Commencement Matters

Maternity Services

The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is very welcome. This is the first time I have had an opportunity to congratulate him in the House. I wish him the very best of luck in his endeavours.

I wish to raise the issue of the baby-friendly health initiative, which has been operating in Ireland since 1999, with 100% of maternity hospitals participating. Fifty-three of these hospitals meet the international benchmark. The initiative is very important and is worthy of support. Knowing that a hospital has received or won an international award designating it as baby friendly, which all our maternity hospitals should get, gives a certain comfort to the parents when going in. The initiative is supported by the World Health Organisation. It is the only international benchmark to which Irish hospitals operate. It is particularly disappointing to see that the funding for the baby-friendly health initiative has been withdrawn. There has been a lack of discussion and consultation with the organisers. We are at a stage where we cannot allow this to happen. The baby-friendly health initiative supported the staff in this hospitals and the management to improve their standards, not through a slap of the hand but in co-operation and collaboration. It is certainly the way to go. We are fighting at present to try to increase the breast-feeding rate in Ireland. The rate is very low by European standards. There is only one other country behind us, the United Kingdom. We need to increase our efforts. Currently, 56% of women initiate breast-feeding in our maternity hospitals, but this drops by 10% within 48 hours.

I am certainty interested in hearing the Minister of State's views on this matter. Why has the funding been withdrawn and why are we no longer participating in the baby-friendly health initiative?

I thank Senator Humphreys for raising this important issue and providing the opportunity to discuss it with the House today.

Increasing the rate of breast-feeding in Ireland is an important national health policy objective and is emphasised in the Healthy Ireland framework, the national maternity strategy for the period 2016 to 2026, the national obesity policy and action plan for the period 2016 to 2025, and the recently published National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026. The baby-friendly hospital initiative was launched by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, in 1991 and is a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote and support breast-feeding. In Ireland, the baby-friendly hospital initiative has been in place for 20 years and nine of the 19 maternity hospitals countrywide have baby-friendly designation.

The initiative is funded by the HSE, which in 2016 commissioned a research team at Trinity College Dublin to undertake a review of the initiative. The review, which highlighted a number of issues, recommended the need for a revised model to be developed in line with the maternity strategy and the HSE national breastfeeding action plan 2016-20. A key finding of the Trinity review was that there was no difference in breastfeeding rates in hospitals that had achieved baby friendly designation and those that had not achieved this designation. Following completion of the Trinity review, the HSE initiated engagement with the baby-friendly hospital initiative and other stakeholders on developing a revised model. While the HSE has made the decision to pause the existing initiative and it is not being funded for 2017, I understand that funding is available to that group to participate in the process to develop the enhanced model.

The national women and infants programme is actively working with the HSE health and well-being division, the HSE lead midwife and other key stakeholders to address governance and other issues and explore models to support the implementation of the World Health Organization-UNICEF ten steps to successful breastfeeding, which is the basis of the baby friendly hospital initiative. There is ongoing engagement and communication with maternity services and other key stakeholders as part of this work to ensure we have a model suitable for the promotion and support of breastfeeding in Ireland. This approach will also examine the option of an all-island approach. I support the position of the HSE and I am satisfied that the work to develop a revised model will support the aim to increase breastfeeding rates in Ireland and enable more mothers to breastfeed their babies.

Can the Minister of State tell me if Trinity engaged with the baby-friendly health initiative during that review? The baby friendly health initiative is an international benchmark and I am concerned as to whether there has been adequate consultation in this regard. I know some of the voluntary hospitals are continuing with the baby-friendly health initiative, which is not just about breastfeeding, but about supporting and developing best work practices in our hospitals in so far as babies are concerned. Pardon the phrase, but we have policies coming out of our behinds with regard to breastfeeding but very little action. We have one lactation specialist for every 8,000 babies born whereas the recommendation worldwide is to have one for every 1,000 births. The Limerick hospital is the exception in this country in terms of best practice.

I ask the Minister of State to at least ensure the HSE engages with the baby-friendly health initiative. I would like to see further details in regard to the Trinity study, in particular who exactly was consulted. As I said, the baby-friendly health initiative is not just about breastfeeding and if it was reviewed within that narrow prism, that is why we got the result we did. I question why something that was maintained right through the austerity years is being cut at this stage.

The Senator has raised valid points and asked pertinent questions, and I will get answers for him. While I do not know the answer on the level of consultation the HSE had with the baby friendly health initiative, I will find that out for the Senator. I will also find out how far the Trinity study went with its consultations and how widespread they were. I appreciate that the answer I read out is not entirely satisfactory, although it does cover the basics, which is that there has been no change in the ratio of breastfeeding in the hospitals that had the initiative running and those that did not. Other than that, it does not give us the answers to the questions the Senator is asking and I undertake to get those answers and revert back to him. I will re-engage with him when I get those answers in order to try to get this back up and running and make sure we achieve what we all want to achieve, which is an increase in breastfeeding rates across the country.

As this is my first opportunity to do so, I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment.

Hospital Procedures

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to the House. I put down this Commencement matter some time back. There are two aspects. One concerns the primary eye care report, which has been published, so I do not need to dwell on it. I thank the Minister and the Department for issuing that report. It was long-awaited and I understand it is currently being studied.

The next aspect concerns the definitive lists in regard to cataract procedure waiting times, which are enormous. While we have heard suggestions anecdotally about the number of cases, I have the latest numbers as I made contact with the National Treatment Purchase Fund this morning. These numbers are quite shocking and show we clearly have a major crisis in the whole area of ophthalmology. To share some figures with the Minister of State, this very day there are 36,581 people on the NTPF list for the outpatient specialties, with the longest waiters - those waiting 18 months and over - numbering over 5,500. The NTPF assured me this morning that these people could be waiting two, three, four or five years.

The Minister of State might take this information back to the line Minister. The NTPF has a format in regard to reporting, which goes from five months all the way up to 18 months, but after the 18-month category, there is no other category. There is a lot to be said for extending this to include the two-year, three-year and four-year categories. We need to find out the facts. The NTPF mandate is to treat those waiting longest for treatment, and I believe this is very important.

I want to also share the statistics for inpatient case specialties. There are approximately a further 13,000 people waiting for inpatient treatment, of whom 825 are waiting more than 18 months. While these figures do not all relate to cataracts, but to ophthalmology generally, I am advised that a very high percentage of those people have cataracts. What is really disturbing for these 36,000 people who are waiting on the outpatient list is that many of them have not been seen - they have never met a consultant to have a full eye assessment. Time is everything with the eyes, as with health in general, as the Minister of State knows.

I am concerned. I would like the Minister of State to share his knowledge and that of the Department on the exact numbers on the cataracts list. Has the NTPF been mandated to ramp up its capacity through funding resources and beds, given many of these are day procedures, to deal with people who have cataracts and cannot see? It is a very simple procedure and could be ramped up with very little intervention.

To conclude, there are three points. First, there is the issue of the lists. Second, can we look again at how ophthalmology is reported in the NTPF's database so we can specifically see the figures for cataracts? The final point is that there is a crisis and it needs to be addressed quickly. To have people waiting a substantial number of years without an assessment is unacceptable. I ask that the Minister of State would bring this back to the Department to see whether it can put in place specific measures to ramp up an initial assessment for everyone who presents and has been referred for an ophthalmology procedure.

I thank the Senator for the opportunity to update the Seanad on current initiatives ongoing to address ophthalmology waiting times and the primary eye care report. I acknowledge that ophthalmology waiting times, including those for cataract procedures, are often unacceptably long and I am conscious of the burden and quality of life issues for these patients and their families. However, work is being undertaken to address ophthalmology waiting lists nationally.

Reducing waiting times for the longest waiting patients is one of the Government’s key priorities. It is for this reason that €20 million was allocated to the NTPF in budget 2017, rising to €55 million in 2018. The NTPF is currently rolling out its day-case initiative, which is focused on those waiting longest for day-case treatment. The NTPF has advised that, to date, nearly 3,000 patient files have been transferred to private hospitals under this initiative, close to 900 patients have accepted an offer of treatment and some 400 patients have received their procedure.

With regard to patients waiting for ophthalmology procedures in particular, over 1,800 who were offered treatment under the NTPF initiative and nearly all 400 who accepted treatment were ophthalmology patients. As a result of this initiative, the number of patients waiting longest for ophthalmology procedures nationally has decreased this month from 1,065 to 825.

Furthermore, to reduce the number of long-waiting patients the Minister for Health asked the HSE to develop waiting list action plans for 2017 in the areas of inpatient day-case, scoliosis and outpatient services. These plans have been published and their implementation is ongoing.

The primary care eye services review group report was published on 28 June 2017. The report examines the primary care eye services currently provided to children and adults nationwide, including HSE directly-provided services and contracted primary care services. The report sets out models of care and referral pathways for the management of most eye care conditions and has determined that there is a need to move from community ophthalmic physicians managing all referrals to a model centred on a primary eye care team based in a primary care location, with optimum accommodation facilities, equipment and resources and supported by an IT patient management system. The HSE has estimated that the establishment of the primary eye care team will require investment of €20 million by the HSE over a four to five-year timeframe. It will be a matter for the HSE to prioritise the available resources to deliver the optimal health outcomes and the Minister for Health looks forward to the HSE implementing the report’s recommendations.

In addition, the Minister, Deputy Harris, is supporting other initiatives to address ophthalmology waiting times. Last week, he opened a new theatre at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital which will enable an additional 1,150 cataract procedures to be performed between July and December this year. It is envisaged that an additional 3,000 procedures will be carried out in both 2018 and 2019. This will see the elimination of waiting lists at the hospital by the end of 2018 and the elimination of the Ireland East Hospital Group’s waiting list by the end of 2019. This new theatre also has the potential to provide significant additional capacity to help address the waiting list for cataract procedures nationally.

The plan outlined by the Minister of State is not ambitious enough in terms of the number of additional procedures that will be carried out in 2018 and 2019. I am disappointed with the reply. I accept the Minister of State is only setting out the facts but as I said the plan is not ambitious enough.

Let us deal with the facts. This morning, the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, circulated its list for the period up to 29 June 2017, which shows that there are 49,711 awaiting ophthalmology procedures. That is an enormous task. The Minister of State referred in his reply to an additional 3,000 procedures being carried out and to the elimination of lists. The Government has not even considered the ongoing additions to that list. We cannot predict additional need but we can categorically say that, as of today, there are 49,000 plus people on the waiting list. As I said, the Minister's plan is not ambitious enough and it is not good enough. I ask that the Minister of State convey that to the Minister.

I can assure the Minister of State that following the summer recess I will raise this matter monthly until it is addressed, and I expect other Senators and Deputies to do likewise. There is no comfort in this plan for the 49,000 plus people who are awaiting treatment under what was supposed to be a ramped up scheme. It is disappointing.

I will pass on the Senator's very passionate views on the issue. I agree with him that as public representatives it is our duty to raise these issues to keep the focus on them and to keep the pressure on the system to deliver. That is our core function as politicians. We cannot carry out the operations but we can keep the focus on this issue and hold the HSE accountable in this regard.

I welcome the Senator's commitment to raise this issue monthly and I will be more than happy to come to this House every month to respond to him on the issue. The removal of cataracts is a small procedure. I understand that it is this area rather than the wider ophthalmology services that is of particular concern to the Senator. People who have cataracts, particularly elderly people, are often unable to drive or move safely around their homes and this has a huge impact on their quality of life. This is an area on which the focus must be increased to ensure greater delivery. I will support the Senator in his continued efforts to keep the focus on the issue and to ensure it remains a priority within the HSE.

Ambulance Service

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, to the Seanad and I congratulate him on his appointment, which in my view is well-deserved.

I rise today to raise the extremely important issue of management of the ambulance service. There has been a lot of media coverage in recent years, particularly in recent months, of the ambulance service in regard to response times, ambulance service provision in particular areas and the drafting of ambulances from one county to another owing to the lack of paramedics on duty at any given time, as a result of which patients are left exposed. Every year, many thousands of people visit County Clare. To say that the ambulance service in County Clare is poor is an under-statement. More often than not, paramedics are on sick leave and so on. As I said, there has been much media coverage on this issue.

I understand that a review has been undertaken of the management of the ambulance service. I think the review was carried out by Mazars but I am not 100% sure of that. I understand also that there are significant recommendations in the report in terms of the failings at management level within the ambulance service and what should be done and that this report was finalised some time ago but has not yet been published. I am asking the Minister of State to give a commitment today that if he and his officials have not yet had sight of the report, they will seek a copy of it and that it will be published. I am concerned that it has not been published because there is some retro-fitting going on in terms of management trying to implement the recommendations before the report is published.

The purpose of a review is to identify problems and shortcomings and what needs to be done to resolve them. Why would any organisation be afraid of publication of a critique of how it does its business? I am sure it cost a lot of money to produce the report. To allow it to remain on a shelf unpublished is unacceptable. As in the case of every other organ of the State, the ambulance service has a responsibility to be transparent. It is my contention that until such time as this report is published there will be a lack of transparency on the service. We all rely on a good, effective, efficient, fast responding ambulance service. Any of us could need it at any time. Many of our citizens need it on a daily basis but unfortunately their needs are not being met. Citizens do not have confidence in the ambulance service and, unfortunately, many of the people working on the ground within the service do not have confidence in it either.

If nothing else comes from this engagement other than that the report is published it will have been a good day's work.

I thank the Senator for his welcome and good wishes. They are much appreciated. I also thank him for raising this issue, which gives me the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the reform of the National Ambulance Service, NAS. The NAS has undergone a significant process of reform in recent years and a number of important developments have taken place. The National Emergency Operations Centre has been established. This centre receives the emergency calls and dispatches the emergency resources. The NAS now has visibility of all available paramedic resources and vehicles in real time, ensuring that the closest available resource is dispatched to an emergency. In addition, the NAS has developed the intermediate care service to provide lower acuity hospital transfers, which frees up emergency ambulances for the more urgent calls. I should also mention that a permanent emergency aeromedical support service has been established to provide a more timely response to persons in rural areas.

This ambulance reform programme is taking place against the backdrop of the HIQA review of ambulance services, which was published in late 2014 and the NAS capacity review which was published last year. The HIQA 2014 review of pre-hospital emergency care services recommended that the NAS review management structures to ensure managers at all levels are supported to deliver their goals.

HIQA advised that job descriptions should be reviewed against business requirements and current management capabilities ought to be assessed against revised job descriptions. It was also recommended that training be provided to managers in a number of core areas.

In response to the authority's review, the HSE commissioned the consultancy firm, Mazars, to carry out a review of the organisational design of NAS in 2015. Mazars was requested to develop plans regarding human resources. organisational structure and workforce. While I understand that this review has been completed, it has not yet been published. The question of publication, and the timing of same, is an operational matter for the HSE. In March 2017, HIQA published its review of progress made to implement the recommendations of the 2014 review of pre-hospital emergency care services. The review commended the progress made in terms of the management structure in the NAS. A key change was the appointment in 2015 of a dedicated HSE national director of ambulance services and emergency planning. The creation of this role has helped to facilitate the required reform at an appropriate level within the HSE. Additionally, the appointment of a NAS quality and patient safety manager has resulted in an improved focus on risk management, incident reporting and the management of compliments and complaints.

The Senator also raised other matters regarding the ambulance service. I am pleased to inform him that the NAS has taken a proactive approach to service development, including the recruitment and training of additional staff, a revised fleet replacement policy, the development of alternative care pathways and the implementation of new technology such as the electronic patient care record. A total of €7.2 million in additional funding was provided in 2016 for the NAS, which included €2 million in development funding. This year, an additional €3.6 million has been made available, including €1 million for new developments. Development funding will be used to increase the number of paramedics and intermediate care operatives in line with the capacity review recommendations.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. He confirmed what I know about the 2015 review. We are now in the middle of 2017 and one can assume that this review has been completed. My challenge to NAS management is to ask what they have to hide. I would also like to know why they will not publish the report. I acknowledge that this is an operational matter, as the Minister of State pointed out. The NAS should publish the report. What has it got to hide?

I concur with the Senator's sentiments. This is an essential and valuable service for everyone. It is not just about those who have had the experience of needing an ambulance but it could happen to us, or any one of our loved ones, any day. This issue affects every person in the country. It may not be someone's problem today to have to rely on an ambulance but it could be some day. We want to make sure the service is 100% right and people have genuine fears. The Senator has a responsibility to bring this to the House's attention and he has done that well. I support him in seeking transparency and openness. There should be nothing to hide in a service as critical as the ambulance service, irrespective of the operational matters. With the Senator's blessing, I will ask the HSE for a more comprehensive reply as to why this report has not been published to date, and when it intends to publish it. It is in the public interest that this would be published and I will revert directly to him with the information as soon as I can get it.

An Teanga Gaeilge

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil ról nua aige ón uair deireanach a bhí sé anseo. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis. Gabhaim buíochas leis as a bheith linn ar maidin.

The reason I tabled this matter is the recent remarks by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding the Government's support for a stand-alone, rights-based Irish language Act to be implemented in the North, which was the position agreed at St. Andrews more than ten years ago. A majority of MLAs - 50 out of 90 - have declared their support for such an Act. The United Nations has called for rights-based legislation that protects Irish speakers and the EU's committee of experts has also called for rights-based legislation in the form of an Act that would protect rights and entitlements and afford greater opportunities for engagement between Irish speakers and those who wish to live their lives through Irish and the Executive and the state the North.

It is an important commitment and thousands of people took to the streets of Belfast recently in a colourful, diverse, open campaign about this. It included many families with children going through gaeloideachas calling for the fulfilment of this agreement. It is positive and significant than the Minister has been so overt and clear in his public statements on this issue thus far. It is important, however, that we hear from An Taoiseach in this regard to reaffirm, highlight and, indeed, reassure Irish speakers in the North that this is a matter the Government takes seriously as the highest level and that it wants, along with the thousands of people who took to the streets and a broad shade of political and civic society, the implementation of a stand-alone Acht na Gaeilge under the St. Andrews Agreement

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as ucht a chuid focal. Táim fíorbhuíoch as an seans labhairt leis an Seanad inniu ar an ábhar seo. Tá sé thar a bheith tábachtach.

I thank the Senator for raising the important matter of an Irish language Act in Northern Ireland, as provided for under the St. Andrews Agreement. The Government's firm position is that the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements, including the St. Andrews Agreement, must be implemented in full. This is reflected in the programme for partnership Government.

As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government is unstinting in its work to achieve the full implementation of all outstanding commitments. Respect for linguistic diversity and the Irish language are central to the Agreement and, indeed, can be seen as something of a litmus test for mutual respect. The 2006 St. Andrews Agreement explicitly provides for an Irish language Act for Northern Ireland, to be enacted by the British Government. Unfortunately, to date, there has been no agreement within the Executive to take this now devolved matter forward. Successive Irish Governments have advocated in favour and the Government has continued to do so over the last number of years. In the Stormont House negotiations in late 2014, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and other Government representatives sought that the commitment to an Irish language Act be honoured and implemented. Regrettably, it was not possible at the time to reach agreement for such an explicit undertaking. Nevertheless, in the final text of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, the Government and the British Government, recalling commitments from previous agreements, endorsed the need for respect for and recognition of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.

At successive review meetings for the Stormont House Agreement in 2016, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade specifically raised the issue of outstanding commitments from other agreements, including that relating to the Irish language, and suggested there should be regular consideration at future review meetings to ensure that they remain on the political agenda. Most recently, in the discussions at Stormont Castle that began in March of this year to support the formation of a new Executive, the Government made consistently clear to the British Government and to all the political parties our strong support for a statutory basis for the Irish language in Northern Ireland, as envisaged under the St. Andrews Agreement. In this regard, the Government also underlined to the British Government the leadership role that both governments must play in ensuring that all provisions of previous agreements are appropriately respected and that the focus remains on achieving full implementation.

The talks process at Stormont Castle concluded without agreement on 29 June. However, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has made it clear that the Government will spare no effort in fulfilling its solemn duty as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. This includes continuing to work to ensure the effective operation of all of its institutions and also the implementation of outstanding commitments, including an Irish language Act. The Government will continue to work to this end with the British Government to support and facilitate the parties in their efforts to reach agreement on the formation of a new Executive. The Government wishes to see this achieved as soon as possible.

Finally, I wish to note that the Government will continue to support the Irish language on an all-island basis, including through financial support for the work of Foras na Gaeilge be it in the area of the Irish language itself and also the Ulster-Scots Agency.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. Aithním, agus táim fíorbhuíoch as, an tacaíocht, commitment agus grá den teanga atá ag an Aire Stáit féin. Maidir leis a chúlra féin, tá a fhios agam go n-aithníonn sé cé chomh tábhachtach agus atá an t-ábhar seo agus atá saol trí mheán na Gaeilge do a lán daoine ó Thuaidh.

The Minister of State will know and appreciate from his background and work, not least as former Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, that the Irish language, rights and entitlements for the Irish speaking community are vitally important to a broad range of people. In the past number of years this issue represents the broader issue of Irishness. There are people who simply see themselves as Irish, want to be part of the Irish nation and live their lives in that way.

I had intended to ask the Minister of State about the Irish Government's engagement with the British Government as co-guarantors. We all recognise and appreciate the dynamic that exist in the North at present. We all know that a lack of respect for an Irish identity and Irish language is at the heart of the reason we do not have a functioning Executive.

I wish to reiterate to the Government, through the Minister of State, how important this matter is to many. The issue will not go away. It continues because it is necessary, concerns rights and equality and because it is an issue that was agreed. I do not say the following to be overly dramatic but it is true that rights delayed are rights denied. There is an obligation on all of us to redouble our efforts to ensure that the very just and legitimate demand for an Irish language Act, regardless of the climate in the North, is fulfilled as part of agreements reached.

Tá cúpla focal gasta agam. Chonaic mé an athbheochan cúpla bliain ó shin nuair a chuaigh mé ar mo thuras féin. Chas mé le cuid mhór daoine ón Tuaisceart, mar shampla fear ó dheisceart Ard Mhacha ar chas mé leis i nGleann Cholm Cille. D'fhoghlaim mé cúpla focal uaidh ag an am. Bhí cuid mhór oibre déanta ar an talamh. Chonaic mé na rudaí a rinneadh sna Gaelscoileanna agus sna bunscoileanna agus rudaí maidir le cúrsaí oideachais fosta. Ba é Béal Feirste ceantar an fhir féin agus is ceantar Linda Ervine é. Bhí sé ag múineadh agus tá sé fós ag múineadh faoi láthair. Tá cuid mhór deiseanna ann. Tuigim go bhfuil deacrachtaí agus míbhuntáistí ann maidir leis na demands fadúda an teanga sa Tuaisceart faoi láthair. Aontaím le tuairimí an Seanadóra féin maidir leis na deiseanna agus na buntáistí atá ann don teanga amach anseo.

I acknowledge the Senator for raising this issue. It is so important that there is enlightenment about the language in Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. People must realise that it is a gateway to our past and allows us to discover more about our traditions. As a Government, we recognise all traditions and cultures for which we have formulated policies.

In 2014, I resumed learning the Irish language and my eyes were opened to a lot more than just the language. My learning journey has changed my approach to politics and life. Learning the language has deepened and enriched my understanding of who we are as a country and as a people. The ultimate objective for us as legislators, and we can only speak on behalf of the Members of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, is to reassure people that they should not be afraid of the language. We must convey to them that it is part of all of us, it is part of who we are and it is part of our history and heritage. We must work together, as legislators, to break down any fears that people have about the language.

I understand why people fear the language, particularly in Northern Ireland. It is our job, as legislators, to break down those fears and barriers. I am glad to say that many people are thinking about learning the language. Ms Linda Ervine has done a tremendous job of teaching the Irish language in east Belfast and many people from a wide range or strata of society have availed of the opportunity.

Tá an dualgas orainn uilig. We must allay negative perceptions, fears, inhibitions and nuances exist. We must convey to people that the language is much greater. It is bigger than the current narrative about obstacles, disadvantages and fears. Anybody that I know who speaks Irish or is learning it has been enriched by the experience. Everyone in these Houses can work together and we have a duty to break down fears and inhibitions. I am happy to work with Senator Ó Donghaile.

I have a lot of plans, especially in my new role in the Creative Ireland programme. Culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht are part of my Department's remit. I will examine ways to transform and develop the Irish language in this country. As we learned from the 2016 commemorative events, when people start looking back it might help us to position ourselves as we look forward.

Can I comment further?

The rules do not allow it. Is trua liom. Tá an Seanad ar athló go dtí 11.30 a.m.

Sitting suspended at 11.20 a.m. and resumed at 11.35 a.m.