The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; No. 2, Domestic Violence Bill 2017 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair; No. 3, statements on Project Ireland 2040, resumed, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5 p.m. with the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 4, Private Members' business, Education (Welfare) (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
Yesterday afternoon I raised the cervical cancer issue in this House and yesterday evening, the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, informed the Dáil that there were over 1,500 more women with cervical cancer whose cases had not to date been audited. This means there are 1,500 women with cervical cancer who may or may not have had a false negative smear test result through the CervicalCheck programme before their diagnosis of cervical cancer. It means that these women may or may not have benefited from a different and-or earlier treatment of their condition.
As of today, we do not know if this audit has commenced or been completed, nor do we know why the Minister did not send in the serious incident management team to investigate the matter when he initially discovered that there was a huge issue on 16 April via the memorandum he received. Evidently, the Government has had no idea at all what is going on in the Department of Health and is sleepwalking around this crisis with nobody in control and no-one with any knowledge of what is going on. The literal drip-feeding of the information to us via the Minister for Health in the Dáil and via the Department of Health is shameful and it is a deplorable way to treat Irish women.
I commend Vicky Phelan's bravery and composure in pursuing this matter and the bravery of her family. Like her, I find the fact that nobody in the HSE was aware of this matter before 16 April incredible. The further discovery of 1,500 women yet to be audited is mind-blowing and deeply upsetting. Was it the case that this information should have been obvious, given the statistics available on the cancer registry? Last night on "Prime Time", Vicky Phelan said that she was disappointed and disheartened by the revelation but that she was not surprised. She added that there was no-one leading this and the news is changing on a daily basis. No-one can disagree with her comments. This is the same "Prime Time" programme on which Ministers were invited to appear but refused to do so. They were nowhere to be seen yesterday.
They were in the Dáil.
Strangely, Vicky Phelan told us that the Taoiseach invited her to meet him but she politely and kindly refused his invitation.
Which is more important? "Prime Time" or the Dáil?
Nobody, including Vicky Phelan, is discouraging women from getting a smear test using the current system. What we as politicians are advocating is accountability, transparency and reliability from this service. Helplines and general practitioner offices around the country are inundated with calls today and have been for the past week since this scandal emerged.
To date, GPs and practice nurses, the primary service providers, have been given little or no guidance from the HSE on, first, how to handle the volume of calls and, second, how to advise and treat patients who have treatment options or concerns. Adequate resources must be made available. I join in the calls for an inquiry to be commenced without delay with the ability to compel witnesses within any of the agencies involved to give evidence.
On a further note, in today's edition of The Irish Times we read of a potential conflict of interest involving the HSE director general, Tony O'Brien, after it has emerged he will take up a position within a US pharmaceutical company that specialises in female contraception. I refer in particular to the fact that he potentially breached his fiduciary duty to the HSE by becoming a board member of the company this January while still in the employ of the HSE, and with the Minister's knowledge and consent. Surely, this is a bad deal for taxpayers. The Minister has so many more questions to answer and I look forward to hearing him answer them in this House.
I also wish to raise the CervicalCheck controversy. It is important we do not lose sight of the importance of cervical cancer screening and its benefits when it all goes well. It is important to stress that cervical cancer screening can find abnormal cells in the cervix before they become cancerous. If cervical cancer is caught at the earliest stage, the chance of survival is more than 85%, according to the experts in this field. Cervical cancer usually has no symptoms, so it is really important that cases are picked up in a screening process. This point cannot be lost in all the debate going on here today.
Looking at "Prime Time" again last night, I found it quite shocking to see the number of women, and families for that matter, who are in the dark. That is the best phrase to describe this: people in the dark who have no knowledge of their current medical status. Regarding the withholding of medical information, it is very important that patients have complete access to their medical records and test results. What we have heard so far about the CervicalCheck programme is nothing short of an outrage and constitutes a serious breach of trust between patients, their doctors and the HSE. It has led to widespread fear and anger. I noted the Taoiseach's comments in the Dáil yesterday when he spoke about being angry. He is rightly angry, but the nation is angry too because there has been a breakdown in trust in the health services. There are women today, as we speak, who are unaware of their medical records, which is an absolute outrage. We must demand accountability for what has happened. Heads must roll. I do not like using that expression, but it is true and it must happen. Someone must bear responsibility for the consequences and the outcome of anything we decide in these Houses.
I think the Minister is coming to this decision so I do not want to pre-empt what he may say later in the Dáil, or here tomorrow, but I am calling for the establishment of a fully independent commission to investigate this case. Nothing less will do. I understand that the Minister has written to HIQA to undertake a statutory investigation into this controversy. It is worth noting that HIQA, after it considers his request, will have to come back to the Minister and explain how best it can take this case on. However, it has been confirmed to me that HIQA has limited powers to demand documents and no power to direct the attendance of witnesses to come before it or, for that matter, to demand or receive sworn evidence. Surely all of this is a handicap to a full, open, transparent and forceful inquiry. Therefore, the Minister should not proceed along these lines. He has a valid reason to change his mind, given the further revelations last night.
It is the task of the Government and the Government alone to establish all the facts surrounding this case, to restore confidence in cancer screening and to ensure such controversies never happen again. I thank the Leader for engaging with the Minister who, I understand, may come before the House tomorrow. If that is the case, that is great, and I look forward to further debate with the Minister tomorrow.
I thank the Leader for responding to my request to bring the Minister before the House tomorrow, and we look forward to a full debate with him. Normally, when a Minister comes before the House, we say we will confine our comments to when he or she is here. However, we see this absolute scandal unfolding all the time, and I have no doubt but that by the time the Minister comes in tomorrow afternoon, there will be new questions following his appearance in the Dáil today, the HSE's appearance before the health committee and so on.
As the cervical cancer smear test scandal escalates, it is now clear this has been a monumental, systemic cover-up. I called it a cover-up yesterday. The Minister called it a miscommunication or an error in communication. What an insult to women all over this country. We now know that at least 17 women have died and hundreds more are fighting serious battles for their health and their lives. The truth is that we do not know the full scale of this yet. We have been given misinformation after misinformation. We need to know the full scale of this. This is why Sinn Féin is calling for the immediate publication of all information surrounding the audit, the serious incident management team and the communications pathways. They must be published immediately. If we are to be transparent about this, this information must come into the public domain. I therefore call on the Minister to instruct that that information be published in the coming hours.
As the numbers affected continue to rise, Tony O'Brien has serious questions to answer. Yesterday, I said his position was untenable; today, it is even more untenable. He is the one with whom the buck stops. He is the one who has a duty to report to the Minister. It will be very interesting to see the correspondence between Mr. O'Brien and the Minister, including the routine communications. Surely to God, people expect the Minister to be alerted to cases such as this. A commission of inquiry must be set up. It must be multifaceted, include the women and the families of the deceased women and have reference to the absolutely disastrous decision that was made in 2008. I want to know exactly how much was saved in this regard. Was it 30 cent in €1, 40 cent in €1, or 50 cent in €1? That decision was made under a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government.
I thank the Leader for responding so quickly to the many requests from various Members of the House for the Minister to come before the House. As I understand it, he will attend tomorrow, and I thank the Leader for his speedy action on this. There will be a time for accountability. As for language such as "heads will roll", all that must be dealt with, but in a timely manner.
What really needs to be dealt with tomorrow - and I hope the Leader will communicate this to the Minister - is the tens of thousands of women between 25 and 60 years of age who do not know where they stand. There has been information in the media to the effect that each woman between the ages of 25 and 60 will be written to. What will the content of that letter be? I note the IMO has written to the HSE seeking guidance on what it should tell women of that age group when they are contacted. Has a circular gone out to GPs in this regard? Will every woman between the ages of 25 and 60 be offered another smear test? If so, has the infrastructure been put in place to ensure that this is done in a timely manner? These are questions I was asked last night in Dublin Bay South when I was out talking to people. They want to see action to restore their confidence in the smear test. They also want to know whether they need to have another test now.
I wish to raise one other matter with the Leader. I have been a trade unionist all my life. I have supported the trade union movement and I believe in collective bargaining. I wish to send a loud and clear message to TV3 to recognise the trade union movement that was protesting outside its studio.
They only want collective bargaining yet the board of TV3 is refusing to recognise the rights of the cameramen, those working in lighting, and the editing crew to union representation. It is totally and utterly wrong for a major television company to deny trade union members professional assistance in negotiating their wages and conditions.
I am really disappointed that it has come to the point where they have to protest outside the TV3 studios. I propose a change to the Order of Business that No. 14 be taken before No. 1.
I was quite disappointed with Senator Ardagh's contribution because, to be fair to the other members of her party, they have been fair in terms of getting to the truth and finding out what happened. This is a significant and very serious political issue but it is certainly not a political football. I appeal to people not to use it as a political football. I received a telephone call this morning on which I suggest Senator Ardagh and others reflect. It was from a person who was in this House in 2007 and 2008, namely, former Senator Fidelma Healy Eames. She informed me this morning that she raised concerns about the outsourcing of this particular contract to an American firm on the Order of Business in this House in November 2007, in April 2008 and again in September 2008. The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government of the time ignored the concerns that Senator Healy Eames put on the record of the House, concerns which had come from people working in the screening programme in Galway, including, I believe, a Professor Corkery. It was flagged at the time that the outsourcing of this service could be an issue and that there were concerns, including concerns from people in the medical world. Those concerns, however, were not taken on board by former Deputy Mary Harney and the Fianna Fáil-led Government.
Sadly, I also have to agree with the sentiments of Senator Boyhan in respect of Mr. O'Brien of the HSE. I try to be fair in all of my deliberations and I listened very carefully to what Mr. Tony O'Brien said on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" as I travelled to Dublin yesterday morning. I simply do not believe him. I absolutely believe in the Minister for Health and the manner in which he is trying to handle what is a national scandal. It is probably the biggest health scandal we have seen since I came into this House. However, I just do not believe Mr. O'Brien and, for the sake of all the women who have been affected, Mr. O'Brien should consider his position.
For someone who does not want to make a political football of the issue, Senator Conway is certainly doing that this morning. He is bringing back a past situation.
The Senator was replying to the Order of Business.
I commend Senator Ardagh on the excellent contribution she made here this morning. This is a critical situation for everyone involved. Let us be clear about that. I also want to say that, when he was the Opposition spokesman for health in 2008, our colleague here, Senator Reilly, raised concerns about the outsourcing of the test to the United States of America. The strange thing about it is that when he became Minister, he did not do anything about it. It is on the record. He was the Minister at the time.
The contracts had been signed.
He raised concerns and I am just saying-----
The Senator's party had signed the contracts.
-----that it is factually true-----
I remind Senators that they are debating a matter which is on the agenda for tomorrow.
I respect that but in fairness, Senator Conway was being most provocative because he talked about-----
He was replying to the Senator's leader who was equally partisan in that line.
She was far more provocative, if I may say so.
She is in a very good position----
Senator Leyden has the floor.
-----as a woman. When I saw five men being wheeled out on RTÉ last Sunday night to explain the situation I said - my God! - what kind of Department would have five men dealing with cervical cancer?
That is ridiculous.
Well, it is actual fact. I was in that Department for a period of time and-----
What depths the Senator will go to.
-----it was a male-dominated Department at that time. It has not changed very much.
Who was in charge of the cervical screening programme at that time?
The Leader will have a chance to respond.
I just want to say-----
Sometimes a reply needs to be instantaneous.
The Chair cannot allow instantaneous replies.
-----that I did not get an opportunity to congratulate Senator Ian Marshall yesterday. I am impressed by his vision to drive future growth by building relationships and sales between the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the EU and the rest of the world. That is one of his objectives. My grandparents, Elizabeth McCann and John McVeigh, came from Lurgan in County Armagh. Senator Marshall is also resident in Armagh. I think that is wonderful. I commiserate with the other candidates who sought election. I also welcome Senator Anthony Lawlor back to these Houses. He has been out for two years. He was a Member of the Dáil and a very effective representative for Kildare. It was difficult for him to lose his seat in 2016 but it was a great day for himself and his family when he returned to the Houses and came to Seanad Éireann. As one who knows, I note one cannot savour victory unless one suffers defeat. He has suffered that period. Both Senators will make a very big contribution to this House, as would have all the other candidates who went forward in that by-election. We wish the ones who were successful well, particularly Senator Marshall. He has worked with the Ulster Farmers Union and I have heard about his work in the European Union. He was certainly opposed to Brexit. He is a very good voice for Northern Ireland in this House.
Tá mise ag iarraidh labhairt faoin mórphictiúr más féidir liom. I want to address the big picture. I am not here to blame one person or other. I suggest that we look at solutions. That is the background I have come from. One starts to see a pattern across various Government agencies of pretty fundamental cock-ups. There are people very close to all our hearts whose families - brothers, sisters, wives, daughters or whatever - have questions in respect of smear tests, where we are going, what we are going to do and what the situation for them is. It is part of an epidemic. I suggest that the Leader speak to the Minister for Finance and ask him to consider bringing forward a restructured version of the Bill that I brought to the House a year and a half ago. This is partly coming from me wearing my business hat. How can a Minister be expected to understand and see everything that is happening in her or his Department? There are 110,000 employees under the aegis of the Department of Health. I believe the Minister is actually doing the very best he could be doing given the circumstances. I am also encouraged by what was said in the Dáil yesterday, which was challenging but broadly understanding of the Minister's position.
What I suggest is the following. We should have some form of a national oversight and audit commission so that every three to five years every State and semi-State agency would be audited in respect of its fitness for purpose, whether it is doing its job properly and its effectiveness. That auditor's report would be made available to the Minister and to both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I thank Senator Norris. We have a situation in which the Comptroller and Auditor General checks only the finances. He checks whether all income and expenditure has been properly accounted for but we have nobody checking whether agencies are fit for purpose and holding them accountable. There is no way any Minister from any party would be able to say hand on heart that he or she was happy that everything was being done properly. Even in a small business one cannot do that. One is dependent on staff. We need some sort of an oversight commission. Finally, in 2010 the Government introduced a National Oversight and Audit Commission to oversee local government. That started bringing best practice into local government. Between 2010 and 2016, we have saved €511 million while also increasing efficiency. We have to step up to the mark. If we do what we always did - God forbid - we are going to get what we always got.
We must welcome the direct flights between Hong Kong and Dublin and between Beijing and Dublin, which will begin next month.
I believe this will be a game changer in our trade in tourism and exports to and from China. I was on a trip to China by Members of the Oireachtas and the Ceann Comhairle last week and it was eye opening to see its modern economy. There are huge opportunities for farmers, in particular, and agricultural exports. I say that because I saw a T-bone steak for sale in a shop in Hong Kong for €23. Australian milk costs up to €6 per litre. This offers huge opportunities in view of the direct links between Hong Kong and Dublin and Beijing and Dublin. It is just a 12-hour flight. I thank all the diplomats who are selling Ireland not just in China, but across the world. They are doing our country a huge service, and we should be very proud of their expertise and vocation for promoting and selling Ireland around the world. This is good news and it should be welcomed.
First, I wish to pay tribute to Vicky Phelan. She is a most extraordinary woman. I was tremendously impressed by the courage and grace she displayed in facing ultimate realities. It is a very difficult problem. I have listened to various eminent consultants talking on radio and television and giving different points of view. One must accept that these types of tests are by no means perfect as there are large numbers of false positives and false negatives. They are just an indicator. We must also bear in mind that as a result of this programme, deficient as it is, there has been a very significant improvement in the health of women in this country. That is something positive to bear in mind.
With regard to disclosure, we are witnessing a cultural change in the medical system. In my day, one was told nothing by the doctor. A person was not assumed to have any rights to knowledge. It was similar to the James Robertson Justice figure we used to see in "Doctor in the House" and, with regard to the idea that patients expected to get cured, the attitude was that they were bloody lucky to get out of the hospital alive. That was the general attitude. We are seeing a shift in this and patients are now demanding information and disclosure. I believe they should be insistent on it. However, watching the different consultants offering different impressions and viewpoints and seeing these eminent people disagreeing make it difficult for the average person to know. For that reason I believe it is premature to be looking for people's heads to roll. When doctors differ, patients die.
The idea of outsourcing concerned me in the beginning, but I have since discovered that the reason for the outsourcing in the first place was that there was no capacity in this country in 2008. One cannot demand domestic processing when there is no infrastructure, capacity or medical personnel to do it. We just did not have it.
They ran it down.
What is difficult to understand is why, when confronted with this situation, no provision was made to develop this capacity rather than outsource.
Finally, it is intolerable in 21st century Ireland for Vicky Phelan to be sentenced to death by bureaucracy, just as it was utterly wrong for Susie Long in Kilkenny to be sentenced to death for poverty. She did not get the appropriate treatment for three years and eventually died because she did not have private insurance and was way back in the queue. I understand Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordán will be seconding-----
The Senator can go ahead.
In that case I wish to second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Humphreys, to take No. 14 on the Order Paper.
I am impressed with the Senator's pronunciation of Senator Ó Ríordán's name.
I propose that leave be granted to introduce No. 15 on the Order Paper, the Industrial Relations (Collective Action) Bill 2018.
Do you propose that No. 15 be taken before No. 1?
Yes. We did not get the opportunity yesterday to mark International Workers' Day, which was quite understandable given the shocking health scandal that we continue to discuss today. It is important to recognise International Workers' Day. It was recognised in fine fashion by the President yesterday when he unveiled the Starry Plough in the presidential garden to commemorate the Lock-out of 1913. It was commemorated by my union, SIPTU, with a day of solidarity and entertainment for the homeless of Dublin yesterday, another fine gesture by the largest union in the country. As has been mentioned, it was acknowledged by TV3 employees who went out on a four hour protest. It is deeply shocking that an organisation such as TV3 refuses to acknowledge the right to join trade unions. It is not alone. Newstalk refuses to acknowledge its members' right to join trade unions. The hotel industry in general refuses the right of its workers to join trade unions. The private nursing homes, for which there are cheerleaders in this Chamber, refuse to acknowledge the right of people to collective bargaining, as do the private home care providers. It is about time this Chamber had a debate on the role of trade unions in society-----
-----and the progressive difference they make, for example, the difference in terms of wealth equality, and uses that debate to ensure that the cheerleading for private companies that refuse to recognise trade unions stops now.
I wish to raise two issues. What the women of Ireland need now is leadership from these Houses. I know that politics has a bad name, but politics can do much good in the coming days. I am delighted that Senator Norris mentioned the name of the woman at the heart of this scandal, Vicky Phelan. People have asked for this not to be made a political football and then have immediately engaged in political football. I do not believe that the people of Ireland need to see one side of the House point a finger at the other side of the House. We should point the finger, collectively, at ourselves and ask what we can do better for the women of Ireland. I doubt that anybody would disagree that if this was a service exclusively for men, this would never happen. We continuously fail women in this country and that must be recognised.
I also wish to raise the issue of sport. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House to discuss sport in general and the capacity of children to play sport in the context of the accessibility of local playing fields. I am a member of Scoil Uí Chonaill GAA club. It was a delight for us to see a member of the club, Hannah Leahy, who is vice-captain of the Dublin ladies minor team, be named the player of the game on Sunday when the team won the Leinster championship. We are very proud of her, as are her family. While many of us in the House enjoy GAA and sport, we see what is happening to many of the playing pitches across this city and further afield with regard to rezoning and commercial development, including what is happening in the Na Fianna club in Glasnevin. I would appreciate the opportunity to have a discussion with the Minister with responsibility for sport about the availability and accessibility of playing pitches and how we can facilitate clubs and young children to enjoy sporting endeavour into the future. With the building or construction boom back there is more pressure on lands in institutional use in colleges and schools across the State and, due to major infrastructure plans, clubs such as Na Fianna are under increasing scrutiny and pressure. That debate would be timely and I would appreciate if the Leader could facilitate it.
First, I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 17 be taken before No. 1.
Could the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House for a discussion on community-based CCTV schemes? I welcome the fact that €1 million has been allocated to communities throughout the country for the installation of CCTV. Unfortunately, information received shows that there have been only four successful applications to date. This clearly shows that we have a problem with the scheme in that it appears to be too onerous for communities to take up. This is an awful pity because at a time when Garda numbers are low and we are trying to assist the gardaí in doing their job, the role of CCTV could be vital in assisting the gardaí. The communities and the gardaí want it.
The fact that only four applications have been approved illustrates that we have a problem with the scheme. I would like the Minister to come to the House for a debate on it so we can review the criteria for the scheme to simplify the process so that communities will be more forthcoming when it comes to applying. We are all aware of assaults, break-ins and loitering. The role that CCTV can play in our towns in helping to address these issues cannot be overstated. This is a serious issue. We all have a responsibility to bring in whatever measures are possible to assist gardaí to do their jobs. Could the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House so that we can have a debate about this scheme?
I second the amendment to the Order of Business by Senator Gavan, which is that No. 15 be taken before No. 1. If someone is dismissed by his or her employer and goes through an unfair dismissal procedure, his or her colleagues would be prohibited from collectively striking during that period. This effectively ties the hands of our trade unions. I support the Industrial Relations (Collective Action) Bill 2018.
I second Senator Gallagher's amendment, which is that No. 17 be taken before No. 1. We should not make a political football of the cervical cancer screening fiasco. There are very serious consequences for people involved. I offer my deepest concerns and sympathy to all the people involved who have serious issues relating to this matter.
The lack of attention by the HSE led us to this problem. Again, there is a bigger problem here and it is something we might need to look at. There has been a call over the years to take power and responsibility from politicians. This is one of the problems that has led us to this terrible scenario with cervical cancer screening. Nobody is responsible. A politician has to stand for election every number of years. If the people do not like the politician or the politician is not raising the concerns people have, be they with the health boards, complications with councils, planning or development plans, people can choose not to re-elect that politician.
There has been a serious disconnect. There was a great drive to put in faceless people who would make impartial decisions but we have seen where many of these impartial decisions have led us. Instead of worrying about more minor things and squabbling about different things here, the most important thing we should be doing here as politicians is making people responsible. Politicians are responsible because they stand for election. They must be elected, be it to the Seanad, the Dáil or the local council. When people are elected to these fora, they must stand before the people again, be it in four or five years' time or whenever that comes around. If they are not doing their work and if ordinary people have a concern like a problem with their health board or council or with legislation and their elected representative is not cutting the mustard, they will get rid of them. It is something we must look at seriously. The day of faceless people and faceless positions answering to nobody has to end. This is a watershed moment in Irish politics.
A person can buy unsmoked back rashers with the Irish shamrock on the label in the Iceland chain of supermarkets. The brand is called Glendarra and the phrase "Master Butchers of Ireland" is on the label. If someone was to look at the back of the label, they would see that the rashers are of Spanish origin. This misleads consumers. I acknowledge that if a Spanish company feels the need to put the Irish logo on the label, it is probably positive from an Irish point of view because it must say something about our quality in comparison to their quality. While I am not having a go at any other country's product, when more research was done on this and the label on the back was looked at in more detail, it emerged that these rashers originated in Germany, Denmark and Spain but were on Irish shelves with a label containing the phrase "Master Butchers of Ireland" stating that they were produced in Ireland when they had just been packaged in Ireland.
This is something we really need to look into. It is false advertising. When I did a bit of research on it, I found that by virtue of the fact that they are packaged in Ireland, there is a loophole in the EU regulation and no law is being broken. That aside, it must be pursued. We cannot have the housewives and housemen of Ireland purchasing and eating what they think is Irish-produced produce when it has been produced many miles away, been transported here and basically just packed on our shores.
Good point. I think that is it.
I thank the 15 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. Quite understandably, ten Members raised the issue of the cervical cancer scandal. Senators Ardagh, Boyhan, Conway-Walsh, Humphreys, Conway, Leyden, Ó Céidigh, Norris, Ó Ríordáin and Davitt spoke about it. I agree that it is time leadership was shown and required by those who, as Senator Davitt rightly said, are responsible and should be held to account. I also agree that it is not tenable that we see an organisation charged with the management of the health service interfering, obfuscating and withholding information from women who are patients in a vulnerable position and a vulnerable state, their families and medical professionals. It is unacceptable. I apologise to Vicky Phelan and all the women affected. All of us in political life and Irish society want to see answers. I commend Senator Ó Céidigh for putting forward a solution because it must be about solutions. I will not get into the political argument engaged in by Senator Ardagh. This is about ensuring that we save lives, that the women get results and that we all get information. It is unacceptable that as a Minister walks into the Dáil to give a speech, he is handed information. The bottom line, and I have said it in this House previously, is that we are accountable at the ballot box, irrespective of ideology. There are officials who are not accountable and they must be held to account in the fullness of time.
Cervical cancer screening saves lives.
It is important that we send that message out today. This is a woman's health issue and when we speak about it, the women of Ireland should be at the fundamental core of what we say and do. The withholding of information is outrageous. As Senator Norris rightly said, there is a serious breach of trust. We are all angry and sorry but we want to see accountability and people must be held to account. That is the bottom line. The Minister will be in the House tomorrow afternoon. I thank Members for their co-operation in that regard. In my position as Leader of the House and in a personal capacity, my view is that if HIQA cannot provide the mechanism by which to deliver the investigation then, as the Minister alluded to last night, we should have a full, independent investigation whereby we can get answers. Let us be quite clear, the cervical screening test is not a diagnostic test. Cervical cancer rates have decreased from 14 per 100,000 between 2009 and 2011 to ten per 100,000 currently.
It is important that as Members of the House we offer our sympathies and stand in solidarity with Ms Phelan and her family and all the women affected. As Senator Conway-Walsh said, how many more women are worried, vulnerable and unsure in their homes today? They are our wives, sisters, nieces, grand-daughters, friends and work colleagues. That is the fundamental point. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House tomorrow in regard to that issue.
I am happy to accept Senator Humphreys's amendment to the Order of Business. I join with him and Senator Gavan in welcoming May Day yesterday. I agree that there should be collective bargaining and a right for the workers in TV3 and Newstalk to be part of a union. It is fundamental in anything we do that we allow workers to be represented and to have a voice at the table. Given that we did not do it on May Day, I welcome the fact that the unemployment rate has fallen below 6%. I know Senator Gavan will join with me in welcoming the fact that the unemployment rate for the month of April is at 5.9%, which means that for the first time since 2008 we are now seeing more people back at work and that the unemployment rate has fallen to below 6%. Is that not a great way to celebrate May Day - with more people at work, more people earning a living and being productive, feeling happy and being in a job?
I look forward to the debate.
It is a pity they do not all have somewhere to live.
They will have to come to Mayo.
Order, please. The Leader should be allowed to conclude.
Senator Ó Céidigh has a Bill before the House and it can be debated during his group's Private Members' time. It is important to provide solutions. That is what Members of the Upper House should do, namely, be proactive in offering solutions. I commend Senator Ó Céidigh on doing so.
Senator Feighan raised the direct flights from Hong Kong to Dublin and Beijing to Dublin and the importance of connectivity. We are now at the heart of Europe and it is important that we expand and broaden our markets. What Senator Feighan said is right. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House in regard to the matter he raised.
I am happy to accept Senator Gavan's amendment to the Order of Business. I think he referred to No. 15. I reiterate the point made by him and Senator Humphreys that workers should be able to be part of a trade union for collective bargaining. They should be treated fairly and properly.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised playing pitches and sport. I am happy to have the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Griffin, come to the House. I commend Senator Ó Ríordáin and the Scoil Uí Chonaill GAA club on the great work it does in the promotion of Gaelic games and getting young people involved in sport. The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs is looking at childhood obesity today. I commend Hannah Leahy on her role with the Dublin minor team. Senator Ó Ríordáin is correct in that there is an issue we need to address as a society on the allocation of playing pitches, pocket parks and green spaces in the capital city and other urban areas. I would be happy to have that debate in the coming weeks. I have requested the Minister of State with responsibility for sport, Deputy Griffin, to come to the House.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of CCTV. I am also happy to accept his amendment to the Order of Business. As the Senator is aware, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, has set aside €3 million for grants for community CCTV schemes. There are 45 schemes across the country. Senator Conway tabled a Commencement matter on the issue last week. The Minister came to the House to answer questions on it. It is important to put on record that between 2005 and 2013, 45 community-based CCTV schemes were put into operation. That involves 367 cameras to which the Garda has access. As the Minister said in his reply to Senator Conway last week, the Garda safety camera service commenced in May 2017 and it provides an annual minimum of 90,000 hours of monitoring and surveying, not merely of matters relating to crime but also of vehicle speed across 1,031 designated safety camera zones. The Minister is committed to the scheme. There is an opportunity for community groups to be involved in hosting such cameras. I am happy to have the Minister come back to the House again to speak on the issue but he was here on 26 April to respond to Senator Conway.
Senator Paul Daly raised the very important issue of the labelling of Irish food products, in this case rashers of bacon. He raised a very interesting point that needs to be addressed in that even though the product is packaged in Ireland, the meat is not Irish. As he said, it is very important that such a loophole is closed in terms of traceability because it is about ensuring that the consumer is able to purchase and consume Irish goods, in this case meat.
I am happy to accept the amendments to the Order of Business. I thank the House for its co-operation with the Minister for Health, who will be in the House tomorrow afternoon.
Senator Humphreys has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 14 be taken before No. 1". The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
Senator Gavan has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 15 be taken before No. 1". Again, the Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
Senator Gallagher has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 17 be taken before No. 1". Again, the Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.