The Order of Business is No. 1, Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I support those protesting for better services for children with disabilities. On 2 April, we had World Autism Day. I join in the support for those involved in the Enough is Enough campaign who have been protesting in recent days. The HSE responded to a parliamentary question tabled by my colleague, Deputy James Browne, and confirmed that in Dublin South-Central and Dublin South-West alone the total number of people on waiting lists to receive speech therapy services is 2,883. That figure is absolutely scandalous and unacceptable. This is only one area of services needed by children with disabilities. Others include occupational therapy, physiotherapy and respite services. These figures alone are an indictment, while the anecdotal evidence from parents on the street suggests that figures for other services are as bad if not worse. I am calling on the Leader to call on the Minister for Health to address this inequality, to ensure that we look after children and adults with disabilities. Dublin South-Central alone has one of the highest proportions of people with disabilities in the country. It is unfair not to give services to people who need them to live some level of a decent life and take part in society.
I would also like to emphasise the lack of funding for respite services, not only for children but for parents. For some reason in the past few years, the funding available has decreased. I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Health if anything can be done to increase the funding for respite services.
I would also like to talk about a national issue, namely, rehabilitation services in Ireland. I ask the Leader if he could organise for the Minister for Health to come to the Seanad and outline the national plan for our rehabilitation services. On a number of occasions, I have raised the matter of the National Rehabilitation Hospital, NRH, on Rochestown Avenue in Dún Laoghaire. Some weeks ago, other Senators also highlighted this matter. One issue to which I wish to refer relates to the closure of 12 beds just after Christmas. We obtained an undertaking that the Minister would return to the House to explain what happened but we never heard a thing. I made contact with the NRH this week and was informed there has been no change in circumstances. The 12 beds that were closed because of resourcing issues have not been reopened. This is against a background of hundreds of patients all over the country holding up essential acute beds, which the health services say are needed to continue the roll-out of more comprehensive services. Health is becoming one of the biggest issues facing the country. While I recognise that the Minister is doing an awful lot of work, there is much that needs to be put right. Progress has to be made.
The second issue is that the NRH was meant to be the subject of a rebuilding programme. Five different health Ministers have been out there making announcements about the 120-bed unit, yet it still has not been built. There has not been one sod turned. There is a bigger debate to be had as to whether we should centralise national rehabilitation hospitals, with four or five centres of excellence across the country. How can we free up acute beds to allow that to happen? The immediate issue is to get the 12 beds open. How can we have a new hospital of 120 beds on the programme, which is to commence within weeks, if we cannot reopen 12 beds on the same campus? This raises serious questions. I would appreciate it if the Leader could arrange for the Minister to come to the House to explain the position.
I acknowledge the work of the national broadband plan. It is exciting. Although there was a great deal of negative commentary in the newspapers today, it is major progress. There will be a presentation by the Minister, Deputy Naughten, today in the audio-visual room and I am looking forward to hearing what he has to say. We should congratulate him and acknowledge the work he has done on the roll-out of broadband throughout the country.
Diabetes will be one of the major challenges facing our health service in the years ahead.
The Minister for Health met representatives of the Donegal Diabetes Association in Letterkenny General Hospital in December and learned about the serious crisis in the provision of care for adults with type 1 diabetes in the county. They have to wait 21 months for follow-up appointments. The provision of such care prevents very serious conditions from occurring down the line. Not only has the crisis not been addressed, it has got worse. We have learned this morning that the paediatric endocrinologist in Sligo who is responsible for providing the pump therapy clinics in Letterkenny for children in County Donegal will move to a new position and not be replaced. Children in County Donegal who require pump therapy will be forced to travel to Sligo and perhaps even to Dublin for treatment. This is a really serious matter. There has been a lot of anger in County Donegal for years because we believe the support provided for those with diabetes is well below what has been agreed in the national diabetes programme. I urge the Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for urgent attention in order that he will be aware not only of how the issue affects adults but also how the problem has got worse in the sense that children in the county will lose a vital service. Will the Leader ask the Minister to respond to me urgently.
For some time I have been referring to the fact that Cork University Maternity Hospital, CUMH, has the longest gynaecology waiting lists in the country. This causes fear and endangers the health of women who are desperately waiting for an outpatient appointment or an urgent procedure or treatment. For a change, however, I want to report some positive developments and give credit where credit is due. Last week the doctors' plan developed with hospital group management involving new governance procedures and an investment of €14 million was signed off on by the Minister for Health. I thank all of my colleagues in this and the other House who joined me in highlighting the long gynaecology waiting lists in CUMH for keeping the pressure on and helping to broker solutions. I know that we will all be monitoring the progress of the plan to ensure women on the waiting list are reached that it will make a difference. I commend the work of Senator Colm Burke and the Leader in this matter. I ask the Leader to pass on my thanks to the Minister and his officials for the breakthrough made last week.
I thank colleagues for their cross-party support for the Adult Safeguarding Bill which I will bring forward this afternoon. Given the recent examples of abuse and harm caused to adults, we can all agree that the Bill is timely. It draws on a painful learning from our experiences and cases with which we have become too familiar. It is forward-looking, constructive and, in the words of Mervyn Taylor from Sage, the support and advocacy service for older people, replaces the indignation that we are all so very good at showing on legislation. I am looking forward to the debate and hope as many Members as possible will contribute because like all Bills, it can be improved and amended. Of course, I hope all Members will support its passage.
I welcome the very positive news that SUSI grants have been reopened to postgraduate students because they were closed in 2012. This will encourage people to further their education and increase their employment prospects in the long term. I commend the Minister for Education and Skills on reopening the grants to postgraduate students and congratulate Peter Furey from Ardscoil Rís in Limerick who came first in the Doodle 4 Google competition.
I express my disappointment at the disgraceful treatment of the senior Irish women's soccer team by the FAI. The lack of basic facilities and support for professional and semi-professional sport stars is appalling. I am very disappointed that this heavily State-aided and cash-rich professional organisation treats its stars so appallingly and leaves them without access to nutritionists and a gym. Non-professionals who work full time or part time do not have their out-of-pocket expenses covered when representing their country. They also have problems with the accommodation provided when representing their country. The payment of a reasonable gratuity is only fair. One hopes a modern organisation will try to make progress and give equal status to women. Therefore, I hope the FAI will "man up", for want of a better term, and do the right thing.
I attended the debate last night in Dáil Éireann on the current state of the Defence Forces. I compliment Deputy Lisa Chambers on the wonderful presentation she made. Deputy Marc MacSharry addressed the issue I had addressed in this House yesterday, namely, RAF jets flying in Irish airspace. Subsequent to my presentation yesterday, the National Security Committee was brought to my attention. I am horrified that there is zero oversight by the Oireachtas of this vital committee which is responsible for the security of the nation. In the United Kingdom there is a parliamentary committee that is solely responsible for the management and oversight of all security services. In this country there is no accountability to this House, the Members of which are democratically elected. The Leader can decide which Minister is responsible for the matter, but I am asking him to bring a Minister to the House at his convenience to enable us to discuss the security of the State. The National Security Committee is reactive and not proactive. There is a disjointed and unco-ordinated approach to intelligence gathering and security, including cyber security and espionage. As the matter needs urgent attention, I ask the Leader to deal with it at his convenience. We should not, however, leave it in the pot too long.
I also join Senator Victor Boyhan in referring to the National Rehabilitation Hospital. It is disappointing to see beds being closed. However, there is also a good news story in that a 12-bed rehabilitation unit will be built at Roscommon County Hospital. The project is in the planning stages, but it will be a rehabilitation unit for the west. It will involve the decentralisation of a necessary, important and valuable resource and I would like to see it being progressed as quickly as possible.
Before Christmas and following the very successful visit of the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, to the Seanad where she was treated like a rock star, I argued that Ireland should seek a unique solution in the Brexit talks. I said we should invite the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, to come to the House to address Gibraltar's concerns which I know are completely different from ours. Spain wants to have a veto in discussing the future of Gibraltar. While we would not be getting involved in that discussion, the Seanad should look at and discuss the interests of all of the various countries that will be involved in the Brexit negotiations. The Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, has appealed to the British to calm down. Former British Ministers have said Great Britain should use measures akin to those used in the Falklands War. We also need to inform ourselves.
Does the Senator know we have a separate Seanad committee dealing with Brexit, which is chaired by Senator Richmond?
I ask that we invite leaders of other countries or principalities to the Seanad. In that context, Ms Nicola Sturgeon has already addressed the House. We should invite other leaders to inform us of what is happening, their fears about Brexit and what they are doing about it. This would not undermine our negotiating stance and the Seanad could inform the representatives of the territories in question about where we are coming from.
Tá mé ag ardú ceiste ar maidin a bhaineann le haighneas eile atá ag ardú cloigne. Baineann sé le Gaillimh go príomha i dtosach ach is ceist náisiúnta í.
I am told workers providing homelessness services in Galway have unanimously backed a campaign to secure the Labour Court's recommended hourly rate for overnight working. A Labour Court ruling in 2014 recommended that time spent on overnight or "sleepover" duty should be acknowledged as constituting working time and workers should be paid the national minimum hourly rate, which is €9.25, for this duty. IMPACT has today explained that when the union sought the payment for staff working in the Galway Simon Community, the employer stated that it was unable to pay as the HSE had not provided the funding to allow it to do so. The employer accepts that staff have a legal entitlement to the payment but the HSE is withholding the funding. This is clearly not an acceptable position.
The HSE, as we all know, pays its staff the proper rate and provides money to other funded agencies to allow them to do so. It does not make sense, therefore, to exclude the staff at the Simon Communities or in any other homelessness agency effectively providing services through the night for €4.50 per hour, which is less than half of the national minimum wage. There are 50 staff at Galway Simon Community, including housing support officers and housing support assistants. The local IMPACT representative, Mr. Pádraig Mulligan, has stated the staff are highly experienced and entered the workplace with recognised third level qualifications in social care. The employer and the HSE accept that the money is owed but nobody is prepared to release the funds. We have had much discussion about the homelessness issue but these homelessness service workers, who are very important in trying to support the people who find themselves in such a difficult position, certainly need to be supported as well. I would welcome a debate with the relevant Minister, who would be the Minister for Health because as this is a HSE funding issue. He could come to the House so we could discuss the work being provided by these homelessness services and the workers being paid only €4.50 per hour for work they are doing overnight.
The first three Senators who spoke on the Order of Business - Senators Ardagh, Boyhan and Mac Lochlainn - dealt with matters relating to disability and I did not coach any of them. I have said before that social housing for people with disabilities now has a waiting list of nearly 6,000 instead of 4,000 and recent figures indicate that poverty has increased for people with disabilities. There are also matters of employment, as approximately 31% of people with disabilities of employment age are employed. There is also the question of young people with disabilities living in nursing homes. We have heard this before and I hope we will not have to keep listening to it.
I particularly mention a report I read in the Mail on Sunday, written by Ms Niamh Griffin, which indicates that internal Government papers demonstrate that even when the UN convention is finally ratified, the health service will not be able to afford to deliver on its promise. The nub of the piece centres on a memo sent by officials to the Minister, Deputy Harris, last October. It states that even with ratification in place, it should "also be noted that the health system as currently structured does not have the capacity to deliver the provision now proposed without significant extra resources". It also points to the fact that the service is not yet in a position to appoint a director on foot of the assisted decision-making legislation passed well over a year ago.
There are issues about Brexit and other matters in this country but there is a running sore of loss and further degradation for people with disabilities and their families, not just throughout the recession but continuing to now. I request that the Taoiseach come to this House - he has given an undertaking that he would do so a number of times every year. He should either confirm what is in the report - that the Government is not prepared and is slowing down the process of ratification because of cost implications - or be honest with people with disabilities and say that the Government is getting on with the job. This coming budget will be the third and possibly mid-cycle budget from this Government. It is important that there is action to stop the decline seen by people with disabilities and start building up services. This Government will be remembered because it has to deal with Brexit but it will also be remembered because of how it has or has not dealt with this issue. There should be less rhetoric and more action.
I agree with Senator Feighan on inviting to this Chamber, as opposed to the separate Seanad Brexit committee, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. I mentioned previously that this is absolutely a fitting stage for foreign heads of state to address the Irish people. Only this week we saw the Croatian President, Mrs. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovi, visiting the country. There have been some lovely engagements but she has not had the opportunity to engage with the Irish people or their representatives in an appropriate manner. This Chamber would be such a setting and I fully agree with Senator Feighan's earlier remarks in that regard.
The regulation of lobbying legislation is under review and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to debate that review in this House. There is a glaring oversight in the Act, as there is a need to regulate better for overseas lobbying of the Irish Government and Ministers, especially when our Ministers spend so much time in Brussels, Strasbourg and across the European Union. There is no requirement for lobbyists to register any lobbying activity if it is carried out outside the jurisdiction of Ireland. It is a glaring anomaly that is open to abuse. I hope it has not yet been abused but I ask the Leader to bring in the Minister as a matter of urgency to debate this very important review.
The last Government made a number of serious errors, one of which was an attempt to abolish this House. I am thankful the people resoundingly rejected that. Another action, which was more successful, was the abolition of town council governance. I draw Members' attention to the fact that my party colleague, Deputy Shane Cassells, will move a Bill in the Lower House today asking for a commission to be set up that would report in the next six months, with proposals to restore an enhanced form of town government. Many colleagues would be glad to hear of that. The idea is the commission would report in time for local elections in 2019 to town councils as well as county councils. Towns have suffered much in recent years due to the economic downturn and the town council was a very important facet of life and support for business people in small towns in rural Ireland. Members will welcome this Bill if and when it comes before this House.
I hope I will not be accused of being parochial but I will comment on the announced retirement of the Leas-Chathaoirleach's fellow townsman from Gaelic football, Mr. Colm Cooper, or the "Gooch", as he is also known. I do not need to say anything about Colm Cooper as Members will know he has been universally admired as one of the greatest exponents of Gaelic football of all time.
That was generously acknowledged by players past and present from all over the country, not least Dublin and the Leader's county of Cork, against which Mr. Cooper put on some of his best performances in Munster finals. It is not a Kerry matter but it should be acknowledged and tributes to him are well deserved. I hope he will continue to play a part in Gaelic football because we need people of his vision and artistry to have an input into the game we all love.
I echo the Senator's comments about the Gooch absolutely.
I wish to refer to the Bus Éireann strike. I welcome the fact that talks have resumed at the Workplace Relations Commission between Bus Éireann workers and management in the past hour or two. I wish them well.
There are many workers out and they have young families and are under severe financial pressure. Bus Éireann is a huge and vital component of our public transport system. The strike is having a big impact on commuters in Limerick. Small businesses in Limerick city which are dependent on passing trade have experienced a drop in turnover. People are not able to access the city in the normal way. I ask that these be fruitful talks.
One of the elements that has to come into play is the public service obligation, PSO, services. The PSO model has not kept pace with the Expressway route. Bus Éireann is servicing towns along those routes that private operators are not servicing. There has to be a PSO element because there is not a level playing field. We need fairness. People using free travel passes on the service are rightly entitled to do so. However, Bus Éireann is not compensated for that. I welcome that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has said that the PSO model will be looked at again.
I wish the talks well. It is extremely important for the sake of the workers, their families, Bus Éireann and Ireland Inc. in terms of public transport system that there is a speedy resolution which is to everyone's satisfaction, especially for the workers and their families about whom I am concerned.
Among the heroes that we all pay tribute to these days are the Irish Naval Service personnel who have been involved in unprecedented missions in the Mediterranean as they play a major operational part in assisting migrants in distress. They have been doing so since 2015. Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council recently conferred the crew of LE Eithne on behalf of the Naval Service with an honorary award in recognition of their humanitarian work abroad. We would all commend that. It is estimated that Irish naval officers have saved the lives of more than 10,000 people in peril at sea. In their difficult search and rescue roles, these personnel have witnessed a lot of human suffering and extensive loss of life. I would like the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, to specify what type of emotional supports these personnel were offered prior to, during and on completion of their tour of duty in the Mediterranean? It is vital for the welfare of these serving officers and for the Permanent Defence Force that cases of post-traumatic stress disorder are diagnosed promptly and all medical resources are provided thereafter. What kind of confidential counselling, psychiatric assistance or other treatments have been offered to naval crew? Were such supports provided by specialists within the Defence Forces or external clinicians? It is essential that pre and post-mission interventions are made to deal with the health risks for personnel as they serve other people in other territories.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a very debilitating illness. All measures must be taken to ensure the Naval Service, Air Corps and the Army are cared for appropriately when exposed to crises. A rapid diagnosis of PTSD symptoms by the Permanent Defence Force would also offset any potential personal injury legal actions taken by personnel who witness tragic events in the course of their employment.
Shortly, 133 soldiers of the 55th Infantry Group will leave for peacekeeping duty with the UN Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights in Syria. The changeover has already taken place. Their rigorous training will equip them for the mission. Like their colleagues in the navy, they may encounter scenes that will challenge them and stay long in their memory when they return home. We need to be assured that they are being well looked after.
It has recently been reported that the High Court has found that Angela Kerins, who had taken a case against the Committee of Public Accounts, is only obliged to pay one third of the costs of the case while the remaining two thirds are to be borne by the Committee of Public Accounts. This is quite a significant and unusual development. It is the first time this has happened in the history of this State. I ask the Leader to bring in the Minister for Finance to update the House on what implications this ruling has for the future of the Committee of Public Accounts and any changes that may be required.
There was a debate a few weeks ago on the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016. It was agreed that it would go on to the next Stage. It was also indicated by the Minister that the Bill would not be dealt with for at least 12 months.
Since that debate, I have received a number of calls from people whose family members are missing, some of them for a number of years. Often, all indications are that the missing person has died but the remains have not been found. In such cases a death certificate cannot be issued. One parent told me that there is clear evidence that his or her family member died more than two years ago but the body was not recovered. I wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, asking her to request the coroner to hold an inquest. The Minister has the power to do so. As a result of that letter, the Garda called to the family and took DNA samples from the father to see if the DNA matches with bodies which have been discovered on the coasts of Wales and Scotland with a view to bringing a conclusion for that family. It is sad that it has taken two years for the authorities to take DNA samples to cross-check for a match with bodies discovered on the other side of the Irish Sea. I ask that this matter be taken up with the Minister and that a far more effective system be put in place to avoid delays of two, three or four years.
I do not see why we should wait for another 12 months for the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016 to progress. There is no real cost to the State for implementing the changes but the Bill will bring about changes which will bring conclusions for many families where there is no body discovered or death certificate issued. In the case of the tragedy of the Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter off the west coast, the Coast Guard have recently called for the fishing community to help locate the bodies. While I hope that the bodies are recovered, if they are not, those families will have to wait in the same way as other families. It is not right that the families of people who have given a huge contribution to the State should be treated in this way. I ask the Leader to ask the Department of Justice and Equality to progress this Bill and bring it to a conclusion.
I join Senator Ned O'Sullivan in welcoming the introduction in the Lower House of the Local Government (Establishment of Town Councils Commission) Bill 2017 by our colleague, Deputy Shane Cassells. Town councils should never have been abolished. The so-called Putting People First document which led to our councils being decimated, particularly in rural Ireland, does not contribute to putting people first. I would very much welcome the re-introduction of town councils to most major towns in our country.
Yesterday and today, Senator Craughwell raised very serious concerns about the Defence Forces. While I am aware that the Leader had scheduled the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, to come to the House a number of weeks ago, that had to be deferred. However, as a matter of urgency, we must have that debate. If possible, the Minister with responsibility for the Defence Forces, the Taoiseach, should be present for that debate.
This is too serious an issue to be dealt with by a Minister of State. A number of weeks ago, as a result of a terrible tragedy, we found out there are not enough personnel in the Air Corps to fly our planes. In essence, we can only be invaded by appointment. While Senator Craughwell has made the point about a sovereign State allowing the Royal Air Force to fly over our airspace, I understand that is only in the case of an emergency. Unfortunately, the reality is that we have no other option. If there is a hijacked plane heading for the centre of Dublin, who is going to intervene? The sad reality is that by the time we get the personnel who are on standby to Baldonnel, a serious situation could have occurred. That alone is a very serious matter for the Air Corps, not to mention the low morale and depleted numbers in our Army. We need a serious and detailed debate on the situation and I would like to see the Taoiseach here in his capacity as the Minister responsible for the Defence Forces.
Many Senators have raised issues regarding councillors and their conditions over the last year. I wish to raise the working hours of some councillors. Cork County Council recently went through the county development plan process, which is probably the most important process for councillors. They have direct input and direct votes and are very much involved in it.
I hesitate to remind the Senator, although I must, that councillors are not a matter for the Order of Business.
The process is.
Nor, indeed, are they a matter for the House.
That never stopped the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
I do not recall what the Leader is referring to. I know Senator Lombard is dealing with the electoral system.
I thank the Leader for his kind interjection. What I was trying to get across was that the hours councillors work while they are going through a county development plan has to be looked at. What they did last week in Cork County Council was absolutely wrong in so many ways. Over a three-day period they sat for 34 hours. On the last day, they sat for 17 hours, from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., making one of the most important decisions for Cork and its development. When I was a member of Cork County Council in 2007, we started at 9 a.m. and finished at 6.30 a.m. the following morning. We worked for 21.5 hours straight.
The Minister has to intervene and put a regulation in place regarding working hours for councillors. It makes no sense that the most important plan that any local authority brings forward, the county development plan, should be put together by people working those extreme hours. One cannot make coherent decisions if one has been working for 17 hours straight. I have had members of the public on to me about this issue. It is a significant issue for the local authority members who have to work those hours, as well as in terms of the decisions they make. This is something they have five years to work on. It is not emergency legislation. It is not thrown upon them. It can be timed and worked out. The Minister with responsibility for local government has to put a regulation in place so that we do not have these exceptional and extreme working hours.
Why break the habit of a lifetime? It seems that Sinn Féin Senators are bringing the Leader all the breaking news today. Just a few hours ago, the European Parliament in Strasbourg passed a joint resolution calling for the North to be protected within the Brexit process. We are very glad and proud, not least of the work of Martina Anderson, MEP. Some 516 MEPs voted in favour of that joint resolution. It is clear from the passing of the resolution that Ireland in its entirety does have many friends within the European Parliament. Like the motion passed by the Dáil in February of this year, it is a sign that people want to see Ireland's national interests protected. They want to see the Good Friday Agreement, our economy and our society protected and defended.
Almost all the co-signatories of this resolution were met by Martin McGuinness last year. He underwent a period of intense engagement with European leaders in the Parliament, the Commission and the Council. He made a very strong case, as no-one else could, that the European institutions needed to play a clear and definitive role in defending the Good Friday Agreement and all of its infrastructure. The joint resolution makes clear that there should be a defence of the Good Friday Agreement, that there should be no hardening of the Border, and that there should be consideration for special status.
We have had the European Parliament today and the Dáil in February calling for special status. I do not seek to come in here to play party politics with the issue. I hope the Leader will take me at my word. I make the case to the Taoiseach through the Leader because it is an important issue which we need to take very seriously. The Government needs to act on this sooner rather than later.
I concur with the sentiments of my colleague, Senator Rónán Mullen, in respect of post-traumatic stress disorder and the supports necessary for our Defence Forces. I have first-hand experience of the bravery shown by the navy divers and the Garda underwater unit in Blacksod Bay last weekend, when I spent some time on the ILV Granuaile in a medical capacity. It is vital that we support our Defence Forces in this regard.
Yesterday it was confirmed that St. Joseph's psychiatric day centre in Ballaghadereen is to shut temporarily due to staff shortages. This comes in spite of an assurance given to Oireachtas Members by HSE management last October that there were no plans to close any day centre in County Roscommon, and that if a closure was proposed, public representatives would be consulted in advance. This is an issue which my colleagues, Senators Hopkins and Feighan, and indeed Deputy Eugene Murphy have raised before. I understand the HSE has pledged that the centre will reopen on 18 April. However, I am genuinely worried as to the future of the centre in its current situation.
It is my intention today to praise, commend and applaud the people of Ballaghadereen. Last week in The Irish Times there was a fabulous story of locals inviting Syrian refugees for a game of soccer. Mothers are donating buggies for babies. A welcome wall has been created. These Syrian people have come through hell, as we can only imagine. The people of Ballaghadereen should be highly commended for their welcoming efforts. I was also very happy to see that an initial €97,000 of health funding is to be allocated to medical resources in Ballaghadereen for the 80 refugees who are to be relocated there. However, that news is entirely blighted now by the closure of the psychiatric day centre. Lest we forget, the Syrian conflict is now the longest ever conflict, outlasting World War Two. What Ballaghadereen needs to become that shining beacon is intensive funding and investment, not cuts and closures.
This is World Autism Awareness Week. Recent research has shown a huge increase in the incidence of people on the spectrum of autism and Asperger's syndrome. We are one of the few countries that do not have a national strategy for those with autism and Asperger's syndrome. This research, which shows an incidence of one in 70, is a powerful argument for having a look at this and putting in place a strategy. I know it was under consideration previously and that the Department of Health was against it. I would ask the Minister to re-examine this. I would like the Leader to bring the Minister to the House to discuss the need for a national strategy in respect of this issue. I believe it is more prevalent than many of the conditions for which we do have strategies.
It would send a powerful message to many of those who have this condition and to their families who strive valiantly, day in and day out, to support them and help them. This is a group of people who, with the right support in the early years, can lead hugely productive lives and make a serious contribution to society. Many of the great scientific breakthroughs were made by people who, when one examines their history, were at least on the spectrum, if they did not have Asperger's syndrome or were not autistic. From a natural justice and societal point of view, we need to put in place a strategy to deal with this prevalent condition because as many as one in 70 of our citizens have the condition. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to attend here to discuss the matter.
I want to raise again the issue of the greyhound industry. On Sunday evening I attended a meeting in Tipperary that was attended by 750 greyhound owners or breeders who outlined their concerns about the way the industry is run. The sector will receive €16 million in subsidies this year under the greyhound fund. Despite the subsidy the industry and stakeholders are hugely concerned. First, the Harold's Cross stadium remains for sale. Second, there has been a complete lack of engagement or consultation with the owners and breeders of greyhounds. A greyhound is a poor man's horse. Those people deserve to be listened to, particularly when State subsidies are being made available through the fund referred to, although most of it is collected through the betting tax. At the meeting we heard that a group would seek a meeting with the Minister and Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to ensure the meeting occurs, to arrange an early debate in this House on the greyhound industry and to ask the Minister when the greyhound Bill is expected to come before the House.
I wish to refer briefly to the national planning framework. The consultation period ended on Friday and submissions were made to the Department. The framework will underpin where people will live, work and the services they obtain over the next 25 years up to 2040. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate so that Senators can express their opinions on the framework. It is early days, but nonetheless the departmental officials will frame their own thoughts following the submissions made. It might be an opportune time to have a debate in the House either before or after the Easter break.
I thank the 22 Members of the House who contributed. Senator Ardagh rightly raised the issue of disability services and the need for continued investment and improvement. It is important to acknowledge that a huge amount of work needs to be done in the area of disability. Notwithstanding that, I acknowledge that the parents who took to the streets this week have in some cases justifiable cause and feel frustrated. People are angry about the level of investment, but it is important to recognise that the Government has a plan and given a commitment. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, Deputy Finian McGrath, sits at the Cabinet table.
In terms of speech and language therapy, the waiting times for assessment and treatment have been significantly reduced due to a targeted programme of investment and a successful waiting list initiative last year. In saying that, it is important to recognise that a huge amount of work remains to be done. As I said yesterday on the Order of Business, the HSE is recruiting and taking people on. One of the key priorities in the 2017 national service plan in terms of the HSE is to improve waiting times for therapy services by changing the model of care. The initiative has proven successful, especially for children who require speech and language therapy. At the same time I recognise that we have difficulties in some of the areas.
I want to put the following on record for the benefit of Members of the House who do not like to hear good news. As I said yesterday, €4 million has been allocated in the 2016 service plan to facilitate the recruitment of speech and language therapists, thus allowing for 83 additional posts to be provided. All efforts have been made by the HSE to ensure those posts are filled and appropriately placed in accordance with the needs of people in different localities and areas. It is important to recognise that there is investment.
As I said yesterday, we have an issue with respite and require a greater model of delivery. Respite care is a source of contention for many of us in the House because it is the most vulnerable who need access to respite care to give their families a break. This issue is not about families going off on a holiday but giving them a break. It is also about giving a care model. Senator Ardagh mentioned respite care, and I hope that we will see a significant change in the current respite care model because there is a need to have that model changed. I am anxious, as I am sure other Senators are, to see that prioritised by the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath.
Senators Boyhan and Feighan raised the issue of the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Senator Boyhan is right in terms of the issue of acute beds. There needs to be a step-down facility and a greater investment in primary care. The investment plan for the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire must be prioritised and not put on the long finger. I am happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the matters.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the important issue of diabetes and the challenge it poses to the health system. He is quite right in that. Senator Ray Butler is an example of how one can challenge a diagnosis of diabetes. He deserves great credit for the work he has done, through his own story, to promote the issue of diabetes. There are 225,000 people who live with diabetes in this country and, therefore, it is imperative and critical that services are maintained. I am unfamiliar with the issue raised but Senator Mac Lochlainn might send me a note that I can pass to the Minister. He might also consider tabling a Commencement matter on it because it is an important matter. This is about care of patients, whether by a GP in a primary care setting or in a hospital. There needs to be greater awareness and support given in the context of diabetes. The Senator is right in that and I would be happy to push that with him with the Minister in question.
Senator Kelleher raised the issue of Cork University Maternity Hospital. It is important to highlight that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, at a meeting held in January, gave a commitment to deliver key parts of a service upgrade in the hospital. Senator Colm Burke and I met him on numerous occasions. I welcome very much the appointment of Professor John Higgins as clinical director of CUMH. This week, as the hospital celebrates the tenth anniversary of its opening, the Minister made the significant announcement of the allocation of extra moneys to provide more staff, a one-stop-shop for day care services and the opening of a new theatre. All of these initiatives will lead to better outcomes for women and infants who use the hospital. It is a good news story. The Government is committed to investing in Cork University Maternity Hospital, which I welcome. In terms of Senator Kelleher's Private Members' Bill tonight, I thank all Members for raising the matter. We will see how the debate unfolds.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of the SUSI grant for postgraduates. I welcome the announcement that the initiative will lead to grants being awarded to postgraduate students. As she rightly said, it is about encouraging further education and going beyond the primary degree. We all welcome that. I also join the Senator in congratulating Peter Furey on his award and win in the Doodle for Google competition. It is good to see young people being innovative and creative.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of the FAI ladies' international football team, something we discussed yesterday on the Order of Business.
I think it is a source of disappointment to all of us seeing the story unfold and listening to the commentary that the team had to hold a press conference yesterday to promulgate its annoyance and its views on the lack of support from the FAI. Perhaps the FAI will contend that there are two sides to every story and that it has made an attempt to intervene and mediate. However, it is important we recognise, as I said yesterday, that these are athletes of the highest calibre performing for our country and they deserve our respect and support. It is important that taxpayers' money is spent on the women's team as well as the men's team.
Senators Craughwell and Wilson again raised the Defence Forces and the issue of the National Security Committee. I reiterate the point I made yesterday. I extended to Senator Craughwell an invitation to meet the Department officials, which still stands. We need to stop playing to the gallery on national security.
That is an unfair comment.
I ask Senator Craughwell to let me finish. I did not interrupt him. I was not referring to him at all. He did not hear what I said. This is about the security of our State, and oversight is being carried out. Just so Senator Wilson is aware, the issue is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, not the Department of Defence.
On a point of information, let us be realistic about this-----
There is no such thing as a point of information, as the Senator well knows.
I have just introduced it into the vocabulary of the House. The matter is the responsibility of the Minister of State at the Department of Defence.
Senator Buttimer should check his facts.
I did. When Senator Craughwell raised-----
Is Senator Buttimer saying the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is responsible for the Department of Defence?
We will not settle the matter now.
Is that what he is saying?
On a point of information for the House-----
There is no such thing as a point of information on the Order of Business.
On a point of order, then-----
One at a time. I call Senator Craughwell to make a point of order.
There is no single authority with responsibility for the security of the State. The National Security Committee comprises four Department Secretaries General, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and the Garda Commissioner. Therefore, I agree with Senator Wilson that matters of military-----
That is not a point of order.
The matter is one for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and I have answered-----
The matter can be dealt with when the Senators meet officials of the Department of Defence.
I responded to Senator Craughwell on the matter yesterday and, to be fair to Senators Craughwell and Wilson, at their request, we deferred the debate on defence, as Senator Wilson acknowledged. I am happy to have the debate when we can get the Minister before the House because-----
The Minister of State at the Department of Defence is the Minister responsible. Deputy Paul Kehoe sits at Cabinet.
The Minister for Defence is the Taoiseach.
I hope we will not play politics with our national security. I commend Senator Craughwell for his work highlighting matters regarding our Defence Forces but the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, as the Minister with responsibility for foreign affairs, has always put our country first-----
As indeed we all do.
-----and is doing a first-class job.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of a visit by Mr. Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, to the House. It is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP. I would be happy to have him come to the House. It is important that he do so. Senator Richmond referred to this as well.
The matter Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised regarding the payment and conditions of staff is a matter for consideration at a local level. There is a prescribed rate of pay. I suggest Senator Ó Clochartaigh take it up with the Minister as a Commencement matter.
It is also a matter for all the people working for the national groups.
There is a national pay policy which must be complied with, but if the Senator takes-----
The HSE is not complying with it.
It must comply with it. There is only one national pay policy. The HSE cannot make it up as it goes along.
Senator Dolan raised the issue of disability. As he is aware, the Government is committed to the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Before the State can ratify the convention, a number of pieces of legislation must be enacted and amended. In 2015, the Government published a roadmap signposting the direction we are taking in respect of the legislative measures that need to be met. I refer to the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act and the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. It is also important to consider that the Government has appointed Professor Ruane to examine the issue of the employment of people with disabilities. It is equally important that Deputy Finian McGrath sits at the Cabinet table as the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities. This is a priority. The forthcoming budget is the Government's second budget, not its third. At least, I hope I have not missed one.
It is the second since the Government was appointed.
Yes. It is the second since the Government was formed.
It is the second this Government will introduce. It is the Government's third budget.
We hope we will see progress on this issue because I agree with Senator Dolan that it needs to be a priority and progress needs to be made.
Senator Richmond raised the issue of the lobbying Act. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, come before the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised with Senator Wilson the Private Members' Bill in the Dáil to be introduced by Deputy Cassells. I think there is a recognition in some quarters that there is a need to examine how we can better govern locally in terms of some towns over a certain population level. Perhaps in hindsight the dissolution of town councils in the manner in which it was done was a regressive move. I am in favour of examining how we might give towns of a certain size or status their town councils back again, but there is a need to examine how we can deliver-----
There is an election coming up.
-----better local government. That is not necessarily the issue, Senator Ó Clochartaigh. I agree with Senator Wilson that Putting People First is a fine document for local government. If it were implemented in full, it would be a great document. Senator Wilson should consider the record of the former Minister, Mr. Dempsey, when he was in government and that of his own party and the role he played in decimating the role of councillors-----
If Senator Buttimer wants to have that debate, I am quite willing to have it.
I would be happy to have it as well.
One comment across the Chamber does not make it a reality.
On a matter on which we can speak more in unison, I welcome the retirement of Colm Cooper.
One of the most stylish players of all time.
We incurred the wrath of his magnificent skill and football prowess on many a sad occasion in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Fitzgerald Stadium. On a serious note, though, he was an extraordinary footballer with tremendous talent and great skill and I wish him well in his retirement from inter-county football.
Senator Ó Domhnaill yesterday referred to the FAI and the treatment of the women's soccer team. On a positive note, last weekend we had a tremendous day of activity on our sporting fields which showed the importance of sport in our country. I thank all our sportspeople who are, in this case, amateurs playing not for money but for the joy of their club or county and wish them every success in the forthcoming championship season.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of the Bus Éireann dispute, which is on day 13. I join him in welcoming the resumption of talks and hope that it is a pathway to a solution. Public transport is a critical part of our nation and an essential public service. It is interesting to note that Bus Éireann stands to lose €125,000 in funding from the NTA for every weekday it fails to provide services and €75,000 for every Saturday and Sunday. I regret very much the dispute. I had the pleasure of meeting members of the drivers' unions this week in Cork. They do not want to be on strike as it is a huge imposition on them and their families. It is important, whatever one's view on the strike, that we consider how we can get the balance between public services and paying public servants right. This is a matter of public interest, and talks need to be held. Senator O'Donnell is correct that the PSO levy on Expressway services needs to be considered, and a change might have to come to make this about fairness in the way in which Bus Éireann and private operators can compete on the Expressway routes.
Senators Mullen and Swanick referred to the Defence Forces. The issue of post-traumatic stress disorder is very important and it is important that every support that can be given is given to members of the Defence Forces. I would be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, discuss this in the House. I join the Senators in wishing the troops of the 55th Infantry Group, on behalf of all in the House, every success, safe travels and safe mission when they go to the Golan Heights. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows, our Defence Forces in their work abroad are tremendous ambassadors for our country. Senator Mullen is right that they have saved thousands of lives.
They deserve our praise, thanks and prayers. I hope they will stay out of harm's way. Like Senator Keith Swanick, I pay tribute to the Irish Coast Guard, Defence Forces personnel, including of the Naval Service, voluntary divers, the men and women of many maritime and coastal communities and fishermen who are giving of their time in the search to find the two missing crewmen. I hope their bodies will be returned to their loved ones and families. Although it may embarrass him, I commend Senator Keith Swanick for the role he has played which is the epitome of voluntarism. From talking to members of the Defence Forces and the Irish Coast Guard, I know that he has been a huge tower of strength and a tremendous asset in the search.
I second what the Leader said.
Senator Máire Devine mentioned a High Court case. I have not had a chance to read the judgment. The one third:two thirds ratio is a decision of the courts; the Government and the Oireachtas have no say in the determination of costs. That is a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and needs to be considered. However, as Members of the Oireachtas, we cannot be deterred or deflected from taking action to defend the integrity of the Oireachtas and our right to be the voice of the people. The courts have a separate independent jurisdiction. I think the Senator is right, however, and will be happy to ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016, to which he is very attached. He is right. It is a traumatic experience for the families and loved ones of persons who have gone missing. I know from talking to people that whenever the telephone rings or there is a knock on the door, expectation is heightened that there will be news of a loved one or family member who is missing. It is unacceptable and disappointing that there is a delay. I agree with the Senator that there is a need to progress the Bill because we need to have an effective system in place. The length of delay described by the Senator is unacceptable. I will be happy to talk to him again about the matter.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of councillors' pay and conditions. It is one on which the Leas-Chathaoirleach has ruled, but I think the Senator is referring to the process involved in considering the county development plan. We all saw what happened in Cork County Council where councillors had to sit for 17 hours to pass a county development plan and understand this can lead to bad decisions and incoherence. It is unfair on councillors and council staff to have to meet for that length of time. I am sure the Senator could have a quiet word with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, about it. The issue needs to be examined because it is significant and the Senator is right to highlight it.
Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to the European Parliament joint resolution on Brexit and the decision passed today. It is important that we receive whatever help and support we can in the European Parliament and throughout the European Union. As I said yesterday, we are very fortunate to have someone of the calibre of Deputy Enda Kenny as Taoiseach who is well recognised across the continent of Europe as the leader of the Fine Gael Party which is attached to the European People's Party, EPP. As an example, since the turn of the year over 20 Cabinet-level discussions have taken place on Brexit, there have been 400 engagements with our EU partners and EU institutions, 1,200 representatives have participated in 16 all-Ireland civic dialogue sessions over four months and there have been 300 stakeholder meetings. More importantly, Mr. Tusk and Mr. Juncker are aware and recognise the importance of the island of Ireland. As we all know, the Government has been preparing for the Brexit negotiations. Our priorities have always been to recognise the importance of the Northern Ireland peace process, to minimise the impact of Brexit on trade and the economy, to maintain the common travel area and to influence the future of the European Union. We must all wear the green jersey. The Taoiseach, as head of the Government, has been doing a Trojan job in that regard.
Senator Swanick mentioned St. Joseph's in Ballaghaderreen. If he gives me a note on the issue, I will be happy to pass it to the relevant Minister, but it is important that it be raised by way of a Commencement matter.
In World Autism Week Senator Reilly referred to the national autism strategy required. I wholeheartedly agree with him. It is essential to have such a strategy. He said the number of people being diagnosed at different levels on the autism spectrum was increasing. There is a need for a comprehensive national strategy not least to ensure family members will be empowered, given a roadmap and access to services but also, as the Senator rightly said, to ensure the children in question can benefit from early intervention and receive treatment.
Senator Ó Domhnaill referred to the greyhound industry and his attendance at a meeting in County Tipperary. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, came to the House for a debate on the industry. There has been a change at the Irish Greyhound Board. Dr. Sean Brady is the interim chief executive officer, but there is a need for change in the management model for the industry. I will be happy to invite the Minister of State to come to the House for a debate on the issue.
The level of engagement by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government throughout the country on the national planning framework is to be welcomed. Senator Ó Domhnaill is right. It is important architecture for the future and this House should have a role and a say in the matter. I will be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss it.