The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on developments in the organic sector and on the greyhound industry, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 2.45 p.m. with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given ten minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, statements on symphysiotomy, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate; and No, 3, Private Members' business, Minimum Custodial Periods upon Conviction for Murder Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m., with time allocated not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I raised the issue of the national children's hospital in the Seanad last week and caused a division in the House by calling on the Minister for Health to attend to address why the hospital has not been progressing. I urge the Leader to use his power and political skills to urge the Minister to take a renewed look at the national children's hospital to ensure he brings a new focus to it and that the project goes ahead. The lapse we have seen has caused campaigners for alternative sites to increase their very aggressive lobbying of many Members of this House. It is not acceptable that these delays have caused a massive increase in this aggressive lobbying. It has taken away from the project. The excavation works have taken place at the St. James's Hospital site, the plans have been written up and the land has been flattened. This project is ready to go but, unfortunately, there are many lobbying groups out there looking for different sites. If the hospital goes to another site, what other site will be suggested after that? It has already been at the Mater hospital and the St. James's Hospital sites. The St. James's Hospital site is the right site and Fianna Fáil is 110% behind it. I urge the Leader to ask the Minister to take a fresh look at this today and progress this matter as a matter of urgency for the children of this country.
The second issue I wish to raise concerns waiting times for paediatric occupational therapy in Dublin city. A total of 158 children are on waiting lists for occupational therapy in Dublin South-Central alone, which is just one small part of the city. I urge the Minister for Health to look at this. These waiting times are unacceptable so more resources need to be allocated to early intervention. I ask that the Minister to look at this to ensure that funds are put in place. We are talking about children. It is not fair that they must wait so long.
I think everyone knows that National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire is meant to be the national centre of excellence for rehabilitation. A Senator from across the floor spoke about it last week and I have raised it on numerous occasions since I entered the Seanad. One concern is that the new hospital that has been planned for years is simply not happening. There are issues relating to the land itself, funding, planning, procurement and tendering. I know these processes are slow but there are problems. The hospital authorities have confirmed that they have cut 12 beds since Christmas. I received a statement from and have had communication with them and I told them that I would raise the issue here today. The HSE says it cannot fund 12 beds. It has been unable to fund 12 beds since Christmas but it is meant to be building a hospital with 120 beds next year or the year after. There is a crisis at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in respect of its future development, its development plan and its resourcing. At a time when we are making improvements in health, the hospital authorities are actively and openly engaging with and asking people to lobby the Minister for Health to intervene and get the HSE to cough up funding to reinstate 12 beds. We are only talking about 12 beds. Over 800 people are waiting to access national rehabilitation services and many of them are lying in acute beds in hospitals around this country at a time when we have a crisis in our general hospitals. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come to the House with a detailed plan. What is actually happening in the National Rehabilitation Hospital complex? What will happen in the short term? If possible, we want to hear about the 12 beds in the next week.
I rise to discuss the imminent, all-out bus strike and the impact it will have on people. I do this in the context of an earlier meeting relating to the national spatial strategy and talk that we will lose the Athlone to Westport route. There are many questions around that, including taking services, including vital transport services, away from rural Ireland. In any survey, people say that transport is one of the biggest barriers to accessing vital services like health. Millions have been spent on developing and marketing the Wild Atlantic Way. We must be clear about this. It is a political decision. In 2015 when cuts to transport services and bus routes were first mooted, An Taoiseach said that buses could not be driving around boreens. When we get that kind of response, it is any wonder we are on the verge of an all-out strike?
I want to put this in the context of the economic and financial decisions that are made in this country. Bus Éireann has projected that it will lose €9.4 million this year. Let us consider that figure in the context of the €350 million given to vulture funds on the back of the section 110 loopholes. That means were the decision made to close the loophole to facilitate foreign vulture funds we could run Bus Éireann for 37 years even with the losses cited by the organisation. This is the type of political decision-making that we are getting, which impacts on rural Ireland.
With regard to the threat of 120 job losses in Bus Éireann, the cost to the Exchequer, never mind the impact on the lives of those workers and that of their families, is intolerable. I ask that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sports gets involved, even at this late stage, to prevent an all out strike. I hope he realises that he cannot expect the workers of Bus Éireann to pay for ten new buses or vital rural transport that connects the east and west of the country.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House for a debate on the accident and emergency services. I say debate but I would prefer a discussion. We need a constructive discussion on such services and people being left on trolleys.
The Opposition parties and, indeed, Mr. Liam Doran, constantly highlight the problems in the HSE but never offer a solution, a bit like the housing crisis. I would like a discussion here with the Minister. I was encouraged to call for a discussion today because a person came to me yesterday who had attended MIDOC, which is an out-of-hours medical service in the midlands. Last Friday night she went to MIDOC with a pain in her leg and paid €50. She was told that her ailment was probably more serious than what MIDOC should deal with and was advised to attend the accidence and emergency unit in a local hospital, which she duly did. She arrived at the unit at 11 p.m. and was seen by a triage nurse. She was told to sit on the chairs in the waiting room at 11 p.m. and that is where she sat until 6 a.m. the following morning when she was moved on to a trolley. She waited on the trolley for two hours and a doctor tended to her at 8.10 a.m. She did not see a doctor in the unit all through the night. Five other people were also in the waiting room and none of them saw a doctor either.
The following questions must be answered. Was there a doctor in attendance? Was there no doctor until 8 o'clock in the morning? If so, why was the lady not sent home and told to return at 8 o'clock? If there is no doctor on duty then why does MIDOC refer people to accident and emergency units? Statistics on the number of people on trolleys are continually collected. Is this lady simply a statistic? We need a constructive discussion on this matter but we should not simply list our issues with the system. Instead we should encourage the Minister to listen to our suggestions in terms of ways to solve the problem. I call on the Leader to please arrange a discussion.
I join with Senator Rose Conway-Walsh by discussing the Bus Éireann issue. It is very serious for the entire country, particularly for rural Ireland. It is estimated that Bus Éireann carries approximately 110,000 passengers per day, which is a startling statistic. It is mind boggling to consider the huge social impact a strike would have on the citizens of this country.
As part of the cost cutting exercise it is proposed to do away with the three routes of Dublin to Clonmel, Athlone to Westport and Dublin to Derry. I am familiar with the Dublin to Derry route because it passes through County Monaghan and Ardee in County Louth. The bus stops in Monaghan town, Castleblayney, Carrickmacross and also in Ardee. It is a vital service for the people who live in the region. There is another bus that travels direct from Letterkenny to Dublin. It stops in Monaghan town but not in the other towns in County Monaghan or in Ardee. The loss of these routes will have serious repercussions for rural Ireland. At a time when there is a renewed focus on developing rural Ireland this proposal will take away a vital link to the region.
I understood up to this point the reluctance of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to get involved in the dispute but this matter has become too serious. I plead with him to bring all of the parties together in a round table discussion with a view to finding a compromise. Ultimately every dispute is settled. The only way the dispute can be settled is through talks. I plead with him to bring all of the parties together to find a solution for the benefit of all of the citizens of this country.
I wish to raise the issue of bogus self-employment in the construction industry. In fairness, the Government has recognised that this is a huge issue and initiated an investigation. It has been estimated that 27,600 self-employed people work in the construction industry. These people are forced to operate as sole traders by unscrupulous employers and, as a result, lose out on sick pay, holiday pay and protection provided by employment legislation.
I raise this issue today because tomorrow a right of access Bill will be debated in the Dáil. The legislation would support the right of trade union officials to access construction sites, and not just construction sites. The legislation would be the most effective way to tackle this scourge and afford protection to these workers in the industry.
I am disappointed but not surprised to hear that Fine Gael will oppose the Bill. It is a reasonable demand for trade union officials to have the right to access sites in agreement and consultation with employers. I am more disappointed to hear that Fianna Fáil will also oppose the Bill. I have heard that construction employers have lobbied Fianna Fáil. Traditionally, there has always been strong links between construction employers and Fianna Fáil. As a result, disappointingly-----
We were into building things, not knocking them down.
-----Fianna Fáil will stand against trade unions tomorrow. They will stand against the trade union movement and against the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
Please allow Senator Gavan to continue.
Fianna Fáil will oppose the right of access Bill. As I did last week, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to this House to discuss this important issue. Fianna Fáil has heard from all of the trade unions in this regard. I appeal to the party to talk to their colleagues and take the right stance by defending working people tomorrow and support this Bill in the Dáil.
The only thing I would say to the Senator, and I know he is passionate about this issue, is that matters in the Dáil do not concern this House and vice versa.
I wish to raise a national issue, namely, our premier national park.
What about Ballycroy National Park?
Where is that?
In County Mayo.
Yes, I thank the Senator. I am delighted that the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ring, will soon open Killarney House.
The premier national park is in Killarney, Senator Conway-Walsh.
I am sorry. I thought Senator Coghlan was referring to Ballycroy National Park.
Last year the beautiful gardens and grounds were opened and new visitors are welcome. We have a problem with the rhododendron because it is an invasive species. More resources are needed to tackle the problem, particularly in the Glena, Mangerton and Torc mountain areas.
On the question of the deer population, there have been some unfortunate accidents due to deer clashing with cars, etc. A little more fencing and signage would be helpful. I understand Kerry County Council will provide both. In addition, motorists must drive a little more carefully in the vicinity of the park, particularly on the Ballydowney to Gortroe section of the Ring of Kerry route, the Killarney to Killorglin section and again on the Kenmore to Killarney section. The roads in the park have greatly improved due to €250,000 being spent on them recently.
Is the Senator suggesting better signage for the deer or the motorists?
The deer in Kerry are very smart.
The Cathaoirleach never lost it.
On the question of staffing, the number of rangers has been reduced from nine to four. That number must be increased. There is a certain cull needed of old and infirm deer, particularly red deer. No one wants the population of native red deer to be greatly reduced. However, old and inform animals must be removed from the deer population, and maybe a few hinds. As far as I am concerned, the population of Japanese Sika deer can be wiped out. They are more difficult because they are smaller animals and thus are better at hiding in the woods.
Their number is down. With more rangers, management of that will improve. Please God, that will happen. I ask that the Minister be brought to the House in early course to discuss these issues. Did Senator Conway-Walsh mention another national park?
Ballycroy. The Senator should come up to see it.
Perhaps the debate could deal with other national parks also. We could encompass the lot. I would welcome that.
I wish to raise the inequities thrown up by the higher education funding scheme, particularly for the squeezed middle. A recent and very interesting article in The Irish Times, by Brian Mooney, discusses the social divide and heavy dependency on higher education grants, especially in the institutes of technology. Some 61% attending institutes of technology have higher education grants and 41% of students attending universities have them. I am concerned about those caught in the middle, namely, students or potential students whose parents are PAYE workers on low to middle incomes and who do not qualify for a grant. These parents are challenged in sending their children to college. This is partly attributable to the fact that gross income is assessed. A considerable mortgage repayment on the family home is not allowed as a deduction. The cost of putting other children through third level is not taken into account, other than through an allowance given for dependent children.
Yesterday, we all rightly advocated the merits and benefits of higher education. It is no burden on anyone. A man who came into my clinic recently has three children, one of whom is doing the leaving certificate this year and the other two of whom are in college. His wife works with the HSE, although not on a very high income. The children do not qualify for a higher education grant. The man has to take out a loan each year for the two in third level. He is now at a point where he cannot afford to send his third child to college. This is the conversation he will be having over the mid-term break. None of the children qualifies for a grant. The man has taken out a loan to put two through college but there is no deduction for that. The family has a mortgage. It is paying for everything and getting nothing from the State. The third child may not go to college because he is caught between two stools. I would like this matter to be taken up with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton. I believe legislative change is required. We are always talking about encouraging people to work and not making work unattractive. The hard-pressed people are the people who have to pay all round and who are not getting supports from the State. Ironically, if they were in receipt of social welfare payments, there would be a disallowance or a deduction based on any income received, thus making them qualify. This is a serious issue that affects a significant cohort. I ask that serious attention be paid to this.
I wish to add my voice to the expressions of support in both Houses of the Oireachtas yesterday for the family of Pat Finucane. The murder of Pat Finucane is one of the starkest examples of collusion between British state forces and loyalist paramilitaries. Pat Finucane was a human rights solicitor and he fought for truth and justice. Yesterday's decision in the Court of Appeal in Belfast is yet another example of an attempt to deny the Finucane family, including Geraldine, access to the truth about the murder of Pat Finucane. The family has campaigned long and hard in a dignified manner despite obstacles placed before it continually. The British Government has agreed to hold a public inquiry into the murder and has reneged on that commitment. I hope these Houses will continue to support the Finucane family in its campaign for justice.
I welcome the announcement this morning by the Government on the cut in fees to be paid by independent broadcasters. There are many community and local radio stations and many elderly people are so dependent on them to keep them company. In my area, there are three radio stations. There are two in different parts of the county and one based in Limerick city. The news is very welcome. The proposal is to have no fees for some radio stations and to reduce fees by 50% for others, depending on the size. Small radio stations are struggling to keep going.
Today I want to raise the ongoing issues concerning Bus Éireann. Yesterday afternoon, the talks between the unions and company at the Workplace Relations Commission broke down. Imminent strike action is now a possibility. This results in great uncertainty for those who rely on Bus Éireann services, particularly those rural Expressway services that are under threat at present. One of these services, the Athlone-Westport service, services many towns, villages and facilities in Roscommon, such as Kiltoom, Knockcroghery, Ballymurray, Roscommon hospital, Roscommon town, Ballymoe, Castlerea and, in the west of the county, Ballinlough.
The uncertainty is of serious concern for those who rely on the service as their primary means of transport. The service connects to local services and helps people to reach their destination of choice. Many of the journeys made are to access critical health care and other essential services. As Fine Gael spokesperson in the Seanad on regional and rural development, I am really frustrated. We need to ensure we have a fair service in rural areas. It is not good enough that the people who use the services are being told these routes could potentially be closed and that the services could be cut. The Athlone-Westport service is very necessary for the people who rely on it. We need answers. We need the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to address the Seanad to outline clearly the steps he and his Department are taking to ensure the services are protected in rural areas. I am aware that the Athlone-Westport train services many of the larger towns along the route in question but the bus services small towns and villages where the train does not stop. It is vital to the people in these areas. Moving between larger towns and smaller ones, such as Ballymoe and Ballinlough, will be extremely difficult if the service is axed.
We absolutely need a new roadmap for public service obligation routes across the country. The National Transport Authority has said that if any service is cut, it will ensure no rural area is left behind. What does this mean? Is it now possible to make the route in question a public service obligation route due to the necessary stops and connections it makes? We need leadership from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, on this issue. We also need leadership from the National Transport Authority to ensure that these services are protected and that rural areas will be serviced properly.
Over recent weeks, the appalling condition of Ireland's health system, particularly the unacceptable waiting lists, has been to the fore. The Euro Health Consumer Index has ranked Ireland's health care system 21st out of 35 countries. Ahead of Ireland are countries with much lower incomes, such as Macedonia and Slovenia. Our accident and emergency unit waiting times are the worst in Europe. The report expresses surprise, which I imagine is tinged with disgust, over the low ambition of the HSE to have a target of no more than 18 months for a specialist appointment. We learned from the report that even if and when the target is reached, we will still have the worst waiting time in Europe.
I implore the Minister for Health to examine the Macedonian system, in which, through an uncomplicated e-booking system, a general practitioner can book an appointment with any specialist or any heavy diagnostic equipment in the country in real time while the patient sits in the room with him. The general practitioner has access to the diaries of consultants and can see where in the country a consultant has an opening. He can advise the patient based on need. In Macedonia, this system eradicated waiting lists in less than six months after start-up. In one year, the Macedonian rating in the Euro Health Consumer Index jumped from 27th to 16th. We could aspire to this.
Experts have testified that Ireland would be a perfect candidate for a system such as this. Coupled with the Fianna Fáil Party health policy proposal that all hospitals have 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. consultation times enforced and diagnostic scans available in public hospitals seven days a week, we could eradicate waiting lists here too.
I am well aware that the implementation of electronic systems in this country does not have a good track record. There will be plenty of people reminiscing on electronic voting and the Eircode system, but we need to realise that key targets on waiting lists were missed in 2014. The targets were widened in 2015 and still missed, and likewise in 2016. The current system is not working. We need a concerted commonsense effort, such as the Macedonian system, and I will be bringing this to the attention of the Chairman, Deputy Michael Harty, in the Joint Committee on Health, for consideration.
This morning, at the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs, the ISPCC attended and gave an informative presentation. It was as frightening as it was informative as to the range of difficulties being experienced when it comes to cyberbullying. Cyberbullying encompasses all sorts of activities such as stalking online, grooming, bullying and targeting by companies and individuals of young and vulnerable children. I appreciate that in many instances children are way ahead of adults when it comes to technology but we as legislators and policy-makers need to regulate app companies. The reality is that Facebook, Twitter and the like get the difficulty here, they are much more in tune with it and they have policies, but it is the smaller operators who target children for their own gain that we need to get on top of. They recommended the Office for Internet Safety be set up with a digital safety commissioner, which needs to be done without delay.
At the end of the day, we cannot be negative about the Internet, it is a fantastic tool. It has advanced education and everything else, probably in many instances beyond where we would like it to be. It is a phenomenon that we are happier with than without. We need to legislate to make it very difficult for these app companies and companies in general to be able to target children in this way. The software that exists to target them should be actively used to avoid them in many instances. I would welcome a debate on this important issue with the Minister in the near future.
Before I raise an important issue, I want to make reference to a growing trend I have noted in this Chamber over recent days and weeks. When this side of the House, in particular, these benches, raise the chaos and the shambles in the Government, particularly manifested in transportation links in Bus Éireann, we are dismissed as opportunists, cynical, reckless and negative, but when Fine Gael Senators lament the Government's chaotic decisions I wonder will they be characterised with the same brush.
Today, at 1 p.m., representatives of the McGurk's bombing families will provide a briefing for Oireachtas Members and their support staff in the AV Room. I am sure many are familiar with the McGurk's case. It was a bomb planted at McGurk's bar on North Queen Street in 1971. It killed 15 people. Immediately after that tragedy, the British state moved, as it transpires, incorrectly, to blame the IRA for the bomb, citing it as being an own goal. It is several decades ago now but the families have not lost their commitment or determination for justice. It has got to the point where grandchildren and great-grandchildren are having to carry the flame in that campaign.
I would hope to have a Commencement debate on this, given the Government's responsibilities around the outstanding legacy issues. I will approach the issue with all of the respect and courtesy, and hopefully, the support of all Members, that it deserves. It would be a useful opportunity, given the new evidence that has come to light which has been exposed by the families themselves working diligently to expose the lies inflicted upon them. As a House, as institutions and as individual Senators, we should support their justifiable and understandable call for an inquest into the murder of 15 of their relatives and loved ones.
I wish to raise the issue of the increase in staff in the HSE and in the health services. It is a welcome development. From 2014 to the end of 2016, the number of staff in an overall context has gone up to 107,085, which is an increase of 7,758. However, I have this concern about it. The number of staff in management and administration has gone from 15,120 to 16,767, that is, an increase of 1,647. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to the House to address this issue and to appoint an independent authority to look at the administrative structure in the HSE, how management is focused and why there is an increase in administration and management of 1,647.
I welcome the increase in care assistants by 2,142. If one looks at other areas, such as that of public health nurses, their number has gone up by only 39 in that two-year time period. In fact, in the past 12 months, their number has decreased by two. We need to look at where are the priorities in the health service. One would imagine that public health nursing is a key area in the sense that it is at the coalface, where we need staff to ensure we keep the maximum number of people out of hospitals and accident and emergency units.
We need to appoint an independent authority to look at the management structure and to see how the HSE is performing as regards value for money. We are the second highest spender on health care in the OECD. Clearly, we are not getting value for money and this is now the only way of dealing with this matter. I would ask the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Health, to have a debate here and that we would take decisive action on it. I will raise it at the Joint Committee on Health later today but it is an important issue that we cannot leave go on the way has over the past years.
I share Senator Warfield's disappointment at the Court of Appeal's decision in Belfast yesterday in the Pat Finucane murder. My party fully supports the Finucane family in its attempt to have an independent investigation into this horrific act.
The Bus Éireann dispute is a serious matter. I join with colleagues who have raised it here this morning. It is a vital piece of infrastructure for rural areas, particularly those which have no rail network. I would appeal to the Leader to impress upon the Minister, Deputy Ross, the importance of this service to the nation. I stress that it is the opinion of not only the unions and the management of Bus Éireann but the wider public that savings need to be made. However, the management needs to engage with the unions so as this situation can be brought to a successful conclusion and that its public service obligation, PSO, should be properly funded.
Through the Leader, I wish the Taoiseach well this evening at his parliamentary party meeting. I extend him genuine best wishes. I would encourage him not to be bullied or intimidated out of office. At this time, whether we agree with his policies or not, this country needs his experience at European level, not egos and so-called interpreters and commentators sitting around a table negotiating on behalf of the country. We need the present Taoiseach and his experience to get the negotiations up and running.
Fine Gael can deal with its leadership problems after that. That is my advice and I ask the Leader to relay it to his colleagues in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party.
I am sure the Leader will convey the Senator's good wishes and advice to the Taoiseach.
I had better begin with Senator Wilson's final remark. I share his views that the Taoiseach is and has been a strong, prolific leader of our people across the world stage. As Senator Wilson well knows, being in government is a difficult task and some Members of the House need to understand that one cannot say yes or no all the time. One has to have a bit of steel and a bit of bottle. The Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, has been a tremendous Taoiseach. I hope-----
If I could finish the sentence, I hope he will remain as Taoiseach in the immediate future so that we can have a strong hand at the tiller in the Brexit negotiations. We should learn from other parties. We do not just anoint people. In both of the main parties we have a process to elect and select people not an anointment in a backroom.
Fine Gael does not even have an Ard-Fheis.
We have them too.
Good. Fine Gael calls it a conference not an Ard-Fheis.
Their council meets and decides.
I say to Senator Wilson that as he is well aware, democratic centralism is alive and well in some parties. It is uno duce, una voce in some places, unlike our party. I thank the Senator for his kind remarks.
When the Leader says "our party" does he mean Fianna Fáil as well?
Two in one.
It is hard to distinguish.
Two is one.
It is hard to tell them apart today.
The Leader should be allowed to speak without interruption.
Some day I am sure Senator Ó Donnghaile would like to join us.
Not at all.
I am wearing a blue shirt but that is it.
We are the real republicans over here. We take the hard decisions in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The Leader should act like that.
Let us get back to the business of the day because we could go down a difficult road.
Senators Conway-Walsh, Gallagher, Hopkins and Wilson raised the issue of Bus Éireann. It is a very important and serious matter that has given much concern to many people in the country who depend on Bus Éireann for transport. Members correctly identified some of the reasons people travel which include for hospital appointments, to go into the local village or to travel to visit loved ones. It is important that the talks resume. It is only through engagement that we will find a resolution to the matter. There is no hope of a resolution or a solution to the impasse unless people sit around a table and talk. Both management and unions must engage in a meaningful manner.
And the Department.
The Government is committed to engagement and to ensure we have connectivity for people in rural areas. I welcome visitors in the Visitors Gallery from Athlone who depend on bus travel and public transport. The Government is committed to that. The Minister, Deputy Ross, is aware of his role and responsibility-----
He is doing nothing.
-----and he will not be found wanting. As a trade unionist, Senator Gavan should know better than most the process that is involved. As he knows well, megaphone diplomacy or trying to score political points will not solve this issue.
It is a departmental policy issue and the Department is not engaging.
There must be meaningful engagement by all sides in the resolution of this impasse. The Government has increased the PSO. It has increased funding to Bus Éireann. It is now a matter for the management and the unions to sit down and engage in the process. We must ensure there is connectivity and public transport links. We must also examine how we can deliver a better service for the people who require it.
Senators Boyhan, McFadden, Colm Burke and Swanick raised the issue of health. Senator Boyhan rightly raised the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, which Senator Hopkins raised last week on the Order of Business. It is unacceptable that beds are being closed at a time when the previous Government and this Government are committed to a progressive examination of how the National Rehabilitation Hospital can be developed and deliver its model of care to people who are probably most of all in need of care in the health system. The response from the Health Service Executive on the matter is unacceptable. I have seen a general blanket statement in response to the matters raised by Senator Boyhan this morning. It is important that we again have engagement. It is incumbent upon the HSE to sit down with hospital management and the Department or with local public representatives. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House regarding the matter.
Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about vulture funds and money but it is Voodoo economics and I ask her to re-evaluate how she wants the country to fund services. We must look at who pays for everything, how we pay for it-----
I want the Leader-----
Here we go. We are off again.
Corporations and those who can afford it should pay more.
Let us hear more of the slogans.
The slogans are quite simple. I will outline a couple of slogans that are interesting. The number of people employed in the country is now 206,000 higher than when the Action Plan for Jobs was launched in 2012. A total of 6.8% of people are unemployed-----
We are the second largest low-paid economy in the western world.
-----compared with 15.1%.
Senator Buttimer did not mention that.
The Leader should be allowed to respond without interruption.
I will repeat what I said. I know Senator Gavan does not like good news about jobs. A total of 206,000 more people are at work than when the Action Plan for Jobs was announced in 2012, and, unfortunately, 6.8% of people are unemployed.
A total of 300,000 people emigrated.
More people are at work today than in 2012. The figures clearly show that more people are back at work, which is better for the economy as they can make a contribution to pay for the services and facilities Members have raised on the Order of Business this morning. I wished to give Members the good news again because it is important that we reinforce the positivity and good news.
Senator Gavan raised the right of access Bill. I have not seen the Bill. I was happy to support Senator Gavan's motion yesterday.
I appreciate that.
There is an issue in terms of access by trade union officials to building sites, shop floors and other places. As somebody who was involved in a union I recognise the importance of having a union in a school. We must understand the importance of unions to protect the rights of workers. I am sure an accommodation can be reached on the Bill but as the Cathaoirleach said, it is a matter for the other House, not for us here today. It is important that we do not allow the rights of workers to be trampled upon because we have spent a long time fighting for their rights. In a changing world in terms of employment it is important that we stand firm about conditions and rights. We can have a different roadmap for getting there but it is important that we stand up for workers rights.
Senator Coghlan raised the condition of the national park in Killarney, in particular rhododendrons and deer. I pay tribute to him for his work concerning Killarney National Park where he is a director. He has been a very strong champion of the importance of upgrading Killarney National Park and he has been instrumental in its revitalisation. He has been a wonderful ambassador for the park. He raised issues about rangers, the deer population and rhododendrons and I expect he can get a satisfactory answer from the Minister or if he raises a Commencement matter.
Senator Mulherin raised the matter of inequality in higher education in terms of funding and the squeezed middle. I share her view on the matter. We had the Minister in the House yesterday but Senator Mulherin could raise the issue on the Commencement.
Senators Warfield and Wilson raised the issue regarding the family of Pat Finucane. The matter was also raised yesterday. My position remains the same as then, namely, I personally stand for the right and the need of the family to get justice. Geraldine Finucane and her family have been very dignified in trying to have the truth established. It is important that we do all we can. Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the briefing in the AV room today on the McGurk bar bombings. It is important that we allow for truth and reconciliation for people on all sides of the divide in the North. It is not a case of one-size-fits-all or one side or the other. It is about all people. In the case of Pat Finucane it is important that we continue to make every effort in order to establish the truth in that case. I speak personally in that regard.
Senator Maria Byrne raised the issue of community radio and the reduction in fees for independent broadcasters by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.
Speaking as someone who volunteered on hospital radio in Cork University Hospital and who appeared on Cork City Community Radio last week, the importance of community radio should never be undervalued and we should at all times promote it as an alternative to the commercial stations and RTE. In the main, it is driven by volunteers who give of their Saturdays, Fridays and nights, raise funds and man radio stations in the interests of providing connectivity for people who have no access. I commend Senator Byrne for raising this matter.
Senator Swanick spoke about Macedonia and the Joint Committee on Health. It is a pity there are no Senators on the all-party Committee on the Future of Healthcare, to which this matter is more appropriate for discussion. I lament the fact that there are no Senators on that committee.
It is a pity the Leader did not support Sinn Féin's Private Members' business last week on an integrated system.
No. Senator Conway-Walsh cannot have it both ways.
This is more Fianna Fáil nonsense.
Allow the Leader to-----
The Senator cannot have it both ways.
Go on. Back up this Fianna Fáil nonsense.
Senator Ó Donnghaile gave out this morning about members of Fianna Fáil complaining, but the Sinn Féin Party Members did not support putting Senators on the all-party Committee on the Future of Healthcare.
In fairness, the Minister supported the call-----
The Senator cannot have it both ways.
-----but Fianna Fáil did not.
Allow the Leader to conclude. He is almost finished.
Do not come back here and say-----
Sinn Féin's Senators cannot speak out of both sides of their mouths. They are either for having the Seanad involved in the committee and being serious about the future direction of health care or they are not.
The Leader is either with his Minister or he is not.
No. The Senator cannot have it both ways.
The Leader is in disagreement with his Minister.
Leader, focus on the conclusion.
At least the Minister agreed.
In the budget, the Minister achieved the highest level of funding for health in the history of the State.
He agreed to the call without this Fianna Fáil nonsense.
Senator McFadden referred to the importance of accident and emergency care. I would be happy to invite the Minister, Deputy Harris, to the House.
Senator Swanick raised the important issue of the Macedonian health system. It is one that we should study. Perhaps the Seanad might consider organising a sub-committee or select committee on health, given the fact that we have no representation on the Committee on the Future of Healthcare.
Senator Noone referred to the ISPCC, cyberbullying and the need for child protection measures on the Internet, in the use of apps, etc. I am slow to mention apps, given what happened at the weekend, but the question of what apps can access is important, particularly as regards young people, and needs to be worked on.
Senator Colm Burke made an interesting reference to the increasing number of people employed in the health system. I am sure that he would be happy to give the figures to those Senators who do not have them. They show that the Government is investing in the health system. I agree with the Senator, in that it might be time to examine the structure of the HSE, how it is governed and managed and how it delivers health care in a variety of spheres. The system needs to be overhauled.
I will convey Senator Wilson's remarks to the Taoiseach. It is nice to hear a member of the Opposition make such nice remarks.
It is logical. We need experience now, not a putsch.