Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re EU directive on illicit drug trafficking, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, statements on Action Plan for Rural Development, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.30 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 given five minutes to reply; and No. 3, motion re establishment of a commission of inquiry in respect of protected disclosures by members of An Garda Síochána, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 4.10 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given three minutes to reply to the debate.

Out of respect to Members, given the position in the Lower House, I may have to come into the House later in the day to amend the Order of Business. I will let the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Members know when I receive the information.

Yesterday I called a vote on the Order of Business, having called on the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to attend to clarify certain statements made by Mr. Tony O'Brien, director general of the HSE, on the national children's hospital. The Minister was unable to attend but sent a Minister of State in his Department to address us. I asked the following questions. Was the statement made by Mr. O'Brien that the HSE could not afford to build the national children's hospital accurate? If so, what exactly does that mean? Does it mean the entire proposal to build the hospital at the St. James's Hospital site is shelved? Why did it require a HSE official to deliver that news the day before yesterday to an Oireachtas committee? Why did the Minister not deliver the news? Was the hospital project in jeopardy? Can the Minister set out how much taxpayers' money has been invested in developing the proposed site at St. James's Hospital to date?

I am 100% for this hospital project as are all my colleagues in the constituency. Not one of these questions was answered by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, yesterday. She completely fudged every single one of these questions. It is alarming that the first-in-command in the HSE can make statements on one of the biggest projects in the State, yet the Minister does not have the courtesy to attend the House to explain and make a statement on these matters.

The second matter I would like to raise today relates to the ongoing nightmare of staff shortages in the HSE. Nurses have voted in favour of industrial action and will carry out a work-to-rule from Tuesday, 7 March. That is incredible. The Minister for Health promised 1,200 nurses. To date, 108 beds have been closed in hospitals. It is a continuous nightmare for Fine Gael which has had three Ministers in the Department of Health. Not one of the them has been able to make a dent in the crisis that sees 600 patients on trolleys a week.

Fianna Fáil had 14 years.

It is absolutely scandalous.

Fianna Fáil hypocrisy.

The Senator was one of those Ministers.

Selective amnesia would be the term.

How long has Fine Gael now been in government?

Look at Deputy Micheál Martin's record.

Today I will not call on the Minister to address the House because I know the Minister has no respect for it. I will leave it there.

With my wide-angle lens, I am not too sure who indicated first.

The Leas-Chathaoirleach is very kind. Somewhat unusually I compliment the Government on the work being done on the issue of Brexit.

Please, do not all have a heart attack over there.

It is the calm before the storm.

Having spent two days in Brussels and had 14 meetings with my colleague, Senator Neale Richmond, and Members of the Lower House, I have been thoroughly impressed by two things. The first is the message that Ireland was in need of special consideration, particularly following the Good Friday Agreement. The second is that Ireland is a committed European Union member and needs, if one likes, a special understanding with respect to how we will engage with the United Kingdom and the European Union following Brexit.

One message that came loud and clear from our trip was that the time for tea and sympathy was over. We need to come forward with five or six definite issues that we wish to have addressed. We need to make them public and put solutions on the table. When we met Mr. Michel Barnier yesterday morning, he asked us to give him solutions. He said that if we gave him solutions, he would try to implement them. I was delighted to hear from him that he would be willing, at the Cathaoirleach's invitation, to address this House. That is an extraordinarily generous step by a man who has been given such an onerous task and I hope it is something we can facilitate in the coming weeks. My colleague, Senator Neale Richmond, was particularly anxious that he would do so. He and I together called for it to happen and are now asking that the invitation be put in place.

That is the complimentary side of my contribution side finished. Of course, I could not possibly let the Leader away with nothing but compliments. The other side of my argument is that the time has come for public statements and for us to step up to the plate to say what we want and how we believe it can be implemented. That has to be done without further delay. Ireland is streets ahead of other member states in the planning process, but very few citizens know what is going on. I meet people every day of the week who say Ireland is following Britain. I do not believe we are. The Commissioner pointed out earlier in the year that Ireland needed to differentiate it from Britain and should not get dragged into its argument with the European Union. We need to set out our own stall firmly.

This morning we all received an e-mail from the Tesco organisation on impending industrial action. I do not think it should try to use this House to fight its argument. The only thing I will say to it is that if it does not reach an agreement with the staff whose terms and conditions it is attempting to change, it should not change them. If there is no agreement, there should be no change.

The Leader might take these few points on board.

I am sure the Committee on Procedure and Privileges will deal with the Senator's proposal.

As we say in the west, when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael start to argue about who was worse when it comes to the health service, it is "between them".

Look at what is happening in the North.

The Senator should go and look.

What Sinn Féin did in government with the DUP to the health service was disgraceful-----

After the absolute rubbish Senator Diarmuid Wilson came out with yesterday-----

The Senator should not direct her gaze sideways. She should address the Chair.

He is just so handsome that I cannot help it.

It should be relevant to the point being made. Senator Diarmuid Wilson's turn will come.

That is what I am afraid of.

Tiocfaidh ár lá.

I am just dazzled by Senator Diarmuid Wilson's brilliance. See you later, alligator.

The ballot box and the armalite.

My God, they are so entertaining.

Yesterday Fine Gael Members clapped themselves on the back and said regarding the problems in the health service that it was not a resource issue. I am sure they will remember what they said. Today, we see an internal assessment drawn up by the HSE which indicates that 9,000 pieces of hospital equipment need to be replaced. When Professor Fergal Malone requested a sum of €650,000 for the Rotunda Hospital last year to replace ageing and out-of-date equipment, it received €150,000. It looks to me as though the provision of resources is an issue. Vital diagnostic equipment, including MRI scans, X-ray machines and other equipment being used in hospitals across the country, needs to be replaced. I know from my own conversations with consultants and other clinicians that it has needed to be replaced for some time now. Is it any wonder that an increasing number of patients are being misdiagnosed? Not a week goes by without someone contacting me who has been given the wrong diagnosis. Patients are being sent home from hospitals with broken bones, a fractured back and other illnesses that should be picked up. They are not being picked up because the equipment being used is not of adequate quality.

The CEO of the HSE, Mr. Tony O'Brien, told an Oireachtas committee last year that he was greatly concerned about the lack of money available to replace critical equipment which he said posed an immediate safety and quality concern. He estimated that an additional €1.4 billion was needed in the next five years to address the issue. Each time a procedure has to be cancelled when equipment breaks down, as many are, it adds to the waste of money in the system. This does not make economic sense, but I have no doubt that my Fine Gael friends will have worked up a spin and a cover up that it somehow benefits patients and was part of the plan all along. The failure to provide clinicians with the tools they need to do their jobs must be dealt with.

I can see why there are such big issues with recruitment. I know from talking to nurses over Christmas why they are unwilling to come back and work in Irish hospitals. It is not only because of the chaos but also because they would not have the equipment they would need to do the job. In not replacing equipment the Government cannot blame the recruitment process. It is very plain and simple - the money to replace equipment is either available or it is not. The Government can either stand over the choice it made to give the money to the vulture funds, Apple or any other organisation or it can stand over the health service. It is unforgiveable in this day and age that proper equipment is not available to allow consultants and clinicians to do their jobs.

I am very concerned about the reports on cost-saving measures in the context of labour activation schemes. When I heard the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Pachal Donohoe, say the so-called labour activation schemes facing the axe included Tús and Gateway, schemes overseen by the Department of Social Protection, I was concerned. We have made huge progress in reducing the level of unemployment and should not be talking about cuts to labour activation schemes. We should be redesigning them to ensure investment to help the long-term unemployed. I am very concerned that we are not having a discussion on or that there is not an internal review of how pet projects for Fine Gael will be funded and which long-term projects, including community projects, will be cut.

When I was Minister of State in the Department of Social Protection, I saw the great work done under Tús schemes in towns and villages the length and breadth of the country to keep people in touch with and connected to the employment market. Whether it was with Tidy Towns committees, helping in nursing homes or in general clean-ups, local communities and participants saw the benefits, yet we are now talking about cutting schemes. I have continuously raised the issue of community employment. In many cases, the work carried out under community employment schemes constitutes a real job. Community centres would not be able to open without community employment scheme participants. GAA pitches would not be marked out, while the local GAA club's sports hall would not be opened. We are seeing internal cost-cutting measures being taken without a proper debate. It is time for the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to come to the House for a discussion on the cuts about which he is talking. He says funds will have to be saved within Departments. There is an expanding wage bill in An Garda Síochána. If savings will have to be made within An Garda Síochána, will we see the college in Templemore close again, as happened under Fianna Fáil? It was reopened under the last Government. Exactly what cost-saving measures are being talked about? I agree fully that we should constantly review all Government programmes to make sure they are fit for purpose. However, there must also be an appreciation of the services provided in every community. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House for a debate and a proper discussion on the cost-saving measures he has asked Ministers to implement across Departments prior to the next budget?

This must be done as soon as possible.

Yesterday, in a junior cup game held in Musgrave Park between my former school, St. Munchin's College, and Presentation Brothers College, PBC, Cork, three young rugby players suffered head injuries and concussion. This followed a previous game the involving St. Clement's College and Castletroy College in which two players were injured. I am glad to report that all the players concerned are doing well. The game between St. Munchin's College and PBC had to be discontinued. I hope, in the spirit of friendship, it will be replayed. I welcome that the PBC players were very concerned about the St. Munchin's College players and visited them in hospital in Cork.

I ask the Irish Rugby Football Union to consider making it compulsory for junior cup players, particularly forwards, to wear headgear. The GAA first introduced its rule making headgear compulsory in hurling for under-age players, before extending it to senior players. At senior level, some of Ireland's top players have suffered multiple concussions. The issue needs to be addressed and I ask the IRFU and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to seriously consider making headgear compulsory at junior cup level for under-age players. It may also need to be introduced at senior level. While headgear should be mandatory for forwards, it may also need to be considered for backs because rugby has changed and become a much more defensive game in which backs are required to tackle opponents and form a defensive line. We saw the way Brian O'Driscoll's game changed over the years, for example. I am glad that the three St. Munchin's College players are doing well. The incident in which they were involved has brought to light a serious issue. I call on the IRFU to consider making headgear compulsory for junior cup players. I also ask that the Minister consider the issue.

The Senator is in injury time.

We must ensure rugby is played with safety in mind.

I hope I am not in any way stealing the Leas-Chathaoirleach's thunder in welcoming some interesting developments on the tourism front in County Kerry, including the Leas-Chathaoirleach's home town of Killarney. I welcome the establishment of a new international college for hotel management being established as part of a public private partnership between the Gleneagle Group and Institute of Technology, Tralee. Young students will come to Ireland to be taught hospitality skills and I understand the college has adopted the Swiss model and will be the first school of its type in Ireland. This development is very much in line with the specifications of the action plan for jobs and the Leas-Chathaoirleach will join me in welcoming it.

I also welcome the announcement by Ryanair that, as of this autumn, its schedule will include twice weekly flights from Kerry Airport to Berlin. This is a welcome development in a county which is highly dependent on tourism for income.

I will conclude with an interesting little statistic. Under a by-law introduced by Killarney Town Council, as it was known then, the number of jarvey licences in the town is limited. When a jarvey licence became vacant recently, there were no fewer than 66 applicants for the licence. I understand the successful applicant will be drawn by lot by the mayor of County Kerry. This is a litmus test and, as with the Dow Jones Index, I will keep an eye on applications for jarvey licences.

I refer to proposed business in the House next week, namely, consideration of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, as amended in Dáil Éireann. The Bill was initiated and passed in the Seanad and subsequently amended in the Dáil. It will come back to the House next week. Under the Standing Orders of the Seanad, only amendments that have been made in Dáil Éireann can be considered. As a result, a wholly different Seanad, which includes new Senators such as me, the Leader and others, will be in a position in which we have not had an opportunity to speak on or consider portions of this legislation. Under the Constitution, a Bill that is initiated in Seanad Éireann and amended in Dáil Éireann is considered to be a Bill initiated in the Dáil. We are now in the position that unless we do something, Senators who were not Members of the previous Seanad will not have an opportunity at any point in time to consider sections of the Bill, as passed by Dáil Éireann, which is to be discussed next Tuesday. I have indicated informally to the Leader my unhappiness with this situation.

While the Seanad has the right to amend Standing Orders, if such amendment is proposed by a private Member, I understand it must be taken in Private Members' time. Since this is the final sitting of the House before the next Private Members' business is taken, I will not have an opportunity to initiate a suspension of Standing Orders. However, the Leader has an opportunity to initiate a suspension of Standing Orders to enable the Seanad to discuss sections of the Bill which Senators have not had the opportunity to discuss. In those circumstances, I am raising the matter now lest anybody state he or she has been taken by surprise on Tuesday by what I will have to do in connection with the Order of Business.

It is wrong that legislation passes through both Houses of the Oireachtas where someone in the position of the Leader, who was a Member of the other House before the legislation in question was considered and is now a Member of this House, on foot of a Bill that was considered in this House when he was not here and it is wrong that someone in my position, as someone who has never had an opportunity to speak on the provisions of the Bill, should be deprived of the right to speak and address the issue. I raise this issue now. There are informal methods by which this issue will be resolved. However, I am not prepared to have it railroaded through the Houses of the Oireachtas on the pretence that it was discussed in this House when it was not discussed here. When a general election takes place, the newly elected Members of this House are entitled, at least once, to vote on every provision in every Bill.

I welcome back Senator Neale Richmond.

I echo the calls of my colleague, Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, to ask the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to invite the former European Commissioner, Mr. Michel Barnier, to address and actively engage with the House. As the Senator noted, we need to have a discussion on possible and suggested solutions to the challenges we face as a result of Brexit. I call on the Leader to invite every Cabinet Minister to the House to discuss how Brexit impacts on his or her area of work, what he or she is doing to prepare for Brexit and the solutions he or she intends to present as part of the Irish case at the relevant Council meetings.

One issue that has arisen is the cost of making an application for Irish citizenship. More than 320,000 United Kingdom citizens reside in the Republic and a large number of them are not entitled to apply for Irish citizenship through the grandparent or dual status rules. These individuals face bills of more than €1,000 simply to guarantee that they can remain in Ireland and married to their Irish spouse, and to allow them to continue to work and live in Ireland where they may have lived for 20 years or more. I ask the Leader to ensure the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality is the first Minister to come to the House to address all aspects of Brexit and how they impact on her brief and to specifically address the fees being applied for Irish citizenship applications.

I raise again the issue of Tesco, which I raised yesterday on the Order of Business. Senators received further correspondence from the company yesterday evening. I have just left a meeting with Mandate and, as an experienced trade unionist, I am genuinely shocked by what I heard at first hand from Mandate members about the levels of intimidation meted out to them.

People have been called into offices to be told that their only choice is redundancy or to take the new terms. Some with 20 years of loyal service have been called in a second time and been presented with flowers, wine and a "Thank you" card to be told that they are leaving. That is a fact. It is happening to the people in question.

We have received two letters from Tesco full of propaganda. Mandate made a simple request, namely, that each of us as elected representatives write back and ask the company whether it will agree not to implement these changes without the agreement of the workers. Let us not forget that those concerned are the longest serving staff members in Tesco with over 20 years' experience and are in some cases, after all that time, earning the princely sum of €14 per hour. We must put the matter in context. Yesterday, we rightly raised the issue of 500 job losses at Hewlett Packard. I was not aware that Tesco had done away with 900 permanent jobs in the past year, to be replaced by precarious work. We are discussing a dumbing down of the retail sector, a race to the bottom. This is a pure example of what is happening. Tesco is the largest private sector employer in the State. No one in the Chamber approves of what is happening. I ask all Senators to take action today and send a clear message to Tesco to leave its loyal workers alone. I hope every Senator will stand with Mandate and its workers in their courageous stand for decent work. Will the Leader invite the Minister to come to the House urgently? The largest private sector employer in the State is behaving disgracefully.

In the light of the events in Dáil Éireann yesterday, will the Leader or the Leas-Chathaoirleach circulate a note on parliamentary privilege? Members have a unique right and privilege that we should take very seriously before putting anything on the record. Once something is said in this or the Lower House, it sets off a certain course of events.

We are fortunate that our right of parliamentary privilege was upheld in a recent court case. That should make us focus further on doing what is right and proper. We all listened to "Morning Ireland" today. Unfortunately for that Member of the Lower House, it was one of his worst ever interviews and he could not really defend the situation that had evolved in that House. I would not like to see any Senator finding himself or herself in that situation. We must be cognisant of our responsibilities as regards parliamentary privilege.

I also wish to represent the Mandate members in Tesco. I attended this morning's briefing and, like Senator Paul Gavan, was shocked. I was shocked on one front more than any, namely, by how the company was openly distributing letters to staff urging them to leave the union. That was a new low.

I have been involved in the trade union movement since I was a child, but I have never seen what is happening in this form. This is about the defence of workers who, as we all accept, are in jobs that are not very well paid, work long and unsocial hours and need protection. Based on the correspondence that we received this morning from Ms Heffernan representing Tesco, they need a great deal of attention. I add my voice to the call to have the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, attend the House next week.

Yesterday, I brought the House up to date with the situation in the greyhound industry. I am sorry to say that next Saturday's race meeting in Shelbourne Park and the national awards have been cancelled. Something about Nero, fiddling and burning comes to mind. I have been alerting the Leader, the House and the Minister to this matter for nearly two and a half weeks, but the Minister still has not addressed it outside or within the House. The greyhound industry fully supports the current campaign. In the coming weeks, there will be a large general meeting of greyhound owners and breeders and those with an interest in the industry. Sooner or later, the Government will have to introduce the legislation to clean up the industry that it has been promising for six months. I call on the Leader to schedule a debate on the industry next week with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Last week or the previous week, I raised the issue of ambulance response times throughout rural Ireland. I cited two incidents in County Monaghan, one before Christmas and one in early January, and another in County Cavan. In one of the Monaghan incidents, an individual fell down the stairs in the family home and an ambulance was called, but it took almost two hours to collect the person. The ambulance had to come from County Longford. In the second incident, an individual collapsed in Monaghan Shopping Centre and it took almost two and a half hours for an ambulance to reach the site. In County Cavan, a child took sick one day at school. When an ambulance was called, the school was told that it would take 45 minutes to get there. So concerned was the school principal about the health of the child that the school rang the local general practitioner, GP, who left his practice and took the child to hospital in his car. Thankfully, everyone is now doing fine.

I mention this matter again because, on Tuesday, a serious traffic accident occurred on the N2, the main Dublin-Derry road. I am sad to report that it resulted in a fatality. I extend my sympathy to the family involved. Two ladies were also involved in the accident. They were travelling down from Donegal. Both suffered serious injuries. An ambulance was called. It took somewhere between 45 and 50 minutes to arrive at the scene. I can only imagine how the emergency services, to which we owe our great gratitude, dealt with that situation. Two people lay on the side of the road, with another person who was deceased, waiting for 45 or 50 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Someone must call a stop to this. Sometimes, I listen with amusement to the Government's continual focus on its new belief in and regeneration of rural Ireland, yet here we are with the most basic right of all and someone who has become sick needing to wait for up to two and a half hours for an ambulance to arrive. Enough is enough. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister to the House in order that we can address this serious issue before more fatalities occur.

I raise the issue of synthetic drugs. An assistant State pathologist recently revealed that they had become strikingly common as the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths throughout the country. A particular synthetic drug, U4, was named by a HSE consultant psychiatrist as the cause of more than 50 deaths since 2015. As a result of this unfortunate phenomenon, it is clear that new measures need to be introduced. Fines, community service and the like are not enough to deter the distributors of these substances. These forms of drugs are extremely dangerous. We believed we had solved the problem in 2010 when a list of synthetic drugs was banned under the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 and the Misuse of Drugs Acts, but they remain a major problem. This is an urgent matter that affects the well-being of Irish society. Increased efforts are urgently needed to stop these drugs getting into the hands of dealers. Furthermore, I am calling for tougher measures to be taken against those convicted of selling and possessing these illegal synthetic drugs. In the context of a related justice debate, will the Leader allow me the opportunity to raise this matter with the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality?

Táim ag ardú ceiste inniu atá ardaithe cheana féin againn agus muid ag caint ar chúrsaí coimirce sóisialaí.

One of the greatest misnomers we have in a Department is that of the Department of Social Protection, because the last thing it seems to be doing is protecting society. I am quite concerned about the changes that are happening due to the JobPath scheme and the privatisation of that system, which was introduced under a previous Labour Party Minister, something of which it should be ashamed. We are now seeing the implications of the scheme.

I have been contacted by representatives of a scheme in Galway, the Rahoon Family Centre, which is under severe pressure. In the past 20 years it has employed three community employment scheme workers to deliver its programmes to support families in a disadvantaged area in Galway. It has lost the workers because, I believe, the private companies running the JobPath system are hoovering up anybody who may be eligible to participate in a community employment scheme. That renders them ineligible to enter community employment schemes, which means that community employment schemes across the country cannot be resourced in order to carry out the work other Senators have mentioned. That is a retrograde step. When we raised this matter previously, we were told a review of the scheme was ongoing. I receive calls about schemes in the County Galway area every week where this is becoming a major issue. It is wrong and we need to address it. Therefore, I call for a debate with the Minister for Social Protection to discuss the problems the new JobPath scheme is causing across the country and its privatised nature.

We also need to examine the money available to community employment schemes from the point of view of grants for materials. Many schemes have participants but have no materials grants in order to be able to do the required work. We have been repeatedly told by the Government that the numbers of those unemployed are decreasing. If that is the truth and the figures are not being massaged by job activation schemes, more money should be available in the Department of Social Protection which could be used to provide more materials grants. I would like to discuss the matter when the Minister is available.

I ask the Leader to request that the Minister of State in the Department of Defence come to the House for a debate. With other Senators, I would like to discuss several issues with him, one of which is the very low morale in the Reserve Defence Force. A committee heard a presentation today and I am quite shocked and horrified at the treatment of our Reserve Defence Force. The issues include not being paid on time, money being paid weeks later and there being no set date for payment. Some people depend on this money. One cannot tell a bank that a mortgage will be paid in a couple of weeks time when one is paid; one has to have set dates. Several issues are affecting the Reserve Defence Force and I would like the Minister of State to come to the House to debate them. Medals are another issue. Soldiers and their families from Jadotville in the Congo in 1961 should get a medal. I lobbied current and previous Ministers of State on the matter. A citation was given to the soldiers and their families recently, but they should have received individual citations with their names on it rather than a company one. The restoration of technical pay for cooks within the Army is a major issue in my area, Athlone, and I would like the Minister of State to come to the House for statements or a debate.

Not only is morale within the Reserve Defence Force very low, but it is also low within the entire Defence Forces. Perhaps we might have a discussion on the issue another day.

Senator Michael McDowell raised a very important issue in regard to a Bill passed by a previous Seanad, which went to the Dáil, was amended there and is possibly returning to the House next week. Over 80% of the membership of the House is different from when the Bill was passed. It would be appropriate for Standing Orders to be amended to allow the Bill to be discussed by the new Seanad and afford over 80% of the Members who have not had an opportunity to contribute to us to do so. I look forward to a positive response from the Leader in that regard.

I support the comments of Senators Paul Gavan and Denis Landy on Tesco. If what they have outlined to us is going on, it is appalling. It is important that clarity is brought to the situation urgently because if, as Senator Paul Gavan said, over 900 people have already lost their jobs, how many more will lose their jobs or be intimidated into giving them up? I propose that the relevant joint committee invite Tesco before it to ensure clarity can be brought to the situation as a matter of urgency.

I refer to privilege in this and the Lower House. It should only be used properly, but I would always defend the right of any Member of this House or the Lower House to bring to the attention, in the public interest, a matter they believe to be in the public interest.

An issue was brought to my attention by a businessman in Limerick, namely, an Aer Lingus advertisement in a local newspaper last week concerning flights between Shannon Airport and America and onward connecting flights. The advertisement referred to Hallowe'en, but when people went to make bookings they could not do so beyond 5 September because there are no connecting flights within the United States after that date. It is a serious issue for business people who are trying to go about their business and need onward connecting flights. The only other option is to fly to Heathrow Airport to avail of onward connecting flights.

I wish to respond to the Leader of the Opposition's earlier comments, which are utter hypocrisy, given the performance of her party's leader when he was Minister for Health. He poured billions into creating the HSE, with which we are now stuck and which is not performing.

With respect, her question was to the Leader who will reply in due course.

That is fine. Nonetheless, I believe I have an entitlement to comment, just like any other Senator. I could say a lot of things about said party leader when he was Minister, including the large Travers report which was lost behind the back of a radiator, but I will not waste precious time.

Two days ago I pointed out that no part of the health service operated in isolation. While we have terrible trouble with waiting times and patients on trolleys, that is very much influenced by what happens in primary care. Early diagnosis and intervention and prevention are critical, as is what happens following treatment in terms of facilities for people to go home. Most people want to go home and live in their own homes. In that context, I refer to the need for a day hospital in Swords to serve the people of north County Dublin. The Mater hospital and Beaumont Hospital are large regional hospitals with national and regional specialties and services. Very often, day surgery spaces are taken up by acute admissions from the night before. If there was a separate day hospital in Swords which was accessible to over 100,000 people and beyond, many of these procedures, such as hernia and gallbladder surgery, cataract removal, plastic surgery, etc. could take place. They are being successfully carried out in places such as Ennis, Louth County Hospital, Roscommon and Nenagh. I call on the Minister to give consideration to this suggestion. He might come before the House at some point to discuss it.

On some of the comments made earlier, in his defence, the Minister is working to fix the problems he has inherited in the health service, many of them due to serious cutbacks. It was Fianna Fáil which when in power started to remove beds from the system and which ran the country over the cliff, with Deputy Micheál Martin as one of the major co-pilots on that flight and descent.

The Senator had an opportunity to solve that problem, but he did not take it.

I did, but on the contrary, with very little money, we achieved quite a lot. Nonetheless-----

In the Senator's opinion.

The Senator will have to pursue that matter at another time. He cannot pursue it on the Order of Business.

I will not listen to the Leader of the Opposition or any of her allies-----

The Senator is well over time.

I may be, for which I apologise-----

The Senator has one minute of injury time.

-----but there is a solution to the problem which lies in having more day hospitals. One is particularly needed in Swords and Fingal to look after both older and younger people.

It is great to listen to the two architects of the failure of the health service. I wish to speak about the 90% of the 35,000 nurses in the INMO who have voted to take industrial action to begin on 7 March. Perhaps those represented by SIPTU might follow suit. I am surprised that this issue has not been raised on the Order of Business already as it is an overwhelming rejection of the Government's proposals which do not seem to deal with the issue of the retention and recruitment of staff by providing a safe environment for nurses and patients. The Minister for Health refuses to guarantee recruitment and contracts for this year's graduates in nursing and midwifery. A conservative estimate of the number of vacancies is 1,500. Under Governments led by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, in the past decade the number of nursing posts has decreased by 5,000. Wards and operating theatres are closed and there are limited numbers of community care places in the day hospitals, which we need, and home care packages. There is 80% public support for industrial action. While the health service is not at breaking point, it is broken. This is about the lack of staffing and safety. It is also about the ability of nurses to deliver on their duty of care. This and previous Governments under Fianna Fáil failed miserably when they prioritised the bankers and speculators and handed over billions of euro to the European Union and others abroad. The Government is also refusing to take the billions of euro in the Apple case, as dictated by the European Union. In what country are we living? Whom do we support? Whom do we protect? Whom do we prioritise? We do not prioritise our own. We prioritise being patted on the head by others in the European Union and abroad and being seen as good children and not upstarts by the masters to whom we express platitudes. There is zero tolerance, on my part anyhow-----

I remind the Senator that the Order of Business is not the time for making Second Stage speeches.

This is about the capacity of the health service which needs resources. The Government and we, as legislators, have a duty to look after and cherish our own people, including patients and those involved in the beleaguered health service that is being driven into the ground. Everybody states day in and day out that he or she is dealing with it and trying to do this, that or the other-----

The Senator has made her point.

A radical approach is needed, but that is not happening. It is the same old same old. We will never get anywhere if we continue in this way.

I welcome the changes to allow people to voluntarily acquire credits for up to five years to make up any shortfall in calculating their non-contributory old age pension payments. They will allow people to take career breaks and provide flexibility when people decide to leave the workforce for whatever reason. I acknowledge and compliment the changes made in favour of self-employed persons and councillors. We have seen the restoration of payments under the farm assist scheme and for lone parents, particularly single mothers. This is all very good, but a group which needs attention and to be looked after comprises the 22,300 women in receipt of a decreased contributory State pension because they took time out during their working lives to look after their families. They are on a reduced pension because of changes made in 2012. We need to revisit this issue because if the women concerned had worked less in a more compact period of time, they would be in receipt of a larger pension. This is an issue that particularly affects women because there was no such thing as a child care service years ago, other than the help provided by the extended family. Women in many careers, particularly in the public service, had to leave their jobs and are being punished unfairly because of the changes made. In fairness to these women who have worked hard all of their lives and raised their families, we should look at what can be done to accommodate them and not leave them in a situation where, in some cases, because they worked for just a few months, then took a career break and returned to the workforce a number of years later, they are on a decreased pension. If they had never worked at all, they would now be in receipt of a full pension. This is a serious issue. Deputy Leo Varadkar has been a reforming Minister for Social Protection and I would like him to come to the House for a discussion on this issue to see how we might implement some change to benefit the women concerned. I acknowledge it is the central theme of the Age Action report being launched today. I have made many representations on behalf of the women affected and would like to see changes made.

These are very difficult times in the health service. I have used six hospitals in the past two months, including Temple Street Hospital for my child, as well as hospitals in Sligo, Roscommon and Galway. Unfortunately, on two occasions ambulances had to be called as advanced paramedics were required to treat my mother and another member of my family. I cannot compliment the staff and hospitals involved highly enough for their professionalism and the urgency shown. Therefore, very good things are happening. I do not think anger will help in sorting out the difficult issues that need to be addressed in the health service. I want to highlight this fact because sometimes we get into blaming everyone. People should be held accountable, but there are excellent things happening in the health service. I say this as somebody who has used it in recent months.

We need to discuss the cost of car insurance. I read today that for a particular young lady aged 34 years, it is cheaper to rent a car for a year than to pay insurance. It costs her €49 a week to rent a car. This indicates that there is something fundamentally wrong. We have spoken about the cost of car insurance for young people. We are not talking in this instance about a young person but a 34 year old professional lady for whom the cost of insurance would be €2,000 or €3,000. It is cheaper for her to rent a car. Fair play to her for showing great initiative, but there is something fundamentally wrong with the insurance industry if this is being allowed to happen. Something must be done about it by the Government, of which I am part.

I am amazed by Senator Máire Devine's sudden interest in the health service in view of the fact that it was Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil which decided to exclude Senators from the committee-----

A sudden interest in the health service - boring.

Does the Senator not want to hear the truth?

The Senator has used this one for how many months?

Does Senator Máire Devine not want to hear the truth?

Get over it. Build a bridge.

The two parties decided to exclude Senators from the Committee on the Future of Healthcare. If we are so interested in planning the future of health care, why did Sinn Féin co-operate with Fianna Fáil in making sure no Senators would be members of the committee?

I have had an interest in the health service for more than 30 years.

With respect, Deputy Colm Burke's party did not even want to have a Seanad.

There is no point arguing on that one.

An impression is being created that there are 100,000 people working in the health service who are all sitting around all day doing nothing. Let us be a little realistic. Staff across the board in the health service are working very hard, including nurses, doctors, consultants and management. There are defects in the system which we need to rectify, but, please, stop giving the impression that it is falling asunder. Last year 67,000 babies were born.

Were they all born on the side of the road? That is the impression now being given. Some 63,000 patients a week pass through outpatient departments, while 6,900 undergo day care procedures. They are the figures. Some 23,000 a week attend emergency departments. Let us stop talking as if nothing is happening. There are defects in the system which need to be rectified, but to give the impression that 100,000 people working in the health service are doing nothing-----

Who exactly gave that impression?

I do not know from where the Senator got that impression. Was it from the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris?

It is a little unfair on the health care workers working in the system. If the Senator does not want to hear it, that is fine, but it is the truth.

The Senator's time is up.

There were 3.2 million attendances at outpatient clinics last year. Senator Máire Devine should go and check the figures to see what has been done.

We cannot rerun yesterday's issues today.

Senator Máire Devine should go meet the people working on the front line.

I would like to present-----

Was it the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, who was the source?

Those who do not work-----

I must call the Leader to respond and ask everybody to be patient. I make the comment that it is rather discourteous that so many Members who addressed questions to the Leader are no longer present in the Chamber to hear his answers.

I do not think they should receive an answer, unless they have a sick note.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.

I thank the 22 Senators who contributed on the Order of Business for raising a multiplicity of questions. Some did not raise any question at all. I do not want to create a political row with Senator Catherine Ardagh, but I did endeavour to work with her yesterday to have the matter raised by her on the Order of Business addressed. It is very important that I reiterate that the national children's hospital is and was a flagship project for this and the previous Government. I make this quite clear yesterday, but the Senator chose not to listen to me for her own reasons, which is fair enough. The Government is committed to the project, as the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, said in the House.

The Leader did not answer my questions.

We will hear the Leader, without interruption.

As somebody who chaired the then Joint Committee on Health and Children and went to visit the site with the committee, we should stop playing politics with the national children's hospital.

I do not doubt the Leader's commitment, but none of my questions was answered.

I refer, in particular, to individuals outside the House who were orchestrating campaigns and trying to create and sow seeds of confusion in people's minds.

On a point of order, this is a matter of public importance, but they wre simple questions. As I said, I do not doubt the Leader's commitment or that of any representative to the project.

With respect, that is not a point of order. I must rule the Senator out of order. The Leader to continue, without interruption.

The Government recognises the importance of the national children's hospital project. The Department of Health, the HSE, the national children's hospital group and the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board are continuing to work to ensure a world class facility will be delivered. I share Senator Catherine Ardagh's view that we should have it. As I said yesterday, an evaluation of tenders has taken place and the Minister is bringing a business case to the Government. Let us all celebrate when it is up and running.

Senators Catherine Ardagh and Máire Devine referred to the decision of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, to take industrial action. As Senators Colm Burke and Máire Devine who I know worked in the health sector said, it is important that we recognise and understand there is an awfu llot of activity taking place in the health system. There is a huge responsibility entrusted in nurses, men and women, who work in hospitals. I accept that they have had to endure a torrid time in the past decade, in particular, but it is important to recognise also that recruitment is taking place. Staff are being recruited. We must welcome the fact that there are nearly 1,000 posts being filled. If we need to increase the numbers employed as nurses in the health sector, I will support and work with Senator Maire Devine to achieve this.

The Leader is very nice.

The Lansdowne Road agreement oversight group is meeting to discuss the decision of the INMO to take industrial action. As Leader of the House, I hope both sides will re-engage on the issue. There have been three weeks of discussions and I am led to believe by both sides that significant progress was made in those talks. I hope there will be further dialogue and appeal to both sides to engage in a spirit of co-operation because engaging in dialogue is important. All of us in this House understand the role of nurses and we want to work with them to achieve what it is they want to achieve.

Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Neale Richmond raised the issue of Brexit. I will be happy to advance the case in favour of having a Brexit committee through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges which I am sure will look at the proposal made. It is very important that it be advanced.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised matters of health, on which we had a debate yesterday.

We will not rerun it today.

We will not do so. We have, however, seen the biggest budget increase in the history of the State. Despite what Senator Robbie Gallagher may think, when he was in government, Deputy Micheál Martin had a budget that was bigger than that available to Senator James Reilly when he was in the Department of Health. That is the fact. It is not an alternative fact or fake news. Deputy Micheál Martin ran out of the Department of Health as fast as his two legs would take him. Fianna Fáil did not take the health portfolio; rather, it put former Deputy Mary Harney in the Department.

We will not deal with personalities, please.

That was Fianna Fáil's record.

When is the last time the Leader looked in the mirror?

When Fianna Fáil created the HSE, it added layers of bureaucracy. That is also part of its record. We would all like to see the HSE and those charged with running the health service held to account. As the Senator knows, there is political accountability, but there is no accountability on the part of those in the HSE and the hospital groups issued with money through a Vote by the Department and it is about time that they were held to account. As politicians, we are always held to account, rightly so. It is about time that those charged with running the health system were held to account.

I am not aware of what the Senator was referring to when his point about a piece of equipment. If he is happy to give me the details, I will pass them on to the Minister, but I have not heard that issue being raised before.

If a plan was set out for how-----

The other point Senator Colm Burke rightly made was that Fianna Fáil did not allow in the discussion on the future of health care-----

This is important.

I think the Leader should have-----

It is about the importance of this House.

Order, please, for one minute.

I am replying-----

Rather than address Members across the floor-----


Hold on and vice versa.

At times the truth does hurt. Sinn Féin Members are for everything and against nothing, yet they were against Senators being members of the Committee on the Future of Healthcare.

We are against the Government.

Senators Kevin Humphreys and Michelle Mulherin raised issues related to the Department of Social Protection with reference to the Tús scheme, while Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of placements. A review is being carried out. It is important to recognise the importance of schemes and the work done under them in communities. If they are not working, we need to make sure there will be a change in order that people will be able to continue to participate in them. It is about job activation which is important. Thankfully, despite what Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said, there are more people at work and working than before.

I share the views of Senator Kieran O'Donnell about the students who were injured in the match yesterday. I wish them well and make an appeal to all those involved in sport. The Senator O'Donnell referred to the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, in the context of the compulsory use of headgear, particularly by forwards. It is an issue that needs to be looked at. The then Joint Committee on Health and Children that I chaired produced a huge report on the subject of concussion in sport. It is important that sports organisations, not just the IRFU, be cognisant of their responsibilities. I am sure they are so aware and that they will work on the issue. I thank the Senator for raising it.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan asked no particular question but referred to the importance of a public private partnership project in Killarney between the Gleneagle Group and the Institute of Technology, Tralee. I welcome the announcement. I also look forward to hearing the name of the winning applicant in the new lottery for a jarvey licence. I hope it will not be the Leas-Chathaoirleach and that he has not deviated.

As the Leader knows, it is not a one-horse town.

I know.

I think he mentioned the Dow Jones index. Perhaps the O'Sullivan-Coghlan jarvey licence index might become the barometer for assessing the level of growth in the country.

It is welcome that Ryanair has announced flights from Kerry Airport to Berlin. I hope it will look at expanding into Cork, Shannon and other airports throughout the country to increase connectivity.

Senator Michael McDowell raised an issue in the context of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill which is to be debated next week. I will be happy to reflect on what he said and speak to the Clerk of the Seanad, the Cathaoirleach and the Whips about the issue. It is an important matter. It is my information that the Minister and the Government require the Bill to be passed into law as quickly as possible, but I will revert to the House on the issue. It will present a logistical problem as at the group leaders meeting we agreed the business to be taken. There may be no business to be dealt with on Tuesday when the House may not sit because we may not be able to get anybody else at short notice to fill the time slot allocated for the Bill, but we will have a conversation later about the matter.

Senator Neale Richmond raised the issue of citizenship. I will be happy to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss it.

Senators Paul Gavan, Diarmuid Wilson and Denis Landy referred to Mandate in the context of the dispute at Tesco, as did Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Gerard P. Craughwell. I have huge empathy with the workers and I am sorry I could not get to the briefing this morning, but I did give Senator Rose Conway-Walsh the note I received yesterday. It is important that the rights and entitlements of workers be protected. We have fought hard to have these protections afforded to workers under the law. I hope Tesco and Mandate will continue to avail of the industrial mechanisms of the State. The latest e-mail from Tesco contains a sign that it is willing to engage. It is important that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, be made aware of the matter and I will again bring it to her attention. I urge both sides to the dispute to participate in talks as it is important that we protect the rights of workers. I go to Tesco in Wilton in Cork late at night and have got to know some of the staff there. As I said to Senator Paul Gavan yesterday, some of them are working at a rate of pay just above the national minimum wage. It was mentioned that the rate was €14 an hour. It is important that both sides engage meaningfully. I will be happy to invite the Minister to come to the House to address the issue.

Senators Martin Conway and Diarmuid Wilson raised the issue of privilege. I am not sure if it is through the Office of the Cathaoirleach that the note on privilege will be issued. I will discuss the matter with the Clerk of the Seanad with a view to circulating it. It is important, as Senator Diarmuid Wilson said, that we use privilege wisely and judiciously.

Senator Denis Landy referred to the greyhound industry. I was not aware that the events mentioned had been cancelled, but we have requested that a Minister come to the House to deal with a Commencement matter on the issue.

I share Senator Robbie Gallagher's concern about the ambulance service. I offer my sympathy to the relatives of those who were tragically killed and injured in the incidents referred to. I will ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss the ambulance service.

Senator Catherine Noone referred to the coroner's report on synthetic drugs. We will discuss that matter.

Senators Gabrielle McFadden and Diarmuid Wilson referred to the Defence Forces. The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, will be in the House on 9 March. I am aware that Senator Gabrielle McFadden is a member of the committee at which, I understand, members of the Reserve Defence Force appeared this morning.

Senator Maria Byrne raised the issue of connectivity in the context of an inability to book flights beyond 5 September. I suggest she write to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, about the matter and seek to raise it as a Commencement matter. She should also take it up with Aer Lingus. It is of vital importance to the regions when one is trying to increase connectivity with North America from Shannon Airport. Connectivity is important.

Senator James Reilly referred to the day hospital in Swords. Again, to be fair to the Senator, despite Senator Robbie Gallagher's review of his tenure in the Department of Health, he was the person who started the primary care centre model and asked for it to be rolled out across the country.

Senator Michelle Mulherin referred to the changes to PRSI, which are welcome. I will ask the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to come to the House to discuss thelm.

Senator Colm Burke raised the matter of health care. It has already been discussed. Senator Frank Feighan also raised it, in addition to the issue of car insurance, on which, as the Senator will be aware, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will issue a report.

I do not know if this is a point of order because I do not think anything is ever a point of order. We all have to leave the Chamber on occasion during the Order of Business and do not return.

That is not a point of order.

Will you, please, allow me to finish? I ask that the issue be brought to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because I think in certain circumstances the Leader is too decent when the Chamber clears.

We are not going to have a discussion on the matter.

It cannot be viewed as a slight on the Leader if he does not respond to points raised by Members if they are not present.

The matter can be dealt with at another time. I have already spoken to the Leader about it.

I would like it to be dealt with by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

I have spoken to the Leader about it several times.

I am supporting the Chair.

Order of Business agreed to.