigh. I look forward to the debate on that.
I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on and subsequent review of the school transport system. The principle behind the system, which is that a child should go to their nearest school, is a good and reasonable one and makes logistical sense from every perspective. However, like every good principle and every good scheme, and it is a great scheme, it needs constant review. There are some difficulties with the current situation. This comes up in our work at constituency level and anecdotally. It is dividing families in some instances. By that, I mean that some older members of a family would previously have gone to a particular school and that would have been acceptable then but under the current transport rules, the younger ones cannot follow so you have children going to different schools, which is creating all sorts of hardship for families. It is also creating difficulties where an older child would have been a mentor and support to a younger child. That is the first difficulty. The second is that there can be special family circumstances where difficulties arise in respect of a person working in a different town, a grandmother available in the evening or a family member and it is more appropriate that the child goes to another school that is a bit further away. Sometimes the needs of the child can be better facilitated by a particular school in a particular instance. Could the relevant Minister come to the House to discuss the school transport system and the difficulties we are encountering at a practical level, and applaud a wonderful system that could be improved a bit and made more user-friendly so that we get a better outcome for parents and pupils? This is not some whimsical idea of mine. It is based on practical cases coming to me.
I understand that on 21 October last, the Clerk of Seanad, Deirdre Lane, retired. Will the Seanad be afforded an opportunity to pay tribute to Ms Lane who has over 40 years of dedicated and committed service to the Oireachtas since first joining the Oireachtas staff in 1976? She was appointed Assistant Clerk of the Seanad in 1987 and appointed Clerk of the Seanad in 1990. It is important for this House to be afforded an opportunity to pay tribute to her for her dedicated commitment and service to the Oireachtas and this House in particular. In his closing remarks as Cathaoirleach of this House, Senator Paddy Burke indicated that one of the biggest difficulties he witnessed as Cathaoirleach of the House was the chronic under-staffing of this House. He pointed out that a staff of five people administer this House. From time to time, Senators may feel hard done by but it is time we started to stand up for ourselves and the administration of this House and ensure that this House is adequately furnished with administrative staff. While not wanting to interfere with the appointment process for a new Clerk, I ask the Leader to expedite that appointment as a matter of urgency. The staff of this House are now double jobbing and treble jobbing in some instances because they do not have enough personnel. I ask the Leader to make it a priority to ensure that a new Clerk is appointed and that adequate staff are provided to run this House. I ask the Cathaoirleach, in conjunction with the Leader, if we could be afforded an opportunity to pay tribute to Deirdre Lane.
I echo Senator Wilson's request. It would be the right and decent thing to do.
Brexit brings many problems to the UK and Ireland. Communities on all sides on this island are going to have to learn to work together to deal with some of them. Some of the utterances that have come out of Leinster House from all parties and none in recent months are a matter of some concern to me. It is no secret that I served in the Royal Irish Rangers during which service I made friends with people from all traditions in Northern Ireland. It is no secret that since leaving the Royal Irish Rangers over 40 years ago, I would have made friends from all traditions on this side. I am as much of a republican as anybody else in this room. We hear people jumping on opportunist statements talking about the reunification of Ireland as a result of Brexit. Those statements are dangerous. I am being contacted by former colleagues - people I have not met for 35 years - who are from the Protestant tradition and who tell me that there might be a united Ireland at some stage in the future and that they might even go for it but that they will not be bullied into a united Ireland or some sort of quick referendum to unite Ireland because of Brexit.
They say they take grave exception to people outside the Sinn Féin Party making those statements. While they expect Sinn Féin will always seek to take the opportunist approach to shout about a united Ireland, they would have expected other parties to show some respect for their feelings and for the feelings of the parties that represent them in the North of Ireland. I am travelling to the North of Ireland tomorrow and I hope we can discuss some of this with the politicians at the Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance, NIPSA, meeting.
Could the Senator indicate what route he will take?
We must recognise that there are two traditions in the North of Ireland and the peace is fragile enough. Let us not give it any reason to become in any way endangered.
University Hospital Limerick was raised here today. While there are concerns about the hospital, I would hate the story to go out that it is falling apart at the seams. As recently as last month, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, was in Limerick for the opening of the new €16.5 million development unit to deal with cystic fibrosis, the Parkinson's Association of Ireland was also involved and there is also a new heart unit there. He saw at first hand the extent of the emergency in the emergency department and he did acknowledge that there is an issue. He has taken the issue on board and is working on something at the moment. I would hate the message to go out that it is a no-go area because the hospital has expertise in many fields. It is well known for its treatment of cancer patients. The new cystic fibrosis unit there is very much welcomed as well and people go to it from all over the region. There is much positivity happening in the hospital as well as what is taking place in the accident and emergency department. While I acknowledge that issues exist, I wish to put on record the staunch work carried out by the staff in the hospital and that most of the time it is a very pleasant place to go.
Bhí Seanadóirí ag ardú deacrachtaí leis na comhchoistí éagsúla. Tá deacracht mhór ag baint le Buan-Chomhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán, sé sin nach bhfuil Airí Rialtais ag teacht isteach chuig an gcomhchoiste.
Issues that were raised about co-operation with joint committees are being exacerbated by the fact that Ministers are failing to appear or are using any excuse not to come before committees. That situation arose with the Gaeilge, Gaeltachta and islands committee where numerous Ministers and the Taoiseach have been invited to come before it. The Taoiseach, who is chairing the joint committee on the implementation of the Stratéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge, has declined to come and so have the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys. One would think that at least those Ministers would be able to come, given it is their Department that is dealing with it. I urge the Leader to use his good offices to express our dismay at the lack of engagement.
Since the start of this Seanad I have been calling for a debate on the diaspora and Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht. Is it the situation that they are not co-operating with the Leader in coming into the Seanad? I would have expected those Ministers to have attended a couple of times at this stage for such debates but they have not yet taken place. Can the Leader outline when we will have such debates? He keeps telling me the Ministers are coming into the Seanad but we have not seen them yet. I am getting quite frustrated at this stage that we have not had those debates.
The Senator talks too much about legislation so that is why I cannot bring them in.
The Seanadóir should be allowed to continue.
It is very strange for the Leader of the House to be complaining about Senators talking too much about legislation when it is the job of a parliament to legislate.
I am ruling him out of order in that regard so ar aghaidh leis an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh.
A couple of weeks ago we raised the issue of Kleber Medeiros and Harriett Bruce. Kleber was deported, unlawfully, from this country and his wife is trying to get him back for Christmas. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality for an update on the situation.
There is an ongoing and urgent crisis today in Inis Mór in the Aran Islands. The operator of the ferry service to Inis Mór will stop the service from tomorrow morning due to an absolute hames of a debacle that has ensued for some time, involving the operator, Galway County Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. In recent weeks we have called on the Minister to get people around the table and to bang heads together in order to hammer out a deal. As it stands, there will be no ferry service for the Aran Islands from tomorrow morning. It might seem a bit extreme but the Minister might need to ring the Department of Defence to see whether a Naval Service vessel will be available to ship people in and out. Many people need the service on a regular basis. School groups are going in and out and trying to get back to the island. People are working on the island and others need to leave it to go for hospital appointments. At this stage it is an emergency and the Minister of State must intervene to get people around a table, bang heads together and find a solution, instead of people using excuses not to meet and sort out the situation. It is an absolute disgrace that it has been allowed to go this far. I hope the Leader will contact his office immediately to try to get him to act and to find a solution.
I will try to keep my contribution short today. Speaking on "Morning Ireland" this morning, Professor John McHale, chairperson of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, in commenting on its latest report stated that any new increases in expenditure such as in public service pay would have to be offset by reductions in spending on services or increases in taxes. We have set our tax rates for the year ahead so the only result will be reductions in service levels - service levels that are already hard pressed and struggling to recover from the recession. I refer, for example, to people with disabilities, people with mental health needs, people needing supports to recover from many different addictions and their families. I have a great and immediate fear in regard to this issue. I call on the Leader to ensure an early debate on how public and social services will be protected and advanced next year rather than cut back. I am aware that Senator Dolan has spoken to the Leader earlier this morning on the issue and I look forward to hearing his response.
For years, the phenomenon of Black Friday has existed in the United States and more recently it has been creeping into this country in a big way. It is a good event in some respects because it kick-starts the Christmas period and the Christmas shopping campaign for retailers. In my area, Longford town has made much of the event using social media and has created a great atmosphere in the town. Some shops in Longford claim that their sales could be up by as much as 600% on the day compared with a good Friday in December. Perhaps we could consider doing a green Thursday. When I was a child in the countryside we came to Dublin on 8 December and I do not know why as a country we could not have a green Thursday on 8 December and encourage everyone to buy Irish and to buy locally. It has been reported that if one spends €10 locally on Irish products it generates up to €24 of benefit to the local community.
I have a mantra that I always use at home and I have reared my children to adopt it. It is "Keep your business in Westmeath, keep Westmeath in business." It is very important that we would try to campaign to buy Irish. I am not sure whether the Minister could create a campaign for fear of EU sanctions, but perhaps the Leader could contact the Minister and she could encourage the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association to start a campaign to encourage people to buy Irish and to create our own green Thursday.
Yesterday, Donegal County Council unanimously voted no confidence in the Health Service Executive, HSE. It was an unprecedented move by the councillors and it springs from their total frustration and anger at the lack of availability of health services and the ongoing overcrowding at Letterkenny University Hospital. We heard this morning from Members in various parts of the country about similar frustrations elsewhere. The councillors in Donegal expressed their frustration about the difficulty the people they represent have in accessing hospital care. It is a very sad day that it has come to this. It is a wake-up call for us all. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House to discuss the issue. I compliment and commend all the members of Donegal County Council on taking this initiative. I understand their motion has been circulated to other local authorities around the country. We talk about such issues ad nauseam here week after week but something needs to happen. People are afraid and it has got to the stage now where people are even afraid of going into hospital because they do not know what will happen when they go through the doors.
My heart goes out to the staff who have to work under these conditions. I again ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come before the House so we can have a discussion on what we can do to try to address this very serious situation for once and for all .
I am concerned when I hear Senator Gavan rising to speak, when on the one hand he is looking for services but on the other seeking an increase in salaries and wages across the board in the public sector. Senator Black raised a very serious issue. If wages and salaries are increased across the board, services will suffer.
We need to be realistic about our health services where there has been a lack of long-term planning over a long period of time. While a lot of good work is being done in Dublin with the proposed new maternity hospital and new children's hospital, it is important that areas outside of Dublin are not forgotten.
I have referred to Cork. The 1960 Fitzgerald report identified that there was a need for two new hospitals in Cork and that all of the other hospitals should be amalgamated into them. The Cork North Infirmary, Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital and St. Finbarr's Hospital were closed. We built one new hospital but did not build a second. There is a need for long-term planning. We are already talking about a site in Cork without any public consultation taking place. The wrong location has been identified. We do not necessarily need to identify a new hospital for Cork, but rather a centre of excellence for Munster. All of the focus of should not involve moving health services to Dublin.
It is proposed that three new maternity hospitals be provided in Dublin, and rightly so. Planning has begun for one already. We now need to focus on health services outside of Dublin. Not everything should be centralised in Dublin. Limerick, Cork, Galway or Waterford could provide services.
We need to engage in long-term planning in order to provide a centre of excellence for Munster. We need to incorporate that when we are discussing a new hospital for Cork. It should not be located a mile from CUH which already has a problem in terms of maternity services because they were included in a general hospital. It was the right decision at the time, but we need to examine the problems and ensure they are resolved.
There are 19 maternity units around the country. The three Dublin hospitals have a separate system of governance which works very well. We need to establish a separate system of governance for each of the other 19 maternity units. The demands on the maternity services are immediate and are not something one can put on the long finger. Rather, they must be delivered now and it is important that we deal with the matter.
The recent barbaric actions of ISIS have horrified and shocked the world. I am certain every Member of Seanad Éireann agrees that its actions are a stain on humanity. We have been disgusted by the barbarism displayed in the filming and photographing of victims and the subsequent publication of executions for propaganda purposes. There is no place in a civil society for this inhumane activity. It is clear that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not apply to ISIS. I refer specifically to Article 3, the right to life and liberty, and Article 5 which states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
As mentioned yesterday, Cuba is in the midst of nine days of mourning following the death of Fidel Castro. I feel compelled to comment on this. Thousands of Cubans died in front of Castro's infamous paredón, the wall, by firing squad. Those involved gleefully recorded their actions in photographs in order to assist in their propaganda war at home. It should never be forgotten that Fidel Castro was an oppressor, who sanctioned the torture and murder of gay people. In 1965, his regime established prison work camps, known as military units, to aid production, into which it sent homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and other undesirables who stepped out of line with the communist ideology. For everyone with a basic understanding of the history of Europe during the Second World War there is a chilling similarity in the tactics of Castro's regime and that of Hitler in regard to the use of prison work camps.
I now want to read into the record of the Seanad nine names, one for every day of mourning. Delgado, 15 years of age, was beaten to death in 1981 when security agents stormed the embassy of Ecuador where his family had taken refuge. Lydia, 25 year of age, who was eight months pregnant, was repeatedly kicked while in custody. She lost her baby and then, having been left without medication, bled to death. A 70 year old woman named Edmunda was beaten to death in 1981 in a Cuban jail. In 1981 two men, González and Lugo, were executed but the regime reported the deaths as suicides. Maleras and Valverde were assassinated in 1994 while trying to obtain asylum. Radio operator Perán was assassinated in 1965 by Cuban state security. Police officer Cortés was executed by firing squad in 1959.
Are you calling for a debate?
On a point of principle, the statement by the President horrified me and I struggled to understand how he could, on behalf of the Irish people, express such glowing tributes to a tyrant and dictator.
You are out of time. You are testing my patience.
The glaring omission of the human rights atrocities by the Castro regime was disgusting. The remarks do not speak on my behalf. Words are important and I want to distance myself from the comments of President Higgins.
I ask the Leader to outline to the House how the expert report on domestic water charges will proceed. A joint committee has been established and the expert report from the committee will go to that committee. What will happen? When the joint committee makes its recommendations, will they be made to the Dáil or both Houses? We have no involvement in bringing forward a referendum, if one is required, in regard to Irish Water. We cannot impose a charge on the Exchequer, if charges were to be abolished or further charges imposed on citizens. I am at somewhat of a loss as to know what will happen when the joint committee makes its recommendations. Will they go to the Dáil alone or will this House have an opportunity to debate the expert report that was commissioned? Will we have an opportunity to debate the report of the joint committee? I do not expect the Leader to have all the answers today, but I ask him to outline to the House at some stage how matters will proceed.
On that, a motion was passed last week to establish the joint committee. I understand it will report by 28 February, and will report to both Houses. The Leader can expand on that.
On Senator Wilson's comments, I am sure it is possible to pay tribute to Deirdre Lane. She was an extremely efficient and hardworking lady who served the Seanad impartially. I was not aware of the date, but Senator Wilson probably has his facts right and that she retired from the job, as she is so entitled, on 21 October. There is a problem. The outgoing Cathaoirleach mentioned in his final remarks some months ago that there was a lack of staff for the Seanad Office. That has been exacerbated by the fact that we do not have a Clerk. It is an issue of which we should be acutely aware.
The Committee on Procedure and Privileges cannot get up and running because we do not have the staff to operate it. When there are stress points, there are problems. I do not want to say any more. Members should be aware of the situation. Perhaps the Leader can endeavour to use his political influence to move things on and rectify a situation that is not good for us for the future.
I wish to address Senator Wilson's remarks. I hope we will be able to collectively pay tribute to Deirdre Lane who has been a very loyal, impartial, fair and astute custodian of the position of Clerk of the Seanad.
It is important to record our appreciation and thanks to her. In keeping with the remarks of the Cathaoirleach, it is important for group leaders and, in particular, the Whips to discuss the matter further because it is one we should address in terms of the number of staff required to run the Seanad Office and also to be fair to the members of the Seanad staff who are still here and providing tremendous service to us as Members. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. I am sure there will be cross-party and Independent support for an improvement in the situation. I hope we will have an opportunity to pay tribute in a full and wholesome way to Ms Deirdre Lane who we all acknowledge has been a very fine servant.
I agree with the thrust of Senator Craughwell's remarks. Language is important and what we say is critical whether in the House, in the media or on social media. If Members come to the House to raise matters, it is important not to engage in populism or rhetoric that adds to hysteria or which causes further angst, anxiety or grief or sends the wrong message to people who watch or listen, or to families. In that regard, I refer to the remarks Senator Daly made on the hospital in Limerick. It is important to put things in context. Any death in any hospital is regrettable. Those of us who have worked in hospitals and been in hospitals in which loved ones or friends have died, in particular through a bug or MRSI, know full well that it is not acceptable in this modern day. The Government introduced the Protected Disclosure Act 2014 which protects whistleblowers. It is robust legislation which gives any worker statutory protection under the law of our land. It behoves all of us as elected representatives or those charged with the management of public services or bodies to work within the parameters of the law and to protect those who have the courage to come forward with information and to act for the good of the organisation or group they serve. There is a prohibition on any penalisation of workers who bring forward information under the Act. Any employer who does not comply with that should be penalised. Equally, the employee can go to the Workplace Relations Commission.
The matters to which the Senator referred in regard to Limerick are very serious and are ones the HSE and hospital management are addressing. As Senator Byrne said, there are serious ongoing issues in Limerick, but the matter to which Senator Daly refers goes back to 2009 and covers a seven-year period. My information is that 27 deaths were recorded in the hospital in the context of the matter to which the Senator refers. Unfortunately, and it is a source of regret to all of us, in three of those deaths there were contributory factors of the matters the Senator raised. In 24 cases, there were not. It is important that the HIQA report commissioned as a result of the incidents in the hospital is followed up on. Equally, the management of the hospital has a duty to ensure the spread of infection is limited. Those of us who travel to hospitals every day should know that a hospital is a place where infection can be spread very easily. The management has a duty of care to staff, patients and visitors. It is important to record that.
It is also important to understand that within University Hospital Limerick over €700,000 has been invested in the refurbishment of wards and cleaning and deep cleaning with a quality improvement plan put in place. It is very clear to me, as someone who has been Chairman of the health committee, who has worked in a hospital as a porter and who is very familiar with the activities that go on there, that there is a need for a whole change of approach in the management of infectious diseases and bugs. It requires an all-embracing policy. The Government is committed to this.
The Minister for Health has been in contact and I understand that the chief medical officer has been involved directly. There is a progression of a national action plan around resistance to these types of bugs and I expect the plan to be published later this year. The points the Senator makes are important. It is critical that there is no ambiguity regarding patient safety, in particular around these infections which, unfortunately and tragically, lead to loss of life. That can never be condoned or accepted and there needs to be a complete reorganisation by hospital management with staff in how we control and manage these bugs.
Senators McDowell and O'Sullivan raised the matter of climate change as did Senator Ó Clochartaigh regarding Ministers not going to the committee, which is disappointing. As a former committee Chairman, I note that it is important that the line Minister responds to the committee he or she is dealing with. That leads to communication, dialogue and better relations. I am happy to tell the Senators that the Minister will be in the House to discuss climate change next week as a beginning in terms of ongoing discussion in that regard. I would be happy to have him come back at a later date on the wider policy discussed by Senators McDowell and O'Sullivan regarding energy and climate change. When he is in the House next week, he will address some of the matters raised by the Senators. I would also be happy to have the Minister of Health, Deputy Simon Harris, come to the House to discuss the matters raised by Senators Daly, Gavan and Byrne in respect of Limerick.
Senator Bacik referred to Syria and we all join in the condemnation of what is happening there. It is important that we, as an island nation within Europe, send a strong signal that we stand firm. The Minister is happy to come to the House and has indicated her willingness to do so. It is a matter of just getting the legislation passed. If we can get the Minister in before Christmas, we will try to do that. I am happy that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has put up his statement of intent on his website. He has committed to revert to the House following his visit here last week. I hope we can see the judicial appointments Bill proceed. It is important that we introduce clarity. Equally, it is important that we do not allow a transgression in the area of State-judicial relations.
Senator Joe O'Reilly asked for the attendance of the Minister for Education and Skills to discuss school transport. Senator Craughwell also raised the important issue of Brexit. It is important that we have meaningful and clear statements which do not border on hysteria or try to drum up support for some position. The Senator is right that this is a very important topic that will have a profound impact on us as a nation. It is fair to say that Brexit will have more of an impact on us than on England, Scotland and Wales put together, which is something we need to come back to in the House. It is clear that there needs to be a very strong offensive by our Government and by us across Europe to protect our interests. The Senator's point is well made in that regard.
In reply to Senator Ó Clochartaigh, I note that the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora was here. The issue with the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, is actually my fault. I have held him off on the basis that I want him to attend in the new year when legislation will be scarce so that we can have a real rather than a rushed debate in the House. To be fair to the Minister of State, he has given me a number of dates before Christmas, but we have to deal with pressing legislation in the meantime. That is the reason he has not been in before Christmas.
On the matter of the ferry, I heard a commentary on "Morning Ireland" this morning and I discussed the matter with the Minister of State prior to coming to the House. While it is a matter primarily for Galway County Council, the Minister of State, to be fair to him, is in discussions this morning with the Department and the different groups involved. I believe he is due to meet with the island co-operative later today with a view to resolving the matter. It is important that the matter is resolved. This is an island community and it deserves to be able to access and leave the island. I will be happy to pursue the matter with the Minister of State, but in the meantime the Senator may wish to put down a Commencement matter. I have been in touch with the Department on that prior to coming here today. I would be happy to talk to the Senator about the deportation matter after this debate to see how we can approach the Minister.
Senator Black raised the statement by Professor John McHale of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council.
Senator John Dolan has communicated with me this morning. I spoke to him on the telephone and he e-mailed me. I would be happy to have a discussion on the issue. The point made by Senators Frances Black and John Dolan which is lost on some people is that investment in public and social services is very important. It comes back to the water issue. Although some believe there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and that it can be used to pay for everything, somebody has to pay for something. We must try to get the balance right and protect those who are most vulnerable. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Finance to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Gabrielle McFadden mentioned green Thursday and black Friday. Saturday, 3 December, is small business Saturday. It is an invitation to all of us to spend locally and support small businesses in our communities. It is the third year of what is a grassroots campaign established by Retail Excellence. Every €10 spent locally is worth €40 to the local economy. Some 28,000 people are employed locally in small businesses. If Members can support green Thursday or small business Saturday and if next Saturday we can all try to shop locally and support our local retail outlet, it would be very welcome and help to provide and protect jobs.
Senator Colm Burke raised an issue close to my heart, namely, long-term planning for a new hospital in Cork. It is very clear that a new hospital is needed in Cork. While we may have arguments and disagreements about where it should be located, it is critical that we have one and that the plans be advanced. A report has been commissioned, published and debated and I hope the project will come to fruition. I commend Senator Colm Burke for having the long-term interests of the health service at heart.
It disappoints me when members of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin speak about health issues. They did not support having Members of the Seanad on the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare when they could have. We have expert Members from all parties such as Senators Keith Swanick, Máire Devine and Colm Burke, who could have been on the committee making their contribution and giving of their expertise and it is disappointing that we did not allow it to happen. It is important that we plan for the future of health care services, given that people are living longer.
On a point of order, all members of the committee decided that, including the Leader's party members.
That is not a point of order.
The Senator is incorrect. He is embarrassed by it and I understand why. Senators Máire Devine and Paul Gavan, as a former shop steward, would be well able to articulate views at the committee. It is embarrassing for Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh that he could not support the proposal. I appreciate his support for it.
What is embarrassing is the state of the health service.
The Minister for Health has one of the biggest health budgets in the history of the State. It is a pity that Sinn Féin Members could not join the committee to make a contribution and support other Members in doing so.
Our members are doing so.
The Leader should not allow himself to be be baited.
I share Senator Keith Swanick's view on the propaganda of ISIL. I hope we will have a common cause in being able to fight ISIL and negate the damage it is causing, the threats and the killings. Yesterday we had comments on Fidel Castro and the Senator was right to mention the people who had been killed. In my response I mentioned Castro's campaign against members of the LGBT community who had been persecuted and killed. It is regrettable, but I will not get into the blame game. As I said yesterday, Castro is as controversial and complex in death as he was when he was alive. The Senator is entitled to express his views, for which I thank him.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the topical issue of the expert report on domestic water charges which was published yesterday. Like Senator Ivana Bacik, I wish the Senators who are members of the Oireachtas committee on water charges, under the chairmanship of Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, well in their deliberations. I am not sure whether the report of the committee will be brought to the Seanad. I know that it will be brought to the Dáil. I hope it will be given to us, given that there are Members of the Seanad and the Dáil on the committee. We must examine it and, I hope, advocate that it be brought to this House.
According to the motion passed last week, the obligation is that the report be made to both Houses by 28 February 2017, or within three months.