It is important that Members are aware there will be a motion before the House tomorrow night regarding the Grace inquiry and there will be statements on the Tuam issue on Thursday. It is imperative that as a society we deal with the awful legacies of our past, as the Taoiseach said. They are an awful blight on the name of Ireland, on our people, on our culture and on ourselves. It is equally important that we praise Catherine Corless for the work she did. She pursued it despite barriers and obstructions often being put in her way. Those of us who are part of a minority recognise there was a repressive culture in our society. That repression frightened and intimidated people and that is why I am glad we have a separation of church and State. That is why we, as Oireachtas Members, can govern and bring forward legislation without fear or favour.
I reiterate the call I made last week, which was referenced by many Senators earlier, for accountability in our country for once and for all. The people who were responsible for or party to what went on must be held to account. We must learn once and for all from the past. We said this following the Murphy and Cloyne reports. We must learn for ourselves and the generations coming after us from this and put in place processes where there is accountability and through which those who are responsible are held to account.
I agree with Senator Feighan that our education system, church, gardaí and State in general hid or allowed people to be hidden and held in these homes.
Senator Devine referenced the Magdalen women and the industrial schools, as did other Members. Where was the State? Where was society? Some of us in society at that time condoned this through our silence and inaction. There comes a time when we must stand up and I praise all those men and women who did. I know some of the women and their children who were in Bessborough. Senator Devine is right that many of our fellow citizens are suffering from mental health issues because they were so callously treated by our society and our State. There is a duty of care on all of us, no matter who we are or what our political hue is, to look after and treat these people properly and with dignity and respect. Every day, these people seek justice and truth. In many cases, they lament the way they were treated; that they were forced to give up their children against their will and were told they must do that or go across the pond to England. That is no way for a society to function or for a State to act.
I hope that through the children's referendum, the referendum on divorce, the referendum on marriage equality and the Child and Family Relationships Act we can put things right in terms of how our State governs and legislates for people. We must ensure that the commission of investigation gets up and running, gets answers and seeks the truth so we can put in place a structure for the women and children who have been let down by our State. Our society was very quick to judge. It was very harsh in its sentencing of many women. That is the legacy we must not obscure or airbrush. We must make sure we never forget so that the next generation is treated with respect and dignity.
As the Cathaoirleach said, we will have debates on these matters in the House this week. As Leader, I was very keen to expedite those debates and not push them out to the week after next. I apologise to Members for the change in schedules this week. Some of the changes are because of the importance of the issues raised on the Order of Business today and because some Members will be missing for the statements on defence on Thursday and I wanted to ensure those who requested the debate would be present. I agree 100% with Senator Devine when she says that those who have to pay, must pay, irrespective of who they are. The resignation of Marie Collins sends an awful signal to me. This is a woman of integrity, a woman of decency and a woman who inspires many of us. If she is speaking about obstruction of justice or about not being able to get to the truth, that sends a wrong message to me.
I hope we will be able to have an honest debate and that Members of this House will be able to contribute to terms of reference for the commission of investigation, which is important. It is clear that there is a yearning in society for truth and for justice. I hope we can achieve that for children, parents and women.
I hope we can send a signal to the fathers of children that they also have a responsibility and duty of care. It is not about going to the courts, seeking custody or being asked to pay maintenance. If one is the father of a child, one has a responsibility and must live up to it.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of the energy security to be provided by the liquefied natural gas, LNG, project. I very much welcome it. The Senator is correct that it highlights the importance of this House, where one can get projects and legislation amended or passed. I congratulate him on raising that particular project.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of the Passport Office. The Minister has appointed extra staff but the issue of Passport Express is something that the Senator should perhaps raise as a Commencement matter. We will be happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the issue in respect of the number of days and the delays in terms of Passport Express.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of St. John's Hospital. It is important to understand the role of the Bon Secours group today. We cannot associate the Bon Secours hospital group today with the events of the past. Many very fine people are working in those hospitals and they provide a very important resource in our health care system. It is, to be fair, a bit disingenuous to associate the Minister for Health with that. The issue the Senator raised would be far better served by not being intertwined with the issue he has referenced. My understanding is that the Minister for Health was opening a new facility there yesterday. We should all welcome any facility being opened in our health care system. It is a different matter whether we have a one tier system or a private-public system. I will have that debate with the Senator again.
On the issue in terms of the beds, I have been told that some of them have just been closed temporarily and that extra funding is being sought and is being negotiated with the HSE. Again, any closure of beds for whatever reason is unacceptable. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House but perhaps the Senator might table a Commencement matter. It is a matter of importance to have beds open and not closed.
The issue raised by Senator Colm Burke in respect of cannabis medical treatment is in the news today because of the walk of Vera Twomey on behalf of her daughter, Ava. All of us who have any decency and compassion want to see this family get access to treatment and to have their daughter looked after in a compassionate and prompt way. There is a lot of misinformation about this issue. The Minister, as Senator Burke said, cannot issue the licence. This is about ensuring that there is expertise and monitoring and that we can get access to treatment for this child, and in general. As Senator Burke rightly said, the HPRA report, which is out today but which I have not yet seen, makes a recommendation. The Chief Medical Officer last night issued a very important, comprehensive statement in respect of the process that is under way to establish an access programme for cannabis based treatments, the first of its kind in Ireland. He also, in his statement, refers to the period for which this access programme is being established and states that it is open to the Minister to provide a licence for access to cannabis for medical purposes in individual cases. It is also about being endorsed by a consultant, who is responsible for the management of the patient and who is prepared to monitor the effects of the treatment over time. In his press statement the Chief Medical Officer says it is crucial that the granting of any such licence takes due care and consideration of the potential unintended consequences associated. It is also important to recognise the independence and importance of the patient-doctor relationship.
The important point is that there is a process under way. We all want to see, in the case of Vera Twomey and her daughter, Ava, treatment being given and the child's life and quality of life being improved. I hope we can all work to achieve that.
I am happy to take Senator Daly's amendment. As I said to him before today, I was happy to have him place this issue on the Order Paper. Perhaps it could be a project of the Seanad. The booklet on the national flag is very important and we should look at it in terms of how we can not just fly our flag, but care for and respect it. Looking at some of the imagery on television, at soccer, rugby or GAA events, at election counts or wherever, the way we respect our flag should be noted. I would draw all Members' attention to section 13 regarding respect for our national flag and how we use and fly it. I commend Senator Daly for his initiative and I would be happy to take the amendment today.
Senator Norris referred to President Trump and raised the issue of fake news. Senator Butler last week got a lot of traction on his commentary here in regard to fake news and alternative facts.
It is important, in any political debate, that we do not reach the line of populism and try to curry favour with whomever. We must present the real facts, as Senator Butler said last week. Whether they are lies or a misrepresentation of the facts or the truth but whatever they are, it is important that there is a proper adherence to what facts are.
Senator Butler raised the issue of the Irish credit rating system. I agree with him that we must examine the system. In my opinion it is not fit for purpose as presently constituted. Legislation must be brought in so as to ensure that people are given a second chance.
As a former supervisor of my credit union in Bishopstown, I am deeply concerned at the way the Central Bank is working with credit unions.