The Order of Business is No. 1, Domestic Violence Bill 2017, Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 2, Private Members' business, motion No. 17, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
Could the Leader get an update for the House on the purchase of Orkambi for people suffering from cystic fibrosis? We all know the Government has done a cost-benefit analysis on it and the determination by those who wrote the report was that the benefits did not justify the costs to the Exchequer. While it does not benefit everybody who takes it, Orkambi benefits some. For those who have taken it and for whom it has been successful, it has been life-transforming and, in many cases, life-saving. People who suffer from cystic fibrosis can spend weeks and months in our hospitals tying up those valuable beds which we need for others. That is why I ask the Leader to organise another debate on the issue to question why the Government is not providing the funding.
Orkambi is an expensive drug and other countries have done deals with the manufacturers. However, it is of benefit to those who suffer. We must ensure the Government puts aside the funding to give the benefit to those who would have a better quality of life if they took Orkambi. The Government must do a deal. The Minister was brought here before on the issue and I do not want to bring him in again at short notice. However, the Leader must update the House on what the Government will do to help those who suffer from cystic fibrosis.
Last week, as the Leader knows, we had many statements, which can be helpful, although we are a legislative body and that is what we should be doing. I have spoken previously on the Irish Sign Language Bill and on the Corporate Manslaughter Bill. The Bills were passed here on Second Stage before Christmas. We have put the House on notice that on 29 March we will pass All Stages of the Irish Sign Language Bill. We have written to the various Government Departments and tried to engage with them, before and after Christmas, seeking their amendments to the Bill. They have not been forthcoming. We will not accept amendments that will make the Bill unworkable or of little use to members of the deaf community. Could the Leader update the House on what will happen with the Bill and if the Departments are going to table amendments? If not, that is okay. We will pass the Bill, and the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, on 29 March.
The Corporate Manslaughter Bill was initially proposed by the Law Reform Commission after another scandal regarding the failure of Government systems when it failed the haemophiliacs and women who contracted hepatitis C through contaminated blood products. Will the Leader update the House on what the Government will do, whether it will come forward with the amendments to the Bills I mentioned, and regarding those suffering from cystic fibrosis and who badly need Orkambi to change and save their lives?
In The Kerryman this morning there is an article which reflects the environment and thinking of the people of the nation. The feeling regarding the HSE is one of complete and utter confusion. The HSE has promised a 40-bed mental health unit in Kerry. Believe it or not, this perfect, state-of-the-art, magnificent mental health unit has been idle for the past two years. The HSE has promised it will open during the next couple of weeks. I am asking the Leader about it, given that my questions to the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, Deputy Helen McEntee, are not being answered. How will the unit open, given that there are no staff? The staff who are supposed to be for the unit have been deployed and have threatened to boycott the unit. How, in God's name, is the unit going to open in the next couple of weeks?
Poor Kerry. Kerry hospital also has a fabulous, state-of-the-art, four-bed acute unit. Although it has been ready to go for a long time, we have been told it will not be open until next year. Again, we are listening to nonsense from the HSE talking about staff. Although there are staff ready to go, the HSE cannot get its act together. Would the Leader formally ask the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health if we could have a specific date on which the 40-bed acute unit will open?
While the Leader is speaking to the Minister of State, could he also ask her to answer the questions I posed one month ago and three months ago? Could she give me the details of how the HSE money allocated to mental health for 2016 was spent?
How is it proposed to spend the €15 million, which is €20 million short, in 2017? It is now 1 March and we still have no idea when the money will come through and how it will be spent. I ask the Leader for answers to those questions. If he cannot give them, I ask him to invite the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to the House to answer the questions.
I seek an urgent debate on motion No. 14 on the Order Paper. Last December, my Sinn Féin colleagues and I requested that the Minister for Social Protection be invited to the House to debate the concerns being raised in communities across the country about the JobPath scheme. I ask the Leader to do this as a matter of urgency and certainly not later than next Wednesday. I am aware that the Minister is busy on other matters and he might be even busier by this day next week.
He certainly is busy. We asked last December that he be invited to the House-----
Sinn Féin is only finished canvassing in the North.
Leader, I discourage you from interrupting Senator Conway-Walsh.
Unfortunately, we are not in government here yet, but when we are we will not be privatising social protection in the way it has been done with JobPath. JobPath is an absolute scandal. I asked specific questions last December when I and Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Gavan raised this matter first. One question was about the set-up of the JobPath scheme and, in particular, about Seetec and Turas Nua, which are operating in my constituency. Those questions have not been answered, and I want answers. I want answers because what I continue to hear-----
Members, I find it hard to hear the speaker when people are talking in this room. I ask Senators to leave if they want to talk. It is not fair and it is happening day in, day out. The same people are constantly talking. In fact, yesterday I spotted a Member in the corner on a telephone. That is not allowed in the Chamber. If a Member wishes to make a telephone call or speak to another colleague, please go out to the ante-room. I am sorry for interrupting you, Senator.
That is okay. I agree with you. Last June or July, the Minister said he was going to refer 60,000 unemployed people to private operators under the JobPath scheme, to take the people off the live register and make the numbers look good. We need a proper examination of this.
I have encountered cases where people more than 60 years old, who are waiting for hip operations, are being sent to sit in front of a computer 20 miles away simply to take them off the live register. What is happening here is a scandal. We must have our questions answered. I do not wish to see it become the subject of another "Prime Time Investigates" programme. We should not have to depend on RTE making investigative programmes to bring these matters forward and to be able to question and answer honestly.
If the JobPath scheme has not worked and if we have paid out huge amounts of money to private providers and entangled ourselves in contracts we should not have entered, we must come clean with the people, particularly the people who are not allowed on community employment schemes because they are already committed to JobPath and are ordered miles across rural areas to attend stupid courses that are of no relevance to them. I look forward to seeing the Minister in the House within the next seven days.
I note that we will make history today in the Houses of the Oireachtas when statements will be made later on recognising and affirming Irish Travellers as a distinct and equal group of people in Irish society. Respect is at the heart of this recognition for a group of people who for too long have experienced prejudice and discrimination, as shown in shameful poor health, poor housing and poor education for Irish Travellers as was recently set out in stark terms by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI.
All credit goes to the campaigners from the Traveller community who have worked for decades for recognition and have now succeeded. I acknowledge Members of the House who have been supportive of the Irish Traveller campaign for recognition, including Senators Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Martin Conway, as well as the Chairman and members of the justice and equality committee for their efforts. I also acknowledge the great leadership of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, who has delivered on his promises. The Taoiseach will be on the right side of history tonight when he makes the historic statement.
While good history is being made today, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House to share with Members the lessons from the recent reports on the historical abuse of a woman we have come to know as Grace. While the commission of inquiry is deliberating, instead of statements of outrage, which all of us could make, perhaps the Minister would come to the House and outline what law, safeguards and protections are in place or are being put in place for the thousands of adults who might be vulnerable to abuse today to ensure that such abuse is prevented and punished and that abuse and apparent cover-up never happen to people such as Grace again.
Well done, Senator Kelleher.
Yesterday, Members spoke about the late Peter Mathews. I support the remarks made in the House. Peter was always good humoured and very dogged on the subjects he raised. I served with him on the finance committee along with Senator Kieran O'Donnell. I extend my sympathy to his family on the loss of a very courageous and good man.
Over the last few weeks the lifespan of the current Dáil and Seanad is coming into focus. How long will they exist? The Leader has been very co-operative in prioritising the business of the House, but I believe we must have a new focus in terms of how long the Seanad will exist and what legislation can be passed. Fianna Fáil referred to two important Bills earlier. I ask the Leader to engage with the group leaders to see if we can prioritise the legislation that can be passed by the House in whatever length of time we have left to serve. Certainly, I had hoped that we would have made better progress on Seanad reform. Over the last few weeks the need to move quickly with that has rapidly come into focus, if it is not to be passed to another Seanad and Dáil. I know the Leader will engage with Members on trying to prioritise what business we can get through in whatever length of time we have left in the House.
A topical issue today is the future of water services in this country. The decisions that this Oireachtas and the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services recommend will have an impact on whether the country addresses serious environmental issues such as pollution, water shortages and water quality. The Oireachtas, irrespective of political ideology and party positions, has a responsibility to the State and its citizens. The decisions that will be taken will impact on the risk to our environment and the risk to the State's finances.
If we are not legally compliant with our EU obligations and, indeed, Irish environmental law, the State will be exposed to serious financial risk in terms of fines that are retrospective to 2009, amounting to approximately €20,000 per day, with a lump sum also attached. If we do not take a responsible position on the future of water services in the country, a legal liability of almost €50 million will be attached to the taxpayer.
In addition, we will not have a sustainable system that will address the pollution flowing into our rivers and onto our beaches and capacity shortages in Dublin and other cities. This affects our future in sustaining water services. Will the Leader use his influence to ensure that colleagues, irrespective of party positions, adopt a responsible position and will he make provision for a long debate on this issue when the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services has finalised its recommendations?
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 10 be taken before No. 1 today. The former is the Critical Health Professionals Bill 2017, which would allow all critical health employees of the Department of Health, the HSE and section 38 organisations to prolong their working lives for an initial two years on the basis of dual consent. This issue was first raised as an amendment to the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016, which passed through this House recently and which received widespread support from those on all sides. I am not suggesting that the Bill will cure the woes of our health system but it will help to ameliorate some of the issues surrounding staff shortages and the haemorrhage of talented and vastly experienced staff from our health service.
To follow up on the issues raised by Senator Coffey regarding water, while listening to "Morning Ireland" at 7 a.m., I was reminded of a very famous and popular song called "Ebb Tide" by Mr. Carl Sigman, sung most famously by Mr. Frank Sinatra. The song refers to the ebb tide of water and one could apply the analogy to the ebb and tide of politics. It struck me that many people were exercised very much by the ebb and tide of politics, whatever their direction and whatever the party to which they belonged, if any. If one replays the commentary on the radio this morning or reads the coverage in the national press today, one will note that there is much debate about the Attorney General's legal opinion. That is all it is - a legal opinion - and it has never been tested. It is untested by the courts. That is always worth saying about any legal advice, particularly that of the Attorney General.
I am very conscious of the water services directive and the penalties to which Senator Coffey referred. It is clear that there is a dilemma, particularly for Fianna Fáil. Understandably, that party does not want to find itself in a situation where it is seen to be facilitating the reintroduction of water charges. That is a political call that Fianna Fáil alone can make but it is my view that it would be blatantly irresponsible to oppose the imposition of a penalty on people who waste such a valuable resource. On my first day in Seanad Éireann I said that I am not against a charge for irresponsible waste and abuse of the rich resource that is water. We must address that issue.
I wish to refer to a statement by the Government Chief Whip and Minister of State, Deputy Regina Doherty, on Sunday last. She spoke about how Members of these Houses must work and referred to the need for consensus. Members might say that is all very well and while I am not trying to promote the Minister of State or the Government, she did strike a note in terms of consensus politics. We must find consensus. The politics of the numbers in these Houses has been given to us by the people and within those confines we have to govern and introduce legislation.
I will wrap up by saying that it is very important that we have a fair and generous free water allowance but that anyone who is irresponsible and does not respect that resource must be penalised. I would also like to discuss with the Minister issues such as rainwater harvesting, installing storm water attenuation tanks on farms and domestic premises in order to save water and so forth. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House following the publication of the Oireachtas committee's report. I also ask the Leader to convey to the Minister my view that he should lead an all-party delegation to the European Commission to determine the issues and the possible penalties involved.
On the issue of water and while I do not want to stymie debate, I remind Members that when the committee's report is published, it will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. I am sure that when that happens there will be ample time for debate.
I raised the issue of Bus Éireann yesterday. The dispute appears to have escalated overnight and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will have to get involved. A strike by Bus Éireann will have a very detrimental effect on rural Ireland, although the Minister refuted that claim today. The Minister should take a trip on a bus to see the areas of the country covered by Bus Éireann. A strike will also affect tourists, who depend on buses to get to and from airports and so on.
The Irish Heart Foundation launched a campaign today that is aimed at preventing the online targeting of children by the producers of junk food. Given that one in every four children in Ireland is obese, this is an issue that must be taken very seriously.
I wish to echo the comments of my colleague, Senator Kelleher, on the massively historic statement that will be made this evening in the Dáil. I am thinking, in particular, of the leaders of the Traveller communities across Ireland who fought for this for many years. I am sure we will revisit this issue over the next week or so.
In fairness to the Leader, he has arranged a number of debates with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, for which I thank him. The theme that I pursued during those debates was the fact that when one looks at the transport map of Ireland, one can see that the 500,000 people who live in the north-west region have no motorway or rail connection; nor do they have any direct air connection from Derry city, the fourth largest city on this island, to Dublin. That reflects the Border, partition and neglect over many years. Just to reiterate, there is no publicly-funded rail or air connection and no motorway. Every other region, and rightly so, has such connections. In that context, I am absolutely stunned that of all of the locations that Bus Éireann would seek to remove services from, it chose the route to Derry. That will mean that we will have no publicly-funded rail, bus, air or motorway connections for a population of 500,000 people. While I know that Translink in the North provides services, as do a number of private operators, I ask the Leader to raise this issue with the Minister, Deputy Ross. The Minister must be asked to explain how Bus Éireann can make such a decision because it defies logic. It clearly demonstrates a total lack of joined-up thinking in Government in terms of transport on this island. I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister to respond to the House directly on this matter, particularly in view of the fact that he reassured us that these issues are of importance to him and to the Government.
I ask the Leader to provide specific information to all Senators before 2 p.m. in advance of our consideration of the Heritage Bill 2016 tomorrow. Will the Leader tell us what time the debate on the aforementioned Bill is due to start and how many hours will be devoted to the discussion? I also ask that the amendment groupings list be furnished to Senators. On a previous occasion, we did not receive the amendment groupings list until just prior to the debate. In order to be prepared and to have a decent debate tomorrow, we should be provided with the groupings list today. I would really appreciate that because it would serve all Senators well in terms of their preparation for tomorrow's debate on the Heritage Bill 2016.
The amendment groupings list is a matter for the Bills Office. While the issue raised by Senator Grace O'Sullivan is pertinent, it is a matter for the Bills Office rather than the Leader. That said, I am sure the Leader will be able to assist the Senator.
If the Leader could provide the information I requested in advance of the debate, that will enable us to be prepared.
I am sure he will do so when he responds to the Order of Business.
As we speak, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment is launching, in conjunction with the Irish Coalition 2030 group, a document on air pollution and cleaning our air. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to debate this issue in the House as soon as possible. This is an issue of particular concern to me in the context of the Irish Cement plant in Castlemungret, County Limerick. I attended two public meetings recently with residents of the area.
The concern is whether the EPA is actually monitoring air quality, something I would like the Minister to address when he comes before the House. It appears that the EPA licenses, but the question is whether it monitors air quality. It is timely that the Minister is launching such a document today on air quality, but he should come before the House as quickly as possible for a debate on the issue.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Keith Swanick, whom I commend for the particular Bill he is bringing forward.
I join Senator Humphreys and other colleagues who yesterday expressed their sympathy to the wife of the late Deputy Peter Mathews. While Peter was not known for his brevity, he certainly was for his bravery and principles. I extend my condolences to his wife and four children. Ar dheas Dé go raibh a anam dilis.
I agree with everything Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said about the lack of transport and air infrastructure in the northern part of the country. I come from a county that had huge infrastructure, both rail and bus, in the 1950s and early 1960s. When the railway line was lifted and closed, we were assured that the road infrastructure would be upgraded and that we would not be neglected. Unfortunately, for people north of a line running from Galway to Dublin, apart from a short stretch of motorway through County Meath, that area of the island has been neglected. At a time when we are concerned about Brexit and the implications it will have for us as a nation, a national bus route to one of the principal cities in the North of Ireland is to be closed. That is nothing short of disgraceful and the matter should be addressed as a matter of urgency. I appeal to the Leader to use his good offices and implore the Taoiseach and especially the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, who has an opinion on everything other than the Department for which he is responsible, to intervene in the Bus Éireann dispute as a matter of urgency.
I, too, join my colleagues in expressing sympathy on the death of former Deputy Peter Mathews. I would not be here but for a signature he gave me when I ran in the by-election.
We all have our failings.
What is probably not known is that Susan suffered a double loss in that her mother died the day before Peter. We cannot comprehend the grief she must be feeling today and my deepest sympathy goes to her and her family. Peter was, indeed, a decent and generous man.
I debated a Commencement matter yesterday with the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris. It concerned the National Treatment Purchase Fund. I am not in the business of bashing the Minister and think he is doing the best he can under the circumstances. However, this morning I learned from the National Treatment Purchase Fund that every condition was not necessarily covered. For example, we are told neurosurgery is not available under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. We probably need the Minister to come and outline specifically what is and is not available. There was a gerrymandering of the figures on waiting lists in the south east, where everybody on a waiting list received a letter telling him or her that he or she was off it and that he or she had to reapply. We received an explanation yesterday, but what we now need to know is if the National Treatment Purchase Fund is available to everybody. If so, what conditions are covered by it and how does one get from a waiting list to the National Treatment Purchase Fund to have the treatment one urgently needs? Yesterday I was given the example of someone looking to have an orthopaedic procedure carried out. Two people I know are seeking the same treatment, one of whom is on the public list, while the other is on the private list. The person on the public list will have to wait two years, while the person on the private list only has to wait two days. We need to get to the bottom of this problem. In that regard, I would appreciate the Leader's assistance. This is not in any way a criticism of the Minister who is doing as fine a job as he can. At one stage the Department of Health was called Angola.
I, too, would like to be associated with the remarks made about the late former Deputy Peter Mathews. He was a great friend and colleague and always available to give advice when one needed it. Our thoughts are with his family. He was a decent man.
Last night there was a CHAMP event. The aim is to promote dialogue and co-operation between Deputies, MPs, Lords, Members of the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales. They are needed now more than ever. I say this because I was in London a few weeks ago to attend a London-Irish Construction Network event. The Irish are beginning to mobilise and work together. This is important and something that should have happened 50, 60 or 70 years ago. Perhaps it is a matter of confidence, but it is something at which we have to look in the context of Brexit and what is happening in the United States. I say this because ironically the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce was only set up in 2011 after the Queen's visit, despite Ireland being the United Kingdom's largest trading partner, with hundreds of thousands of people moving forwards and backwards between the two countries. It is doing great work. On St. Patrick's Day the Taoiseach will be in the United States, while Ministers will be selling Ireland around Europe. They, too, are doing a great job, but there is a role to be played by Senators in representing the country. We do not have to be paid for it. One can book a Ryanair flight to anywhere in Europe for €20 or €30. We are sending Ministers, but there are only so many to go around. Members of the Seanad could represent the country and could do so on a cross-party basis. We do not want to be paid expenses. We could do it ourselves. We should look at this for the future.
Ba mhaith liomsa féin nóta ómóis a léiriú do Peter Mathews. Fear uasal a bhí ann i ndáiríre. Aireoidh chuile dhuine uaidh é. Cásaim a bháis lena bhean agus lena chlann. I, too, extend my condolences to the family of the late former Deputy Peter Mathews. The only phrase that sums him up is that he was a consummate gentleman in everything he did.
I raised concerns previously in a Commencement debate about the administration of the affordable housing scheme by Galway City Council. I note that Galway City Tribune reported recently that a Galway City Council employee had been suspended because of metering irregularities. The report stated an investigation was being carried out into alleged irregularities involving pay and display parking meters and that a member of staff was on leave pending the outcome of this examination. Councillors have said a thorough investigation is needed and have criticised the local authority for releasing a statement without first informing councillors of what was happening. They have raised questions about the transparency of the way the matter is being handled. I am also told by people quite close to Galway City Council, on foot of other issues I have raised, that other serious issues may come to light concerning the misappropriation of property belonging to the council, something which has been happening on an ongoing basis. I wonder if the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is aware that these issues are being investigated and, if so, who is investigating them? Who is being told about what is going on? I am led to believe that, all in all, Galway City Council could be out of pocket by as much as €800,000 or even €1 million because of a number of these irregularities. Who will ultimately pay the price?
We need to have a debate with the Minister on the oversight mechanisms in place in local authorities. Is the Department notified when such issues arise and, if so, what does it do about it? Does it merely take a hands-off approach?
What mechanisms are in place in the Department to ensure that proper oversight and procedures are in place in respect of financial and capital asset management in local authorities? Are these incidents particular to Galway City Council or are similar irregularities happening in other local authorities? In light of recent issues with organisations in this State investigating themselves, is it appropriate for a local authority to be judge and jury over irregularities that happen on their own watch? How can one have confidence that such investigations can be thorough, impartial and in the best interest of citizens? A lot of Members of this House are concerned about the responsibility of the elected representatives on these local authorities regarding the issues being raised since they state they are not being informed on an ongoing basis as to what is going on. I wonder whether ignorance is a defence in their case. We must get to the heart of this matter and discuss it with the Minister in detail.
First, I congratulate our colleague, Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, on the announcement that will be made in the Dáil this evening about Traveller ethnicity. He has fought honourably for this for many years. I heard him on the wireless this morning and I was very moved by his tribute to his Traveller grandmother. It was a very fine statement and I think that we all appreciate it.
This is Ash Wednesday and I note the Cathaoirleach himself is wearing the marks of the ash. I do not agree with the proposal to open public houses on Good Friday. It is an extraordinary thing to say. Good Friday is the most solemn day in the Christian calendar. It is the most serious day, the day on which Christ was crucified. We have 1,500 years of Christian observance in this country: it is a wonderful tradition. We may be somewhat post-Catholic at the moment but I do not think that is any reason to jettison our religious, ethical and cultural standards and values. In Muslim countries, people from outside and people who are Christians have to observe the cultural traditions of those countries and if not they are severely punished. Working people deserve a day of rest. If we introduce this people will be forced against their will to work in pubs, hotels and so on and I think that is completely wrong. Were such an instrument to be introduced in this House, I for one would vigorously oppose it.
On hospital overcrowding and the delay where elective surgeries are cancelled because of beds being occupied, it is welcome that the number waiting to be discharged has fallen below 500. It is still too high at around 436. I received a note this morning from Nursing Homes Ireland stating that 834 beds are vacant in 210 nursing homes nationwide. There is a proposal from the Minister to build prefabs to accommodate new hospital beds and while I have no difficulty with that, we also must look at other options that are available. We used prefabs for schools and we need to look at this carefully. One possibility we must consider, where we can plan and deliver very fast, is step-down facilities quite close to existing hospitals. We have not done that in Ireland although we seem to be able to build barriers to looking at new ideas. We must consider matters carefully before we start using prefabs as we did in respect of schools. It ended up with a huge cost to the State. The previous Government tried to remove prefabs from schools and were we to go down this road for hospitals, would we be doing the same thing in ten or 15 years' time, that is, trying to remove the prefabs from hospital grounds? We particularly need to look at what is available already. As Nursing Homes Ireland has 834 vacant beds available in private nursing homes, it is about co-operation between the health services and the private sector on this matter.
We all read the newspaper article about the little girl, Ava, who is looking for medical cannabis. I want to give my support to her mother, Vera, and the family. It is disgraceful that this little girl, who has dozens of seizures daily, is not getting medical cannabis and the Minister needs to step in and give it to her.
Medical cards are one of the biggest issues here. Senators all face the issue and I keep bringing it up but it is getting worse. When someone is waiting for an urgent medical card, the delays are the same or are actually worse. I told the Minister recently that there is a difference in respect of palliative care, on which I compliment the Minister. There is a great service for palliative care medical cards, which are provided straight away, but on urgent medical cards where, for example, someone might be starting their cancer treatment in the next week, there is a massive delay and if someone does not have the full information within three months, they must reapply. This is unacceptable. The other issue relating to medical cards that keeps coming up is that when a person applies for a medical card and is barely over the limit, by say €3 to €5, he or she is disqualified and does not get a medical card. Years ago, there was a system in place whereby someone who had a hardship case or a medical grounds case would get that medical card but that is not happening. The Minister needs to step in and the Department needs to look at this as being crucial. A medical card is so precious to people that it is like a gold card but we need to look at the people who are barely over the threshold by a few euro and who are not being accepted. In addition, urgent cards need to be given out really quickly. One cannot keep asking patients undergoing cancer treatment or any other type of treatment for further information; they need to be given medical cards.
I echo the remarks of the father of the House about Good Friday not on religious grounds but to keep it as it is on public health grounds and for workers.
I want to raise EU roaming charges and the giant loophole that came to light today which makes a joke of the EU's roaming law. Any people who booked their summer holidays would have been delighted to think they were not going to pay extortionate roaming charges to fill the coffers of mobile providers. It is set to be law by 15 June 2017 and would see the abolition of roaming costs. People thought at least the EU was listening and was doing something for ordinary people and it makes the EU a bit more relevant to people in different countries. Unfortunately, thus far at least three or four mobile providers have indicated it will not apply to them. Instead of allowing people to roam like home, these providers will jig around with the terms and conditions and make it obsolete. They are putting it up to ComReg and giving it the proverbial two fingers by stating that customers will not get the same amount of data when abroad. The providers' intention and action is to put in place a two-tier data system for when the EU law passes. It is shocking that ComReg left data out of this regulation. While the regulator put in talk, text and calls, data services are the most important thing we use when abroad and in our day-to-day life. The EU has been caught unintentionally or deliberately in obfuscating this issue and ComReg seems to be the butt of an absolutely farcical joke. I call on the Leader to request the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, to update Members on this issue to ascertain whether there is anything they can do to take over from the greedy providers of mobile services.
Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched an important report on Brexit. We brought in all the stakeholders from the agricultural and fishing communities and from the food industry. It is a comprehensive 124-page document and I compliment everyone who was involved in its production and on the work put into it. It is important, from the Seanad's point of view, to use the information available in that report to feed into the Seanad's own Brexit committee. I propose Members have a debate in this House on the report published yesterday to inform Members who were not on that committee about the 27 recommendations it contains. That could feed into the greater document which will be produced by the Seanad's Brexit committee.
There is potential benefit for many industries. One industry that cannot benefit, but will be grossly affected, is the agricultural industry. There is no positive whatsoever. As bad as the agricultural industry will be affected, the fishing industry, which I know the Cathaoirleach has exceptional knowledge of, will be very badly affected. It is a huge issue. Taking the information from that extensive report can feed into the greater works that are being proposed by the Brexit committee set up last week.
I also want to raise the issue of Bus Éireann. I know a number of colleagues have raised it yesterday and today. My concern is that people seem to be viewing it as an industrial relations issue, when in fact it is much bigger than that. Government policies are at the heart of the problems faced by Bus Éireann. An example is the Government policy not to give adequate public service obligation levy, PSO, subvention. It was cut dramatically over the last decade. It has been increased recently, but it is nowhere near where it needs to be. Subventions in other European countries run at around 50%, whereas here it runs at 10%. That is an issue of Government policy that needs to be addressed. The free travel scheme is only being subsidised by 40%. Bus Éireann is missing out on around €17 million in fees there. That will not be solved via industrial relations. It will only be solved by a change in Government policy.
I acknowledge that the Leader has asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come in. The problem is the Minister is not listening. The Minister's insistence that he will not intervene in the dispute is putting the cart before the horse. If he were to recognise the failures in Government policy from a funding point of view, and address them, it would make a solution viable. The difficulty is it would appear that the Minister is intent on driving Bus Éireann off a cliff. This company will close in May if the funding issue is not resolved. The trade union movement has made concrete suggestions to place Bus Éireann under the direct ownership of the CIE holding company, and to negotiate with the National Transport Authority and other stakeholders to build a proper future for our national bus company.
I remind the Leader that when I told him two weeks ago that there would be cuts to services in Bus Éireann, he said that I was scaremongering. We now know there are cuts to Clonmel, Limerick, Galway, Westport and Derry. I also remind him that travel passes are not accepted by most of the private operators that the National Transport Authority thinks are adequate to replace Bus Éireann services. This is a major issue for rural communities. It is a major issue for the west of Ireland. The Minister is failing. I ask the Leader to directly intervene. Otherwise the Government is heading into a general election when it is going to close the national bus company.