The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the time allocated to each Senator not to exceed ten minutes. Time can be shared.
Order of Business
To start with I will mention the Kerry babies case and the gross miscarriage of justice against Joanna Hayes and her family. Yesterday the Garda apologised to her family but we must call on the Government and the State to apologise to her and her family for what was a gross and unbelievable miscarriage of justice.
I was two at the time. I learned yesterday from various journalists who attended the tribunal how the family and Joanna were bullied by gardaí and coerced into signing statements on the matter. She was traumatised by the tribunal and by arms of the State on the matter. When she was vindicated by her blood samples which showed she was not the mother of the child, they came up with a theory of superfecundation, a word the whole country looked up yesterday. The mind boggles; it was like seeing a horror movie mixed with an episode of "Father Ted". It is time for the State to clean up its act and treat women properly. The State's treatment of women has been awful. It is something we need to look at very clearly and carefully. I hope the Government takes it on board and issues an apology to Ms Hayes and her family immediately.
The second issue I will raise is the housing crisis. We did not see an improvement over the Christmas period. There are 91,000 people on social housing lists and over 3,000 children living in homeless accommodation. The Minister is coming out with figures and changing the goalposts. He is contradicting himself left, right and centre. Every day in all of our clinics, the biggest issue we hear about is housing and homelessness. It cannot continue this way. We need to see proper action, a proper plan and a State-wide social housing programme. I call on the Government to initiate one without delay. I ask the Government to implement an ambitious, city-wide or State-wide house building programme.
I will raise three issues. The first is the fodder crisis. The Leader indicated that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will come to the Seanad. We should ask him to specifically address the fodder crisis in the north and west as a result of the bad weather. The Minister spoke at some length at the IFA annual general meeting yesterday. The Taoiseach attended the AGM yesterday and expressed some concerns about a number of issues in agriculture. That resonated very well with the IFA. It is indebted to him. It appreciates the Taoiseach and the Minister attending its annual general meeting yesterday. It is a sign of their enormous interest in rural Ireland and agriculture. That is important. There has been some suggestion by the IFA and other organisations that a voucher scheme for supplementary nuts, silage or hay should be introduced. It needs to be done. There needs to be a single strong message in the Department's response to the situation.
I would appreciate if the Leader could do that.
I acknowledge the sad passing of a former Senator, Dr. Maurice Hayes, who served two terms in the Seanad. I know we will have another opportunity to pay tribute to him. He was a very proud Ulsterman. He was a personal friend of mine. I worked closely with him and served with him on the National Forum for Europe for over five years. He brought amazing skills. That is for another day. I acknowledge that on our first day back since his passing.
I wish to raise an issue that appeared in today's Inside Politics digest of The Irish Times. I will not mention the journalist's name because that is not appropriate. More important is the issue. It stated:
The Seanad is back from its Christmas break and will ease into the day at 2.30 pm with commencement matters, followed by the order of business, otherwise known as the procession of windbagging.
I think that is grossly offensive and grossly insulting. People will say a clever politician would not get up and criticise the media for fear that he or she would not get coverage or support.
The Senator certainly will not.
I think it is a disgrace. I see enough journalists around this House every day, but I do not see them in here. I do not see them commenting about what we do on Commencement Matters. I am more interested in people taking the time to come in here and listen. They do not even have to come into this Chamber. They have the privilege, as many of us have, of looking at proceedings on monitors in their offices. I recognise the media have an enormous job and make an enormous contribution, and we need to work together. As we start another year, I ask them to get up here, take the time to get on with the real job of journalism, which is not walking the back corridors of Leinster House but being in here listening to constructive and positive debate in which we partake.
I want to send that important message, particularly to The Irish Times journalists who are spending a lot of time talking about their tracker poll on the referendum. They are spending a lot of time sending emails and looking for responses. Let them get up here and deal with the real work that is exercising the people of this country on a daily basis, namely, housing, employment - to a lesser extent - and education. There are bigger issues that we need to look at. I appeal to journalists, particularly political journalists, to get into these Houses and do the real job of journalism and report about work.
I start by wishing everybody a happy new year. I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his marriage to Con.
Not the Cathaoirleach.
A little longer than that, you know.
I think we would have heard about that, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
You probably would have.
I congratulate the Leader on his nuptials over the Christmas period.
I also send the solidarity of the House to Joanne Hayes and her family. I acknowledge the absolute injustice and torture she suffered at the hands of the institutions. One can only come to the conclusion that there was absolute collusion between individuals working in those institutions to be complicit in her torture over months and years. That must never happen again. One thing that has improved in a sense is that now people are not willing to stand by and let these things happen. However, it shows the younger generation exactly how women were treated in this State. We hope it will never happen again.
There should be an inquiry into the behaviour of those involved in making the decisions that led to the treatment of Joanne Hayes. It is not something that can be let lie. I am very conscious that behind this there is a woman and a family, who must have control of what happens from here on in. She should be substantially compensated. She can never be truly adequately compensated for what has happened to her, but she should have a say in that. I do not want this just to be another outcry which is then dropped. It needs to be brought to a conclusion once and for all. Those who behaved in the way that they did need to be held accountable.
I commend my own colleague, Deputy Louise O'Reilly, our spokesperson on health, on bringing together today the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, IAEM, the Irish National Midwives Organisation, INMO, and SIPTU representing the care workers, to tell us their experiences of working inside the emergency departments of this State. What they said was not news to any of us. However, it really brought it home that, across the board, the clinicians and the workers are working in a very dangerous and toxic environment, both for themselves and for the patients they see. They are really concerned that we need an accelerated programme of reinstating beds. They have the solutions. That is why we do not need the review of the bed capacity. We do not need any more evidence. The evidence is already there.
I encourage people working inside the system to come forward. They have been targeted in the past. I know myself when we have had community campaigns, where individual nurses who supported the campaigns, either to keep hospitals open or to keep beds open, have been targeted. That must stop. We must have a critical mass working with the public and a critical mass of workers to come forward to say that these situations are dangerous and they can no longer go on.
I ask the Minister for Health to come into the House, maybe even to specifically address the situation of workers. It is not good enough that every time the Minister is coming all the beds are cleared and everything is made to look rosy. The management within some of these hospitals are telling clinicians and nurses that if they do not like it, they can leave it. We have to stand up for workers in these situations.
I would also like to highlight the audiovisual room event that was on today around the emergency crisis. Even though we all know there is a crisis, it is just shocking to hear the stories. That is what was really most upsetting. I refer in particular to the choice of who can have a bed, whether it be a 90 year-old woman who is very sick with a bad chest infection or a 45 year-old woman who might have breast cancer. They have to choose which one gets the hospital bed. It really is shocking to think that this is going on in this day and age. There were many more stories like that. It is awful. I have had relatives myself who have had to wait two days to get a hospital bed.
I want to highlight an issue around homelessness and the short notice period that tenants are facing if landlords attempt to evict them. The notice periods for rental properties range from 28 days for tenants in the property less than six months to 56 days for tenants in situ for two to three years. In the current housing crisis, with so few available rental properties, it is obvious that these notice periods are not enough for anyone to get alternative accommodation. It is very worrying. I know that myself. We all have adult children and it is very worrying that they cannot seem to get accommodation these days. Perhaps we can get the Minister in to give us an update on what has been going on and what kind of work has been done, if at all possible. It would put us all in the picture.
Today though, I mostly want to express my sympathy to Ms Joanne Hayes, and indeed the whole Hayes family, for the trauma they suffered. It is being revisited now with the reopening of the case of the killing of the Caherciveen baby. The Hayes family were forced by the gardaí to sign statements. A group of gardaí had already decided that Ms Hayes had killed a baby found on the beach in Caherciveen. It should be remembered that Ms Hayes had told the gardaí where she had placed her stillborn child and this was ignored. I welcome the fact that an investigation into the death of the baby found in Caherciveen is now being reopened because of new DNA evidence. However, this investigation could have been carried out 34 years ago if the gardaí involved had believed Ms Hayes. The methods used by gardaí involved in the case to extract confessions should also be investigated and other cases examined which relied on statements given to these gardaí should be examined. I mostly want to express my sympathy today to Ms Joanne Hayes and her family.
I join others in expressing solidarity with Ms Joanne Hayes and her family in the context of the reopening of the case. I am glad to see it reopened. However, I do think a State apology would be appropriate. Like others, I was too young to know the details of the case at the time. I do remember in school hearing about it and being aware even then of the immensely brutal way in which Ms Hayes was treated by the gardaí.
At the time a "heavy gang" was operating within the Garda and there was quite a notorious culture with regard to the extraction of confessions. Mr. Brendan Kennelly at the time described the treatment of Joanne Hayes as being akin to a medieval witch hunt. At the time, there were a number of appalling cases in which the State failed women, particularly young women. I am thinking about the Ann Lovett tragedy that occurred around the same time. It was just the year after the eighth amendment had been passed and Members will have a debate on the committee's report on that today. Perhaps it is a time for us to reflect, looking back on those events decades ago, on how the State mistreated women and how we hope things have changed. A State apology would reflect that change and give recognition to the immense injustice done to Joanne Hayes and her family at the time.
I ask for a debate on the ongoing crisis in Syria. Unfortunately, we saw some very sad developments over the Christmas break as there is a real and ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ghouta and Idlib. Members will have a debate on foreign affairs in the coming weeks and I might raise this with the Minister in that context. I will certainly raise it at the foreign affairs committee. It is important that Ireland should do as much as we can to highlight the extreme emergencies of east Ghouta and Idlib and the immense pressure on civilians. I know quite a number of patients are awaiting medical evacuations in besieged eastern Ghouta but despite quite a bit of public focus on that crisis over Christmas, only 29 of those patients have been evacuated and at least 529 more still require urgent medical treatment. It is a similar position for people awaiting medical treatment in Idlib, where there are increasing civilian casualties. It is a somewhat forgotten tragedy in the sense that public focus has shifted somewhat from it but I hope we can raise it with the Minister in a debate in this House in the coming weeks.
I welcome the announcement in the legislative programme for this term that we will have progress on the gender pay gap transparency legislation. I had the pleasure of speaking at a symposium on the gender pay gap last week organised by the Ministers responsible for justice and business and enterprise. They gave assurances and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, in particular indicated he would progress our Private Members' Bill, which has passed through Second and Committee Stages in this House with Government support. I ask the Leader to make inquiries as to when we might see the Bill on Report Stage and if it can be debated in Government time or it needs to be discussed in Private Members' time as a Labour Bill.
The leader of the Sinn Féin group raised our current difficulties in the health service and we are all aware we need more capacity. We are now fortunate as a nation to have additional funds for the health service. However, there must be acknowledgement from people that having had so many cuts and the reality of the troika in town, which was checking reports every three months and was not prepared to write the cheque for the following three months if the report did not come in as expected, we have much ground to make up. One cannot possibly hope, within a couple of years, to restore our service on the basis of getting back to an OECD average when there were so many years in which we were so far behind.
Beds are of course an issue but reform is equally important. We must move away from an illness-based health service towards prevention and early intervention. That means there should be a new GP contract and restoration of the cuts made on foot of the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation. Everybody experienced those but they have not been reversed at all in general practice, which is having a very negative effect. We also need more access to diagnostics for GPs. I want to be able to look after my patients by ordering an X-ray or ultrasound so as to manage the problem without them ever having to go to hospital, if possible. We need more home help and day hospitals, where people can be absolutely assured that a procedure will take place because the bed would not be occupied from the night before. There is a wonderful opportunity for outpatient follow-up to be carried out in the community, nearer patients.
There are many other matters that could be addressed but I will not get into them because I wish to raise an issue I have raised a number of times before. It is the anomaly in the pension system brought about by previously passed legislation.
The anomaly has resulted in upwards of 36,000 pensioners being discriminated against, many of whom are women who took time out of work to raise children, who are the future of our nation, or looked after loved ones who otherwise would have ended up in State care thus costing the State considerable sums of money. Not alone have they lost out by giving this service that was born out of love, they are now being penalised for saving the State money.
I am very much encouraged by what the Minister for Employment and Social Affairs has said and hope that she will bring this issue to the Cabinet this week. I also hope, arising from that, restoration will be made immediately in terms of current pay and that the back pay issue can be resolved over a slightly longer period. It is important to remember that for many of these people, who are mainly women, time is not on their side, so we need to urgently address this injustice.
I wish everybody a happy new year. I hope everyone has a productive, healthy and happy year. I also congratulate the Leader of the House on his recent marriage. I congratulate him and his new husband.
I wish to refer to the proposed worldwide ban on the importation of plastics by China, which is an issue that is becoming more relevant by the day. China proposes to ban imports from Ireland and many other countries. I understand that 95% of this country's plastic waste has gone to China in recent years. Therefore, it is important that we invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to this House to discuss the measures that are being taken and will be taken to resolve the issue. There have been fires in recycling depots here in the past number of years. We do not need the stockpiling of various types of plastics to develop. I refer to the more useful ones that are recyclable and the other plastics that tend to end up in the process as well.
Notwithstanding all of that, Ireland has come a long way with the introduction of the plastic bag tax, better light bulbs, pay-by-weight waste collection, a ban on the use of smoky coal and the introduction of a recycling scheme for waste electrical and electronic equipment, WEEE. All of these measures were implemented by previous Fianna Fáil Governments. We need to consider how we generate waste now. We must come up with ways to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible because landfill is a thing of the past. The new thermal treatment plant, waste to energy incinerator or whatever one wishes to call it, which depends on one's perspective, is located in Dublin. It is operating at capacity despite all of the talk that it would not even be half full when it opened. I remain to be corrected on that aspect but that is my understanding of the issue.
It is important that the Leader arranges a debate on the matter with the Minister soon because waste is a health issue. Health affects people when they are unwell and housing affects people, particularly if they do not have a house. However, every single household in the country produces waste so each household should be encouraged to have many ways to responsibly dispose of their waste. By that I mean in such a way as to minimise the amount of waste that goes to landfill or is incinerated.
We need to talk to producers about banning certain types of packaging that is not recyclable. For example, the polystyrene sheets that are used to wrap food and provide pizza bases and fast-food boxes. Many producers are using more sustainable packaging but some do not. We should aim towards households and businesses being able to say they have a strategy where they do not have residual waste for landfill or incineration, that as much of what we consume is reusable and, ideally, a reduced amount of packaging. We have all heard about people getting packages over Christmas that comprised of huge cardboard boxes that had a huge amount of paper inside or plastic packaging to wrap a tiny product. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate, as a matter of urgency. I am conscious that the Green Party has prepared a Waste Reduction Bill but that is not why I have raised this issue. I note that the Green Party has called for a discussion on waste reduction. Waste is a topic that affects every house in this country and must be tackled, as a matter of urgency.
I know that the Leader missed me on the day of his nuptials. I did try to get to his wedding. I wish him and his husband the very best and congratulate them both.
The Senator was too busy canvassing.
I want to discuss the serious issue of social media. My colleague and the Leader's colleague, Senator Noone, was charged with the responsibility of chairing the all-party Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. She did it as a professional and worked hard. It is probably a bit unfair of me to mention her while she is sitting here in the Chamber. She was subjected to the most vile attacks on social media over the past few days, which is outrageous. The woman did nothing but the job she had been given by the Taoiseach. I gather the attacks did not come from Ireland but Massachusetts in America.
Is that what we are facing into now, as we enter into what will be a terribly difficult time for this country? Will these outsiders be interfering in Irish social issues?
Let me tell the House that I had the pleasure this week of having two people removed from Twitter for ongoing attacks on me. Can I advise Senator Noone that she do the same. If we see one of our Seanad colleagues being attacked, we should have the courage to stand up for him or her. They are only doing a job. Nobody in Parliament likes having to deal with difficult issues, but like it or lump it, we have to do it. That is what we are paid to do.
I had the pleasure of attending the retirement of Sergeant Major Noel O'Callaghan in Athlone recently. Mr. O'Callaghan is one of our finest soldiers. He has a major issue with the raising and lowering of our national flag. Some time ago the Taoiseach said there was no need to lower the flag. It is a great military ceremony every day to have the flag raised and lowered in a military barracks. Mr. O'Callaghan is correct in what he says, namely, there are national flags in tatters hanging out of buildings all over the country. That is not just disrespectful, it is disgusting to witness.
I ask the Taoiseach to reconsider this and return to raising the flag at sunrise and lowering it at sunset and giving it the respect to which it is entitled.
I wish Members a happy new year.
When the Senator gets the new job in the Phoenix Park.
The Senator and Senator Daly.
The Senator will have his opportunity.
I agree wholeheartedly with Senator Craughwell's comments on the treatment of Senator Noone on social media.
Today I wish to address something that has been going on in this country for a long time, namely, the situation in Caherciveen and the treatment of Ms Joanne Hayes. As a young fellow, I followed the tribunal and was quite shocked at the behaviour back then.
She is from Abbeydorney.
I am fully aware of that. Kerry is a big county. I listened very carefully to "Prime Time" last night and to the journalists who wrote the book about that particular incident. An Garda Síochána has a lot of questions to answer about not dealing with this situation in the 1990s. DNA and DNA profiling was available in the 1990s. Mr. Gerard Colleran was quite right in what he said last night in that the gardaí have serious questions to answer as to why they did not deal with this particular case in the 1990s.
It is absolutely appropriate that An Garda Síochána apologised to Ms Joanne Hayes. It was also appropriate that the Taoiseach apologised to Ms Joanne Hayes from Strasbourg today. I have no doubt that in the fullness of time, an appropriate State apology will be delivered in Dáil Éireann on behalf of the State by the Taoiseach. It is the appropriate thing to do.
I also noted the Taoiseach's comments that in due course the State will engage with Ms Joanne Hayes's representatives as regards compensation. I believe the Garda has not answered the questions in full. An answer and an explanation is required to the very pertinent questions that Mr. Gerard Colleran asked on "Prime Time" as to why this did not happen in the 1990s, even though the Garda had been asked ad nauseam to reopen the case and to use modern science, such as DNA profiling. Why was it not done in the 1990s? I would like an answer to that. The people of Ireland deserve an answer.
Hear, hear. Following on from Senator Craughwell raising the issue of social media, he is a big guy and is well able to deal with social media.
I wish to address the seeming U-turn in the proposed appointment, the first of its kind for Ireland, of a digital safety commissioner to oversee and hold Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and so on to account in respect of our vulnerable children.
This issue has been discussed at length by the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. We have worked on it and discussed it with witnesses in recent months. It came to our attention yesterday that the Taoiseach has been quoted as saying that the initiative has been shelved. This issue is not just about children and youth affairs, it is also involves all aspects of the mental health of children and adults. Will the Leader clarify whether the appointment of a digital commissioner - which was promised by the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, and supported by the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs - is to be shelved?
If one goes back five or six years, one will find that clear targets for the creation of jobs were set out by the Government. People were very sceptical that those targets could be achieved. It is interesting that the CSO publication in recent days gave the figures for the third quarter of 2017, which show that there are now 2.2 million people at work. That is an increase of 48,000 year on year. It is a huge achievement for this country and for the people who are to the fore in creating jobs, whether from companies abroad or companies based in Ireland, but also for the various State agencies that have assisted in the creation of those jobs and that have put forward a very positive image of Ireland to the international community. We should be congratulating everyone involved, namely, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and every other State agency that played a part in this. We should also be congratulating the people who have worked to provide those additional jobs. Long may what is happening continue. We have an extra 48,000 jobs compared to this time last year.
The second issue I wish to raise is that of a report published by the Ombudsman in recent days in respect of the treatment abroad scheme. That scheme is a little different from the cross-border health scheme. I was involved in bringing forward the cross-border health scheme at European level. The treatment abroad scheme covers instances where a treatment is not available in this country and medical practitioners have recommended that a person receive treatment abroad. The Ombudsman found that the way decisions taken by those administering the treatment abroad scheme have been managed has not been in the best interest of the people who are looking for that treatment. There have been a number of cases where I have had to threaten judicial review in respect of decisions. I make no apologies for having to do that. It is important. There are 17 or 18 recommendations in the Ombudsman's report. He has set a deadline of the end of February for them to be implemented. It is very important that they are implemented, that the report is given serious consideration and that the issues raised in it are dealt with. If someone is looking for medical treatment abroad, it is obvious that he or she has quite a serious issue and is not able to get treatment here.
I ask the Leader to convey to the Department of Health and the HSE our view that it is important that the recommendations of the report are implemented and that it does not become another report which just sits on a shelf. This is about people's health, their care and their treatment.
Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an gCeannaire freisin as ucht a phósta le linn na Nollag. Guím gach rath air féin agus ar a pháirtí. Tá súil agam go mbeadh blianta fada sona acu. I wish the Leader all the best on his nuptials. I hope he and his partner have long and happy years together. It is a wonderful occasion. Well done.
I also want to refer to a very serious issue that arose in Carraroe a week ago last Friday when a two year old toddler began choking. An ambulance was called and the family were told it was on its way. An uncle of the child came to the house and saw that the child was very distressed. Due to previous situations that had happened in the area, he decided that they should bundle the child into the car and get to the hospital as quickly as possible. They did that. They kept in contact with the ambulance service. The ambulance was to meet them en route. That did not happen. They took the initiative and rang a garda, a friend of the family, who sent a colleague of his who was on duty to meet them at the halfway point on the road to Galway city.
They met at Spiddal, the child was brought in the Garda car and the ambulance met with them outside the city in Rahoon, on the way to the hospital. The child was lost twice on the way to the hospital; he had to be resuscitated twice. It was a very serious scenario and it raises some serious issues for the family. The first is around the protocols for call-outs. As there is an ambulance station in Carraroe, which is within five minutes of the family's house, why was no ambulance crew available for the child? Why did it take 50 minutes for an ambulance to get only as far as Rahoon, which is on the outskirts of the city, when it had been called? It would have taken another 50 minutes to get to Carraroe had the family not taken the initiative themselves.
There is also a fire brigade station in the area. There are two emergency medical technicians on that crew and people who are trained in emergency first response. If an ambulance is going to take such a long time, why is there no protocol to call these services to the scene to intervene as quickly as possible? This service would also have a blue light vehicle that could have been used in that emergency scenario to bring the child to hospital.
We certainly need a very serious discussion around the provision of ambulance services in rural areas. We have a vocal campaign in north Connemara, in the Leenane area, where there is concern over the lack of cover by ambulance services. We are also concerned that ambulances are possibly being held up outside the emergency department at University Hospital Galway. We often see a number of ambulances waiting - sometimes six, seven or eight - and it is my understanding that an ambulance cannot be released until the patient is on the trolley and in the hospital system. The ambulances are therefore held up.
Why was there such an inordinate delay in getting an ambulance to this family? They were extremely distressed. Thankfully there was a positive outcome; the child had to undergo a minor procedure and has recovered but it was a very touch and go situation. We want to avoid any more of those happening in the future but we really need to address the issues. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Harris, has been spoken to about the issue in Galway and the north Connemara situation. Promises have been made and it has been put back to the National Ambulance Service, whose response to this situation was that it was not an absolute emergency. An infant potentially choking in the back of the car certainly is a very serious situation and I cannot understand why it is not being dealt with. I would like to see this investigated fully. Perhaps the Minister could be asked to come to the House for a debate around those services.
Tharla ócáid stairiúil in Éirinn 99 bliain ó shin Dé Domhnaigh seo chugainn. Tháinig an Chéad Dáil le chéile i dTeach an Ardmhéara tar éis an olltoghchán agus d’athraigh na heachtraí seo ár dtír agus ár stair. The 1918 general election and meeting of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919 transformed this island and changed the course of our history. It was a transformative time in terms of universal suffrage. The Representation of the People Act 1918 caused the electorate to almost triple. It also saw our first female representative elected, namely, Countess Markievicz.
I remind Members that when, in 1998, all the people voted by a majority and by majorities North and South in favour of the Good Friday Agreement, it was the first occasion since the historic 1918 election that the people of this island had voted on the same day on the same issue of their constitutional status.
In May 2017, the Declaration of Independence Day Bill, which I drafted, was supported through Second Stage in the Seanad by Members from all sides. We are awaiting Committee and Remaining Stages. Senator Horkan stated during that debate that time is of the essence if we are to have the legislation through the Oireachtas before the centenary of the meeting of the First Dáil and the Declaration of Independence on 21 January 1919.
I ask the Leader to work to see that the legislation is back in the Seanad as quickly as possible in order that we can formally recognise these truly historic events.
I welcome the Leader back to the Chamber as a married man. I wish him and his husband Conchobar the very best for their future together.
Ireland had, and still has, a lot to be proud of but our past shows there are a lot of shameful chapters about which we should be embarrassed and shamed. During public discussion and discourse in recent years, we have heard about the Magdalen laundries, the mother and baby homes and now the Kerry babies' case and the treatment that was meted out to Joanne Hayes. These are all shameful episodes in Irish history.
I want to raise another shameful episode that has received public attention in recent times. It relates to a man named Billy Kenneally, a convicted paedophile, in Waterford. The victims are seeking a commission of inquiry to investigate who knew what at the time he, and possibly others, was abusing young children in Waterford. I am raising the issue because it is a serious one. These victims are brave men who revealed their identity in order to raise awareness around the issue and to ensure that we have full transparency, accountability and justice in this particular case of abuse. It is well known that people in authority at the time knew about the abuse and allowed it to continue. People in An Garda Síochána, the clergy and State agencies, as well as in the political system, were aware that this abuser was running rampant in the Waterford area and abusing young children. These brave young men stepped forward when they discovered this paedophile was still a basketball coach. They went public, took on this case and the man was convicted.
These men are fathers of children themselves, as are many of us here, and there is an obligation on us as a society to ensure that there is full justice and transparency in this case. I have spoken to the Minister for Justice and Equality and he has acknowledged the need for a commission of inquiry. He understands the pain and suffering that the victims have endured and he is currently engaged with the Attorney General to find a way forward to ensure that this commission is established. However, I ask the Seanad for its support to ensure that these victims are supported and their stories heard in the full light of day, that there is full transparency and justice, and that the people of authority who knew what was going on are brought before the commission to ensure it never happens again. We all have an obligation in that regard. I support these brave victims. We must ensure they get the commission of inquiry they so badly want.
I heard what my colleague, Senator Colm Burke, had to say in the context of people needing to get medical treatment abroad. However, a category of people who, by definition, cannot get medical treatment abroad are those in need of intensive care treatment, that is, patients needing critical care support in our hospitals. It is disturbing to learn that 300 people a year may be dying because of a lack of intensive care beds. It is disturbing to learn that Ireland has 3.7 beds per 1,000 of population. This is about two thirds of the OECD rate. Germany has eight beds per 1,000. It is disturbing to hear and to learn that, in some cases, people are missing out on life saving organ transplants because of the bed shortage and that there is a higher mortality for patients who, due to the shortage, are placed in unsuitable locations.
This strikes me because we will be discussing the pro-life issue and what it means to be truly pro-life later on. Our hospital care system is not very pro-life in the way that it is operating. I am not faulting medical staff, who are doing their best. In fact, they are the ones who are pointing out a situation where, apart from the possible impact on patients, there is also the possible negative psychological impact on medics of having to choose, in some cases, who gets care because of the shortage.
Dr. Emily O'Connor of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine states that they have to make very tough decisions regarding which critically ill patients to prioritise. She stated: "It is no exaggeration to say this can mean the difference between someone being offered the opportunity of critical care or not." In other words, if one person gets the bed, someone else loses it. This is in a First World society, where potentially 300 people are losing their lives for the want of beds. We hear so much about this in the hospital system but we need to let it sink in. I am worried that we are seeing a system that has been allowed to degrade to such a point that those who have dedicated their lives to healing the wounds of others are being forced to decide which of their patients is to be let die due to a lack of resources.
Are we there? If that is true, the system is now harming not only the patients but also the doctors because no doctor should ever have to decide which of his or her patients-----
On a point of order, people are living 2.5 years longer now than they were in 2000 so in fairness-----
With respect, that is not a point of order.
I will conclude, if I may.
It is information.
It is information.
The Leader will reply.
I fully intend to. It is a health issue.
I am not here to make party political points.
The Senator is and he has just done it.
Order, please. I ask the Senator to wind up.
I am finishing.
He has done it.
I ask Senator Mullen to wind up. His time is up.
In fairness, let us say I am wrong. Let us say I am accidentally wrong.
I cannot get into an argument now.
The Senator's time is up.
To get a defensive attitude from Government suggests that what it is interested in is the prestige of the party-----
Is the Senator calling for a debate? We cannot have a debate now.
Go away out of that.
-----not the core of the issue. The Leader can correct me courteously if I am wrong. May I conclude on what I was asking for?
Is the Senator calling for a debate?
What I want and what I believe is imperative is that whether I am right or wrong it should not cause offence if we really care about human dignity. I would like the Minister for Health to explain to the House, if this situation has been allowed to happen in the ways that I worry about, how many members of the public have lost their lives as a result, if that is true.
The Senator has used up twice his time.
How many people are at risk of missing out on life-saving treatment because of the current crisis? I am not saying anyone is personally to blame but it is a serious crisis which should not be responded to in a party political defensive way, I suggest.
What is the Senator doing himself? He is being political.
I want to follow up on Senator Horkan's point about plastics. He made some very valid points about waste and the disposal thereof. There is a fundamental issue in the use of plastics and we have to try to move away from using plastic to the extent that we do, as a world. The waters of the world are becoming oestrogenised because of the amount of oestrogen in plastic. This will be a serious issue down the road. It is more than a waste issue; it is a fundamental issue. Young Fine Gael, YFG, launched an idea for plastic coffee cups. Many outlets now allow customers use reusable cups. YFG has suggested imposing a levy on plastic cups like the levy Fianna Fáil introduced on plastic bags. Ours has become a much more disposable society. That is a good idea and should be followed up.
I thank Senator Craughwell for supporting me on social media and again here. Sad to say, one gets used to the abuse. I mute people and do not see it and do not give them the satisfaction of blocking them because they want to be able to say that I blocked them. I just ignore them for the most part. We have to learn to ignore it rather than constantly try to fight it. Sometimes people will not agree with me or do not like what I represent. That is life. It is a difficult part of the job. The Senator's comments are valid. The mute button, however, is one for everyone to consider. It was Senator Richmond who pointed it out to me because I was not aware of it. One does not have to block them because much of the time they want that.
I agree with Senator Devine about the digital commissioner. I too would like to know the story because it has come up often. As far as I know there was strong support for that from Government. I would be very supportive of having a digital commissioner. I am not sure the Leader would know about that today but I encourage us to have a debate on it and if possible a debate soon on the environmental area, in respect of the previous issue I raised.
I welcome everyone back from the Christmas break, although I know we were all working.
I agree with what previous speakers said in respect of the case of Ms Joanne Hayes. What happened to that lady was horrific and we all need to make sure that it never happens again.
I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the Chamber to allay my fears regarding the digital age of consent for children. According to a report arising from pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of Data Protection Bill 2017 carried out by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality last November, the digital age of consent - the age at which a child can consent to use online services - should be set at 13 years. The new EU general data protection regulation comes into effect on 25 May 2018 and I am concerned that many parents do not know that their children will be treated as adults online from the age of 13. This must be investigated further, and I know that there is time to do so. If a parent is told that, from 26 May next, his or her 13 year old will become an adult online, he or she might cry. A child of 13 cannot consent to a medical procedure, drink alcohol or vote. However, we are suggesting that children roam the worldwide web alone just because they have reached an age adopted from social media companies. While I understand that an official age has not yet been set before the EU general data protection regulation comes into effect on 25 May, I cannot agree that 13 is a suitable age. From where did it come? We need much more debate on this matter and we cannot let it slide as a result of our own ignorance.
It worries me that experts such as Dr. Mary Aiken and Professor Barry O'Sullivan are concerned about the report's recommendation of this age, which will be the lowest digital age of consent in Europe. They are concerned that parents are not aware of this provision and have had no part to play in this. Children are able to use technology, but can they be responsible at 13? A 13 year old could not be left on O'Connell Street and told to go shopping and look after himself or herself. Why are we allowing 13 year olds to navigate the Internet alone? The age of 16 is a much more appropriate age of consent and would be more in line with consent and maturity.
Recently, shareholders in a popular technology company called for more help for parents to regulate children's use of devices. I agree that parents cannot do this alone. We live in a changing world. Current studies show that the time children spend using these devices is excessive.
The Senator is 35 seconds over time.
I will say a little more. I am speaking as a parent and I know that parents need to know what is going on. I want to know what sort of public awareness campaign is operating in respect of this issue. We need to debate it and the Minister for Justice and Equality needs to be here for that debate. This is a very serious issue.
Like my colleagues, I wish everyone well in the new year. I also join everyone else in congratulating the Leader, Senator Buttimer, on his recent marriage and in wishing him well.
I want to raise a specific issue. There have been quite a number of debates on health. I wish to refer to the city where I reside, Limerick. People speak about issues relating to management and systems. The biggest single issue in Limerick and the mid-west is bed capacity. A report by Teamwork Management Services was completed prior to a reconfiguration which took place in 2009 and which involved the closure of accident and emergency departments at Ennis, Nenagh and St. John's Hospital in Limerick. This pushed demand into the existing accident and emergency department at University Hospital Limerick. Apart from addressing the closure of the three accident and emergency departments, the report outlined the need for 138 new co-location beds to be put in place at University Hospital Limerick. That never happened. I have worked with the management of University Hospital Limerick. A welcome proposal to put in place 96 acute beds at the hospital has been put forward. It suggests that these beds be located directly alongside the new emergency department, which works well but which has major capacity issues.
In working with management, I secured funding to enable the design for the project to get under way a number of months ago. I would like that 96-acute-bed unit to be included in the capital plan that is currently being reviewed. I have written to the Minister for Health and the HSE about this. Ultimately, without University Hospital Limerick having these extra beds, it will be impossible for it to deal with the overcrowding in its emergency department and meet the needs of our increasing older population. The fundamental problem in University Hospital Limerick is bed capacity. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the HSE corporate team from Mr. Tony O'Brien down to ensure that this 96-acute-bed unit is included in the revised capital plan.
I appreciate this opportunity to speak and the Leas-Chathaoirleach fitting me in when I arrived in the Chamber slightly late.
I called Senators in the order in which they indicated.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for that.
I wish to raise the issue of public transport provision primarily in Dublin. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come into the House for us to have a substantive debate on public transport provision in Dublin. The key issue as it relates to my area is with respect to the Luas. Since the Luas has been operational, it has become a victim of its own success. People in Sandyford have to get the Luas four or five stops out of town to be guaranteed that they can get on the Luas at rush hour. We need to have a proper debate to make sure that public transport is adequate in this city, that we are meeting the demands of a growing population and that we will be able to factor in the increased housing provision and increased office provision to make sure that all transport modes, particularly the Luas, are up to standard. We should debate that issue as soon as possible.
I congratulate the Leader on his recent marriage and wish him and Conchobar well. I similarly congratulate my colleague, Senator Richmond, and his good wife on the birth of their son, Luke Thomas, and wish them well.
The good news with the domesticity of my two colleagues on the Labour Panel gives me the hope that they may devote more time to domestic affairs and home matters and that they may be less competitive on the panel. I am optimistic in that regard-----
I do not know how relevant this is to the Order of Business.
-----that I will have an easier year in 2018 because of their new altered circumstances, and I would like an assurance from the Leader on that alone.
The Senator will be safely in the Dáil.
Moving on, I concur with the consensus emerging in this Chamber today regarding the Joanne Hayes story. It is a blot on our collective past. It is a horror. It is not something that we should try to write out of history, deny or engage in some sort of mental gymnastics to pretend it did not happen. It did happen. We should be collectively ashamed of it and make amends in the future.
I wish to briefly raise two other matters. The first matter is the ever-remaining threat of Brexit. It remains a constant threat to our country but it also remains a threat to the Border community where I live in a very particular way. There is a risk of complacency now that we might get somewhat smug about it and think the matter is solved. In that regard, I am happy that our committee here is continuing. I am also happy that the Taoiseach spoke about it strongly today in the European Parliament and sought to gain the help of our European colleagues to ensure that the agreement with the UK is hammered into real practice. I want an assurance from the Leader that we will have constant monitoring of the Brexit debate because the people I represent and the entire economic and social life of my community stand to be dislocated and destroyed by Brexit. I would be negligent if I did not ask the Leader to assure me of the constant monitoring of this issue. When the Taoiseach comes to this House, I ask that it be the number one item on the agenda and that we get assurances from him as to what is being practically done.
I wish to raise a not-unrelated matter, which is very important to my community and to the west. Farmers are experiencing a crisis because of the weather conditions we have had.
Farmers face a very serious fodder crisis which is causing great mental distress, animal welfare problems and financial hardship of mammoth proportions. They are trying to bring fodder up from the south and east where it is more plentiful and transporting it to Cavan and Monaghan, west Cavan in particular. If one purchases silage at €25 a bale in the south and includes the transportation bill, it is very serious. I ask through the Leader that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine subsidises the transport of fodder from areas of plenty to those of great need. I have farmers watching the Houses today who expect a solution to this real hardship. This is a real human tragedy and an animal welfare issue and I ask the Leader to deal with it urgently. There should be no casual procrastination on this one.
I congratulate the Leader of the House, Senator Buttimer, and Conchobar and wish them well in their marriage. I wish also to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the death of former Senator Maurice Hayes with whom I served in the House for ten years. He made some very valuable contributions in the House. I know the Leader will organise expressions of sympathy in the House at a later date. I also express my condolences to the family of the late Peter Sutherland, who was a great Irishman and statesman and who sadly passed away at a very young age also.
I support the call by Senator O’Reilly for a debate on agriculture. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House in the very near future to debate agriculture. As Senator O’Reilly said, we face a fodder crisis. We never had such severe and harsh weather with a lot of rain as we have had over the past number of months. We had a very poor harvest in some areas last September which has culminated in a fodder shortage. Bringing fodder to the west and north is very costly. Senator O’Reilly has asked the Minister to provide compensation for the transport of the fodder and I agree. I hope we have a debate here in the very near future on this very serious issue. As Senator O’Reilly said, it is a human issue and an animal welfare issue.
I support Senator Horkan in relation to waste plastic. Europe will have to look at the packaging of products. There is far too much packaging used for many products. While China will not take our plastic, a great many of the products which come to Europe are generated there. They are culprits in this regard also. I support Senator Horkan's call for a debate on this issue. We could look at incineration and see how the two incinerators in the country are working, whether there are problems and if they are viable. We should look at what we can do on packaging. The vast majority of packaging should be recyclable or biodegradable. Those are issues which could be dealt with not only nationally, but also in Europe. I support the call for a debate.
Níl mé ag caint ach nóiméad nó trí. I have some involvement in tourism and had a meeting this morning with Fáilte Ireland. I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to be proactive on the following. The single biggest area deprived of tourism in Ireland is the midlands.
Fáilte Ireland has very good plans for the midlands. Recently, the Minister announced that €33 million would be spent on tourism development in the midlands. The problem is that it does not have any staff there. A tourism centre is required in Mullingar that would take just about six people. Tourism is hugely important in the rest of Ireland but the midlands are left stranded. It is by far the weakest area. All that is required is an investment in the region of €400,000 for six people to go and develop tourism in the midlands region. It certainly has many tourism attractions, primarily east of the Shannon, quite frankly, but the focus is on the Shannon. I have been asked and petitioned to raise this in the Seanad and request the same.
I heartily concur with all of the messages of congratulation the Leader has received on his recent happy occasion and wish him long life and happiness.
I thank the 22 Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business and wish them a very happy, prosperous and peaceful new year. I hope we can work collectively to serve the people who elected us to serve and work on behalf of them. I begin by joining with Members of the House who expressed their sympathy to the family on the death of the late Maurice Hayes, a former Senator. He was indeed a most prolific and prodigious Member of the House. We will honour his work and contribution to civic life in this country on another day but I pay tribute to him today. Equally, I join in the words of commendation on the passing of the former Attorney General and European Commissioner, Peter Sutherland. He was a statesman. It is a pity his words and writings were not listened to more carefully. I had the pleasure of meeting him on a number of occasions. He was a most courteous, personable and tremendous person and I extend my sympathies to his family.
Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, Black, Bacik, Conway, Murnane O'Connor and O'Reilly raised the apology made to Joanne Hayes yesterday by An Garda Síochána. As Leader of the House, I join in welcoming the apology by An Garda Síochána and indeed the remarks of the Taoiseach today in Strasbourg where he apologised on behalf of the State. Certainly the Hayes family, which has requested privacy, deserve to have that but equally, the way it was treated by an arm of the State and by the State itself left an awful lot to be desired. Senator Ardagh made reference to Joanne Hayes's age when that event took place. From looking at the media reports of the tribunal of inquiry and the Garda inquiry, the way she was treated was extraordinary. As the Tánaiste said today, the matter of compensation is something the Government will discuss. Senator O'Reilly is correct. This did happen. We should collectively be ashamed of the way she was treated. It was a dark period in our country. If we cast our minds back, and the "Prime Time" programme last night depicted the imagery of that time, and compare it with where we are today, I certainly hope we are a much better, gentler and kinder nation. I certainly think the issue is one that has not and cannot be left.
Equally, a young baby who was killed is in a grave today in Kerry and the Garda investigation is continuing. There is a need for anyone with information about the tragic death of Baby John to come forward. As Leader of the House, I appeal to anybody with information, particularly the family of Baby John, to come forward to the Garda. They will be dealt with compassionately and in a very caring way. The distress caused by that event to those people also needs to be exorcised. Joanne Hayes was the subject of a very prolonged scandal and ordeal that was simply wrong, as the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, noted and we need to put that right.
Senators Conway-Walsh, Black, Reilly, Colm Burke, Mullen and Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of health. I agree with all Members of the House that we need more bed capacity.
Why I got exercised at Senator Mullen in particular is that the use of language is important in terms of those who work in, those who administer, those who are ministerial appointments and Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas who are concerned or interested in health. Nobody accepts that there should be anybody on a trolley. Equally, nobody accepts there should be people waiting inordinately for treatment.
For the information of Senator Mullen, I am not being defensive at all. As a patient, as the relative of a patient in a hospital, as somebody who worked in the hospital system and as somebody who chaired a health committee, I know, probably more than most, the workings of the health system. The previous Government and this Government, in particular, have opened more beds for the first time in a decade. Some 227 new beds have been opened. If it was a matter of funding alone, the problems in the health system would have been solved. There has been a 20% increase in funding over the past three years. The highest health budget in the history of the State was published in October 2017. If it was about funding or political accountability, the matter would be solved right now. To resolve the matter requires the collective working, not just of one part but of all parts, of the health systems.
Let me put it in context, as Senator Colm Burke rightly said. This point needs to be re-emphasised. Life expectancy has increased by two and a half years. In our country alone, 63,000 people go through outpatient departments and 23,000 go through accident and emergency departments. There are 16,000 day case procedures, along with inpatient activity. What is our mortality rate? There is increasing staffing and an increasing health budget, and HIQA is doing its job in terms of increasing standards. We are making progress. We are not regressing, in terms of health expenditure. We are actually increasing health expenditure. Whether in terms of primary care under the previous Government or this Government, more primary care units have been opened. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is in the Visitors Gallery about to speak on another matter. This is the Minister who has increased the funding for disability and for social care. One should not come in here and state Government is not doing X or Y.
That is our job.
The Senator's job-----
I asked the Leader about intensive care beds and he has not said one word about it.
I am coming to that. The Minister will shortly be bringing a report to the Cabinet on bed capacity. There have been intensive care beds opened. Senator Mullen is entitled to his opinion-----
I am asking questions that need to be asked.
-----but he is not entitled to cite false information about the health service.
Did I say anything that was false?
The Senator did actually.
Would the Leader give it to us there instead of just defending his party?
Senator Mullen already asked a question.
The problem you have is that you come in with a one-dimensional speech. Look at the overall collective approach to health.
The Leader is not addressing the worries of experts in intensive care.
The Leader should address his response through the Chair - no cross-currents now.
Let me make it quite clear. There is a Government plan on health. There is increased investment. There is an increase in staffing and there is a restoration of pay. What we must do now is commit ourselves further in the face of increased demand to see how we can make the health system deliver more for people, whether it is in the case of investment in increased intensive care beds or whether it is in the case of organ donation, the model of which this Government is changing. Under the previous Government, the health committee that I chaired held hearings on that issue and produced a report. Some Members of this House did not agree with it. There is investment beginning to take place from regression and let us not say there is nothing being done when there is.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of housing. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, come to the House in regard to the issue of housing. Once again, we are seeing progress being made, although I accept it is slow progress. There is progress being made in terms of investment, in terms of the houses being constructed and in terms of Government commitment of prioritising the social housing needs of our people. That is a fact, not an opinion. Multi-annual funding and the highest budget in the history of the State for housing were delivered in the most recent budget. This is fact, not fiction.
I accept progress will be slow but we cannot come out of a crash and start building houses again at the rate we should have been building them. Equally, there is an obligation and duty on the banks, the construction sector and the Government with local authorities to make sure we expedite the building of social housing units.
Senators Boyhan, Burke and O'Reilly raised the issue of agriculture and fodder. I welcome the remarks by the Minister, Deputy Creed, yesterday at the IFA AGM regarding a transport subsidy for farmers affected by the fodder crisis. There will be a debate in the House next week on agriculture and Members can contribute to it.
Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of The Irish Times political digest and the use of windbagging by Members of the House. We could all perhaps be accused of that. I will make the point on a serious level. We can have robust debate and disagreements but it is the prerogative of every Member of the House to come in here and raise a matter of extreme importance on the Order of Business. That is what the Order of Business is about. It is about Members raising matters of importance on behalf of constituents, communities or on their own behalf; it is not about windbagging. It is about being able to come in here and articulate a viewpoint on behalf of citizens and communities. It is important. Senator Boyhan is right. There is an element within the media who are now starting on a very slow race to the bottom while commenting on what we do. I will give the example of the political tracker on the eighth amendment. One can track what one's political representative is saying or doing. That is a very cynical approach to the issue. It is a substantive issue that requires debate. I appeal to members of the media who report in this House. We can have colour pieces but this is about issues being raised by Members.
There was a time when the Order of Business was merely about the order of the day. That is all I want to say.
That would be great.
I would very much like that or whatever the Cathaoirleach wants to implement. I am replying to the 22 Members.
The issue of Syria is a very important one. We will have a debate on foreign affairs next week or the week after. Senator Bacik raised an important matter. I noted her remarks on the gender pay gap and I am happy to have the Minister come to the House on that. The Minister replied in the Dáil today to a parliamentary question on the commission. I noted the Senator's remarks. I will be happy to have that debate in Government time if we can.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of the Army and pensions. The Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, has committed to that issue in terms of the restoration and the anomaly. Equally, in terms of the new GP contract and the FEMPI measures, the Minister, Deputy Harris, is committed to their reversal.
Senators Horkan, Noone and Paddy Burke raised the issue of recycling our plastics in China. I agree with all of them on the issue. It is a matter that will not go away. It requires urgent action at European and national level. As Senators Horkan and Paddy Burke said, the issue of the sourcing of the product in China is one it is important to get right. As Senator Horkan said, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has set up a recycling ambassador programme with 650 workshops across the country. The issue of education is important for us as a State because if one looks at the figures for contamination of the dry recyclable bin, it is around 38% or 28%, which is a huge figure. The principle behind the Waste Reduction Bill is one we all subscribe to but I am happy for the Minister to come to the House to have the debate the Senators require.
I join Senator Craughwell in condemning the abuse on social media of any Member of the House whatever his or her viewpoint. We are all subjected to it irrespective of who we are and there must be a certain level of decorum and respect on any forum of debate. I do not support the trolling of Senator Noone by outside of the State groups from Massachusetts who have been advised to intervene in the debate.
Irrespective on one's viewpoint, Senator Noone has shown herself to be a very competent and professional Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, as she has been as a Member of this House having been elected on a number of occasions. No Member of the House should be subjected to the abuse she has received in recent weeks.
Senator Craughwell also raised the very important issue of our national flag. I wish Sergeant Major O'Callaghan well in his retirement. The raising and lowering of the national flag is important. There should be adherence to criteria regarding the standard and quality of the flag on public buildings.
Senators Devine and Noone raised the issue of the digital commissioner. Before Christmas the Taoiseach stated that he was not proceeding with the appointment of the digital commissioner as of now. He called on the technology companies to be more proactive and that is as much as I know. Perhaps Senators Devine and Noone might raise the issue as a Commencement matter to get it addressed.
I join Senator Colm Burke in welcoming the creation of the 48,000 new jobs and the fact that more people are back in work in our country today. Like him, I hope that the recommendations from the Ombudsman's report on the treatment abroad scheme will be implemented. I know it is a serious and complex issue. It goes back to people being able to access treatment. I heard remarks attributed to Mr. John Hennessy of the HSE this morning on the radio. I certainly hope the Department of Health and the HSE take seriously the Ombudsman's report and implement it.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh, who had to leave, made reference to the distressing story of the young child in Carraroe. I do not have the information to hand. Certainly there are protocols that need to be followed. I suggest he raise this as a Commencement matter. I would be happy to have the issue taken back to the Minister and the HSE.
Senator Swanick raised the very important issue of the transformation that took place as a consequence of the sitting of the First Dáil in 1919 and the Declaration of Independence Day Bill. I would be happy to liaise with the Senator afterwards on the progression of the Bill.
Senator Coffey raised the issue of the commission of investigation into Bill Kenneally. I know the Senator has spoken and written to the Minister for Justice and Equality. It is a very serious matter and one on which the victims, who very bravely came forward, deserve to have answers. It is unacceptable to have any delay in justice or any collusion in the obstruction of justice by anybody. In this matter we must support the victims. I know the Senator has been very proactive in this matter. I would be very happy to have the Minister come to the House. I know from talking to the Minister and listening to the Taoiseach's remarks on it, that the Government is committed to uncovering the truth as to what happened.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the data protection Bill. I am not aware of the transcript of the work in the committee, other than what she said today. We have to be very careful and very proactive on the matter. As we all know, increasing numbers of young people are engaging on social media. It is a fact of modern life that social media and the digital world are becoming more prevalent and accessible at a younger age for people. We need to see action on it.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of Limerick. I think I have addressed the issue of bed capacity that he commented on.
Further to what Senator Richmond said, I would be happy for the Minister, Deputy Ross, to come to the House on the provision of public transport in south Dublin. The point he makes in the context of Sandyford is that it is disheartening that people have to go four or five stops away from the city centre to be able to get on the Luas. That is a matter for the Luas management, Dublin City Council and the Minister to come together on. I will have the debate at an early opportunity.
I congratulate Senator Richmond and his wife on the birth of Luke Thomas, who I know has brought them great joy and happiness. I wish him and his new family every success and joy.
I am very pleased the Seanad committee on Brexit has been given an extension to its work thanks to the work of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges. It is important that Brexit features prominently in this House and I am happy to do that.
Senator Ó Céidigh raised the issue of the work of Fáilte Ireland in the provision of tourism.
I am not familiar with the issue of Mullingar and the staffing levels there, but if he wants to give me the relevant information, I would be happy to put it to the Minister.
I inform the House, mar fhocal scoir, that the Taoiseach will be before the House on 1 February, as we agreed before Christmas, and I look forward to the engagement with him. I thank Members for their words of commendation on my recent marriage. Married life so far has been pretty good. I wish all Members a very prosperous and peaceful new year. I hope we can work together, irrespective of our political viewpoints, on behalf of the people who put us here, the citizens, in getting legislation passed. To those Members who are not Government Members I say that this does not mean voting against the Government all the time; it means they can come over and join with us sometimes. I wish all Senators and their families a very peaceful and prosperous new year. I also wish our staff who work in the House well.
I would like to be associated with the Leader's tribute to the three great Irishmen who passed on to their eternal reward recently, namely, Dr. Maurice Hayes, Peter Sutherland and former Deputy Paddy Harte. Paddy Harte was a Member of the Dáil from 1961 until 1997. He served from the Seventeenth Dáil through to the Twenty-seventh Dáil. Peter Sutherland was one of the great Irishmen of his time and an international statesman. I was a Member of the Seanad with Maurice Hayes from 1997 until 2007. We stayed in the same house in Dublin and often had breakfast and tea together. The Leader will arrange that we will pay tributes on another day.