Order of Business (Resumed)

That is good news; I am delighted.

Like others, I wish to address the issues arising from the finding of human remains on the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. I do not intend to rehearse the horror of what happened to those babies and their mothers but I share in the disgust that everyone in the House, and outside it, feels today. It is important we take this opportunity to commend Ms Catherine Corless, as others have done, and also the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes for bringing these issues to light, even though the process has been very difficult at times. I also compliment the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, for the prompt, open and respectful manner in which she addressed the issue. Unfortunately, this frankness and respect was not mirrored last week by the response or, indeed, the lack of response from the Bon Secours Order which ran the home at the time. It is not as if it was blind-sided by the unexpected news. It had a considerable amount of time to prepare a response for this but the decision not to comment on the findings has to have been a conscious one on its part.

The motto of the Bon Secours Order is: Good Help to Those in Need. Many of those who spent time in these homes were in need but I do not believe they ever got good help. Whatever the circumstances, the children whose lives were very short and ended in Tuam did not get the respect of a proper burial. The lack of response from the Bon Secours Order further compounds this indignity and is both mean-spirited and un-Christian. I do not believe this approach is reflective of the values of the majority of the serving sisters, if any, and I call on the Bon Secours Order to provide a truly caring response by giving a full apology as soon as possible.

I ask the Leader to urge the Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to use whatever powers and resources are at her disposal to ensure that these children are given the dignity of a respectful burial and that their memory is marked in an appropriate way.

I warmly welcome the announcement about the appointment of Ms Bridget Doody as Clerk-Assistant of Seanad Éireann. As a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, I was glad to be associated with that appointment. Bridget has a long history of service in the Civil Service and in these Houses in particular. She is a close neighbour of mine in north Kerry. I know her family very well and her brother Patrick is a particular friend of mine. I am sure Bridget will be very happy and successful in her position.

The Cathaoirleach and Leader will recall that I have mentioned the importance of the project on the Shannon Estuary for liquefied natural gas, LNG, on numerous occasions. I raised it quite recently and, at the Leader's request, I submitted a Commencement motion on it. I received a welcome reply from the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten. The LNG project will provide a significant guarantee for energy security in the country once it gets the go-ahead, and will be a huge boost for the entire mid-west region, particularly counties Kerry and Limerick. I welcome the announcement in yesterday's paper, The Independent, that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has selected two particular projects to support to secure our energy needs in the post-Brexit scenario. One of those is the LNG project. This is most welcome news, particularly since the Minister has indicated that he hopes to tap into the strategic investment fund to boost these projects. It shows that we in the Seanad can be instrumental in highlighting important issues in a non-partisan and non-political way. This has been brought up as a political football for many years. It is only since it has been raised here in the Seanad that it has been given a cool and reasonable appraisal. I compliment the Minister and Government for taking on board the suggestions raised in this House. Hopefully this long-expected project will finally come to fruition.

I presume that LNG is liquefied natural gas?

I join my colleagues in congratulating Bridget. I am glad that I was on the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission when the appointment was made.

Many people have already addressed the situation in Tuam. I was brought up in Galway in the 1960s, under the tyranny of the famous Bishop Browne, where young girls who found themselves pregnant were sent away on holidays and were not pregnant when they came back. My colleague, Senator Bacik, hit the nail on the head. There are tens of thousands of fathers wandering around this country who took no responsibility whatsoever for what they delivered. I wonder how many are hanging their heads in shame today.

There are also thousands of mothers who gave up their children or were forced to do so. Some believed that they were adopted. I saw an article in the paper yesterday about a woman saying she believed her brother was not buried in Tuam, but might in fact have been adopted in America. Can we even stop to think about the pain those women are going through today as they wonder whether they had a child buried in Tuam or sent somewhere else for adoption? There is not a Member of this House, any other House, or any establishment in this country that has not been touched by this dirty little secret.

It was a dirty little secret. I am aware, with regard to my own family, of a farm being taken off a girl because she became pregnant after her husband died. The children were sent to orphanages. This is the kind of country that we lived in and it is time that we pull back the covers and have a look at what went on in this dirty little country.

By the way, it was not only the church that was involved. As my colleague Senator Victor Boyhan said, everybody was involved, including doctors, social workers, teachers and nurses, as well as parents because it was they who delivered their daughters to these establishments. Therefore, when we talk about this issue, let us talk openly and honestly about it.

I remind Senators who are not spokespersons that they just have two minutes. Spokespersons have three. Some Senators tend to forget this.

I ask the Leader to take up the issue of the severe delays being experienced in the issuing of passports at the Passport Office. In the period from January 2016 to January 2017 there was a 74% increase in the number of applications for passports. Some 60,000 applications are pending. As is well known, the increase stems from Brexit in that people with an entitlement to an Irish passport are applying for one, particularly in Northern Ireland, Britain and the United States. Without a doubt, staff in the Passport Office are under a lot of pressure. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has appointed additional staff, but I raise a particular issue concerning the Passport Express system. There was a ten working day turnaround period from the time an application was made through the post office, but this has increased to 15 days. The reality is, however, that it is taking a lot longer than 15 days to process applications. People pay the €80 fee and send off their application using the Passport Express system, thinking they will receive a new passport in 15 days, but they will not. When they monitor their application on-line, they see that nothing is happening and that the date of receipt might be beyond their travel departure date. There is an obvious issue about resources in the Passport Office, but, apart from this, it should be made clear that the turnaround time is not within 15 days. As a result, applicants should apply much earlier. When members of the public are handing over their money in the post office, there should be a sign notifying them of possible delays. The extended turnaround time is causing chaos for people in making travel plans. They are turning to politicians for help, but the problem could be alleviated if the position was set out more clearly. The Minister should examine the matter. The severe delays in the Passport Office should be communicated more clearly to the general public.

We had a strange day in Limerick yesterday when 25 beds in St. John's Hospital were summarily closed owing to budget constraints. This will cause massive concern for patients. St. John's Hospital is a step-down facility for patients from Limerick University Hospital and the bed closures show the chaos in the health system. It was strange that, at the same time, the Minister for Finance could be seen laughing and cavorting as he announced the takeover of a private hospital, Barrington's Hospital, by another private hospital. The name of the other private hospital is Bon Secours Systems Limited. I have to be frank and say I was absolutely shocked and disgusted to see pictures like these showing the Minister for Finance with a giant key, smiling and laughing.

It is not appropriate to display pictures in the House.

The Senator can make his point without doing so.

Absolutely. First, the Minister for Finance should not have been there to announce the takeover of a private hospital. It was not appropriate. Second, it was inappropriate to do so two days after the horrific confirmation that the remains of 800 babies had been found in Tuam. Let us be clear: Bon Secours Systems Limited is wholly-owned by the Bon Secours order of nuns. Let us also be clear on how they got their money. They got their money during decades of torture, neglect and death, yet the Minister for Finance thinks it is fine to stand and smile for photographs with representatives of a company that made a profit of €2.3 million last year and which is wholly-owned by this order. It is a disgrace. I want him to come and explain what on earth he thought he was doing. I hope Senators on the Government side of the House will have the good grace to acknowledge this huge error of judgment on his part.

I join other Senators in congratulating Ms Bridget Doody on her appointment. I look forward to working with her.

Others have spoken about what we saw in Tuam. It was not shocking because it was well signalled but in terms of the idea of hundreds of babies and children buried in septic tanks, and all of the pain that goes with that, I join those who have called for the commission of inquiry's interim report to be published now. I understand the Government is waiting to have its response in terms of that but we can no longer delay the publication of the interim report. We need to expand the commission's terms of reference to the 180 or whatever number of other institutions that must be included. We must look to questions around the Bessborough mother and baby home, where the mortality rates were shocking and need to be followed up and investigated.

I want to follow up on what Senator Bacik said, which is that as well as the debate we will have this week on Ireland's appalling history of institutional violence in the case of Grace and in the case of the mother and baby homes as highlighted on Thursday, we need to have a wider debate on the culture of denial, the overall history of institutional abuse in Ireland and how it came about. We need a "Why" debate that looks to the patterns of denial, obstruction of justice and the inadequacy of redress.

People have called for an apology from the Bon Secours sisters. We also need compensation. Every order in this country needs to be paying the compensation it should be paying into the funds, which they have neglected. They also need to recognise the moneys made on the backs of those who worked in the Magdalen laundries, for example.

In that same week we had a story that did not get as much coverage. Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of abuse, resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors because of what she referred to as the shameful resistance she met within the church to acting for the protection of minors and facing up to past abuse.

I concur with Senator Gavan. We need to ask a fundamental question. Is it appropriate that the institutions which are obstructing justice in these areas and have this legacy of abuse would be in charge of institutions such as our health or education services? We, as a State, need to step in and ask that bigger question.

My last question-----

Senator, in fairness-----

This is a technical question just to-----

I warned people about this earlier. The Senator has spoken for three minutes and she had two.

Apologies. We talked about a debate on the future of Europe, and a multi-speed Europe was mentioned again earlier. I will raise the issue directly with the Leader but I would like a debate on that.

A theme coming through this debate is the lack of checks and balances.

There has been a lot of media coverage on the use of cannabis for medical treatment. It is interesting that the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, is being blamed by all for delays on this matter. The Minister had a licence issued in regard to one family in west Cork for the use of cannabis for a young child. That application was supported by the medical consultant. A second application was received on 31 January but it did not have the support of the consultant who was caring for that child.

It is important that we have checks and balances in this matter also. The Joint Committee on Health dealt with this matter this morning at which the CEO of the Health Products Regulatory Authority made it clear that the authority now wants to introduce a five year cannabis access programme. She stated, "Such a programme is necessary both to maximise the safe and effective use of cannabis as a medical therapy for an individual patient and to minimise the potential [negative impact of wider access on society]". She went on to state, "Patients treated with cannabis should be under the care of a medical consultant who has expertise and experience in the treatment of the specified condition, and who is responsible for the monitoring and follow-up of the patient".

The Minister is prepared to give a licence where that is available.

It is important that we stop making false commitments to people to the effect that a licence can be issued and there will be no monitoring. That cannot be done and it would be dangerous to do so. It is extremely dangerous for children. Let us get the truth out there. The licence is available. It is on the basis that suitable monitoring and supervision is available.

The Senator's point is made.

I, too, add my voice to what was said about the reports on Tuam, the babies that were sold to America and beyond, those who were neglected by the order and those who were left to die for the want of medicines. That is shocking and people want to get to the bottom of it, but what is also shocking is the current foster care system whereby 5,000 children are awaiting assessment. At the same time as people are looking at what happened in Tuam and feel helpless and hopeless, there are children who need fostering. That is what citizens can do now to help. The situation concerning Grace is a modern day case similar to what happened in Tuam. Now it is individual cases instead of hundreds but there are hundreds of young people similar to Grace, children who need our help.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins mentioned Marie Collins. She is another example of how institutions do not want to reform, do not want change and do not want people to be brought to account. If those children were dying in Tuam today, the people in charge would not go to prison. The Corporate Manslaughter Bill is before the House. If enacted, people with responsibility who do not take action would go to prison but because that is not the case those at the top do not care, do not have to care and are not made accountable for their inaction.

I beg the Leader's indulgence in relation to an anniversary that falls today. Today is 7 March, the anniversary of the first flying of the Tricolour from 33 The Mall in Waterford. I ask that we take No. 33, motion No. 19, on the Order Paper, adopting the protocols on the Irish flag that were drawn up by the Taoiseach's Department. The man who first flew the flag, Thomas Francis Meagher, had an extraordinary life. Not only did he participate in a rebellion in Ireland in 1848, but he was the last man sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered here. Prior to sentencing, the judge asked him if he had anything to say, to which he replied: "Well your honour, if you do not sentence me to death, I will try again." The judge obliged and sentenced him to death but it was commuted to transportation for life to Australia and he ended up in the 69th regiment of the Union Army in the American Civil War and became governor of Montana. For the historical record of the House, the flag that is flying today over Leinster House was first flown from 33 The Mall in Waterford. The Ceann Comhairle presented it to the Defence Forces and they undertook that today would be the first day they would fly it from Leinster House.

To clarify, is the Senator formerly moving an amendment that motion No. 19 be taken today?

Yes. I ask the Leader's assistance to amend the Order of Business and adopt the protocols in relation to the Irish flag, as outlined in No. 33, motion No. 19.

Senator Mark Daly raised the issue with me in December but usually, one gives four days' notice. I have no problem if the Leader does not wish to accept the motion. I will use my discretion. It is up to him to agree it or not.

I was fairly restrained about President Donald Trump because I do not think he watches the proceedings of Seanad Éireann, but he is an extremely dangerous man.

He reads it for Twitter.

He just watches Fox News and cartoons. He is an extremely dangerous man. Yesterday, he launched an attack on former President Obama in which he made unsubstantiated claims that there had been wire tappings on Trump Tower.

It will be on his Twitter account tonight.

This is a quite extraordinary thing. He went on to talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger hosting a TV show. The man obviously suffers from what the late Provost Mahaffy called verbal diarrhoea accompanied by mental constipation, but spreading the idea of fake news is extraordinarily dangerous.

Alternative facts are just lies. This is the world of George Orwell's newspeak. Yesterday an Irish-American spoke on Newstalk and described the mass grave in Tuam as fake news and lies. This is the astonishing degree to which the matter is being taken. The man seemed to be completely unfazed by the fact that many hundreds of children had apparently been tossed into a sewage tank. It is the most repulsive thing of all. Despite the fact that President Trump is unlikely to be following our proceedings today, it is important to take note of the standards to which we expect people to adhere in public life.

I refer to the Irish Credit Bureau. I am seeking a review of the Irish credit rating system because it is one that offers no forgiveness. In other countries people are given a second chance, but that is not the case in this country. Credit unions operate under strict rules imposed by the Central Bank of Ireland. The social protection scheme which is operated by credit unions and which was designed for people on low incomes has not been availed of by all credit unions. What about the squeezed middle who renegotiated their loans and are paying their way? They have had a tough five or six years, but after renegotiating their loans and paying their way, there is a black mark against them. It is very difficult for such persons to get even the smallest of loans from credit unions or banks. We need a new system in order that they can take out small or medium-sized loans which they will pay back. Retail sales at Christmas were down significantly because, whether we like it, the retail sector runs on credit and if we are to get the economy running, we have to help people to get credit. If they want to take out a small or medium-sized loan, they should be given a second chance. If they have renegotiated their loans, why put a black mark against them? They are paying their way. In many cases, their downfall was the result of circumstances connected to the crash which brought them to a position where they had to renegotiate their loans. We have to move on. Many people in middle Ireland are going to loan sharks who are charging interest rates of 200% or 300%, something we want to stop. We need a debate on the Irish Credit Bureau which is past its sell-by date. We need to examine how we can help the people concerned. A new system needs to be introduced because the one in place is Victorian.

I commend Senator Victor Boyhan for the way he spoke about the Tuam baby story. He spoke with great conviction and compassion. We have a lot to lament in the way we treated the living and now it seems our dead. Let us remember and learn from what happened. The lesson for us all in this and other cases has to be that every child deserves life, respect and, ultimately, love. That applies whether he or she is from the great or the small in our society, rich or poor or wanted. That will be the test of us as a modern society and it should apply regardless of whether a person is a citizen of the State. I ask the relevant Minister to give us a report on the operation of the recently commenced International Protection Act 2015. There is a fear among people who know and care that a significant number of deportations of asylum seekers may take place in the future as a result of the operation of the Act. Newly published figures show that in 2016, 428 asylum seekers and illegal migrants were deported from the Republic. Lawyers in the International Protection Office in Dublin are assessing applications from asylum seekers under the new legislation for the first time.

The Minister talks about this streamlining the old system and says that further measures will be introduced to further enhance the protection and security of our borders.

There is major concern about the fact that errors could be caused by applicants misunderstanding the extensive application for international protection questionnaire that is required, maybe because of inadequate legal advice. It is a 60-page document that has to be returned within 20 working days. This is a tight deadline for someone working with few friends and no influence in the country.

There is a concern that people would not have the legal or other advice they need, thus making it easier for the State to say "No" should early issues of credibility arise. However, such issues, perhaps, would not be there if proper assistance and a suitable timeline were available for asylum seekers. I call on the Minister to initiate a review on the operations of this new questionnaire and to come to the House to inform us and reassure us on how it will operate.

There are many issues to raise but, along with many others, I really need to raise the Tuam babies case and mother and baby institutions. Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and to gel it all together I was at the Flowers for Magdalenes event on Sunday. This is the sixth time we have hosted the event. I listened to the stories of the women. One woman said: "They took my hair; they took my human rights; they took my clothes; they took my name; but they never took my spirit." It was shocking. It was tearful. The crowds are growing year on year. People are looking for their children and families. Their search goes on. The women from the Magdalen institutions are elderly. Some are in psychiatric hospitals or what we used to call asylums. A handful remain there. They are unable to speak and have different disabilities. They do not know what is going on and do not know they are entitled to redress. The HSE needs to act fast. I have been banging my head against a brick wall in this regard for a long time.

I was in court yesterday with the Magdalen women, including the women who lost their children in Tuam and Cork. It was horrific. One such woman is 55 years of age. Therefore, it did not happen in our parents' time; it happened almost in our generation. She was forced to give her child away. She found him and they were reunited two years ago. Each of the 25 women in court yesterday has suffered mental health issues. They need protection and answers. We do not need procrastination. The man bringing the case against the HSE is searching for his baby sister, who was in Tuam. He does not know whether his baby sister is alive or buried in the graveyard there.

The wealth of the Catholic Church in this nation is relevant. At the inception of this country our souls and spirits were handed over collectively to those in the church so that they could do as they wanted with us. What they wanted to do with us, they did. They took us and stripped away, especially in the case of the poor. They attacked and hated poverty. They attacked women and children. We really need equality rather than simply talking about it.

Your time is up, Senator.

The wealth possessed by the church in this country was built on the back of the sweat and toil of my parents, your parents and our grandparents as well as on the tithe they gave every week to the church. It is time to give it back to the people.

Senator, your point is well made. Senator Feighan is next.

I was shocked again at what happened in Tuam. I did not think we could be shocked anymore after the Cloyne report and the Ryan report. Speaking in the Dáil at the time of the Ryan report, I said that we cannot blame anyone else for this. We cannot blame Britain or Germany. We have ourselves to blame. We are angry and we are reaching out to blame people.

However, the State has been set up since 1922. Under Article 44 in our Constitution, written in 1937, we gave a special relationship to the Catholic Church. It was taken out in 1973. It was deleted. However, we had a special relationship with the Catholic Church. That was the decision of the people of Ireland. This was the political system of Ireland that effectively encompassed almost 100%. Anyone who did not fit in went to the United Kingdom or wherever.

When I was growing up, if we misbehaved in our own towns, judges would send us to London. They felt it was a different place. This was a time when happiness was not really celebrated and there was an acceptance of suffering in childhood and hardship. We must reflect on where we are now. We can enjoy diversity and, without forgetting the horrible things of the past, we must look forward to positive things. Everyone had amnesia. We forgot what did not suit us. However, we must remember that we were the State. The State invited in the Catholic Church, which set up those institutions, and we are all culpable. Our parents were culpable as was everyone else. What happened the poor women and children is absolutely wrong. I am not churchgoing or religious. However, the Catholic Church is absolutely wrong. We have to trawl through the systems that were in place, including the Garda and education systems. Where was the INTO? Where was the TUI?

The Senator is over time.

Where were the educationalists? We were all part of it and it is absolutely shameful.

I agree with the previous speakers on the mother and baby home in Tuam and the Magdalen laundries. It is absolutely shocking. Accountability is needed because this is devastating for families. To bring it up today is heart wrenching.

I also wish to speak on rural Ireland. For the past few weeks, we have been hearing that there is so much extra work available and that is welcome, but it is in the cities. The House will be aware of today's announcement that the Government has recommended the closure of 80 post offices in rural Ireland. I read it in the Irish Independent. That the Government has recommended the closure of 80 sites, mainly in rural areas, is a massive blow to rural Ireland and the future of post offices. At the same time Ulster Bank is expected to shut up to 30 branches, again mainly in rural locations. I have been fighting for rural Ireland since I came into the Seanad. Rural Ireland is forgotten by this Government. The communities there - the shopkeepers, the doctors and the post offices - are forgotten about. I ask that the Minister be invited to the House to discuss the matter.

The Minister was here two weeks ago.

He may come back in again-----

----- because he did not announce that up to 80 rural post offices may be closed. That is unacceptable. I want the Minister to come to the House to address this matter today or, if not today, first thing in the morning. This announcement is unacceptable and I seek clarification on it.

A report was published that one in ten children lives in poverty; it is now 2017 and we are told we are out of recession. That is unacceptable too and the Minister should come to the House to address these matters.

I wish to raise a matter pertaining to Bord na Móna and the overuse of bogs in Ireland. Some 4 million tonnes of peat are being stripped from Irish bogs yearly by Bord na Móna. Only 60 million tonnes of peat are left in our large bogs, which are controlled by Bord na Móna. At the current rate of extraction, which has been capped by the EU in recent years, we have 15 years left before the bogs as we know them will be gone and the Irish landscape will be changed.

I was contacted recently by a number of miscanthus growers who had been contracted by Bord na Móna. This grass was being grown as part of a dual fuelling system with peat over the past ten years but, overnight, growers got notice that this grass would no longer be burned and would no longer be needed.

At the time, Bord na Móna with great fanfare encouraged people to embrace renewable energy. The company said the grass would grow every year and this was the best thing since the sliced pan. It is incredible that the company could leave them high and dry. They were given a spurious excuse about chlorine levels. This was not covered by an EU regulation and, therefore, it was a way out.

Bord na Móna is importing palm kernel shells. They are not certified and there has not been a full explanation about this product. It is imported from Indonesia. The shells come from rainforests that have been cut down and harvested. The company cannot sit idly, do what it wants, and deal with whom it wants. It is bad enough to pillage our own country without any regulation but importing such products from another country is unacceptable. Bord na Móna is on the loose. I second amendment No. 2 to the Order of Business in the name of Senator Daly.

I thank the 20 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business. Ba mhaith liom mo chomhgairdeas a dhéanamh le Bridget Doody as ucht post nua a glacadh. In congratulating her on her appointment, we are blessed and lucky as a House to have a person of her calibre. I have had the pleasure of working with her on a number of initiatives in the Oireachtas and I have always found her to be a professional, courteous, efficient and very kind person. I wish her well in her tenure with us. I hope this is the beginning of a new partnership and that the Seanad Office will be expanded. I wish her every success. It is a pity that Senator O'Sullivan outlined her Kerry heritage, which might be a red mark against her. I am glad she is wearing a red dress today to represent Cork. I wish her well nonetheless.

I thank the 15 Senators who directly or indirectly raised the awful vista of what is emerging about the Tuam mother and baby home. It is important to put this tragic story in context. These were young infants and newborns. These human beings were let down by the State, the church, society and their families as a result of the culture that prevailed at the time.

I should have pointed out earlier that the Leader has arranged a debate on Thursday which should address many of the queries raised.

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.

I ask the Minister for Finance to pull the hand brake a small bit in terms of the Central Bank. We all accept that there should be regulation and oversight. The credit union movement that Nora Herlihy set up was not meant to be considered a bank but to work for people in communities in all parts of Ireland. I am very concerned at the way the Central Bank has treated credit unions.

Senator Mullen asked about the operation of the International Protection Act 2015. I am happy to invite the Minister to come to the House to debate the matter.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of post offices. I hope she understands that the decision was not made by the Government. It is a report, if I may say before she responds, that An Post refuted this afternoon. I ask her to check her sources again.

It is all in the newspapers.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, has commissioned a report on rural Ireland that shall be chaired by Pat Spillane. I am of the viewpoint that we need post offices in rural Ireland. The Government is committed to rural Ireland and the Minister was in the House. We have an Action Plan for Rural Development. If the Senator wishes to expedite the matter she could table a Commencement matter as it would be far faster.

I am happy to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to the House-----

-----if the report ever sees the light of day.

All right. I shall table a Commencement matter.

It is important to note the Action Plan for Jobs because more people are now back at work. The biggest area of job creation in this country was outside Dublin in the past year. Approximately 1,300 jobs per week have been created. As much as 70% of the jobs created last year were located outside Dublin. That proves the recovery is beginning to happen beyond Dublin, which is a fact that we all welcome.

Some of the decisions taken by local authorities in the past have led to the decimation of many rural towns due to building taking place on the periphery of such towns. Senator Murnane O'Connor will know quite well what I mean. We need to reincentivise urban towns in rural Ireland in terms of the living over the shop scheme, etc. Last week Senators Butler and Davitt spoke about rates. We have the Seanad consultative committee. I hope that the committee, as part of our work, will in time consider rates as a means to help revitalise rural Ireland. It is an issue that Senator Murnane O'Connor raised as well.

Senator Davitt raised the issue of Bord na Móna. I am unfamiliar with what the Senator mentioned. He made a pertinent point that needs to be considered by the Minister in the context of the role of Bord na Móna in terms of alternative fuel, and how it can continue to create employment in rural Ireland and work with communities. I am happy to invite the Minister to the House for a debate.

I am happy to accept Senator Mark Daly's amendment.

Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 33, motion No. 19, be taken today." The Leader has agreed to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.