The Order of Business is No. 1, Data Protection Bill 2018 – Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourned after four hours, if not previously concluded.
Order of Business
I raise the issue of inpatient beds for mental health services, in particular, for people who are suffering from anorexia nervosa. We have learned by way of the reply to a parliamentary question tabled by the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, Deputy Micheál Martin, that the State provides a mere three specialist beds at St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, for adults with this condition and that there are no dedicated child and mental health services, CAMHS, beds for those with eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is a disease with a shockingly high mortality rate of 20%. Families throughout the country are crying out for inpatient beds for their children and young adults. I brought a case to the attention of the Minister and provided him with a myriad of general practitioner reports recommending urgent inpatient treatment for the individual in question, but, to date, treatment has not been made available. While the individual in question has spent a number of periods in St. James's Hospital receiving acute treatment, this does not address the underlying issue or provide a long-term remedy in treating the illness.
Over the weekend we saw great work being done by the emergency services. Many doctors also did stellar work on the ground on some of the coldest nights to ensure homeless persons were brought in from the cold. I noted two specific cases involving homeless persons being committed to hospital. Although I struggle with the concept of committal, I accept and understand doctors on the ground acted professionally and responsibly. Through their hard work, for which I commend them, two people did not remain outside in the cold overnight when they might have died. If inpatient beds can be provided in such circumstances, it must be possible to provide inpatient beds for persons with anorexia nervosa whose families are crying out for beds for them. Unfortunately, the disease primarily affects women. I have copies of multiple reports from a general practitioner which support the case for providing an inpatient bed for the individual in question, yet none has been made available.
I congratulate the emergency services - members of An Garda Síochána, the fire service, the ambulance service and the Irish Red Cross - as well as staff in the homeless agencies, farmers, local authority staff who cleared roads, the ESB, gas services and the many groups which came up trumps for us during the storm over the weekend. I also welcome the decision of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, to double the fuel allowance paid last week. Fuel poverty is among the toughest hardships experienced by people on the margins. On my walkabouts I am constantly greeted by people at their door, especially on cold winter nights, who are wrapped up in layers of clothing and wearing gloves. Many are ready to go to bed at 6 p.m. because they do not want to waste money on fuel for the evening. Sadly, this sight is all too common. While Members take a warm house for granted, many others do not. The increase in the fuel allowance was welcome, but we must do more to eradicate fuel poverty and ensure that, rather than worrying about substantial fuel bills, elderly people will be comfortable in their homes in their time of need.
Having watched television and listened to various politicians speak about the emergency weather conditions in recent days, I was surprised to note that few of them, if any, referred to the Defence Forces. I know that members of the Defence Forces are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like many volunteers, they left their families and went outside in difficult conditions.
Indeed I had experience over the period, and I thank the Department of Defence and its Minister of State, of a family which was facing a bereavement. The military stood up, collected members of that family and brought them to their dying mother. They are to be commended on that. I wish we would remember every now and then that the men in uniform are there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They do a damn good job and need to be respected for it.
I want to bring two issues to the attention of the Leader. The first is that I would like to have a debate in the House on bullying in the workplace. It is a serious issue. It is known that I have an interest in this particular area but of late the number of people contacting me on the issue of bullying has been shocking. I wonder why the workplace has become such an unhappy place. I am not sure whether we should be talking to the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection but we need to have that debate. I will divert to the Leader to choose the correct Minister.
The other issue I wanted to raise relates to an email I received this morning from a young man seeking car insurance. He has a 2006 registered car worth approximately €2,000 and he was quoted €2,600 for an insurance policy on it. I know that the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, did a lot of work on that issue when he was at the Department of Finance. Do we have an update on where it is going? The young people of this country are being ripped off left, right and centre while insurance companies are paying dividends. Last week a dividend of 34 cent on the share was paid to shareholders in FBD Insurance. I think it was 34 cent. It is amazing that FBD can pay dividends to shareholders but cannot provide reasonably priced insurance. The price of insurance for that young man is more than the value of the car. All he wants to do is to be legal on the road. We need to have an update from the Department of Finance on that issue. If the Leader had one, it would be very helpful. I expect him to deal with that in his own time.
Like many others I am glad to be back in Leinster House after the snow last week. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Taoiseach and his team on how Storm Emma was handled last week. It is hard to get every single detail right in these emergency situations but, credit where credit is due, it was handled very well. As many have said, enormous credit must also go to the front-line workers who kept vital services going when conditions were at their worst. It was really inspiring to see doctors and nurses braving the snow to make it into hospitals and to see bus drivers getting people home safely. There was a great sense of community in certain areas. In my own area my neighbours came out and dug my car out at certain points. One does not get to see one's neighbours that often but there was a nice sense of camaraderie. I hope we remember this dedication and community support when people raise their concerns about resources and pay.
One thing that does need to be improved however is communication from Irish Water. We saw increased usage during the storm but it was very late in the day that Irish Water announced supply restrictions from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. The notice was incredibly short and communication was not so widespread. Many people were therefore not expecting to wake up this morning with no water. It would be good if the Minister could ensure that Irish Water keeps restrictions as low as possible, that the deadline is stuck to, and that Irish Water communicates better in cases such as this.
Finally, I was a little disappointed that last week's closures meant that the debate on councillors' conditions was postponed. I have been speaking to many councillors, from every corner of the country, in preparation and I want to make sure that their concerns are heard. For when will the debate be rescheduled? It would be great to have an understanding of what is going on.
I want to talk about health. Following the recent emergency I want to thank the health service staff, the health care staff and the emergency services staff who went beyond the call of duty for the last number of days. They should be recognised for minimising the risk to the public during the status red weather alert. It is clear that these professionals in health care and catering, these porters, nurses and midwives, and those working in diagnostics went above and beyond the call of duty.
Many of them camped and slept in hospitals or nearby hotels to ensure care was given. In the case of my local hospital, St. James's Hospital, many residents offered beds to staff who were trying to keep the system going by making arrangements such as shift changes to ensure their colleagues who lived further away would not have to come in, thereby putting themselves at risk. The extreme weather protocol took account of and properly recognised the remuneration of staff who were exposed to danger while working and travelling to work in hazardous conditions. The Taoiseach told people to make sure they were indoors from 4 p.m. on Thursday - this was done because of health and safety factors - but the national shutdown did not, unfortunately, apply to many front-line emergency workers. We need to find a way to recognise and acknowledge the efforts of staff who braved the elements to go to work last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. When the group of health unions meets tomorrow to discuss the protocol for adverse weather conditions, perhaps it might find a way to thank those who went to work at serious risk to themselves.
I support the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, in calling for the first two weeks of March to be treated as an emergency period in the public health service. The INMO was extremely concerned about the pressures that were already on the health service but which were brought to bear to a greater extent in the emergency care area during the five-day period of severe weather. It is calling for an emergency period to be declared for three main reasons. First, the extended period of severe weather led to delayed discharges and caused a backlog in patients being scheduled for admission for elective procedures. Second, rosters will have to be rearranged to accommodate the rest periods needed by INMO members and other front-line staff who have worked tirelessly over extended periods. This, in turn, will reduce the number of staff available to provide services in the short term. Third, INMO records show that the trolley count for February 2018 was 19% higher than for February 2017, with almost 11,000 patients waiting on trolleys for inpatient beds, which indicates that hospitals were already overburdened before the adverse weather event and are now bursting at the seams. For these reasons, emergency status must be afforded to the next two weeks. All measures to resource and staff the health service properly must be explored. The assistance of private acute hospital services should also be sought. I welcome the HSE's statement today confirming that it will prioritise vulnerable persons when appointments are being rescheduled. Another difficult issue about which we need to think is the inability of some home helps to access people who were snowed in. What happened was a true meitheal in a very true Irish sense of the word.
I note that Mr. Tony O'Brien has just announced that he will retire from his position as director general of the HSE in the coming months. I wish him well.
I join Senator Máire Devine in wishing Mr. Tony O'Brien well. I have seen his statement that he does not intend to renew his term when it expires in the summer.
I welcome everyone back after the snow. Like other Senators, I commend all those involved in the emergency services, the local authorities, the transport infrastructure agencies, the health service and the ESB. Many people worked long hours in arduous and awful conditions to keep services going. I saw immense community spirit in my own area in the south inner city of Dublin which I know was replicated across the country. It was a time when people pulled together well.
On a positive note, I wish everyone a happy International Women's Week. It is also Seachtain na Gaeilge. We had a great event in the Members' private dining room earlier today. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn spoke as Gaeilge to mark Seachtain na Gaeilge and International Women's Week and as part of the Vótáil 100 commemorations to celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage. She exhorted us all to do more to speak Irish in the Chamber. I will certainly try to take up that challenge in the coming years and I am sure others will do likewise.
The Irish Syria Solidarity Movement held a press conference today, which I attended with Deputy Joan Collins, at which Ibrahim Halawa and others spoke. Eyewitnesses spoke about their experience of the dreadful bombardment of eastern Ghouta by the forces of Bashar al-Assad, his Russian allies and others, the targeting of civilians, the appalling deaths of so many children and civilian casualties. One medic working for Médecins Sans Frontières in eastern Ghouta described it as a catastrophic experience, where people are being denied access to food, medicine and shelter and referred to the immense psychological stress of being under constant bombardment. Rather than having a debate, perhaps we should instead consider a cross-party Seanad motion of the sort we passed on condemning the bombardment of Aleppo. I am happy to work with the Leader and others to try to draft an appropriate motion to bring to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Russian ambassador and others. I will take that up further.
I support the Barnardos lost child campaign. It met with colleagues today about the campaign, which aims to ensure that no child is lost and to ask the Government to take a number of steps to support children through childhood, including ensuring they have somewhere suitable to live, the extension of the ECCE scheme for an additional year and other measures which Barnardos said would cost just under €250 million in a full year. That is not a high price, given the large amount of support it is calling for for children in order to ensure no child is lost in Ireland.
Like others, I commend the work done by different agencies over the weekend. The Defence Forces, the Civil Defence, county council staff, gardaí, fire and ambulance staff, HSE staff, volunteers and county councillors all over the country came out and worked beyond the call of duty. People cleared roads, took calls and in some cases worked 18 hours a day in the same manner as the Defence Forces. On numerous occasions I have asked about the pay and conditions of our Army personnel. I recently called for a debate on the subject with the Minister of State and I hope that would be facilitated in light of the fact that we have had bad weather and the Defence Forces came out and worked. Yet again, they rescued the town of Athlone as they did during previous flooding. I again ask for a debate on the matter. Like Senator Black, I call for the debate on councillors' pay and conditions to be brought forward, bearing in mind that they also worked beyond the call of duty over the weekend.
I also ask that people support local businesses. Family-owned small businesses tried to stay open during the recent bad weather to facilitate locals. Now that we are all back on the roads and are again shopping in large stores I ask people not to forget the small businesses which stayed open and tried to keep the country afloat during the bad weather. I ask that the Leader bring forward the debate on the pay and conditions of councillors and those in the Defence Forces.
The Government learned the lesson of 1982. There was a different response this time because it was a case of making hay while the sun shone. The recent weather was a case of making hay while the snow fell because the Government lost no opportunity to take advantage of the situation to promote itself, which is very good. Well done to the Taoiseach. He would make an excellent weather forecaster.
I would like to commend the staff of Met Éireann, RTÉ, TV3 and local radio who went out in very difficult circumstances to produce reports. Local radio was not available in 1982, but it was a big advantage on this occasion because conditions varied in different parts of the country. Roscommon and other counties were hit very badly. I compliment the emergency services for their response, as well as Roscommon University Hospital, Portiuncula Hospital, the Sacred Heart Hospital in Roscommon, Oakwood Nursing Home and all other nursing homes throughout the country.
The staff made it into those hospitals and nursing homes and provided food and nourishment for all their patients and residents. There was no report of any difficulties in that respect. We should commend all those staff.
Senator Craughwell mentioned our Army. However, nobody mentioned the work done by the prison officers who have to provide cover 365 days a year. The prisons cannot be closed. The full staff complement was required in Castlerea Prison for the duration of the emergency weather event. I met a prison officer who had to make his way to his place of work in that prison and work the hours required to ensure the security of the State. The work done by the prison officers was not mentioned during this period but I am mentioning it now in this House.
I commend the work done by the Army and the Garda-----
And the Naval Service and the Air Corps.
-----and its members' quick response to the looting of the Lidl store in Fortunestown Lane and the Centra store in Jobstown in Dublin which was most regrettable. It involved a very small group who got out of hand but the gardaí took control.
Also, the service provided by the local shops was brilliant. Our local store, Castlecoote Stores, owned by Oscar and Ann Neilan, was open from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. and provided food and sustenance for all its customers in the area. Oscar Neilan also distributed fresh milk all over the region for that period without fear or favour. I also pay tribute to the local publicans who stayed open during the crisis and provided shelter to their neighbours and friends when required.
There might be a conflict of interest there.
I was not working myself but I was not unavailable to be in attendance when required. Thanks be to God nobody was killed during the bad weather event and I compliment the action taken by the Government. It took timely action and it certainly prevented damage. Well done to the Cathaoirleach and his colleagues for closing these Houses last Wednesday evening.
I want to raise the issue of horticulture and Bord Bia's Making a World of Difference strategy document, which is part of the programme for Government. It might be no harm at some stage to request the Minister to come into this House - I appreciate he was in the House recently - to deal specifically with the horticulture industry. It is a very important part of the agriculture sector and the economy. I refer to the way in which we can develop our sugar beet industry. There is now a view that we should be developing that industry again. I refer also to increasing our potato production. One of the targets Bord Bia has set in its 21 key action points in its policy refers to how potato production can be increased. We need to increase it and the market needs that also. There is a demand for it, so how can we increase potato production and the production of soft fruits and berries in terms of food, jams and preserves? There is a demand for them. Bord Bia has identified a real demand for Irish soft food production, and also for salads and organics. There are 21 key objectives in this horticulture document the Government has adopted, which is Bord Bia's strategy up to 2022. It is about making a world of a difference and growing our horticulture industry. I would appreciate if the Leader would ask the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, to come into the House for a debate on that, but specifically to focus on the 21 action items in the Bord Bia policy on horticulture.
I want to be associated with wishing Tony O'Brien well in any future endeavour he may take. As the Minister who appointed him to that position in the Health Service Executive, I thank him for all his work on behalf of us all in trying to keep our health service going through a very difficult time.
I also congratulate the emergency services. I will not list them all but I want to mention also all the community activists who went out and did so much to support their communities.
I want to mention also all the family doctors who kept their premises open until it was no longer safe to do so and reopened on Friday afternoon.
In the context of the weather, I want to speak about an issue raised earlier, that is, coastal erosion, especially in Fingal and Portrane. I was there yesterday evening and there is nothing like standing within 3 ft. of a 20 ft. precipice to remind one of how severe a situation is for a family. Four years ago it was 50 ft. away. On the beach one can see the sand bags that were put down next to the cliff edge to protect it in 2014. They are now some 35 ft. from the cliff base.
I stood in a public park area where underneath the grass, which looked sound, there was 4 ft. of an indent where the sea has taken the sand away and it is deadly dangerous. People who do not know the area, older people or children could easily have a serious accident. The situation for this family is that three generations are living there - Gráinne, Amy and Faye. Gráinne showed me a video of a young man trying to hold the sea back at the height of the tide coming in. He was trying to keep a flimsy galvanised fence up because the original paling they had put up had fallen in. Those people are about to lose their house. We had the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, in the House this morning and he told us that he is open to having the situation addressed but we need Fingal County Council, which has done sterling work during the emergency in recent days, to take action and to act now in a compassionate and humanitarian way and with a sense of urgency. We have a homeless crisis and we are now going to add three more people to the homelessness list. We could have a fatality. The situation is very unsafe. There are 14 other houses at immediate risk. How many houses are going to fall into the sea before we take action?
It is time to put aside all the red tape. We have had reports. The then Minister of State, Brian Hayes, was in Portrane in 2012 and we have had several Ministers there since. The time for talk is over and the time for action is now. We can have a medium-term solution. I call on the Minister of State to bring together Fingal County Council, the heritage people and the environmental people with the community to resolve this issue in the medium term, but we need immediate action now to allow this family to save their home. They have been there since before the 1960s, as has that house. Instead of focusing on reasons why we might not, should not or could not do something, could we please take action and prevent another three generations of a family being made homeless? I address this to Fingal County Council. Could we not do the right thing - the humanitarian thing - and resolve this issue and allow those people to save their home that has been in their family for decades?
I will finish by saying that if action is not taken very soon, not alone will this house go but 14 other houses and businesses - a pub, restaurant and chipper - will go as well. Once they breach a little mound, which is only a short distance away, the whole of the Burrow of Portrane will be isolated with 1,200 to 1,500 people living there. How much will it cost to fix that and to put in a new road and bridge? I urge Fingal County Council to please act and to show the humanity I know those involved have and save this house and this family from becoming homeless.
I too pay tribute and thank the front-line staff, the in-house staff and those who worked in hospitals and were out clearing roads and all the volunteers as well as the Army, the Civil Defence, the Garda and council staff - everybody who was involved in the clean-up right around the country. I pay compliment to them and the many volunteers who joined them.
Yesterday was a historic day in Limerick and in the mid-west in that we started off the morning with a visit from the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, who announced 600 jobs. Initially, 60 jobs will be based in Shannon Airport and 600 jobs will be based in the mid-west. It was a very welcome, good news story. It is the biggest amount of jobs to be announced in recent years. I welcome Edwards Lifesciences to the area. It showed a video yesterday of its work. The company is involved in making valves for the heart. It is unbelievable what technology can do and how far science has come. I welcome the company to the mid-west.
Later yesterday we had the opening of the new courthouse in Limerick. I welcome the fact that the Supreme Court is sitting there for the next three days. This is the first time it has sat in Limerick. The court rarely comes out of Dublin so it is a very welcome good news story not only for Limerick but for the region.
On a side note, I was a member of the board of Innovate Limerick when I was on the council. We have bought premises where we consider there is potential for businesses to locate.
Yesterday morning we started off with a visit to Troy film studios where 450 people work locally. That is certainly a very good news story in that there are people from Limerick School of Art and Design and others who are in an apprenticeship programme, so yesterday was a very positive day.
I wonder if the Cathaoirleach has recently been down Fitzwilliam Street. It is very interesting. There is an enormous cleared vacant site. It is about the size of a city block. It is owned by a State company, the ESB, and in the 1960s it took on the longest continuous Georgian streetscape in the world and devastated it. It was quite extraordinary. It was an Irish State-owned company and it hired English architects who came here and made the most ridiculous and offensive comments. I recall one of them saying that buildings have a lifetime and these houses were beyond their lifetime. Look at Amsterdam or Rome. There is a church in Rome that was used as a pagan temple during the Roman empire. It is complete and absolute nonsense. This represented the greatest, most ignorant and concerted attack on our cultural heritage. There is nothing like this streetscape in the entire world. The ESB was originally told by the planning department in Dublin County Council to reinstate the facade it had destroyed but apparently it managed to weasel around that. It now intends to put up some other modern architect's idea of what a Georgian facade should be. I suppose it is too late to rectify this but I wanted to express outrage and also to say thank you to people like Desmond and Mariga Guinness who in the 1960s took up this very unpopular cause and set out to defend our Georgian heritage. It is a very sad day when an Irish State-owned company would launch such a devastating attack. This streetscape is irreplaceable. It has gone from being the longest continuous Georgian streetscape in the world to just being another inner city area. I thank the Cathaoirleach.
I welcome the opportunity to put on record my appreciation of all those in the emergency services following the recent severe weather event. It gave us an opportunity as families and communities to pause and reflect away from busy lifestyles. The children around the country enjoyed it but we have to recognise the huge challenges it brought to our citizens, emergency services and communities. Waterford, where I come from, and the south east in particular was hit badly, but along with other Senators I commend the National Emergency Coordination Centre under the chairmanship of Sean Hogan, who I believe did an outstanding job in the interest of citizen safety in communicating the challenges that were about to befall the country. They gave fair warning to all to prepare and we saw the very positive results where people were able to stock up and prepare for the event as it so happened.
I want to be associated with the commendations to the various emergency services - the health workers, the Garda, the Army, the local authority workers as well as contractors - and to my former colleagues in the ESB, who went out in all weathers to ensure services were restored as soon as possible. I commend also the volunteers throughout the country. It is in a crisis that we see the true Irish spirit and volunteerism that exists in all our communities. I refer to the Red Cross and the Civil Defence. What I saw was a huge show of support to local communities. The farming community came out in strength and used their resources and machinery to clear local roads and gain access to people who were isolated. It heartens all of us to see the response made in recent days.
I ask the Leader to provide time at some stage for a debate on resources for local authorities and the emergency services. That should be had at a time of calm when we can reflect on the challenges of this particular event, the roads damage that happened as a result of ice and snow, and the resources local authorities will need to repair them. I commend and appreciate all of those throughout the country who put their shoulders to the wheel during this event.
I join in congratulating front-line workers, the emergency services, the volunteers and all those who assisted in any way during the recent adverse weather, as well as the National Emergency Coordination Group, which did extraordinary good work. I echo the gracious compliments paid by Senator Black to An Taoiseach for his leadership role in this entire emergency.
This storm has played havoc with the road network with frost, thaw, floods and snow. All these combined weather conditions have damaged the pavement of the roads considerably, creating a network of potholes and, as a result, havoc. It is a serious issue across the country and particularly acute in County Cavan. Up to 96% of the road network in Cavan is made up of smaller county and regional roads. The regional roads linking towns in County Cavan are effectively primary roads for those who work and live in those towns and surrounding areas. These county roads are a vital network for farmers and others engaged in various activities. We got a welcome increase of 20% in the road allocation this year. However, that was on foot of a 50% reduction during the recession. Road grants came back up 10% last year and 20% this year. There is still a long way to go, however.
The Minister must be invited to the House to discuss giving a special allocation to the county councils to deal with the road crisis. For counties like Cavan, which does not have a rail network or buses in the main, except on the primary route, the N3, the road network is vital. I am calling for a special allocation and the Minister to come to the House to discuss it.
I second Senator Craughwell's remarks on car insurance. It is a shocking problem for our young people and is acute in counties with no other alternative forms of transport.
I too commend the National Emergency Coordination Group and all the State agencies and their personnel which were busy and helpful over the past several days dealing with the severe weather we had, particularly in the midlands and in the east.
I would also like to add my support to the Senators who raised the question of the poor pay and conditions of our councillors. These are the front-line troops in our democracy. They might not all have been on the television like Senator O'Reilly in Cavan was. However, he was representative of so many of them in all of the various counties offering assistance to their neighbours and communities. Their work goes unheard. It is somewhat shocking that these people, who are always first on call and do so much, are so neglected. If any issue cries out for redress, their situation does. I look forward to an early debate on this matter. It is proper that all parties act in unison on this issue.
I also add my voice of congratulations to everybody in the Government, the agencies and civil servants involved over the past several days in preventing what was a bad situation for many people from becoming a nightmare. Much credit is due for this.
I second what Senator Craughwell and others have said about car insurance premia and how these affect young people.
This is an issue I have brought up before. It is one to which we really need to return, particularly to consider the plight of younger people who have returned from abroad, perhaps having had to leave through no fault of their own. They are finding that their driving experience abroad is not being taken into account when premiums are being calculated. This is a source of serious concern and an issue we should discuss.
There has been a lot of talk about the Government's promotion, through the strategic communications unit, of Project Ireland. Much of the talk has focused on whether the lines were blurred between the giving of legitimate public information at taxpayers' expense and party political propaganda in which election candidates were featured and so on. I am disappointed that the best argument the Government seemed to come up with was that the other crowd had just been as bad in its day. That may well be true, but people should go back and look at the McKenna judgment and what it had to state about the use of taxpayers' money by the Government in promoting one side of the argument in a referendum. It should be learned that there is a spirit in the use of taxpayers' money. I am disappointed that the media have focused on whether the lines were blurred, not on the question of whether it was appropriate in the first place to spend millions of taxpayers' money to tell people about what the Government was proposing to do, which might or might not come to pass, and which the media would be in a position to cover. This is not about the seeking of submissions in advance of a report being produced or telling potential victims about sources of redress and that there is a place to which they should go. It is not about telling social welfare recipients what their entitlements are in the light of certain changes. That would certainly involve the legitimate spending of public money, but spending large amounts of public money to tell people about a grand plan, however good it is, is an abuse. It is a misuse of the booty of power by those who happen to be in power. All of the main parties stand accused of being flaithúlach with the people's money in a way that may be allowed technically but which still happens to benefit them in a way that is mainly political and which carries relatively very little benefit for the public. I would really appreciate a debate on the issue. Regardless of whether I am right or wrong, I am raising a legitimate issue about when it is appropriate to spend taxpayers' money and whether we have become too loose about the criteria under which we allow ourselves to spend taxpayers' money when in government. There is much to be commended in what the Government has done in recent years and I am sure there is much to be commended in the plan, but if the Government wants to subvent local media - I am all for this - it should do so directly. On doing so under the guise of telling people about projects, if there had been similar expenditure in promoting electronic voting, in retrospect, would we have considered it a good use of money? The answer to that question is clearly no. When there is something the public needs to know, by all means spend taxpayers' money, but when a Government is trying to tell it what it proposes to do in the future if it stays in office, frankly, that is spending that goes too far.
I also wish Mr. Tony O'Brien, director general of the HSE, well. He took over in 2012 at a very difficult time for the health service and did make a difference. I saw the difference he had made in Roscommon University Hospital and the setting up of the Saolta University Health Care Group in very difficult circumstances. The HSE and the health service will always be difficult areas to sort out effectively.
Today marks the centenary of the death of John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party which was a moderate nationalist party. He fought for home rule which was granted in 1914 but suspended on the outbreak of the First World War. He urged Irish men to fight in the Great War for the freedom of small nations and ensure the implementation of home rule. He had huge political skills and was a diplomat, a democrat and a moderate, unlike some other politicians. I refer to the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg whose comments at the weekend were scandalous. He should withdraw them. He said our strategy had resulted from the controversy before Christmas involving the former Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the irresponsible vote chasing immaturity of the Taoiseach. It was very undiplomatic language to use.
The Conservative MP should withdraw those comments in the light of what is happening with Brexit. John Redmond was an MP who was mature and reflective but also made a difference. I think that he was certainly missed 100 years ago and that we should remember this man who has a complex history. There were many outstanding parts to that history until events happened. We could have had a devolved government on the island of Ireland.
I reiterate what my colleagues have said and thank all the people who worked in the health care sector over the last week, including people who had to stay in hospitals because they were not able to travel and, more importantly, because they wanted to provide care to patients in hospitals. There were many people working in psychiatric services, in general hospitals and in all hospitals across the country, including doctors, nurses, care assistants and catering staff, who did everything possible to ensure that the health and safety of patients was given priority over their own interests. It is extremely important that we recognise their commitment and loyalty, and the way they delivered and continue to deliver a service in very difficult circumstances. It is important to recognise that and I join colleagues in thanking and praising them for the work they did over the last week.
I thank the 17 Members of the House for their contribution to the Order of Business. On behalf of myself and the Government, I thank and pay tribute to all our first responders-----
-----health care workers, including nurses, doctors, domestic staff, porters, catering staff, gardaí, Civil Defence, prison officers, the fire brigade, council staff and the ESB. It showed the importance and the dedication of our public service and public servants. They were led by Mr. Sean Hogan, chair of the National Emergency Coordination Group, NECG. I thank him and the staff of Met Éireann for their work over the four days. The decision to ask people not to use roads or travel was wise. That avoidance of danger meant people did not die on the roads. It is a testament to the fact there was vision by members of the NECG. It shows that community spirit is alive and well in our country, in our cities, in our towns and in rural Ireland, where neighbours became neighbours of old again and where people called, visited and ensured that others were okay, that driveways were cleared of snow and that people were safe and well. In the city of Cork, which I come from, men and women stayed overnight in camp beds in hospitals or were put up in hotels. A consultant in Cork University Hospital ran from Innishannon to the hospital. Catering staff went out to make sure that food was supplied to the hospital when the trucks could not get in. That is dedication. People walked to work, including first responders. We must also give credit to RTÉ, in particular our regional correspondents, and to those who work in TV3, for keeping us informed. It was a community effort by the people of Ireland to ensure that people were safe. People worked long hours and walked to work. They did whatever was necessary to ensure that people were kept safe in our hospitals and that services were running. I commend everybody on the work they did, including volunteers and those who were paid. We are a small island with a huge heart that reaches out beyond ourselves to ensure that we look after each other. It is the epitome of what is good about us as a people.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of eating disorders. It was eating disorders awareness week last week. She is right that there is a deficit in beds but it is not just about beds. I know Fianna Fáil's leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, raised it. The HSE has committed to developing a plan relating to the development of services for eating disorders.
Up to 5% of our population is affected. The HSE, in launching a new model of care, is committed to creating eight adult and children eating disorder units throughout the country allowing for faster access to assessment and it is investing up to €2.8 million. This is about ensuring people can access services but, equally, I agree with the Senator that there is an issue relating to CAMHS, which needs to be fundamentally addressed, and it is not good enough or acceptable that there are waiting lists for CAMHS. The HSE, as part of its plan, announced in January a step-down model of care delivery, a specialist training programme along with a dedicated national eating disorder network and specialised inpatient eating disorder programmes within key psychiatric units nationally as well as in local hospitals, and the creation of additional care teams through the dedicated network. It will be a collaborative approach. New clinical posts are being advertised but more action is needed on the issue. It is important to have that debate and I am happy to ask the Minister to come to the House in this regard.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of bullying. It is important to have a debate. There is no place, and can be no place, for bullying in any workplace, whether it is Teach Laighean, a small shop, a school staffroom or a major semi-State or private company.
Senators Reilly, Craughwell and Mullen raised the issue of insurance. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, has been in the House on a number of occasions to discuss the issue. The Government established an insurance working group under the chairmanship of the Minister of State. An interim report was published in January with 15 of the 33 recommendations carried out. It is important that the working group be allowed to continue its work. More than half of the 71 associated actions have been implemented, which highlights the importance of the Government communicating with people. Senator Mullen referred to the issue of returning emigrants. In that case, protocols have been agreed with Insurance Ireland and they are being implemented. They commit insurers to accepting claims-free driving experience in other countries. Senators Craughwell and Reilly referred to the cost of insurance. Motor insurance premia have stabilised. CSO data, which is independent of Government, show a 16.3% reduction in cost from the peak in July 2017. If that is not an example of the need for Government to communicate, I do not know what is. Senator Mullen was not aware of that.
Saying it on the floor of the Seanad is much cheaper than buying newspaper space.
The Senator is a learned man who reads a lot. If he did not know that, then there is a need for the strategic communications unit. He just made the case for it.
The Government has the free platform of the Houses.
The problem is, as the Senator will be aware, very few listen to us in here.
We can have the debate another time, not on the Order of Business.
We should examine the report on the cost of motor insurance. I agree that there is a need to reduce the cost further and there is an obligation on all of us to work together to do that.
I join Senators Craughwell and McFadden in praising our Defence Forces in the context of Storm Emma. The men and women of the Defence Forces also deserve huge admiration and praise for their role in peacekeeping and for the role they play in the State. The Senators were correct to raise that.
Senator Black raised the issue of Irish Water communications. There is a need to communicate strategically, properly and in a timely manner. Irish Water is doing a good job in communicating. This issue again makes the case for the strategic communications unit and the need to provide more information. When it became clear that there was an issue with water supply, Irish Water mobilised on social media, although I accept that not everybody is on social media. Those who opposed Irish Water and payments to ensure we have running water now have a question to answer in the context of the company today. I take the Senator's point regarding the need for timely communication.
Senators Black, McFadden and Coghlan raised the issue of councillors' pay and conditions. As the Cathaoirleach knows, it was on the clár for last week but because of the decision to close the Houses, it was not debated. That debate will now take place on 27 March. It is not that we will not debate it. It has just been delayed.
Senator Devine referred to the health service, health care workers and the INMO campaign. I would be happy to have the Minister attend the House on that matter.
I congratulate Senator Bacik on her sterling work on Vótáil 100. I hope that we will all join her and our colleagues on international women's day on 8 March as we celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage. It is important to have that debate, which the House will in the coming weeks.
Tomorrow's statements on foreign affairs will be an opportune time to debate Syria with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. I would be happy to facilitate a cross-party motion on Syria.
I am tempted to remind Senator Leyden that 2010 was the last bad outcome for snow and ice and that the Fianna Fáil Party was in government. We have learned from its mistakes.
Senator Boyhan raised the important issue of horticulture and the 21 key action points. I would be happy to have the Minister attend the House to discuss the matter.
Senators Reilly, Devine, Feighan and Bacik referred to the impending resignation of Mr. Tony O'Brien, chief executive of the HSE. As a former Chairman of the health committee, I pay tribute to Mr. O'Brien and thank him for the professional and courteous manner in which he dealt with the committee, and particularly me as its Chair. I always found him to be a most engaging and committed person who had only one motivation, that was, to ensure that we had a competent, caring and strong health care system that worked for the patient. I wish him well and thank him for his service. As Senator Feighan rightly stated, he has left the health service in a better place than when he found it. He is not universally popular because of some of his decisions, but he managed the health system and HSE in a time of diminished budgets.
Senator Reilly also made an impassioned plea to Fingal County Council regarding a particular family. I hope that it will listen to him. This is about ensuring that the family is safe from homelessness.
I join Senator Byrne in congratulating the people of the mid-west on the 600 new jobs. Members will be glad to hear that it is the largest number of jobs announced outside of Dublin, which shows that the Government governs beyond the M50. I congratulate Limerick and commend all involved in Innovate Limerick.
Senator Norris mentioned the ESB building on Fitzwilliam Square. The ESB began a major overhaul of that building at the end of last month. I wish it well. I was not around when it demolished the old Georgian streetscape. The Senator made a good point. This was the subject of an article in The Irish Times in recent days and there have also been previous decisions. I thank the Senator for raising the matter.
Senator O'Reilly made a pertinent contribution on the issue of roads. As we all know, there are craters in our roads and footpaths have deteriorated as a consequence of the storm. The knock-on effects of the storm will have a profound impact on county and city councils. I join the Senator in asking the Minister to consider giving them extra funding to repair roads, some of which have crumbled to the point of needing complete overhauls as opposed to patching.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of the strategic communications unit, SCU, and the national development plan. I am loath to start a political row with the Senator on the issue-----
Just give us a debate on it. That is all I ask.
I would be happy to have a debate on communications in government. Do people want the Government not to communicate at all? Do they want to cease communications on health, insurance, social protection, the national development plan-----
I believe that is what is called "a false dichotomy".
There is a happy medium between overload and nothing.
-----that Senator Mullen and others have is that they do not want to see good news in terms of the national development plan.
No, that is not true.
They do not want to see €116 billion being spent on improving the lives of our people.
Let the good news tell itself.
The other point which was raised, which I do have to ask about in a rhetorical sense, is what does the media cover? Whom do they want to see on the front page of newspapers? What do they want to see? What sells newspapers? Rather than just focusing on one part of communication, there is a two-way street here.
I would not be afraid of having a debate about the role of the media and how they cover politics, and how they cover any topic for that matter, whether it is the courts, education or whatever. I would be happy to have that debate.
I think it is important.
I think a lot of people would make a lot of interesting contributions.
We are not having a debate now.
I know but there are 700 press officers across Departments.
Yes, which is a hell of a lot of public money to begin with-----
-----before we start counting the price of putting ads in newspapers.
It is not Fine Gael election candidates that are supposed to be getting public relations.
If the Senator was-----
I am not having a go at press officers. I am just saying-----
There you go. So, you see-----
Can we restore some order? If the debate is offered and agreed, we can have a two or three-hour debate some evening.
We will do that but it is important to have balance though in what we come into the House with. I am not saying Senator Mullen is imbalanced or anything. It is important to have balance in what is being spoken about. The problem is many of the people who criticise this unit are talking rubbish, to be honest. I am not saying the Senator is, but some of them are.
I did not criticise the unit.
The spending is my beef.
Finally, I join Senator Feighan in calling on the British MP to withdraw his remarks regarding the Taoiseach. He is doing what every other Taoiseach has done, or should do, and that is to protect the Irish citizen and Ireland. Brexit will have a profound impact on us as a country. The Taoiseach and the Government have a duty to protect and advocate on behalf of Ireland. That is being done in the context of the European Union. If we look at the remarks of the negotiators, and the chairmen of the European Commission, it will be seen that it is about having a Europe that represents all of us - small countries as well as big countries. I would be very happy to have a continuing debate on Brexit but it is important though that there is balance in that debate. It is not about Ireland being protectionist. It is about Ireland looking after our own interests and protecting ourselves in the context of being good Europeans.