The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of referral of Sectoral Employment Order (Mechanical Engineering Building Services Contracting Sector) 2018 to the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on foreign affairs, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 6 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Education (Welfare) (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours. As the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, will be unavoidably absent this evening, the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, will take the statements on foreign affairs. The Tánaiste has been unavoidably detained and apologises to the House, as I do.
Order of Business
This is Safer Internet Day, an EU-wide initiative to promote safer use of the Internet for all, especially young people. The theme of Safer Internet Day 2018 is "Create, connect and share respect: a better Internet starts with you". Not only do Internet platforms have a role in cultivating a safer space for users, but as individuals, politicians, teachers and parents, we have a role to play in raising awareness of the need for safety when using the Internet.
It is a great campaign and encourages all of us to highlight the motto in an effort to create awareness and safety online, especially for our young people. It will not be a panacea but, in conjunction with other prongs, like the immediate appointment of a digital safety commissioner, confirmation of a digital age of consent and possible legislation on age limits for the use of smartphones, I believe we can continue to ensure that our young people use the Internet smartly and safely.
Moving on to the more sinister side of the Internet, I congratulate An Garda Síochána on its diligent work on Operation Ketch. To date, 31 homes have been raided as part of an operation to crack down on child pornography and the raids have been carried out across 12 counties. I hope that with the correct resources the Garda will be able to successfully prosecute many of these awful crimes and, in turn, these successful prosecutions will act as a serious deterrent for other perpetrators. These, as we know, are not victimless crimes.
The third item I would like to raise is the community employment service for people aged 62 and over. A review scheme was promised to be delivered this autumn on the support stream for participants aged 62 and over but the findings have yet to be published. The scheme enables 7% of participants aged 62 years and over on each scheme to remain on the CE schemes up to the qualifying age for the State pension, provided the eligibility conditions were met and the numbers on the scheme have not been exceeded. I call on the relevant Minister to let us know when the review will be completed and when its findings will be published.
I thank the Senator and call Senator McDowell.
I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá i dtaobh ár gcomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. Tá sé sa nuachtáin go bhfuil sé ar intinn aige éirí as oifig mar Sheanadóir. Go pearsanta, ba mhaith liom a rá gur duine gealgháireach, macánta agus cairdiúil é agus guím dea-ghuí air ina phost nua i TG4. Tá aiféala orm go bhfuil sé chun éirí as oifig sa Teach seo.
The second point I want to make is as follows. We read in the newspapers last week that the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, had summoned the Irish ambassador to protest to her about the legislation which this House was debating at that stage, and which is still under debate in this House. I just thought it was appropriate that this House should make it very clear that we decide in this House what we debate and how we vote. We do not succumb to lobbying from outside as to what we say, do or think, or do with our votes or with our mandates in this House.
Do they not?
There are places in the world where particular interest groups, and particular national interest groups, have immense clout and where people are afraid to speak their minds on issues. In this House I would consider it not merely our right but our duty to consider legislation, and to give it a fair debate, without interference by the representative of any sovereign power. I say that without any malice or ill will whatsoever towards Israel whose existence I support, and I support a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. I also support Resolution 242 of the UN in terms of the extent of Israel and the extent of the occupied territories.
I want to put on the record my strongest possible objection that the leader of any country of any kind, be it democratic or undemocratic, would consider it his right to summon the Irish ambassador to rebuke, through the Irish ambassador and through the Irish Government, this House for what it is doing, and to suggest that we should alter course at his insistence.
We are a free, sovereign, neutral, non-aligned State. It is wrong in principle for the leader of any other sovereign state to seek to influence our debate by curtailing it or protesting about it. We in this House are intelligent women and men who have our own judgments on these matters. Whether we are in favour of or opposed to the Bill in question - and I personally support its progress to Second Stage - I deeply deprecate the idea that the leader of a foreign state should try to influence our proceedings.
The last thing I will say is that some Members might be interested in a particular provision in law.
Members are always interested in law.
Section 58 of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947 provides that where two or more vacancies occur and the Minister is notified of them, two entirely separate elections must take place to fill the vacancies.
I thank the Senator for that enlightenment but I do not believe there are two vacancies just yet.
The issue I want to raise today is the progression and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Taoiseach was in this House last week. I was delighted that he mentioned that the convention would be ratified by March and that there would be resolutions in both Houses in that regard. I thank the Taoiseach for that. The Taoiseach - the leader of our country - must ensure that the implementation of this convention is driven. It is a matter for every Department, but it needs a ward boss. It needs the leader of the State to make sure that its implementation is co-ordinated, efficient and effective and that we do not have the age-old problem of one part of Government not knowing what another part is doing. That is the key to really clocking on with this.
The Taoiseach made a statement on the future of Europe in the European Parliament a week or two before his visit to this House. He underlined the historic and hopeful context of its creation after the Second World War. He set out the issues and grave challenges of today as well as the importance of the EU to Ireland and of Ireland's commitment to the EU. These are very significant statements. He referred to the Balkans and central and eastern Europe. He mentioned the role of the EU in supporting these areas and the importance of the Structural Funds specifically. He also mentioned the great African continent and the support which it needs in this century.
As we ratify, let us not forget to have solidarity with and to support these states and other eastern states such as Moldova that are on the edge of Russia. We should not forget what I will describe as the concerns that Russia has about the states which border it and their interest in being part of the European democratic movement. Let us keep what I will describe as our missionary instinct in our international concern. Perhaps "missionary" is an awkward word these days. As we plough on with the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, let us be awake to the people with disabilities in these states and their families.
We are committed to the implementation of the sustainable development goals in respect of economic, environmental and social issues across the world. That feeds into this agenda as well. Ireland can get out and in front in respect of implementation of the convention for more than 600,000 people here and it can also be a shining light for people with disabilities and their families who are in much more unfortunate situations than we are. I am often regarded as someone who is always giving out that not enough is done here, but I will put the following on the record.
I have been to other places and know what people experience daily. I know that we have good ground from which to work and on which to continue in that vein.
I raise an issue about the schedule for this week. Last week when he came to the House, the Taoiseach boasted about how efficient the Government was in publishing legislation. He said we should have sight of a Bill at least two weeks before it was debated and that we should not accept a lower standard. The Data Protection Bill will be debated on Thursday less than one week after it was published. As per the high standards set by the Taoiseach, I ask that more time be given to consider the Bill, the consequences of which are deep and will be felt far and wide. As a consequence, we need more time to examine it. Will the Leader consider giving us more time to examine it in a meaningful way?
Thousands of patients in chronic pain found have out in recent months that the Versatis patch is no longer available to them under the medical card or the drug refund scheme. The decision by the HSE to withdraw the pain-killing patch is having a huge effect on chronic pain sufferers. It means that a person who has money does not suffer pain, whereas the person who does not have it must use morphine patches, consider taking a drug that is not effective or remain in pain. Patient-centred health care must include empathy and respect. One man who is only off the patch for one week has seen a significant reduction in his quality of life. Many users of the patch have been through serious illnesses and medical procedures. Will those who no longer have access to the patch have to go back to pain management clinics? Last week I referred to the confusion surrounding waiting list times at the pain management clinic in University Hospital Galway. This is an example of the HSE attempting to save money, but it may end up clogging up services that are already under pressure. I know of another patient in her early 30s who cannot move and is absolutely dependent on the patch. She has been waiting since July 2016 for an appointment to attend the pain management clinic in Galway, but has been told that she will have to wait at least another 15 months. On behalf of those patients who are receiving other similar long-term products from the HSE, I ask that they not be treated in such a disgraceful manner. We need to have a full debate in the House on the patch and its impact on those in chronic pain. The Leader might say the HSE is responsible, but the Minister for Health needs to intervene on humanitarian grounds. There are thousands of such patients throughout the country who are in chronic pain caused by arthritis and other conditions.
I congratulate our colleague, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, on his new position with TG4. As he will be with us for another month, it is a little premature to pay tribute to him. It has been a pleasure to work with him in recent months, in particular, as a member of the Technical Group. On my own behalf and that of my Labour Party colleagues, I thank him for working with us and look forward to continuing to work with him in the next few weeks.
I agree with Senator Michael McDowell on the report on the Israeli Prime Minister which I, too, was concerned to see. I thought it was an important debate last week and was delighted to take part in it. I commend Senators Frances Black and David Norris and their colleagues for proposing the Bill and the way in which the debate was conducted. It was sensible to withdraw the Bill in order to engage in further consultation on it.
I thank the Leader for continuing today the debate on foreign affairs which we had to postpone from last week. I am sorry to hear that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, will not be present, but I look forward to participating in the debate. I thank all those who attended the screening of "Syria - The Impossible Revolution" which I was happy to host earlier today. The film which is supported by the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement was made by Ms Anne Daly and Mr. Ronan Tynan. It is a powerful documentary about the origins of the Syrian revolution and the terrible tragedies that have befallen the Syrian people in recent years.
For anyone who would like to see it, I will be sending a link.
Finally, I wish to note that today marks an important anniversary. It is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave women the right to vote, albeit a somewhat limited right to vote. For the first time, it allowed women over 30 to vote in Ireland and Britain. It paved the way for the 1918 general election in which Constance Markievicz was elected as the first woman Member of Parliament and Teachta Dála. Today, we remember all of the many women and men who campaigned on women's suffrage over many years, including women like Isabella Tod, the Haslams, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and, of course, Constance Markievicz.
I am delighted to be chairing the Vótáil 100 programme and to be wearing the badge. The Taoiseach is wearing the same badge in the other Chamber today. The badge is a replica of the Irish Women’s Franchise League badge and all Members of the Oireachtas have received one to mark this important centenary. Over 2018 we will have many different events. Our committee is made up of Deputies and Senators on a cross-party basis. Senators Conway-Walsh, Higgins and McFadden are committee members from this House. We will have a series of events in the Seanad Chamber in particular. It is very much a Seanad-led series of events. I thank the Leader for agreeing to have a debate on the centenary in the House on the week of International Women's Day. There will be a debate in the Dáil this evening at 6 p.m. on the anniversary on the Representation of the People Act. We look forward to welcoming young people into the Chamber from transition year on 17 April for the Díospóireacht na nÓg public speaking competition to mark the centenary. We look forward to many other events over the year as well. I thank colleagues for their support. I wish to mark how much has been done 100 years on but how much still remains to be done too, with women comprising only 22% of the Dáil and only 30% of the Seanad.
I wish to raise an issue relating to an article in the Sunday Business Post over the weekend by Susan Mitchell about the over-prescribing and the major increase in the past ten years in the use of certain drugs. The number of people using one drug, Lyrica, has gone up from 54,981 to 652,013. That is more than a 1,086% increase. Use of another drug, OxyContin, an opiate, has gone up from 47,262 to 122,000. That is a 159% increase. Use of Lexapro has gone up by 232% from 198,000 to 631,000 people.
It seems there has been an extraordinary increase in the prescribing of drugs across the board during the past ten years. This raises serious issues. Is it causing, and will it cause, problems in our health care service? What can we do to work with our general practitioners and medical care professionals in order that people are aware of the consequences of over-use of drugs and medication? That is something we need to have a serious debate on. It is a costly issue.
Tomorrow, the Joint Committee on Health will deal with a report on the availability of orphan drugs. As people are aware, orphan drugs are extremely expensive because they are used only by a small group of people. Here, many drugs are being used up at an extraordinary cost to the State. Simultaneously, we cannot afford to buy drugs for people who really need them. I am not saying that people who are using these drugs do not require them, but there must be a question mark over the extent of the usage and of the prescribing. The matter is worthy of a debate on what is the best way forward to deal with this issue from a health care point of view. It would be appropriate for the Minister to come before the House to discuss the matter. I appeal to the Leader to give serious consideration to my request.
Today I would like to raise the issue of waiting lists for eye care. At the end of last year, 2017, some 40,000 people were on outpatient lists for eye care procedures. That figure was up from 38,823 in 2016. More than 20% of cases on the waiting list relate to cataract surgery appointments. In some cases people are waiting up to four years in different parts of the country to have this addressed. I imagine Senators will agree that this is both cruel and heartless and that something needs to be done about it.
I would like to commend and compliment the people in Sligo on the initiative they have undertaken. It is something we could roll out throughout the country. There was a joint approach by the public and private sectors to try to address the issue of waiting lists. It is called the Sligo post-cataract scheme. It is a joint venture between the ophthalmologist in the community and the ophthalmologist in the hospital setting. It has been very successful and has treated up to 20,000 people a year in the north-west region. We can learn from it and it is something we should roll out throughout the country, as I said.
Not only is it a good idea, it also saves the taxpayer money. It is estimated that €32 million a year can be saved, as well as a 50% reduction in the number of people waiting for appointments and the time involved. It has proven to be very successful at getting people off waiting lists. I would be surprised if the Minister for Health is not already aware of this system, but I ask the Leader to bring it to his to attention so it can be rolled out throughout the country and people will not have to wait years for cataract operation and will instead be dealt with in a much speedier fashion.
I would like to offer my sympathy to a fellow Chicagoan, the great actor John Mahoney, who has passed away. He played the character of Martin Crane in "Frasier". I knew him pretty well. He was a great lover of Ireland and performed many times in the Galway arts festival over the years. I wish to extend my sympathies to his family. In 2014 he said the two places he loved most in the world were Chicago and Galway. I concur with that. May he rest in peace.
I note that a committee will today consider a petition for the removal of a statue of Prince Albert from Leinster House.
I have walked by the statue many times and had not realised it was Prince Albert. I do not know much about him, but we have to be very careful about rewriting history. The statue of Prince Albert was put there at a time when we had an all-Ireland parliament. There is a statue of Henry Grattan in Westminster. If we change the status quo, we will remove something of a history with which we are not comfortable. People may want to remove history from Westminster with which they are not comfortable. Maybe we should reflect on the fact that we cannot rewrite history. There would be a cost involved and the statue has done no harm to anybody for the past 70 years.
We could sell it.
At a cost to our own traditions. We should respect our own history.
Victoria went to Australia.
Henry Grattan was a great patriot and his statue is in Westminster. I am very proud of that
He should be reunited with Victoria in Australia.
Senator Leyden, you are out of order. You should know better.
He should be with all the German nationalists who swore allegiance to the Kaiser in their proclamation of 1916.
Senator Norris, you are not on stage yet.
I feel very proud when I see a statue of Henry Grattan when I go to Westminster, as do other Irish politicians. There is a major Irish caucus in Westminster and it is very proud of the statute. He was a patriot and opposed the Act of Union in 1800. He was of Grattan's Parliament. If one starts removing statues that are a part of our history, which we may not like, it is the wrong way to go.
The moving statues are here again.
I want to congratulate Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and send our best wishes and love to him on his new adventure. I will miss him.
I wish to amend the Order of Business today to include No. 63, motion 12, on the Order Paper, a motion which is to be taken without debate. I accept that the Minister has tried to address this issue but his suggestions have not gone far enough.
I hope I get the support of my colleagues in the Seanad and perhaps of Fine Gael also. The parents, who are the experts, need to be at the table to steer national policy on children with complex medical needs. I cannot believe they are not there already, or the degree to which they have to fight to get there. They are the experts, as I said. What do they have to do to have their voices heard?
Does the Senator mean that No. 63, motion 12 be taken without debate?
Although I understand the reasons, I am disappointed to note that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, will not be joining us. I hope the Leader will ensure that we have a debate with the Minister in the near future, as it has been promised for many months.
I welcome the comments on the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 that we put forward last week. The urgent need for action was underscored by the fact that just this weekend, a children's school in East Jerusalem funded by Irish Aid was demolished by the Israel Defence Forces. This demonstrates why we need to move forward and act on this.
I was sorry not to be present for the full debate last Thursday, as I was a part of the Vótáil 100 symposium. However, I was here for the conclusion and I read the proceedings with interest. In that debate, my colleague, Senator Lynn Ruane, spoke about personal and collective responsibility, and how we, as legislators, need to address the reinforcing of inequality by society. The links between low education and imprisonment reported on in today's newspapers underscores that point. Senator Ruane asked the Taoiseach to deliver a republic of equal outcomes with far greater equality of wealth and income, reducing the material, social and cultural inequalities that exist between us in society.
The Taoiseach responded by saying he believed that equality of outcome meant that everyone was the same with no ambition; it meant levelling downwards, the model of the Soviet Union or Cambodia. In fairness to the Taoiseach, he also acknowledged that perhaps he misunderstood. He did indeed fail to understand. That is both disappointing and worrying. Greater equality of incomes and outcomes is not some abstract communist notion. It is what is advocated by best international research, including that of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD. It is what we have signed up to deliver under the detailed targets of the sustainable development goals, which Ireland helped to negotiate. For example, goal 10.3 is a commitment to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome. It will be outcomes that will be the test of Ireland's implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Ireland's public service duty and commitment to equality budgeting, measures I have praised in the past, require the delivery of more equal outcomes. I believe that some members of Government understand that. It is important that the Taoiseach does too. His job is not ribbon-cutting at the starting blocks on some individualised race for success or survival. It is bringing society forward together, and bringing society together in deeper dialogue. That is something we value in the Seanad-----
The Senator is nearly a minute into injury time.
I will come to my conclusion, but this is an important point. When Members of all sides raised legitimate concerns about regional development-----
It is a matter for debate, rather than for the Order of Business.
-----they were told not to talk down rural Ireland. We heard a previous Taoiseach telling us not to talk down the economy. Let us be open to dialogue.
We will not have the debate now.
I was quite dismayed today to see headlines in at least one newspaper highlighting the National Transport Authority's report on rail, and to see that it was the lead story. This is a report that was published in November 2016, which dumbs down the economic need for vital transport infrastructure, particularly rail, in the west and north-west regions. It is very telling that this report should suddenly resurrect itself and become of interest at a very critical time, when we are putting together a ten-year national capital plan, when we will single out infrastructure projects, such as rail lines and roads, that need investment. It is a red herring. The Department I see benefitting most from this report being publicised, and thereby deflecting attention from the need in the west and north west, is the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
If we were relying on the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, we would not have a train, a bus or an aeroplane entering the west or the north west. The Department does as little as it can for Knock airport.
There are trains thanks to Fianna Fáil.
Thank God for the monsignor.
When it comes to bus services, it is one crisis after another and now we are being told that the trains could be gone. It was the same with Colm McCarthy. This threat is constantly hanging over us. The reasons regularly given are economies of scale and include in what we need to invest and so on. We do need to have a debate and some facts and figures. Last year passenger numbers on the western rail corridor were the fastest growing; they were up by 34%. An Atlantic economic corridor has been identified. How are we to fulfil the objectives set out without infrastructure?
We are not going to have that debate today.
When Knock airport carried out a survey recently, it showed that there was a population of 1.2 million living within 90 minutes of the airport. They are paying taxes. Let us have a debate about the subsidisation of public transport. My understanding is the DART is the most subsidised mode of transport, not services in the west. Let us have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport come to the House. I earnestly ask that it be done in order that we can sort the chaff from the wheat.
I express my sadness that we are to lose Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. He has been the most hard-working, decent, committed Member of the Seanad and we will certainly miss him.
I support very much what Senator Michelle Mulherin said. This morning I listened on the wireless to the reports. In the worst case scenario we are presented with the situation where there would only be rail connections between Dublin and Limerick, Dublin and Cork and Dublin and Belfast - three railway lines for the whole of Ireland. That is dreadful. I call for a debate not just on transport services in the west but also on the planning and development ideas the Government has because it looks as if Sligo is to be left out. That means there would be no town included north of the Dublin-Galway axis. Sligo was originally nominated as a gateway town, but there has been no investment in it. It is all very well to nominate a place as a gateway town and then do nothing at all about it. Sligo may only have a population of 20,000, but it has an enormous hinterland which includes counties Roscommon, Leitrim and others. It is extremely important, if we are committed to keeping people in rural Ireland and the provinces and not having just one enormous conurbation on the east coast, that we do something. This House should have a debate to urge the Government to live up to its commitment to the west.
I concur with Senators Michelle Mulherin and David Norris on the statements emanating today that the bulk of rural railway lines face closure. To say the least, that is an horrific headline. The railway line is the lifeblood of tourism in towns such as Roscommon, Boyle, Carrick-on-Shannon, Westport, Ballina, Sligo, Longford and Mullingar. There is no doubt that they would love to cut out all of those towns. We must ensure the required investment is made. I remind the House that in 1997 there was a very serious rail accident outside the village of Knockcroghery. The Minister at the time was Mary O'Rourke. The advice from the safety board was that the line to Westport and possibly the one to Galway be closed, but she resisted and, with the help of her ministerial colleagues, Charlie McCreevy and Bertie Ahern, an investment of €1 billion was made over a three-year period which secured those lines which are the lifeblood of towns such as Roscommon and Westport, to which tourists flock. The standard of the railway lines is now very high and free WiFi is available on trains. It is a luxurious way to travel. It takes only two hours to travel by train from Roscommon to Dublin. I compliment all of the staff, including train drivers, who are making the service work well.
History nearly repeats itself. In the period 1997 to 2002, Ms Mary O'Rourke was the Minister. Coming from Athlone, in the heart of the midlands, she had the determination and commitment to ensure sufficient investment. That was the crucial point. Now the service is running very well indeed. The service is excellent, including in towns such as Roscommon. There is a train at 6.30 a.m., 8.30 a.m. and 11.05 a.m. and they return three times during the day. Whatever about national planning frameworks, if a railway system is not maintained there will be no national framework. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to visit this House again. He was here quite a long number of-----
He was here this morning to deal with a Commencement matter.
It would be marvellous to see him here in the House. Was he here this morning?
I am delighted.
A Commencement matter-----
I am thrilled he was in.
He appears very frequently.
I am really delighted that he could visit us-----
The Senator is well over time.
----- particularly when he vetoed my-----
I thank the Senator.
We wish Albert every success on his visit to Australia.
I join my colleague, Senator Michael McDowell, in his comments with regard to Israel. During my time as president of the TUI, the organisation voted to have an academic boycott of Israel. It brought all hell down on us from both official and unofficial Israel. It does not like being told what to do. How dare it tell us what we can or cannot do.
It is not the only one.
About two weeks ago, I had a bit of a scare sitting in my car outside a retail store in south County Dublin. Such was the scare that I felt the need to call an ambulance. The ambulance came, collected me and brought me to the local accident and emergency unit within 25 minutes. Within two hours, I was seen by a cardiac specialist. Within eight hours I was seen by a consultant cardiologist, and within a couple of hours thereafter I had an angiogram and was back in my bed. While I lay in my bed I was considering trauma centres.
This brings me on to Senator Mulherin's point on the forgotten west. If I were in Belmullet or some other such place and had a similar scare, how long would it be before an ambulance would get to me? How long would it be before I would get to see a consultant? How long would it be before I would have the confidence, on having an angiogram, to know all was well? It certainly would not happen in a short space of time.
That led me to think about two trauma centres, in Dublin and Cork. I do not want a debate on trauma centres because there is nobody here qualified to debate the clinicians' view of trauma centres but I do want a debate on how we will support the trauma centres with helicopters to get patients to them within a specific period. They say an hour is the magic time. Therefore, we need to hear that there will be four regional helicopters to service the needs of people who find themselves in traumatic circumstances. I would like the Minister to come to the House at his leisure to discuss how we will do that. God knows where we will get the money to do it.
Like previous speakers, I agree on the Versatis patch, which is no longer available under the medical card and drug refund schemes. Some 25,000 people are using the patch. Owing to the cost, it is no longer available under the medical card and drug refund schemes. A lady I know went into a pharmacy to buy a packet of the patches because they were no longer available on the medical card and they cost €390 for a supply for one month. That is unreal, yet if one goes to Spain one can buy the same patches for €120. Therefore, there needs to be accountability.
Why are we in Ireland charging so much for these patches when one can go across to Spain-----
Because they can get away with it.
-----and purchase them for €120? We need to examine this. The Minister needs to come into the House to address this.
I want to raise another serious issue. Recently there was an inquest into the death of a young boy.
The jury recommended the introduction of regulation and safety considerations for the use of sulky cars on public roads.
I also read of an incident where a pregnant woman was run off a road by five cars protecting a sulky race. If I decided to block off a public road with some of my friends to set up a snooker table to play a few shots, we would find ourselves in a Garda station.
In the nuthouse.
Why is one regulated but the other is not? Unregulated sulky racing is dangerous and has already led to loss of life. It is a traditional sport which should have a traditional home and be banned from our highways and byways. There is no appetite for sulky racing on public roads. Accordingly, it needs to be regulated. I received hundreds of calls over the past several weeks on this issue. When I rang the local authority and the Garda, I was informed it is not regulated. The Minister needs to introduce regulations. We cannot afford to lose another life on the roads because of sulky car racing.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business put forward by my colleague, Senator Devine, on the care of children with complex medical needs and the approach being adopted by the HSE in not seeking the views of parents.
Is the Senator supporting it or seconding it?
I am seconding the amendment. The HSE seems to be proceeding with a policy approach to this area without listening to the key stakeholders, namely, the parents of the children with complex medical care needs. It is a sensible motion and I hope the Government will accept it. Otherwise, we will end up with bureaucrats in the HSE dictating policy without listening to the key stakeholders. That is wrong. A great lady in Donegal, Ms Gina Grant, heads up the Our Children's Voice organisation which gives a voice to helpless children. They are not being listened to at a national level by the HSE. This has to change, which is the objective of the motion in question. I am glad to second the amendment to the Order of Business to have the motion taken today. I commend Senator Devine on proposing it. Those kids cannot speak but their parents deserve to be heard by the policymakers in the HSE.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Ó Domhnaill as a thacaíocht. Ba mhaith liom tús a chur le mo chuid le comhghairdeas a dhéanamh le muintir Ghradam Ceoil TG4. Bhí an imeacht i mBéal Feirste don chéad uair oíche Dé Domhnaigh agus beidh sé ann don trí bliana atá amach romhainn fosta. Ba imeacht ceolmhar agus spleodrach é a chuir fáilte roimh dhaoine ó gach aon chúlra. Bhí an tUachtarán, Micheál D. Ó hUigínn, i láthair fosta don imeacht náisiúnta, suntasach, tábhachtach seo. Cé go dtuigim go bhfuil mo iarchomhghleacaí ceaptha mar stiúrthóir cumarsáide ag TG4, níor mhaith liom an jab sin uilig a dhéanamh ar a shon inniu. Sílim go leiríonn Gradam Ceoil an ghné sin de shaol na hÉireann gur féidir linn bheith thar a bheith bródúil as, gur féidir linn a chéiliúradh agus gur féidir linn a thaispeáint ar ardán náisiúnta agus, tríd na meáin chumarsáide, ar ardán idirnáisiúnta chomh maith.
Tá a fhios agam gur luaigh an Ceannaire an tseachtain seo caite go mbeidh díospóireacht againn ar chúrsaí Gaeilge mar chuid de Bhliain na Gaeilge, agus go mbeidh lá trí mheán na Gaeilge againn sa Seanad. Tréaslaím agus tacaím leis sin. Sílim go léiríonn imeachtaí cosúil le Gradam Ceoil TG4 ní hamháin cé chomh tábhachtach atá cultúr agus traidisiúin na hÉireann, ach cé chomh bríomhar agus beomhar atá siad freisin. Táim cinnte go n-aontóidh an Ceannaire liom. Níl a fhios agam an bhfaca sé an clár oíche Dé Domhnaigh ach bhí sé ina chlár fíor-mhaith. Seolaim comhghairdeas, dea-ghuí agus beannachtaí an Tí seo chuig TG4 as imeacht den chéad scoth a eagrú.
Will the Leader organise a debate on the national maritime strategy envisaged by the Government?
There has not been much debate about it. We have had an awful lot of debate about the national planning framework in terms of equal distribution across the country. I would particularly like to see an emphasis on the national maritime spatial plan, which is being worked on by the Department. I am particularly interested in hearing about an all-island dimension to this particular spatial strategy that would cover the environment, fisheries, tourism, transport, offshore renewable energy and oil and gas. There is much controversy about oil and gas offshore but we need to address these issues in terms of a particular policy so we know where we are going. Climate change and related impacts are really important parts of this strategy. Our marine heritage and our marine biodiversity and environment are other issues.
I am conscious that this document is well advanced within the Department. There has been very little public discussion of it considering we are an island. I am particularly keen that we have an all-island dimension. What I would suggest is that at some time, the appropriate Minister with responsibility for marine affairs would come to the House for a debate on this really important legislation that will come before the Houses.
I welcome the former Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, who is in the Visitors Gallery, to the House. The Deputy is very welcome. It is good to see him here with a group.
Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir McDowell, beidh an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh ag éirí as a phost mar Sheanadóir i gceann cúpla seachtain. Tá díomá mór orm go bhfuil sé ag fágáil an Tí mar, mar a dúirt an Seanadóir McDowell freisin, fear uasal agus macánta é. Níl sé marbh; tá sé beo fós. Gabhaim mo fhíorbhuíochas leis as ucht an obair a rinne sé. Bhí sé an-chairdiúil le gach duine agus é i mbun a ghnó. Go n-éirí leis sa phost nua i TG4.
I join all Members of the House who have spoken and all who have not. We will probably pay tribute in time to Senator Ó Clochartaigh on his impending departure from the House. As Senator McDowell rightly said, he was a very courageous man but also a very pleasant and courteous man with whom one could do business. He had a different point of view to many of us in the House on many occasions but at all times, he rose above that. I thank him for his service to the people of Connemara and the people he represented in this House but also for his friendly banter. I wish him well in his new position with TG4. I am sure that in time, we will be able to pay tribute to Senator Ó Clochartaigh but he is not dead. He is very much alive. He has a new career ahead of him and I wish him well.
Senator Ardagh began by raising the issue of Safer Internet Day. I would be happy to have a debate on that in the coming weeks. All of us in the House share the Senator's views regarding the issue of a digital strategy around the age of usage of a mobile phone, the appointment of a digital safety commissioner and the age of consent. It is important that as part of Internet Safety Day, the Minister for Education and Skills today announced the allocation of an investment of €30 million in ICT equipment for schools but, significantly, he also launched a very important programme about being in control, which is a resource for schools and parents. The grant will allow for the integration of digital technology in teaching. International research has shown that it is through qualified professional teachers, in addition to the knowledge of parents, that we influence and help shape minds. As Senator Ardagh rightly said, it is about ensuring our children are safe and are kept safe online. We must all address this issue and keep it to the forefront of everything we do.
I also join Senator Ardagh in congratulating An Garda Síochána for Operation Ketch on Monday morning. It sent a very powerful signal and, hopefully, it will lead to arrests. I had better be careful about what I say because I do not want to put anything in the case but it is certainly is an operation we should all support and it is certainly one that I know has international co-operation. I commend An Garda Síochána for that.
Senator Ardagh spoke about the community employment scheme for people over the age of 62. I agree with her that the matter has been raised in the House before. It is important to allow people of an age group to be able to continue to make a contribution and to be involved in this case in community employment in our communities. I would be happy to have that debate.
Senator McDowell raised the issue of the two impending by-elections. They are independent of each other in my opinion too. I am not a learned expert like Senator McDowell but I have read the article and one is an inside and the other is an outside nomination. I look forward to having the by-elections held whenever the writs are moved and the groups have sent their documentation to the appropriate personnel.
I join Senators McDowell, Higgins, Craughwell and Bacik on the issue of the Israeli Prime Minister calling in our ambassador last week. I am very much of the view that we, as Members of a Parliament, the Houses of the Oireachtas in this case, are quite able to do our own business, to have freedom of mind, opinion, thought and how we exercise our democratic decisions here.
An agreement was arrived at between Senator Black and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding the Bill. We were happy to support the adjournment of the Bill to allow for discussion, commentary, back-channel discussion or research to be done. It is important to recognise at the same time that a sovereign leader of an independent country is entitled to his viewpoint and we should never detract from that but we are a sovereign, independent House. We can even take different decisions from Government. I agree with the Senators.
The Israeli ambassador might come in and we will have a word with him.
I was taken aback by the newspaper headlines. I think it says more about the Prime Minister of Israel than it does about us. We will determine our policy.
I will make the point, as I said in the House last week when some people took umbrage, that the issue of lobbying is one that we need a collective discussion on. Lobbying happens every day of the week. Lobbying happens with amendments to Bills, including lobbyists writing amendments to Bills, writing Bills for people, coming in and using the audiovisual room under the guise of different categories of making statements on various issues. There were lobbyists with Senator Gavan last week who spoke about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, masquerading around the House here as if they knew everything about certain issues. Lobbying is happening. That is why we have registered lobbying.
There is nothing wrong with it.
There is nothing wrong with it but let us understand that there are various different types of lobbying and let us get real about it. It happens every day of the week. The nature of lobbying is to put forward a viewpoint. I do not agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision last week but he was lobbying, at one level. That is what it is called.
He was telling us what to do.
It is the same thing.
We are not going to have a debate on it now.
Mr. Nathan Yahoo.
I assure the Senator that many of us are told what to do everyday. That is the nature of politics. I agree with the Senator that we have to stand up to the Prime Minister of Israel and say that we can do our own business our way. Let us not be afraid of saying that.
I agree with Senator Dolan regarding the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I have spoken with the Department of the Taoiseach about the matter. I think it has to be taken and led by Government. The Senator knows my views on that. I have never recoiled from those views here. It is an important challenge, as the Senator said, with regard to the sustainable development goals and I would be happy to have that debate in the House on the different countries the Senator named. I would not be afraid to use the word "missionary" at all, because our missionaries have done much good work around the world.
That has changed in terms of its output and outcome. I know where the Senator is coming from. We will have that debate in the coming weeks.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the schedule. I thought we might have agreed the schedule at the group meeting on Wednesday. I will not adjourn the Bill this week. I propose that we will not adjourn it on Thursday when it comes in but allow it to roll over to give time to people who feel they need more time to analyse it and study it. It is only Second Stage so I would be happy to do that with the House's permission.
Senators Murnane O'Connor and Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the chronic pain drug, Versatis. I have not got the information about it but, to be helpful to Members, they may get an answer more quickly if they submit a Commencement matter for the Minister to address. I am not familiar with the issue which has not been raised with me but I would be happy to meet the Senators about the matter.
I commend Senator Bacik for her work on Vótáil 100. I know that she participated in a commemorative event last Sunday, which I think was in Glasnevin Cemetery. I am sorry to have missed her briefing on Syria this morning.
It is important that we recognise and remember not only the journey but its beginning in 1918, what it meant, the gargantuan challenge it was then and how it was overcome. We must also remember the women and gentlemen the Senator mentioned, in particular Countess Markievicz, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and others who come to mind. It was a huge struggle then. The sacrifice and courage of those women deserves to be remembered today. Vótáil 100 is not about a badge. It is important we remember and commemorate. I look forward to having that debate on International Women's Day. It is about ensuring the voices of all people are heard as part of democracy around the world and in our country. Looking at the statistics on the role of women in politics - the IPU is meeting this week - the figure is quite low, which poses a question. We are lucky, despite what some people might think, to have very formidable and strong women in this House. We may disagree on ideological grounds but it is important that we contribute to the development of democracy. I salute the work that has been done and commend all Members, in particular Senator Bacik, who is leading Vótáil 100. We will have that debate. It was our intention to have the debate but the Dáil jumped ahead of us. We agreed at the leaders' meeting to have it as part of International Women's Day. That is why we are behind the Dáil.
Senator Burke raised the issue of the overprescribing of a number of drugs. The Senator, in his very pertinent contribution, spoke about the issue of the extent of usage and prescribing. That is what we need the debate to be centred on. It is a very important debate to have.
Senator Gallagher raised the very important issue of the waiting times for cataract operations. We opened a new theatre in the east and the national eye strategy has been unveiled by the Minister. There is an issue around waiting times and I would be happy to have a debate with the Minister on that.
I join Senator Lawless in paying tribute to the late John Mahoney, with whom we all became familiar through "Frasier". There is a wonderful clip of the father and son in "Frasier", which I heard this morning, where they were both in a bit of a quandary. It is worth playing back again to show the depth of the character and the role he played in "Frasier". As Senator Lawless said, he was a person who loved Ireland and was very proud of Ireland. Senator Lawless referred to Chicago and Galway.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the statue of Prince Albert. The issue is before the Committee on Public Petitions tomorrow. I do not want to pre-empt the committee's decision but it is fair to say Prince Albert will not be going too far, if anywhere at all.
Senator Devine raised the very important issue of children's complex needs. The Minister spoke to the Senator in the House last week. I had emailed him on the Senator's behalf after the Senator raised the issue last week. The Minister has offered to meet the Senator and other Members of the House and I hope the Senator will take him up on that offer. It is important the Senator does not use it as a political football, and I am not saying she is. It is about ensuring the voices of people are heard. I hope the Senator will meet the Minister and accept his invitation.
Senator Devine received a very comprehensive reply from the Department of Health on the matter. I want to make the House aware of a number of points in that letter, if people are not aware of them, before we vote on the Order of Business. The Minister said, "My officials have liaised with the HSE on this issue and have sought to identify an approach that will ensure that parents are afforded the best opportunity to contribute to the work underway by the HSE to enhance the delivery of paediatric homecare in the community." Second, he says "the Steering Group established by the HSE is a clinical group and addresses issues relating to the business process, which is commercially sensitive". His letter also refers to the fact that to provide parents with an opportunity to be involved, there would be an establishment of a parental reference group. He said, "This new Group would provide parents with the appropriate forum in which they can identify and discuss ideas of concern or examples of best practice in relation to the provision of paediatric homecare packages."
That is a fairly accommodating decision by the HSE. However, as I said last week, I will not divide the House on the matter and I will accept the motion. It is important that the Minister's response be provided because it was a comprehensive and full response. The Senator asked for no debate last week on the matter, but to be fair to the Minister, following the Senator's representations last week I liaised with the Department and the Minister. I know the Senator also did that last week here. The Minister and the HSE have made some movement on the basis of last week's interjections. I wanted to put that on the record of the House to be clear. I will not divide the House on a very important matter and I will accept the amendment.
However, it is important that we do not allow misinformation to go out here. The Minister and the HSE made progress on foot of representations. It is not all just about parents being on the committee or the steering group.
There was no progress at all.
We will come to that at the end of the Leader's response.
In response to Senator Higgins, last week we moved the statements on foreign affairs. I have no control over the Minister's diary. When I became aware of it, I deliberately informed the House at the beginning of the Order of Business that the Minister could not be here because I know it is an important issue for Members of the House. I did not have to do so. I give the Senator a commitment that we will in the immediate future have further debates with the Tánaiste on foreign affairs. I know where she is coming from. I give her that commitment.
To be fair, it is an important matter raised by the Senator and other Members of the House. I apologise that the Minister cannot be here, but I do not have control over his diary. I am told there are issues requiring his attendance and that is why he cannot be here. However, the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will be a very fine replacement. He is a Minister of State in the Department on his own merit. I will be happy to have the issue the Senator raised on the ongoing debate on foreign affairs dealt with immediately.
I will not go back over the Taoiseach's remarks last week because we could have a political debate on that until the end of time. To be fair, Senator Higgins has her view on the Taoiseach's comments. Those of us who heard what the Taoiseach said have a different view. We will agree to park that. We will invite him back in again and we will have that discussion. In my contribution I said I thought Senator Ruane made a fine contribution on the issue. It is something we need to discuss in generic terms in terms of political response to how we handle issues.
Senators Mulherin, Norris and Leyden all skirted and touched on the issue of Irish Rail, rural sustainability and the national planning framework, if I can use those terms all together. Senator Mulherin is right in this. The headline today was from a 2016 report.
The figures in it have been updated.
I will answer that specifically in a second. The headline is about creating sensation. I will have the Minister, Deputy Ross, come to the House because it is about ensuring that we have good-quality public transport, that we have sustainable transport links but that we have transport links for rural areas. I am not afraid to say that we have a dispersed population, but we cannot have all the growth in Dublin. Last week the Taoiseach made the point in this House that parts of Dublin are beyond the M50, which was what Senator Murnane O'Connor's contribution was about. We must go beyond Naas and have that contribution, and go east and west as well. I am not aware of plans to close any railway line. I say to Senator Leyden that the report today has been in the public domain for quite some time. It was not about a freedom of information request. As I said, it was a 2016 report.
Between 2008 and 2016 the taxpayer has made €5 billion available to the three CIÉ companies through its PSO and capital investment programme. Iarnród Éireann received €3.7 billion, which is 75% of that total Exchequer funding. The issue of rail is intrinsically linked to where people live, work and wish to travel. What we must do is to ensure that we create more jobs in rural Ireland. This is at the very core of the Government's national planning framework.
I agree with what the Taoiseach said last week. Can we stop talking ourselves down and promote positivity instead? Senator Leyden referred to successes in many towns in rural Ireland. Consider the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, for example. Let us be positive. If we want to sell Ireland, let us not be negative. The debate is necessary but must be balanced. I ask that Members listen to last Sunday's documentary on RTÉ Radio 1 about Mr. Charlie McCreevy's Hot Press interview. It is like Groundhog Day now.
It was entertaining.
It was. What Mr. McCreevy said is anathema to some in Fianna Fáil and the Sinn Féin Party today. We will not have post offices or Garda stations on every corner.
Just one per corner.
It is on a junction.
On a sad note, an independent and wonderful bookshop - Liam Ruiséal's - is closing in Cork. People on radio and social media are today lamenting its closure, but when did they last go into the shop? When did we last use the post office, bank or-----
Frequently, we are put out of them. If one goes into a bank, one is told to get the hell out and use the machine. The bank does not want people.
Senator Norris, please.
I have an ongoing row with Bank of Ireland, of which I am a customer, because I refuse-----
We cannot go into the details of individual cases.
Senator Norris is right. I refuse to use online banking.
Members are trying to get the issue in again, but under the radar this time.
I agree with Senator Norris. Our banks, which we bailed out, do not want us going into them.
A bank has only one teller's position open when we go in and queue. I was in Bank of Ireland in Douglas yesterday morning. A lady comes around, asks whether we are okay with this or whether we need to use that machine, and the queue suddenly becomes smaller. We should be asking people to go to our post offices and banks and use them,-----
-----not driving them away. Bring them in.
One bookseller has told people to go and buy books online.
Please, allow the Leader to conclude.
We will have a debate on the national planning framework and rural sustainable development.
It is about ensuring balanced economic development.
I am glad that Senator Craughwell is okay.
We heard about his scare during his fine interview on radio. He did well. The national trauma centre strategy report - I have lost my written note - has been published. One in four people is transferred out of the centre that they attend. Time is critical. I cannot find my note,-----
-----but it is important to tell the Senator. I read an article in The Irish Times written by the president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Professor John Hyland. He called for the trauma report to be implemented. Time is critical. Perhaps we are mirroring the UK's 2010 model, although I am not saying that that is a good thing. We need a realistic debate on where to locate services. Perhaps I am in a minority of one on this matter, but-----
I disagree. The Leader is right.
No, I have not finished yet.
Transportation to those centres-----
Senator Craughwell cannot ask questions at this point.
-----that is the issue on which we can have a debate. I understand that people in many parts of the country are in the time-critical zone. Two and a half, three or eight hours waiting in a bed was a good record for Senator Craughwell in our health system.
As a public patient.
I will use that as a template for other Senators. I am glad that the Senator is okay. I say that genuinely.
I do not mind depending on how good the services are.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of sulky racing. Deputy Mattie McGrath has introduced a Bill in the Lower House on the matter. If it is passed, we can debate it during Private Members' time.
Mar a rinne an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile, déanaim comhghairdeas le gach duine a ghlac páirt i nGradam Ceoil. Bhí sé ar siúl i mBéal Feirste den chéad uair agus bhí sé le feiceáil ar TG4 oíche Dé Domhnaigh. Ní fhaca mé an clár ach chonaic mé an tUachtarán ar an nuacht ar a 9 p.m. agus é ag bualadh le rannpháirtithe. I join the Senator in congratulating all who took part and it was good to have it in Belfast. It is about celebrating our music, traditions and cultures. Scríobh an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh chuig an gCoiste um Nós Imeachta agus Pribhléidí faoi chúrsaí Gaeilge agus beimid á bplé sna seachtainí amach romhainn.
Senator Boyhan raised the matter of maritime spatial planning and he is correct because we are an island nation with a maritime tradition. We must ensure we examine the issues surrounding the industry, tourism and sport. This concerns the economy, our carbon footprint, climate change and renewable energy. There are a variety of issues and I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House in the coming weeks to discuss them. I am happy to accept Senator Devine's amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Máire Devine has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 63, motion 12, be taken today without debate." Is that agreed? Agreed.
I have a brief comment.
I cannot allow the Senator speak.
I just wanted to be nice to the Leader and thank him.
The Senator can be nice to him outside the Chamber.
I fundamentally disagree with the letter from the Department of Health, as do the parents. I will clap him-----
Please, Senator. The amendment has been agreed. When will the motion be taken?
Is that agreed? Agreed.